ROME—Remember back in 2013, shortly after Pope Francis was elected when he shocked the world with his words: “If a person seeks God and has goodwill, then who am I to judge,” when asked about a gay priest?
What was then seen to be a change in decades of dogma sent shockwaves around the world, landing the pontiff on the cover of Advocate and winning him praise among LGBTQ groups and lapsed Catholics. In some ways, Francis has been eating his words ever since, constantly called to explain by conservatives in the church what he meant.
Now it seems Francis isn't mincing his words on the topic. He told Spanish Claretian missionary Fernando Prado that in reality he's actually “very worried” about homosexuality in the church. Prado, whose book La Forza della Vocazione (The Strength of Vocation) comes out in multiple languages on Monday, spent four hours interviewing the pontiff in Vatican City this fall about problems in the priesthood. Italy's Corriere Della Sera newspaper excerpted parts of the book on Saturday.
When Prado asked Francis specifically about the high percentage of gays in the priesthood today, Francis became very judgemental indeed. He said that seminaries need to do better at weeding them out. “It's something that worries me,” he said, according to the excerpts. “We have to discern with seriousness and listen to the voice of the experience that the Church has. When discernment is not used, problems increase. As I said before, it may be that at the moment they are accepted maybe they do not show their faces [as gay], but later they appear.”
Francis, who has implied tolerance but never officially remarked that he approves of same sex marriages, has in the past said that Catholics should accept and welcome gay parishioners to the pews among them. But it seems that he doesn't want them behind the pulpit.
“The issue of homosexuality is a very serious matter that must be properly discerned from the beginning with the candidates,” he told the Spanish missionary. “We have to be demanding.”
Francis also said he worried that “in our societies it even seems that homosexuality is fashionable” then adding, “that mentality, in some ways, also influences the life of the Church.”
Francis has been accused of sending mixed messages about the issue of gay people in the church. In private conversations, such as the one with Juan Carlos Cruz, a Chilean victim of clerical sex abuse, he seems tolerant. According to Cruz, the pope told him, “You know Juan Carlos, that does not matter. God made you like this. God loves you like this. The Pope loves you like this and you should love yourself and not worry about what people say.”
But in public, the pontiff tends to toe the party line, keeping the door closed.
Francis told Prado a story about a conversation with a bishop, apparently scandalized, who came to him and said that there were several priests in his large diocese who were openly gay and asked if it was ok to let them be. “He himself doubted the question and asked me if there was something wrong with it,” Prado says the pope told him, according to the excerpts. “In short, he was saying, well, it's not that serious. It's just an expression of an affection.”
Then the pope grew serious. “This is a mistake,” the pope recalled telling the bishop. “It is not just an expression of affection. In the consecrated life and in the priestly life, there is no place for that kind of affection. For this reason, the Church recommends that people with this ingrained tendency not be accepted into the ministry or the consecrated life.”
And to those gay priests and nuns who are already ordained, Francis said this: “I say to the priests, gay religious men and women, we must urge you to live fully celibate and, above all, to be exquisitely responsible, trying not to scandalize your communities or the holy faithful people of God by living a double life. It is better that you leave the ministry or consecrated life rather than live a double life.”