A top advisor to Pope Francis commented on the church’s pastoral response to homosexuality during a lecture on the theme of mercy, but Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga struck a notably less welcoming tone than fellow bishops who have spoken out in recent weeks.
Honduras’ Cardinal Rodriguez addressed a Santa Clara University, California, audience on Tuesday about “The Meaning of Mercy.” Rodriguez is archbishop of Tegucigalpa as well as head of both the pope’s Council of Cardinals and Caritas Internationalis (the Church’s international relief organization), placing him in close proximity to the pope. In his lecture, reported by America, the cardinal proposed an image of church as “a Samaritan Church” and continued:
“[The Church is] an institution which like the Good Samaritan chooses to ‘heal the wounds of those who are beaten, hurting and prostrated, those who have weakly fallen under the power of those who use violence.’…
” ‘The Church…is not here to judge, to condemn, to reproach or to reject anybody, but to embrace as in a home where love reigns for everyone who needs it. Following Jesus does not mean to participate in a triumphant entourage. It means to share his merciful love.’ “
Later, Cardinal Rodriguez was asked by an audience member how this church of mercy could pastorally respond to lesbian and gay people. Saying the same-gender marriage is “another thing” that will never be approved and changing doctrine is “crazy,” Rodriguez responded:
“The approach is the approach of the Christ, but of course, you have to see that in the Gospel you see two attitudes of Christ. Regarding that lady that was found in adultery, what did Christ say? ‘Did anyone else condemn you?’ ‘Nobody, Lord.’ ‘Okay, neither do I. Go and sin no more.’
“These are the attitudes of the Lord—understanding the situation, but always giving a little turn to the key—Yes, go and sin no more. It means that in the Church we are not making the Church a la carte, as some of the other denominations do…
“Okay, but that doesn’t mean that we are going to be excluding persons who live their faith and would like to be parts of the Church. One thing is defining marriage, another thing is pastoral care. This is what I believe will make road in the Synod…
“And so I say, this is complicated, but the purpose is to look, how to heal wounds, how to approach the sheep that went out and what can we do in the limits of the Gospel.”
On the Synod’s treatment of LGBT issues specifically, Rodriguez said the situation was “very complicated” because of the church’s geographical and cultural diversity. He cited Africa as an example:
“Because for instance the situation is very complicated in Africa. In some places, it’s the death penalty to be homosexual. I didn’t understand that until I was listening in the Synod to the interventions of many African bishops. They would say, Okay, we have been teaching something and now you want us to go against what we have been teaching.”
It is apparent that Cardinal Rodriguez’s pastoral approach to LGBT issues misses the meaning of mercy. At a basic level, the situation in Africa and elsewhere is clearer than the cardinal realizes. It is core to Catholic teaching that no discrimination or violence should harm anyone, including those in sexual and gender diverse minorities. Laws criminalizing homosexuality and imposing strict penalties, sometimes even the death penalty, are inconsistent with the Gospel because they promote hate and harm. Furthermore, if bishops are support such policies or misrepresent Catholic teaching, situations which Bondings 2.0 reported on previously here and here, then the interests of justice and truth should compel them to go against what they were teaching.
More deeply, Rodriguez’s image of a “Samaritan Church” is problematic. For instance, religious leaders’ demands for greater purity before they will unconditionally love is one of the critiques lodged by the Good Samaritan parable. It is worth noting it is the Samaritan, deemed by Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries as enemies and apostates, who is most capable of love. Today’s Samaritans are LGBT people, among other marginalized groups, who give life and love to our churches and communities while religious officials acts as those who ignore the wounded outsider. The image of a “Samaritan Church” is beautiful, but Rodriguez misrepresents how such a church would actually operate.
In seeking to be merciful as Pope Francis exhorts, Cardinal Rodriguez misses the mark. Before next fall’s synod, he should listen more closely to the words of his fellow prelates, such as Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich who desires a new approach to same-sex relationships, and Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna who wants the Synod to deal in the realities of family life, and Bishop Johan Bonny of Antwerp who has called for the church to formally recognize and bless gay couples.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry