“Who am I to judge?” I see that Pope Francis’s remark in the matter of a homosexual person has entered into our discussions. It is interesting to think about the deeper background which could throw light on some of the issues. Over the lifetime of most us there has been a gradual development within the Church’s pastoral approach. It has by no means been acceptable to all,
A current example has been the judgments which are made about people who, following a failed sacramental marriage, have entered a new, non-sacramental marriage. The traditional view claims that such a person has adopted a life of mortally sinful adultery. And so it follows that they cannot be full members of the Church and therefore cannot receive Communion because they have spurned ‘communion’ by their continued choice. The newer view would say that we cannot make such a simplistic judgment. Objectively the situation has involved something seriously wrong, but we do not know the circumstances. It may well be that the potential sinner has made the best decisions he can, and now lives in a situation where he or she sees that the successful continuance of the second marriage is necessary for all the people involved. Are we to cut off the grace which is needed to carry that through?
Similarly, thinking of our recent discussion on abortion, we cannot say that any particular individual choosing abortion is on the high road to Hell. They may genuinely believe that it is the right thing to do, or they might be so frightened by the situation that they cannot make a free choice. We are talking about a decision serious enough to be grounds for mortal sin, but not about the actual guilt of the chooser.
Homosexuality may give rise to a similar parting of the ways. We have no difficulty is recognising the mismatch between gender and sexual expression, but does it follow that every particular case is sinful? What does the moral choice look like to the person who has a strong homosexual temperament and could not emotionally sustain heterosexual coition? He or she might, for all we know, find goodness and love in a homosexual relationship. Are we, who may not have such tendencies, entitled to make a moral judgment for that person?
In my time as a marriage counsellor I met several clients who were intent on choices with which I disagreed. But my job was not to tell them their fortunes, it was to help them to think through the issues involved. I was in fact leading them through their examination of conscience. If, however, they ended up with the ‘wrong’ decision I had to respect that. To attempt to push them into a different decision (perhaps by my authority or my greater skills in argument) would have been an attempt to violate their consciences.
The tension in such and similar cases, appears to be between the moral law as taught by the Church and the conscience of the individual. Perhaps we feel that either of these can be taken too far. In one direction we could end up in a merciless clamp of legalism: the other could lead to a moral slackness born from our inherent tendency to find excuses for anything we really want to do.
And where does love come in?