Will Pope Francis issue a document on Homosexuality?

The rumor is that a document is planned for April of this year. What will the Pope say on the subject?

1. One suggestion, the mildest claim, is that he will condemn the use of the death penalty against persons who are gay, or who commit homosexual acts. Some nations still have that penalty, not only “on the books”, but as something they enforce. Pope Francis might condemn the use of the death penalty in that way.

My comments: The Church should condemn the use of the death penalty against persons who commit homosexual acts and against persons who merely have a homosexual orientation. It is immoral to put persons to death for those reasons.

What about the Old Testament penalty for homosexual acts? First, that penalty was not for the orientation, but only for the acts. Secondly, it was always a Mosaic death penalty, i.e. for religious offences, not a criminal penalty. When Jesus arrived, he dispensed (did away with) all the Old Testament disciplines. A few disciplines were continued for a brief time, as described in Acts 15. But soon the entire set of Old Testament disciplines were nullified, whether by Jesus or the Church.

Thus, Christians cannot use the Old Testament as a way to justify the death penalty against gay persons. Jesus ended the Mosaic death penalty when he refused to have the woman caught in adultery stoned to death:

[John 8]
{8:3} Now the scribes and Pharisees brought forward a woman caught in adultery, and they stood her in front of them.
{8:4} And they said to him: “Teacher, this woman was just now caught in adultery.
{8:5} And in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such a one. Therefore, what do you say?”
{8:6} But they were saying this to test him, so that they might be able to accuse him. Then Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the earth.
{8:7} And then, when they persevered in questioning him, he stood upright and said to them, “Let whoever is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her.”
{8:8} And bending down again, he wrote on the earth.
{8:9} But upon hearing this, they went away, one by one, beginning with the eldest. And Jesus alone remained, with the woman standing in front of him.
{8:10} Then Jesus, raising himself up, said to her: “Woman, where are those who accused you? Has no one condemned you?”
{8:11} And she said, “No one, Lord.” Then Jesus said: “Neither will I condemn you. Go, and now do not choose to sin anymore.”

The teaching of the Church is, do not sin, but you should not be put to death for sin. It is still possible for secular society to morally use the death penalty for very grave crimes, so as to protect society from further crimes, e.g. terrorism, mass murder, the crimes of dictators, war crimes. But using the death penalty for religious offenses was dispensed by Christ in the above passage from the Gospel.

So it should not be controversial for the Pope to condemn the use of the death penalty against gay persons.

2. Another suggestion is that the Pope might call for the worldwide legalization of homosexuality. Some nations (and U.S. States?) still have laws criminalizing homosexual acts.

This, too, should not be controversial. Not every grave sin should be also a crime under the laws of secular society. The criminalization of homosexuality has no reasonably anticipated good effects, and secular society is not competent to be in charge of morality, to decide what is and is not a sin, nor to punish sins. That is a role for the Church, to teach what is sinful, and for God, to judge who has sinned.

3. A third suggestion is that Pope Francis might call for the legalization of same-sex civil unions, to give gay persons various benefits and rights, without having to legalize same-sex marriage. When he was a Cardinal in Argentina, and a legislative battle was ensuing on same-sex marriage, Cardinal Bergoglio suggested that the Church push for same-sex civil unions, to avoid the worse situation of approval for same-sex marriage. However, the legislature did not take his advice, and same-sex marriage became law.

Is it moral for the Church to tell legislators to permit a lesser evil, to avoid a greater evil? Sometimes. Pope Saint John Paul II stated, in Evangelium Vitae, that a Catholic legislator could vote for a law that allows some abortions, if it represents a further restriction on abortion that at that present time, and if it is the most restrictive law that could be passed.

“In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.” [Evangelium Vitae 73]

Similarly, the Church could propose civil unions as a way to extend benefits to gay persons — health insurance, inheritance rights, protection of laws on domestic violence, etc. — without making the relationship seem like a natural or supernatural marriage. Gay persons have the same human rights as any other persons, and civil unions could be a compromise proposal for a society that is not willing to accept the whole truth of what the Church teaches.

4. If the Pope does issue such a document, it will probably contain some assertions that conservatives will reject as false or heretical. They are of a mindset to scan the Pope’s every word for material to build a case against him.


Of the three suggestions, all are possible, but the first two seem more likely. Society has reached a point now where civil unions would not be accepted by the culture. Only full legal marriage would be found acceptable, so supporting civil unions would not be effective at “limiting harm” or at “lessening…negative consequences”.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian
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1 Response to Will Pope Francis issue a document on Homosexuality?

  1. Mark P. says:

    I thought the April document had to do with the youth synod, not homosexuality.

    Any of the suggestions above would be disastrous for the Church. Not sure what it would benefit the Church to make these kinds of statements, especially for support of civil unions. Secular society is already instituting homosexual marriages and unions around the world at a brisk pace, so why would the Church need to chime in with what will be inevitably construed as support for homosexual families? It makes no sense to say the pope could put out a statement saying homosexual unions are ok, but homosexual acts are still a sin. Nobody would believe that. Church teachings should be clear, they shouldn’t need vast exercises in theology and picking through canon law to figure out if they are still “Catholic.”

    I don’t think the comparison between St. John Paul II’s statement about abortion is comparable to a similar “lesser evils” position for same-sex unions. A “lesser evil” approach to abortion can still save lives, whereas a “lesser evil” approach to same-sex relationships will produce more people living against Church teachings. So they are not even remotely the same.

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