Francis did not just normalize Catholic perceptions on homosexuality; nor did he address the theological position on sex outside of procreative intercourse
between married men and women. In reality, the only concrete matter he touched on was priests who are homosexual but celibate. Under Pope Benedict, as
of 2005, Bishops were directed to treat homosexual candidates for the clergy with suspicion, denying a haven to gay Catholics seeking a religious life. But Francis seems to be suggesting that homosexuals are no more likely to betray their vows of celibacy than heterosexuals. That may have concrete policy
implications within the seminary, as well it should.
But the potential in these remarks is striking. If orientation does not convey a pre-emptive judgment in the eyes of the Pope, then it becomes more
difficult for Illinois Bishop Thomas Paprocki to call homosexuality "an intrinsic
evil." It becomes more difficult for Catholic organizations to fire employees for being gay or to force them to choose between their work and their
identity, as recently happened in Minnesota. Francis' impromptu remarks on the plane
suggest a small, mild step towards equality.
And so we watch Pope Francis' incremental revolution continue. He changes tone without changing theology, and tone, when one is the leader of the Catholic
Church, matters. It's easy to take these off-the-cuff statements too far, but homosexual acts, in the eyes of the Church, remain sinful -- as does all
non-procreative sex. Similarly, a few months ago,
Pope Francis did not say that atheists who are good all go to heaven. And yet, merely by making homosexuals and atheists not inherently the enemies of the faith, Francis brings about change.
A few days ago, the Pope had yet another impromptu conversation, this one not with the press corps but with young people from Rio de Janeiro in their
cathedral. He spoke mildly and calmly, and he smiled. "What does he expect from World Youth Day?" he asked, then
answered his own question. "I expect a revolution, not just here in Rio, but in all dioceses!" Francis is a man of universal vision who seems to be
attempting to transform the Church and, perhaps in his understanding, subsequently the world. He does not need to call a great council or write new
documents, because the fundamental doctrines of social justice and equality can be found readily in the writings of countless theologians, the Second
Vatican Council, and especially in that document of radical inclusiveness -- the New Testament. All he has to do is activate them in the minds and hearts of
believers and non-believers alike.