Fernando Sebastián, the retired archbishop of Pamplona, Spain, who was recently elevated to cardinal status by Pope Francis, has suggested that homosexuality is akin to “bodily deficiencies,” such as his own high blood pressure, and that it can be cured.
“Homosexuality is a defective manner of expressing sexuality, because [sex] has a structure and a purpose, which is procreation. A homosexual who can’t achieve this is failing,” Sebastián told the Spanish newspaper Diaro Sur Monday. He went on to say that it gay people can “recover and become normal with the right treatment.”
This statement is at odds with church teaching, which holds that homosexuality in itself is not a choice.
Pope Francis has signaled a new openness to LGBT people in the Roman Catholic Church. When asked about a “gay lobby” in the Vatican last year, the 77-year-old pope asked in return, “Who am I to judge?” Then, in an interview with the Jesuit magazine America, he suggested that the church had become too fixated on issues of sexuality. The Advocate named Pope Francis Person of the Year in December.
Yet Sebastián claimed his comments were not meant as an insult or at odds with Pope Francis. “It’s one thing to be compassionate towards a homosexual person and another thing to morally justify the practice of that homosexuality,” he said. “You can tell a person what their weakness is but that doesn’t [negate] to respect them and help them. I think that’s the pope’s position as with gay marriage and divorce.”
The Catholic Church teaches that gay people are born with a homosexual inclination, and it does not advocate conversion therapy, a controversial and unscientific treatment that is illegal in California and New Jersey and condemned by the American Psychological Association. It holds that gay people are to be treated with dignity and respect, but that they should refrain from same-sex encounters.
The website Whispers in the Loggia, which tracks internal Catholic news, called Sebastián a “superannuated thinker-bishop” whom Pope Francis “admired before the papacy.” Archbishop of Pamplona from 1993 to 2007, Sebastián clashed with Spain’s Socialist Party in 2008, calling on Catholics to confront the party’s “cultural revolution” and lamenting that the “world is governed by the principle of pleasure.”
Cardinals under 80 are eligible to vote in papal conclaves, meaning the 84-year-old Sebastián will not have a role in selecting Francis’s eventual successor.
Protesters staged a kiss-in Thursday in the Spanish city of Málaga to register their objections to the cardinal's remarks. See photos here.