In an interview given to Brazilian TV in 2013 Pope Francis made this remark regarding gay people and it was met with rapturous adulation from progressives of all stripes around the world, leading the head of the Human Rights Campaign, Chad Griffin, to declare that: “Pope Francis has pressed the reset button on the Roman Catholic Church’s treatment of LGBT people”. Of course the full quote reads: “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?”. Note that one has to be religious, presumably Catholic, in order to qualify for not being judged. Also note that refusing to judge something is not the same as giving endorsement or support – it is, at best, neutral, and neutrality in the face of the oppression we suffer isn’t what we need.
Let’s start by taking off those rose tinted glasses.
The classic response I hear to this criticism goes along the lines of: “But he’s so much better than the previous Pope!” He is certainly better. But you wouldn’t have told Alan Turing before he was sterilised: “At least they’re not putting you in prison, or executing you. Think how progressive they are now!” Our movement has never got anywhere by fawning over any inch of ground grudgingly given. More to the point, I don’t remember Pope Francis condemning or revoking comments made by Pope Benedict XVI in his Christmas address of 2012, in which he called the violation of gender roles assigned by our sex “manipulation of nature”.
The issue of gender identity is definitely one that we need to focus on when it comes to the Pope. Recently he pleased some LGBT+ Catholics by hugging a transgender man from Spain in an event at the Vatican, as a response to this man asking whether there would be a place in “God’s house” for him after his medical transition. In some sense this is indeed positive and a sign of progress, further evidenced by the comment that the Pope made in a phone call to this man: “You are a son of God and the Church loves you and accepts you as you are.”
However this is rather difficult to square with some of the other views the Pope has been revealed to hold. In his book – Pope Francis: This Economy Kills – an interview from last October is quoted in which he said: “Let’s think of the nuclear arms, of the possibility to annihilate in a few instants a very high number of human beings…Let’s think also of genetic manipulation, of the manipulation of life, or of the gender theory, that does not recognize the order of creation.” He goes on to say: “With this attitude, man commits a new sin, that against God the Creator…The true custody of creation does not have anything to do with the ideologies that consider man like an accident, like a problem to eliminate.” This very much demonstrates the characteristic flip-flopping behaviour we see from this Pope regarding the queer community.
The Pope continues to deny the right for people of the same gender to get married, recently asserting that: “The family is threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage. These realities are increasingly under attack from powerful forces which threaten to disfigure God’s plan for creation.” Though we should be wary of viewing marriage equality as the cure-all to every injustice that we suffer as a community, clearly if people want to get married why should they be denied that opportunity on account of their gender?
Of course, to suggest that the Pope reaches these views uninfluenced by those around him ignores the high echelons of the clergy, the conservative bishops. Remember that these individuals, in response to the Vatican suggesting in late 2014 that gay people might have something positive to offer to the Church during the Synod’s General Congregation, forced the statements to be retracted, calling for “prudence” regarding same-sex relationships so that: “the impression of a positive evaluation of such a tendency on the part of the church is not created”.
In that October 2013 interview, Pope Francis said that: “The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well…It says they should not be marginalised because of this but that they must be integrated into society.” Of course, his conception of society is one in which there is compulsory gender binary, where homosexual acts are still not officially sanctioned by the Church, where the only valid family exists as a result of the union between one man and one woman and where it is “selfish” to not have children. He is not an ally of our community and neither is much of the higher clergy. It is wrong for us to lavish praise on him for only sometimes saying morally indefensible things. I believe many progressive Catholics are starting to grow tired of the archaic views still defended by the Vatican.. so let’s hope for a paradigm shift some day.
Tom Meadows (GR. Comment Contributor)