Sexual attraction does not define identity, a priest has said, after comments attributed to Pope Francis have prompted questions about Catholic doctrine and the nature of sexual orientation.
“Of course God loves all people. This is his defining characteristic: God is love,” Fr. Thomas Petri, OP, told CNA.
“But he does not love sin, indeed he cannot love sin because sin is not only opposed to God but also opposed to the true good and happiness to which he calls every human person.”
“So while [God] may love every person, he does not love the things we do that separate us from him and harm our dignity as his children,” added Petri, academic dean of the Dominican-run Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC.
On Friday, Juan Carlos Cruz, a Chilean victim of sexual abuser Fr. Fernando Karadima, told the Spanish newspaper El Pais that Pope Francis told him that it did not matter that he was gay.
He said the pope told him, “God made you like that and he loves you like that and I do not care.”
The comments have stirred a controversy about Catholic doctrine on homosexuality, with some media outlets reporting them as a “major shift” in Catholic teaching.
The Vatican does not customarily comment on private conversations involving the pope, and has not confirmed or clarified the remarks Cruz attributed to Pope Francis.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “deep-seated” homosexual inclination is "objectively disordered," but that people with homosexual tendencies “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.”
“Inasmuch as all of us has proclivities and disordered desires in our lives, we must be always be vigilant against temptation and repent when we fall,” Petri told CNA.
Furthermore, he added, it is “dangerous” to assert that God made anything that is sinful or causes suffering, including disordered desires, addictions, or diseases such as cancer.
Things that are not good cannot come from a God who is all good, Petri noted, although it is ultimately a mystery why God permits sin and disorder to exist in this life.
“The relationship of God’s almighty will and his infinite goodness to the disorder, sin, violence, and evil we experience in this life is question the Catechism of the Catholic Church says is ‘as pressing as it is unavoidable and as painful as it is mysterious,’” he said.
“What we know,” he added, “is that nothing escapes the providence of God, even disorders, pathologies, sin, and evil. In a very poignant section on providence and the scandal of evil, the Catechism points to the fact that God has created the world and humanity in a state of journeying. Nothing is perfect and so disorders exist.”
However, we can be confident that God works to bring good from the consequences of disorder and evil, “even those who struggle with disordered desires can, by God’s grace, come to embrace their call to be his children and to live in the dignity to which he has called them, even as they may suffer temptation.”
“In fact, it can be in the face of temptation that a person’s reliance on God becomes all the more strong,” he noted.
In his pastoral experience with people who have same-sex attractions, Petri said some have a harder time believing in God’s love than others.
He added that he has found it useful to compare disordered sexual desires to other disordered desires people experience, whether in relation to food, drink, or other things.
Petri noted that confusion sometimes stems from “the tendency to treat [homosexuality] as an identifying trait of the person, as though it is somehow fixed as an ultimate reality for a person,” Petri said.
“It’s not. The identifying trait of each us is that we are loved by God and children of God. Everything else revolves around that.”
“Attractions, sexual or otherwise, are complicated. They come and go, can alternate and shift, and can often be fickle. Our dignity as human beings is that with grace we are called to become masters of our desires and not servants to them.”