What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

Could the Vatican’s decree on same-sex unions turn people away from church?

After Pope Francis initially signaled support for same-sex unions, the Vatican decreed Monday that the Catholic Church cannot support them, saying God “cannot bless sin.” The latest decree has disappointed LGBTQ advocates and cast doubt on the church’s acceptance of gay people. Rev. Bryan Massingale, a professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham University, joins Amna Nawaz to discuss.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now to a clash of religion and culture in the Catholic Church.

    Pope Francis has voiced support for civil legalization of same-sex unions, but yesterday declared that priests cannot bless same-sex marriage.

    Amna Nawaz explores reaction to this decision.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Judy, the pope said the church should welcome and bless LGBTQ members, but he upheld old church teachings on this key question.

    In a statement, the pope said the church — quote — "cannot bless sin" and referred to same-sex unions as illicit, and also not ordered to God's plan.

    Back in 2013, the pope first made global headlines. When speaking about gay priests, he said — quote — "Who I am to judge?"

    Father Bryan Massingale is a professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham University. And he joins me now.

    Father Massingale, welcome to the "NewsHour," and thanks for making the time.

    Let's just begin with your reaction. When you heard about this response from Pope Francis, what did you think?

  • Father Bryan Massingale:

    When I first heard the announcement, I was very disappointed, I was very saddened, but I was not surprised.

    The announcement continues a kind of pattern that we have seen from Pope Francis throughout his pontificate when it comes to dealing with issues of same-sex morality. He wants to extend a hand of welcome and compassion to members of this community, but he wants to do so within the framework of traditional sexual teaching.

    So, he wants gays and lesbians to be treated with compassion, with sensitivity, with respect, but he also wants to draw the line at not changing any of the traditional sexual beliefs or doctrines of the Catholic Church.

    So, given those kind of parameters, the announcement yesterday was not a surprise, but it was disappointing, considering that this pope has done more than any of his predecessors to extend a hand of welcome and tenderness and support to members of the LGBTQ community. But he is trying to do it within his framework which circumscribes how far that welcome can extend.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    What kind of message do you think that sends? I mean, what's the practical impact of that, when you talk about what some people may find a confusing message?

    On the one hand, he's saying who am I to judge and all people are welcome. On the other hand, he's saying, these same-sex unions are a sin.

  • Bryan Massingale:

    Well, I think that one of the reactions is confusion.

    In other words, what the church is trying to do is trying to balance this tightrope. And I think it is an instance of the kind of tension that we see in trying to be welcoming, but then you're trying to do it within a framework which holds that people's intimate expressions of love are sinful.

    So, how can you extend welcome and compassion, while at the same time condemning acts of love as sin? I think this is something that every religious denomination has had to struggle with, as they're wrestling with new insights into human sexuality. How far can one really go in reconciling new knowledge and new insight and new experience within traditional frameworks?

    And I think that's precisely the tension that the Catholic Church finds itself in right now.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Do you worry that it could turn people away from the Catholic Church?

  • Bryan Massingale:

    I don't worry about it. I'm very frightened of that possibility.

    I know for a fact that there are many gay and lesbian former Catholics who have left the church precisely because their love could not be blessed and recognized by the church. I worry about what this means from the students I teach at Fordham.

    Yesterday in class, we discussed this briefly, and all of my students to a person said that they just didn't understand what the problem is. Many of them know, have friends who are gay and lesbian. Many of them have attended same-sex weddings. There are many Catholics already who have members of their families who are involved in same-sex relationships.

    And they see the positive value that these relationships bring to their loved ones' lives. And so for the church to blanketly say that these are sinful, while yet, at the same time, in the same document, it says that they have positive elements which need to be valued and appreciated, that is a pretty confusing message to try to get across to the ordinary person in the pew.

    How can something be positive, valued, and appreciated, and yet be sinful? And I think many people find it not only confusing, but dismaying and, frankly, a little bit insulting? And so they go elsewhere for their spiritual needs.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Father Massingale, while I have you, I need to ask you about another big story related to the Catholic Church.

    And that was an announcement from the Jesuit order of priests, saying they're making a $100 million commitment, a fundraising commitment, to benefit the descendants of enslaved people that it once owned, the church once owned, and to promote racial reconciliation across the U.S.

    You have written a lot about the power of the church to combat racism. What did you make of this announcement?

  • Bryan Massingale:

    I'm extremely excited about this initiative.

    This is really unprecedented to have a joint effort of the descendants of the enslaved people and the descendants of the enslavers come together in a common project to address the remnants of enslavement and its continuing effects upon the American society.

    I think this is groundbreaking, because the Society of Jesus is not the only religious order that was entangled with this tragedy of African enslavement. There are many other religious groups and religious orders who also owned slaves.

    And so I think, for the Jesuits to come forward in this initiative, this can be a model not only for other groups in the Catholic Church. It can be a model for American society about how to address this lingering stain on the American conscience. I think this is potentially groundbreaking.

    The other thing that's exciting here is that they're recasting our understanding of what reparations mean. So often in our society, we hear about reparations, we think about, well, who's going to get how much money?

    And what they're taking, a broader view, and saying that reparations means repair. How do we repair the systemic damage that enslavement has done in American society? This could be really potentially groundbreaking, and it's very, very exciting and long overdue.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Father Bryan Massingale of Fordham University, it was a pleasure speaking with you. Thank you so much for making the time.

  • Bryan Massingale:

    Thank you.

Listen to this Segment