By Brendan Walsh, editor of The Tablet

Many thought playing a major football tournament in Qatar, where homosexuality is outlawed, was wrong; it was pointed out that gay relationships are outlawed in dozens of other countries, as they were in Britain when it last hosted a World Cup.  Pope Francis has called for the decriminalisation of homosexuality. He said that such laws are unjust and called on the Catholic Church to actively oppose them. In the video of him being interviewed by the Associated Press the Pope seems to be thinking it through. “It’s not a crime … But it’s a sin,” he says, articulating traditional church teaching. “Fine – but first let’s distinguish between a sin and a crime.” And he adds, in that way he has that punctures our complacency, “It’s also a sin to lack charity with one another.”

When the Archbishop of York was asked, “Is gay sex a sin?”, he wriggled – as many of us would. Catholic journalist Melanie McDonagh writes, “The answer every Christian Church has always given to the question of whether gay sex – indeed, all sex outside marriage – is a sin is straightforward: Yes, it is.” But, she adds, “I can’t say I’d care to put the thing in these terms.”

Pope Francis – “not a crime … but a sin”.  Picture by Bill Heaney

The former Benedictine monk, now Anglican priest, Luigi Gioia, writes of his own journey from acceptance of the traditional answer to the question to the conviction that this teaching is grounded in an erroneous interpretation of Scripture. Gioia encountered denial, intransigence and – most bafflingly – frivolity when he looked for advice and support in the Church. “As long as you are not found out, do as you please,” he was often told. Perhaps this furtive encouragement to priests to lead a double life is partly behind the havoc in the diocese of Hexham and Newcastle. Four inquiries have been launched into what happened during the tenure of its former bishop, Robert Byrne.

The Church of England bishops’ report that has concluded with a compromise decision to allow blessings of gay relationships in church while maintaining the teaching that marriage is confined to a man and a woman raises the issue of how the authority of bishops to teach doctrine can be reconciled with the rights of the laity to be listened to, including in the application and development of church teaching. In a leader this week, The Tablet religion magazine discusses what the Catholic Church might learn from synodality as it is experienced in the Anglican Communion.

Next Friday, 3 February, after his visit to the DR Congo, Pope Francis will join Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland Iain Greenshields on a three-day joint visit to South Sudan. In our lead feature in the paper this week John Ashworth, a Catholic missionary who has lived in Sudan and South Sudan for forty years, gauges the impact their historic journey together might have on this conflict-ridden country.

When bishops, clergy and lay delegates met in Moscow in August 1917, writes David Grumett, they agreed an audacious plan for the reform and renewal of Russian Orthodoxy. What followed was the Bolshevik revolution, disruption, suffering and tragedy, terminating in the shameful spectacle of a Moscow Patriarch cheering on a brutal attack on a neighbouring country. President Zelenskiy will get his tanks, we’ve learnt this week, but even if Ukraine were to be successful in driving Russia’s forces out of its territory there are other factors to be addressed if a lasting peace is to be secured, as The Tablet discusses in an editorial this week.

Brendan WalshBrendan Walsh is editor of The Tablet

Top picture: Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland Iain Greenshields.

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