Who are we to judge?
How can the Church be so judgmental?! You can’t help the way you were born. I’m not judging gay people, because I certainly wouldn’t want anyone to judge me.
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, caused quite a ruckus in August of 2013 when he met with 3 million young people for World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Not because he met with 3 million young people, but because on the plane ride home from the event, he spoke to members of the press for an hour and half and answered any and all questions they asked. Someone asked about the existence of a ‘gay lobby’ within the Vatican, which got Pope Francis talking about the subject of homosexuality. Reporters went crazy over one thing Pope Francis said: “If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, well, who am I to judge them?” (full interview transcript; this quote is near the end)
In the days that followed, hundreds (if not thousands) of articles and opinion pieces flooded the Internet, many praising Pope Francis for his ‘revolutionary’ remarks. But the reality is that he didn’t say anything new. The Catechism is clear on the subject – only God can judge the soul.
However… that’s a different sense of “judging.” As a culture, we have this deep fear of judgment. We don’t want to be judged, nor do we want to be seen as judgmental (funny how we judge others as judgmental, isn’t it?). We’re terrified of saying something offensive or hurting another person because they might think that we have judged them. The problem with that mindset, though, is that it’s unrealistic. We all make thousands of judgments, every day. We have to.
Words and Actions
There’s a profound and important difference between judging someone and judging an action. It’s pretty important that we make action judgments on a daily basis – especially as to whether an action is moral or immoral. The morality of an action (or even of a mindset, like racism) is not a matter of opinion or taste. There are certain things that are right and wrong. It’s right to pay for things, tell the truth, and be faithful to our commitments. It’s wrong to steal, lie, and commit adultery. There are no circumstances in which those things are good, or contribute to the good of a person.
We must judge those actions as wrong and even sometimes administer consequences to those who choose them. Jesus did the same – he was pretty clear with St. Peter that violence was not the answer (John 18:10-11). He even judged the interior life of the Pharisees when their attitudes weren’t good (Matthew 23:23-26). As followers of Christ, we are called to high moral standards, not only for ourselves but for everyone we love.
Born this Way?
But how can we judge people for something they didn’t choose? Two thoughts: Lady Gaga may say that you were born this way, but the reality is that there isn’t a clear answer on whether same-sex attraction is something a person is born with, something that comes from the way he or she grew up, some combination of the two, or if the cause varies from person to person. But simply being born with something – same-sex attraction, a predisposition to alcoholism, depression, ADHD, or any other number of physical/learning/emotional/mental/moral disorders – doesn’t mean that thing is good. It’s irrelevant, morally. Just because you didn’t choose it doesn’t mean it’s okay.
And frankly, the Church isn’t as worried about the causes of same-sex attraction as She is about the effects. Her main concern is that people who have these attractions know that they are loved by God and the Church and that they make a commitment to chastity.
The Church knows She can’t judge souls – that isn’t Her job, it’s God’s job. But She has a duty to judge actions as either moral or immoral, in order to help all souls get to heaven. After all, that’s what Jesus did – and we’re trying to follow him.
Don’t let our culture’s ‘don’t judge me, bro!’ attitude scare you away from making moral judgments. It’s a profoundly important skill and essential to the spiritual life: we have a duty to choose the good, and in order to choose the good, we have to know what the good is. There’s a judgment to be made. And we don’t make it on our own; we lean on the wisdom of the Church, Scripture, and Tradition for help.
For more on this topic, we highly recommend this chapter – an excerpt from A Case for Chastity, a great book on all things chaste. This chapter is about the importance of making distinctions between homosexual attractions and homosexual behavior and really explains well how and why we distinguish between actions and persons.