It is supremely ironic that secular newspapers that take great pride in being in tune with the times, up-to-date and au courant, can be, when writing about the Catholic Church, 2,000 years behind the times. Pope Francis made the comment, “Who am I to judge?” on his flight back from World Youth Day in Brazil. The remark related to people with same-sex inclinations who are looking for God. Some secular newspapers found the Pope’s comment “novel,” but added that the Church, nonetheless, has not changed her doctrine “that homosexuality is a sin.”
The Church, of course, has never taught that homosexuality is a sin, no more than she has taught that autism, Down syndrome or being left-handed is a sin. Though homosexuality is not a sin, heterosexuals, just as homosexuals, are capable of sinning. In this regard, the Church does not treat homosexuals any differently from the way she treats heterosexuals. She has always taught that sin lies not in the condition of the person, but in the commission of the act. One might argue that in the Sixth Commandment, “Thou shall not commit adultery,” directed primarily at heterosexuals, is a more explicit condemnation of their sexual misconduct than that of homosexuals.
It appears that the secular press would like to reduce the Church to an institution that is inconsistent, prejudicial and lacking in compassion. These charges, however, are fraudulent because they are founded on a form of ignorance that one has reason to suspect is intentional.
That we live in a changing world is axiomatic. Hence, the temptation exists for people to believe that the daily newspaper brings them up-to-date with the evolving wisdom of the world. Concomitant with this assumption is that change equals progress. Terms such as passé, outmoded and old-fashioned are the kiss of death. No one wants to “live in the past” or be accused of trying to “turn back the clock.” An “old fogey” is simply a laughingstock.
Yet, the secular world stands convicted of its own inconsistencies when it advertises hamburgers that are cooked and money that is earned “the old-fashioned way.” Moreover, nostalgia for old movies and trends that are now passé indicate that people are not totally satisfied with what happens to be fashionable at the moment. The so-called “good-old-days,” though sometimes idealistic, is another mode of expressing dissatisfaction with the present. There does exist in the heart of man a strong desire for continuity, stability and reliability. It is the Church, not the secular press, that offers these values. World Youth Day was an occasion for the deliverance of a message that is the fruit of more than 2,000 years. It was a day that expressed an epoch. Its relevance is not only for today but for an endless series of tomorrows.
If the secular press had any real concern for justice, it would have presented the Church’s teaching in a more fair and accurate manner. The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in 1987, issued a Letter to bishops entitled, “The Pastoral Care of Homosexuals.” In that document, Cardinal Ratzinger states that “culpability for homosexual acts should only be judged with prudence.” (§3) He reiterated the age-old distinction between “the homosexual condition or tendency and individual homosexual actions” (§3). He also stated that since all human persons are “made in the image and likeness of God,” they should not be “described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation” (§16). The secular press, by looking at the Church, unhistorically, treats her unjustly.
It would indeed be “novel” if the Church suddenly approved heterosexual adultery. But she is just as unlikely to approve this sin as she would approve homosexual promiscuity. And it is interesting to note that heterosexuals are not lobbying (with the support of the press) for the Church to permit marital infidelity. The secular press, because of its love affair with the moment (“decomposed eternity,” as Richard Weaver calls it), is hardly a reliable witness for a Church that honors not only the moment (in which redemption can take place), but history and eternity. Henry James’s description of journalism as criticism of the moment at the moment, is still apt.
The secular press, then, by not considering “time” in its larger dimensions, will always be lagging behind the times.
Donald DeMarco is a senior fellow of Human Life International. He is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario, and an adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut, and a regular columnist for St. Austin Review. Some of his recent writings may be found at Human Life International’s Truth & Charity Forum.