• Jorge A. Aquino University of San Francisco, California, USA


This article argues that a much anticipated liberalization of doctrine of matters of sexuality will not take place under Pope Francis. Though the pope has brought a more tolerant manner and tone in his discourse on homosexuality, the underlying foundation remains frozen, amid reiterated essentializations of gender that derive from archaic Catholic constructions of natural law. The article reviews Catholic doctrine on sexuality, particularly since the Church’s 1975 instruction on sexual ethics. Thinking with the “indecent theology” proposals of Argentine-Scottish theologian Marcella Althaus-Reid, the author compares prior expressions of doctrine with those found in key magisterial writings of Pope Francis. He concludes that the more open spirit and tone in the Pope’s public pronouncements are not matched by any significant shift in his teaching on sexuality, compared to his predecessors.

Keywords: Pope Francis, Gender, Sexuality, Natural Law, Catholic Teaching on Sex


Althaus-Reid, Marcella, From Feminist Theology to Indecent Theology: Readings on Poverty, Sexual Identity and God, SCM Press, London, 2004.

Althaus-Reid, Indecent Theology, Routledge, London, 2000.

Althaus-Reid, “On Queer Theory and Liberation Theology: The Irruption of the Sexual Subject in Theology,” in Homosexualities, Marcella Althaus-Reid, et alia (eds.), SCM Press, London, 2008.

Althaus-Reid, Outing Theology: Thinking Christianity out of the Church Closet, Feminist Theology, Vol. 27, 2001.

Althaus-Reid, The Queer God, Routledge, New York, 2003.

Carle Robert, Pope Benedict XVI Confronts Religious Relativism, Society, Vol. 45, New York, 2008.

Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City, 2000.

Cuda Emilce, Para Leer a Francisco: Teología, Ética Y Política, Manantial, Buenos Aires, 2016.

Donadio Rachel, “On Gay Priests, Pope Francis Asks, ‘Who Am I to Judge?", The New York Times, July 29, 2015, (accessed Aug. 28, 2017).

Dussel Enrique D., Etica de la Liberación en la Edad de la Globalización y la Exclusión, 2nd ed., Trotta, Madrid, 1998.

García Mathewson, Tara, “To Understand the Pope, One Must Follow Him Home”, National Catholic Reporter, Apr. 8, 2016, (accessed Aug. 28, 2017).

Goodstein Laurie, "New Pope Shifts Church’s Center of Gravity Away From Europe”, The New York Times, March 13, 2013, online at: (accessed Aug. 28, 2017).

Goodstein Laurie, “Vatican Ends Battle With U.S. Catholic Nuns’ Group”, The New York Times, Apr. 16, 2015, (accessed Aug. 28, 2017).

Third Sex, Third Gender: Beyond Sexual Dimorphism in Culture and History, Herdt Gilbert H. (ed.), Zone Books, New York, 1994.

Jameson Fredric, Postmodernism, Or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Duke University Press, Durham, 1991.

Joachim David S., “Supreme Court Declines Case Contesting Ban on Gay ‘Conversion Therapy’”, The New York Times, June 30, 2014, (accessed Aug. 28, 2017).

McElwee Joshua J., “Pope Meets with Liberation Theology Pioneer”, National Catholic Reporter, Sept. 25, 2013, (accessed Aug. 28, 2017).

The Onion, “Bold New Pope Shows Crowd in Saint Peter’s Square How to Apply Condom”, March 18, 2013, (accessed Aug. 28, 2017).

Paternotte David, et al, “The Sin of Turning Away from Reality: An Interview with Father Krzysztof Charamsa”, Religion & Gender, Vol. 6, No. 2, Gent (Belgium), 2016.

Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium (Apostolic Exhortation), Nov. 24, 2013,

(accessed Aug. 28, 2017).

Pope Francis, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home (Encyclical Letter), May 24, 2015, (accessed Aug. 28, 2017).

Pope Francis, Lumen Fidei: On Faith (Encyclical Letter), June 29, 2013, (accessed Aug. 28, 2017).

Probucka Dorota, Against Relativism: The Importance of Truth in the Ethics of St. John Paul II, The Person and the Challenges, Vol. 6, No. 1, Krakow, 2016.

Reck Norbert, “‘Dangerous Desires’: Catholic Approaches to Same-Sex Sexuality,” in: Homosexualities, Marcella Althaus-Reid (ed.), SCM Press, London, 2008.

Scannone Juan Carlos, “El Papa Francisco y la Teología del Pueblo”, Razón y Fe, Vol. 271, 2014.

Synod of Bishops, 14th Ordinary General Assembly, The Vocation and Mission of the Family in the Church and in the Contemporary World (Report), Oct. 24, 2015, (accessed Aug. 28, 2017).

Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics”, Dec. 29, 1975, (accessed Aug. 28, 2017).

Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons”, Oct. 1 1986, (accessed Aug. 28, 2017).

Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Ten Observations on the Theology of Gustavo Gutiérrez (1983),” in Alfred T. Hennelly, ed., Liberation Theology: A Documentary History, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, N.Y., 1990.

Yardley Jim, and Laurie Goodstein, “Before Pope Francis Met Kim Davis, He Met With Gay Ex-Student”, The New York Times, Oct. 2, 2015, (accessed Aug. 28, 2017).