Arkansans Say Pope's Remarks Do Not Equal Acceptance of Homosexuality

Jul 29, 2013

Saint Edward's Catholic Church in downtown Little Rock.

Pope Francis has generated some buzz because of comments on gays in the Catholic Church after his week long trip to Brazil. Francis said gays, including clergy, should be forgiven and integrated into society.

He said, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”

Dr. John Sanders, Chair of Religious Studies at Hendrix College in Conway, says the comments are less about theology and more about tone.

“The pope can lead, just as the President of the United States can lead, by the bully pulpit. He can say this is the way forward. He’s modeling a tone and an attitude towards these issues that is conciliatory and compassionate without changing the fundamental and doctrinal position. If he did that it would bring about a huge outcry,” said Sanders.

He says the Pope’s comments do not change the fact the Church considers homosexuality a sin that needs forgiveness. But it does open the door for greater inclusion and less hostility. Sanders says even choosing the name Francis suggest a desire for greater compassion. Most notably Francis's thoughts on inclusion seemingly conflict with the previous Pope, Benedict, who said men with homosexual tendencies should not be priests.

Father Jason Tyler of St. Edward’s in Little Rock agrees with much of Dr. Sanders analysis. He said the Pope's comments are not necessarily anything new for his parish and the remarks are definitely not an endorsement of homosexuality.

“If someone is homosexual then that also means helping them to live their sexuality in an integrated way. For a person with homosexual tendencies that’s going to mean essentially a celibate life in the world. In that sense the call to compassion, the call to love, and the call to love in such a way that we bring people to Christ, that’s a constant and I don’t see any need for change in that way,” said Tyler.

Essentially, Tyler says the Pope’s remarks are a change of tone, but not doctrine. He says issues of sexuality, especially in regards to the priesthood, are largely unchanged, and that “off-the-cuff” remarks by the Pope are not equivalent with official changes and proclamations.

Catholics make up about 4-percent of the state’s population.