From our permanent special correspondent
A month later, the affair continues to generate much ink. The publication by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on March 15, of a note concluding that it was impossible to bless homosexual couples has aroused a recurring debate, which has taken on unprecedented strength (1).
For this time the protests came from within the Church, including from several cardinals. And Francois? Him whose sentence, pronounced in 2013 – “If a person is gay and seeks the Lord, show good will, who am I to judge them?” “ -, has remained famous, has he really distanced himself from the note published by the guardians of dogma?
To find out, you have to listen to him presiding over the Angelus prayer on the following Sunday, March 21. François insists: “The Lord, by his grace, makes us bear fruit, even when the earth is arid because of misunderstandings, difficulties or persecutions, or pretensions of legalisms or clerical moralisms. This is what an arid land is. ” Are these two sentences aimed at the note of the Congregation? According to several relatives of the Pope interviewed by The cross, there is no doubt.
One of them also draws attention to the letter, sent on March 23, on the occasion of the 150e anniversary of the proclamation of Saint Alphonsus of Liguori as doctor of the Church. In this long message, the Pope paints a laudatory portrait of this saint from the beginning of the 18th century.e century which was also the patron of confessors and… moralists. “Moral theology cannot reflect solely on the formulation of principles and norms, but it must deliberately take into account the reality which goes beyond all idea”, he writes.
However, can we conclude that there is a disagreement on the substance of the note? One thing is certain: Francis received Cardinal Ladaria on March 4, so that the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith could present his reasoning to him and let him know of his desire to publish it. This is also what appears on the note, where it is indicated that the Pope has indeed “Consented” upon publication.
According to information from The cross, if the Pope did have a reservation, it is on the date of this publication, a few days before the start of the Year of the Family, but also on its form: a publication on the site of the Congregation, without any communication to explain the scope of the text. “He was well aware of the existence of the note, we can not say the opposite, says one of his longtime friends. But we must keep in mind that Pope Francis’ message goes well beyond the content of this note. It carries an opening message. “
Another of his friends goes further, and decides: “The response of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was neither signed nor approved by the Pope. “ The same source recalls chapter 8 of the exhortation Amoris laetitia, entitled “Support, discern and integrate fragility”. “This chapter does not apply only to remarried divorcees, but to all ”irregular situations ””, underlines this very close to the Pope.
So what does the Pope really think about homosexuality? This controversy over the note from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is revealing of a posture of Francis which is played out in two stages: on the one hand, not to change the doctrine; on the other, to accompany each one in a path of mercy. This is explained by Mgr Bruno Forte, Archbishop of Chieti-Vasto and former Special Secretary of the Synod on the Family. “Since the beginning of his pontificate, the Pope has wanted to combine mercy and doctrine”, he insists.
Francis thus wants, explains the Italian theologian, to hold together “The accompaniment of people and fidelity to the doctrine”. “On the surface, some think it may conflict, he admits. In reality, this alliance between doctrine and mercy is indispensable: the true creativity of Francis consists in asking the Church to think about both aspects. If we don’t understand this, we cannot understand the Pope. There is no competition: mercy is the concrete implementation of the truth. “
Since the beginning of his pontificate, Francis has had regular contact with homosexual people, or associations. “We know the Pope has friends who are LGBT”, confirms the American Jesuit James Martin, author of several books on the question, himself received in 2019.
This “encounter culture” has been implemented in particular with Andrea Rubera, in a relationship with Dario, both having had three children by surrogacy. It was in 2015 that this Catholic, very involved in his parish in Rome, wrote to Francis to share his hesitation in registering his children for catechism.
“I did not know how to present things, I was afraid that the parish would refuse …”, he explains today. Two days later, a call rings her phone. At the end of the line, it’s the Pope. “He wanted to understand the problem, then he said to me: ‘You go to the parish, you introduce yourself and your family, you ask, and you will see that everything will be fine.” “ What the young man will do.
If Andrea no longer had Pope Francis on the phone, this phone call is indicative of the method of a pope who multiplies personal exchanges without affecting doctrine. “This responds to a very precise strategy: he knows that he cannot change the dogma, and therefore he puts pastoral care in the foreground”, analyzes Andrea Rubera, now spokesperson for Paths of Hope, an association of homosexual Catholics.
Would the Pope go so far as to bless homosexual unions? Nothing, at this stage, suggests it. But Andrea Rubera is convinced that this series of meetings will eventually “Break down prejudices” and will emerge “More or less long term” on deeper changes.
“This question of doctrine should neither be absolutized nor neglected”, tempers Bishop Bruno Forte. If the “Doctrinal work” on the subject remains according to him ” necessary “, he recalls that this subject arouses “Different interpretations” within the Church. “The Pope is not interested in the possibility of changing the doctrine”, even adds Father James Martin.
In the Vatican, the question of doctrine remains extremely sensitive. “In recent days, we have heard voices from Africa, which are ultimately not unhappy with such a text”, advances a cardinal, evoking the famous note. A way of remembering that these debates in the Church on homosexual couples are not limited to discussions between Catholics living in Western Europe and the United States.