Pope Francis and Phil Robertson in Context

The statements of Phil Robertson, whose name I had never heard before the Duck Dynasty controversy, are being compared with those of Pope Francis in a way that is not fair to either party.  For someone who may read this in an archive sometime well beyond 2013, Phil Robertson became “news” when GQ, a men’s magazine, published an interview in which he was asked about homosexuality and sin.

After an initial crude comment, Robertson, the star of a reality TV show and a teacher in his local church, explained his views on sin.  “Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men.”

He then continued: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers they won’t inherit the kingdom of God.”  That’s simply a close paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.

Here’s that passage in the New International Version, a popular version among evangelical and conservative Protestants such as Robertson.  “Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

The question was fair, and his answer was biblically based.  What is truly “controversial” among those who have accepted the sexual revolution as normative is 1) belief in New Testament teachings on sexuality and 2) public expression of that belief.

The other side of the comparison is the remark Pope Francis made in his interview with journalists on the flight from Rio de Janeiro after the World Youth Day conference in July.  Near the end of the 80-minute press conference, a journalist asked the Pope about his June appointment of Monsignor Battista Ricca, a person reputed to have a same-sex orientation, to reform the Vatican bank.  “Holiness, what do you intend to do about this question. How to address this question and how Your Holiness intends to address the whole question of the gay lobby?”

Pope Francis replied as follows:

“Regarding Monsignor Ricca: I did what Canon Law mandates to do, which is the investigatio previa. And from that investigatio there was nothing of that which they accuse him of, we did not find anything of that. This is the answer.

“But I would like to add something else on this: I see that so many times in the Church, outside of this case and also in this case, they go to look for the ‘sins of youth,’ for example, no? And this is published. Not the crimes. Crimes are something else: the abuse of minors is a crime. No, the sins.

“But if a person, lay or priest or Sister, has committed a sin and then has converted, the Lord forgives, and when the Lord forgives, the Lord forgets and this is important for our life. When we go to confession and truly say: ‘I have sinned in this,’ the Lord forgets and we don’t have the right not to forget, because we run the risk that the Lord won’t forget our [sins]. That’s a danger.

“This is important: a theology of sin. I think so many times of St. Peter: he committed one of the worst sins, which is to deny Christ, and with this sin he was made Pope. We must give it much thought.

“But, returning to your more concrete question: in this case, I did the investigatio previa and we found nothing. This is the first question.

“Then you spoke of the gay lobby. Goodness knows! So much is written of the gay lobby. I still have not met one who will give me the identity card with ‘gay.’  They say that they exist.

“I think that when one meets a person like this, one must distinguish the fact of being a gay person from the fact of doing a lobby, because not all lobbies are good. That’s bad.

“If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge him? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in such a beautiful way, it says, Wait a bit, as is said, and says: ‘these persons must not be marginalized because of this; they must be integrated in society.’

“The problem isn’t having this tendency, no. We must be brothers, because this is one, but there are others, others. The problem is the lobbying of this tendency: lobby of the avaricious, lobby of politicians, lobby of Masons, so many lobbies. This, for me, is the more serious problem. And I thank you.”

That was the end of the press conference.

From this, the liberal press, pro-sodomy writers, and even some conservatives have taken one sentence out of context:  “If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge him?”  I think the Pope could have made a better choice of words, but he had been on the grill for well over an hour.  It would have been better to have said “has a same-sex orientation” instead of “is gay” because in much of the world the word “gay” denotes not just an orientation but also the rejection of the biblical teaching that sodomy is sinful.  Thus, with the advantage of hindsight, it should be clear that what the Pope meant and should have said for greater clarity is something like this:

“If a person has [a same-sex orientation and is repentant for all past sins] and seeks the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge [that he is unfit for a banking function in the Vatican]?”

A Blessed Christmas Week to you and yours.

John F. Kippley, also at www.nfpandmore.org

Next week:  If Pope Francis were asked the same questions, how would his answer have differed from that of Phil Robertson?

2 thoughts on “Pope Francis and Phil Robertson in Context

  1. John,
    Thank you for weighing in on this topic. You, like most of us have heard from others on the Pope’s answer to the question. I have tried to help others understand that not everyone in the world communicates the same. We are all influenced through our learning, experiences, and cultural context. The Holy Father, like many others, has many things to consider when confronted with public and private discussions. As you pointed out, this question was asked near the conclusion of a lengthy interview. We must always give benefit of charity to others when considering their human limitations. Most people of good will would have been feeling mental and emotional fatigue at the end of a 80-minute press conference.

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