Any organization has to have structure in order to thrive and survive. A business needs a business plan complete with a budget, an expectation of necessary human resources, expectation of revenue and much more. Structure provides stability and a framework that can be referenced if the business begins to run into difficulty.
The military structure comes in the form of a chain of command. If every member of the military were left to make his or her own decisions, there would be utter chaos in combat situations. Instead, superior officers command their troops, who are expected to comply. That structure assures everyone is working in the same direction, and such teamwork enables the accomplishment of goals.
Structure and the associated stability that comes with it provide the opportunity to succeed in many of life’s directions.
Thus it is with the Catholic Church. Long-established structure has kept the oldest existing Christian church going for nearly 2000 years. Commonly referred to as doctrine, the framework of the Catholic faith is essential to maintaining the body of the church. That doctrine includes belief in Jesus Christ as the son of God. It teaches that Jesus died for the sins of all humanity, that he rose on the third day and that he will come again. If you proclaim yourself as Catholic, you believe those teachings.
Catholic doctrine also teaches certain concepts of right and wrong. It states that sex outside of marriage is wrong. Marriage is between one man and one woman. Killing a baby in the womb is wrong. The death penalty, for any reason, is wrong. The term “devout” Catholic is often tossed around, but if you disagree with the church’s teachings on the above items or others, you really can’t consider yourself devout. Cafeteria Catholic might be a better description for those who pick and choose what they believe.
One part of the Catholic doctrine that gets a great deal of attention in the mainstream media these days is the belief that homosexuality is unnatural and wrong. In the west, where transgender rights and drag queens entertaining kindergartners have percolated their way to the top of the cultural agenda, the Church’s long-held traditional belief is disdained by many as out of touch.
Among those indicating the Church must change is Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg. As a Cardinal, his comments carry particular weight. There are only 178 Cardinals in the Catholic Church, each selected by a Pope. Hollerich was appointed as a Cardinal in 2019 by Pope Francis. He was selected as the relator general in Germany’s Synod on Synodality, a gathering in Germany of high-level Catholic officials making recommendations for the Church.
Despite the fact that Cardinal Hollerich is bound by a vow of obedience, among other vows to the Catholic Church he serves and to its doctrine, he recently came out swinging against the long-established Catholic teaching that human sexuality is reserved for within the Sacrament of Marriage between one man and one woman. In public comments, Hollerich said scientific and sociological factors, which are the basis for the Church’s 2,000-year-old understanding of human sexuality, have changed. As a result, the Church’s teachings are flawed. In essence, they are wrong and must be changed.
The Cardinal’s comments have an impact much deeper than whether it’s okay to be gay. The comments are but one domino in the pieces that make up the articles of faith. Using the Bible as our guide, Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is replete with marital imagery. According to Cardinal Hollerich, St. Paul was wrong. The Bible is wrong. If the Cardinal is correct, what other parts of the Bible are wrong? Some of it? All of it? By promoting the culturally popular notion that gay is perfectly normal, the Cardinal is undermining the book that serves as the basis for Christianity itself.
This is alarming on many levels. The structure of the Church calls for priests, even those elevated to the rarified air of Cardinal status, to show obedience. That obedience is to the Church, to its doctrine and to its leader. There is a process by which changes can be made in the Church, but that process does not include random priests publicly airing disagreement. Failure to adhere to the structure undermines the stability and, indeed, the credibility of the Catholic Church.
Undisputed is the Cardinal’s necessity of obedience to the Pope. Where does Pope Francis stand on the issue of homosexuality? If you’ve read the mainstream media, you are excused from being unsure of the answer to this question.
In recent comments to the Associated Press on the topic of homosexuals, Pope Francis told the reporter, “We are all children of God, and God loves us as we are.” He even went so far as to say it is not a crime to be homosexual. That’s it, then? According to the Pope, God loves gay people, so it must be okay?
Not so fast.
The Pope has made similar comments in the past, and the mainstream media always seems to interpret that as meaning this Pope is blessing homosexual relationships. Inevitably the Vatican tries to walk back the context of the Pope’s words a day or two later, but by then, the headlines have been read, and the gay community has declared yet another PR victory.
A deeper dive into the Pope’s comments go a long way toward clarifying that the Church’s posture has not changed on the topic. In that same discussion with the AP reporter, the Holy Father repeated the notion that Church teaching is that homosexual activity is a sin. In fact, the Vatican doctrinal office declared in 2021 that the Catholic Church could not bless same-sex unions because “God cannot bless sin.”
Pope Francis went so far as to say, “Let’s make the distinction first between sin and crime.” His point was that while gay activity may be a sin, it should not be prosecuted as a crime, making particular note of those nations with the death penalty.
What the Pope also says is that gay people must be welcomed into the church and treated with respect and kindness, despite the fact that homosexual acts are considered intrinsically disordered. This seems difficult for some to understand. It shouldn’t be.
Jesus welcomed the tax collector, despite his wicked ways. Jesus loved the individual, but not all of the actions of that individual. We see that same pattern with the son of man throughout his journey on earth. He embraced flawed people, loving them in spite of their sins, not because of them. He didn’t endorse their sins. He simply loved the individuals.
The truth is we’re all flawed people. Jesus loves all of us, despite our flaws. The fact that Pope Francis says homosexuality is a sin yet welcomes gays into the church doesn’t send a mixed message at all. It follows in the footsteps set by Jesus Christ himself.
Cardinal Hollerich has it wrong. Embracing sin at the expense of the stability and structure of the last 2000 years isn’t the way to enlightenment. He should sit back and observe Pope Francis and realize embracing the sinner, just like Jesus did, often changes the behavior in question.
• Tim Constantine is a columnist with The Washington Times.