Do gay persons have a duty or right to follow their consciences? Let’s start with Catholics who are gay. Should they not follow Church teaching? What if Church teaching and their well-deliberated sincere conscience disagree? Conservative Catholics will say they must conform their conscience to Church teaching, which is true, but what happens in the case where they cannot. They sincerely do not think the Church is right on some teaching having to do with homosexuality? Conservative Catholics who are presently fighting against the Roman Pontiff say that persons in that situation must put aside their conscience and live according to Church teaching. But most persons who say this are hypocrites. They refuse to set aside their own opinions in any matter whenever the Popes or the Councils disagree. They live not according to Church teaching, but according to their own understanding of Church teaching — just like the gay person in the above example. Hypocrites! You cannot oppose the Popes and Councils whenever you disagree, and then tell gay persons to do whatever the Church teaches.
The true answer is that every Catholic must accept every teaching of the Church, including non-infallible teachings. But gay Catholics who live contrary to Church teaching based on their own conscience are no different from conservatives who constantly shout to the whole world that the Pope is wrong at every turn. The Pope is not contradicting Tradition or past magisterial teaching. He is only contradicting your misunderstanding.
The Church teaches that every Pope has the charism of truth and of never failing faith. If you disagree, you have no ground on which to stand to say to gay Catholics that they should shut up and do what the Church says.
What about gay persons in society who are not Catholic? Should society, in the Catholic view, make laws that accommodate their consciences and allow them to have civil unions or various other legal protections and supports?
There is nothing wrong in the least with what Pope Francis said. And he certainly has the authority and the right to change the prudential judgment of the Holy See on whether civil union laws in secular society are fitting or not. This in no way contradicts any past magisterial teaching.
Gay persons have a right to a family. They have a right to follow their own conscience. They have a right to freedom of religion. Secular society should make laws that protect these rights, and allow people to live according to their own judgments of will and intellect, even if it is contrary to Catholic teaching. Of course, as Catholics, we should try to convince society of the uprightness of Catholic teaching. But we should also start with ourselves, and put our own house in order before correcting others. If you reject any teaching of Pope Francis, or other Popes, or Vatican II, or if you accuse any Pope at all of heresy, you have no right to tell gay non-Catholics to live according to the Church teaching, which you yourself subject to your own ideas.
It would be good to have a society in which all were faithful Catholics. But we Catholics cannot disobey the Popes, reject the teaching of Popes and Councils, rebuke the Pope whenever he dares to contradict the least layperson blogger or loud-mouthed cleric, and then say to gay persons: “I know you are non-Catholic, but you have to live according to the teachings of Popes and Councils.” In a democratic society, the laws will be made according to the majority view.
The First See is judged by no one. No one has the right to judge the Pope and declare that he has overstepped his office, or has contradicted past teachings, or is wrong in a matter of prudential judgment. We can disagree to a limited extent with certain expressions of the Pope. But I see many persons doing to with great pride, assuming that their understanding is infallible, and the Pope’s understanding is likely to err at every turn.
I hope Pope Francis uses Papal Infallibility, soon, on a number of issues, to compel the faithful to exercise the virtue of faith or leave the Church. This arrogance must stop. It is not Christ teaching you to treat the Roman Pontiff with such disrespect and denigration. The Holy Spirit does not inspire people to pride and self-exaltation, but to humility and faith. Submit your minds and hearts to the teachings of the Roman Pontiff.
There should be a law of the Church preventing Catholics, esp. clergy, from publicly contradicting the Pope, from accusing him of any grave error on faith or morals, and certainly from accusing him of any grave failure of faith, such as heresy. The Church is being greatly harmed, not by the Pope, but by the many Catholics who assume that their understanding of the Faith is infallible and that they should oppose the Pope whenever he disagrees with them. Then social media rewards them with notoriety whenever they speak against the Vicar of Christ.