Pope Francis: We All Belong Here

Church blogger Rocco Palmo weighs in on the Pope's Rio statement on homosexuality.

In the wake of Pope Francis’s stunning statement on homosexuality yesterday in Rio — asking, “who am I to judge?” regarding homosexuals who “accept the lord and have good will” — we reached out to Rocco Palmo, the South Philly-based Catholic blogging juggernaut behind Whispers in the Loggia, to get a quick take on what the Pope’s World Youth Day revelation means for the church’s stance on gays.

Palmo, despite this being his self-proclaimed day of rest after a busy week of following the Pope’s trip (from afar), was more than willing to contextualize for us.

Do the Pope’s statements on homosexuality signal a sea change in Catholicism?

I don’t think it’s a sea change in terms of teaching — but, if anything, how it’s most fully expressed. His first reference went back to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. You hear about the teaching side of the church, and homosexual acts are still incompatible with church teaching, as is any sex outside marriage. It all comes from the Sixth Commandment, “thou shall not commit adultery.” But — and it’s something that’s admittedly been easy to miss in the wider perception – the Catechism also underscores there’s also the pastoral concern of the church, that every human being is made in the image and likeness of God, and explicitly urges that “every sign of unjust discrimination” toward gays and lesbians “is to be avoided.” If the church weren’t open to sinners, then no one would be able to be a part of it, period. God speaks in the bible as the church being the house of prayer for all people. This has often been lost in the modern debate on homosexuality.

Inclusiveness seems to be a theme with Pope Francis.

Even before his election, Francis has repeatedly emphasized that the church is called “to go out” from within its walls, that it should not be closed in, that it should go to the peripheries of existence. …  The pastoral concerns for gays and lesbians who love the faith, and who struggle to try to reconcile it, seems to fit in with the sense of the peripheries, of people who feel marginalized from the church.

How is the establishment reacting to this?

The Pope is the establishment. [Laughs] It’s not so much a change of teaching, but a change of emphasis: doctrinal vs. pastoral. … The doctrinal side has been presented as “you don’t belong here,” while the pastoral side is more like, “we all belong here.”

How will this play in Philly, and how does Philly compare to other parishes?

Go to New York or San Francisco or Chicago an you’ll find very active groups of gays and lesbians who participate fully in the life of the church; there and elsewhere, you’ll find places that call themselves “welcoming parishes” and they’ve been tremendously successful. That’s not really happening here — until recently, the culture of the church [here] has acted as if it were in some sort of 1950s bubble. … Because of that there’s been an immense drift of people: on any given Sunday, only about 18 percent of Catholics go to mass in this diocese.”

The next Vatican-sponsored global event, the World Meeting of Families, is scheduled to take place in Philadelphia in 2015.