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It is Sunday, and in the lectionary of the church, today’s gospel reading is the story from Luke in which a man asks Jesus to tell the man’s brother to share his family’s inheritance.  To this question Jesus replies, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?”  Jesus then goes on to teach about the evils of greed, but I found myself lingering on the first passage, about judgment.  This question, much like Christ’s rhetorical invitation to the angry mob that any without sin should cast the first stone, reminded me of a statement recently made by the new pope.  Asked about his attitude toward homosexuals, Pope Francis reportedly said that he often thinks, “Who am I to judge?”  Bravo, viva il papa, and may God bless him.  That kind of candor comes from a good heart.

While there has been much interest in Pope Francis’s Latin American background and how that might affect his papacy, little has been said of the fact that he is a Jesuit. For non-Catholics who might not understand what that means, consider the statement by David Collins, Professor of History at Georgetown University (a Jesuit school), that “if there’s a barricade in the street, there’s going to be a Jesuit on both sides of that barricade.” Jesuits are intellectuals and free thinkers.  Their order has been integral to the advancement of western civilization.  I studied law at a Jesuit university, where one of my professors was a very learned, kind and openly gay man who later died of AIDS.

Before the election of Francis, not for two thousand years had a Jesuit sat in the chair of St. Peter.  What we heard in Pope Francis’s reaction to the question about homosexuals was very much a Jesuit answer.  It is jarring, however, to consider the contrast between this simple, genuine, Christ-like statement and the official doctrine of the church that Francis now leads.  Homosexual acts are described in the official Catechism of the Catholic Church in very judgmental terms, as a “grave depravity,” “intrinsically disordered” and “contrary to natural law,” with the additur that “under no circumstances can they be approved.”

While the Catholic church has long called for tolerance and compassion toward gays and lesbians as individuals, its leadership has been unreservedly willing to sit in judgment against their sexual orientation—all except now, perhaps, for the Vicar of Christ.  There is great hope in this, I think.  Perhaps the church will repent of throwing stones at those who remarry after divorce, or whose children die before baptism, or whose faith leads them to God by another way.  Perhaps we are seeing the winds of real change.  One can only hope.

It is a hard thing to know one’s own mind, much less the mind of God.  We all could benefit from a great deal more humility and a lot less certitude on the subject of what God thinks of us and our neighbors.  But then, who am I to judge?