After Pope Francis made headlines last week for his comments on gay clergy, experts say there have been no changes in church doctrine.
And that’s the same message the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville wants to relay.
“What Pope Francis said is not new,” a spokeswoman for the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville said in a statement. “Pope Francis’s remarks reiterate church teaching that homosexuals are welcome in the church but homosexual activity is forbidden.”
Monsignor Heberto Diaz, pastor of Mary Mother of Church Parish in Brownsville, said the pope’s remarks resonated with him.
“The main thing I agree with is when he said, ‘who are we to judge?’” Diaz said. “We are not here to condemn people, but to embrace.”
The reason, Diaz said, a person’s sexuality is not a concern when they are ordained into priesthood is because they are making the decision to lead a celibate life.
Candidates in the priesthood go through what is called a “formation” program for about eight or nine years, Diaz said.
“In those times, they have a formation program that includes academics, spirituality and also personal psychological formation and learn to embrace who they are and to live a life of chastity,” Diaz said.
“It’s not so much a gay issue,” Diaz said. “It’s just as important for a heterosexual young man, as a gay young man, to have this formation time to be able to make a decision if he is able or willing to embrace this way of life in service of the church and the gospel.”
Diaz said he believes Pope Francis’s remarks pertained only to who is qualified and isn’t qualified to enter the seminary.
Charles E. Curran, an expert on Catholic moral theology and a professor at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology, said the pope did not change church teaching at all.
“The church teaching has always been that there should be respect for homosexual persons but they cannot engage in homosexual acts,” said Curran, who is also a Catholic priest.
He likens it to a parent’s relationship with their children.
“If you’re upset with things your child does, you still respect them when you disagree with what they are doing,” Curran said.
Some people believe that gay men should not be priests, Curran said. What the pope said, Curran added, was that just because a man is gay, that shouldn’t keep him from pursuing the priesthood.
“There is a policy in some places that they will not ordain someone who is gay, but in other places they do,” Curran said.
When asked whether gay priests are ordained in Brownsville’s diocese, spokeswoman Brenda Nettles Riojas referred to a statement, “The church’s expectation is that priests have cultivated a capacity for lifelong commitment to celibate chastity, including a habit of modesty. They are expected to master all sexual temptations and be prepared to meet the challenge of living chastely in all friendships. A priest must be resolved to live a healthy, celibate lifestyle that expresses self-gift, faithfulness and faithful and life-giving love. Candidates for the seminary have to be able to live a life of chaste celibacy, whether they are homosexual or heterosexual.”