Back in November 2013, I wrote an article for my university’s magazine which documented the various conservative actions of the so-called liberal Pope. In this revised edition almost a year later, I update my claim to include more not-so-progressive actions that Pope Francis has undertaken.
When Pope Francis assumed the papacy, I was initially impressed by the direction he took the office in. Here is a Pope who has done away with some of the pomp that comes with his role, famously called for an end to excessive greed, and embraced a doctrine that actually comes close to that of Jesus, perhaps for the first time in the Church’s history. After gay Catholics languished under the rule of his predecessor Benedict XVI, who famously rejected the use of condoms to fight HIV, the ushering in of Pope Francis seemed to many like a breath of fresh air.
And it’s not one that has been totally poisoned. To his credit, Pope Francis is probably the most progressive person ever to rule the Catholic Church (but that isn’t saying much). He has criticized the sinister obsession that the Church has towards gay people and abortion, reminding his colleagues that there are bigger issues at hand. He has also (allegedly) called a gay Catholic who was worried about going to hell, to reassure him that his sexuality doesn’t matter. Indeed, “who am I to judge?” will perhaps be the defining catchphrase of Francis’ early papacy.
But comments from him as an individual do not signal a change in policy, and outside of the headlines, Francis has done quite a few things that suggest he does “judge” gay people after all. Consider his excommunication of Australian priest Greg Reynolds, who was expelled from the church, on Francis’ orders, for his progressive stance towards gay rights and the ordainment of female ministers. Francis has also publicly denounced abortion and called on the Church to “defend” the unborn, a mere 24 hours after criticizing his colleagues for their obsession with abortion.
While I was writing this, Pope Francis demoted Cardinal Raymond Burke, an outspoken pro-“life” anti-gay extremist, to a largely ceremonial role. Great! You might say. Clearly this Pope is dedicated to eradicating such foul extremism from the Church. But it’s worth bearing in mind that Burke was not only an outspoken critic of abortion and gay rights, but personally attacked Pope Francis on several occasions. It may be that Francis has demoted Burke because of his unsavoury views, or it may be that Francis has demoted Burke for speaking out against him. I lean towards the latter.
At this point, Pope Francis’ condemnation of the Church’s obsession with moral issues seems more like a “can we stop talking about this?” rather than a “can we stop being so hateful about this?”.
(Advocate.com names Pope Francis as their Person of the Year for 2013)
Or take his position on same-sex marriage, the apparent cornerstone of the gay civil rights movement. When Argentina was considering legalizing equal marriage, Francis called it a “real and dire anthropological throwback … that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God”, and wrote to cloistered nuns to lament the fact that it would seriously harm the structure of family. This month (November 2014), Francis will host an interfaith “Complementary of Man and Woman” conference, gathering religious figures from all faiths who are dedicated to preventing and condemning same-sex marriage. The main focus of the conference, in layman’s terms, is to examine and revel in how beautiful marriage is in its “traditional” form. In other words, a conference dedicated to spitting in the faces of all those in a same-sex marriage and quite literally branding them ugly. Among the invited guests are Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, which is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Perkins has repeatedly compared gay rights to the Holocaust. Way to go, Francis.
To add insult to injury, Pope Francis has previously stated that same-sex adoption is a form of discrimination against children. Hardly a step forward from his ultraconservative predecessor.
Are we to be so grateful, that we now have a Pope who sorta, kinda, maybe doesn’t hate our guts? Are we content to settle for that, just because his predecessor was so hostile towards us? I am not. I demand more from an institution that claims to represent Jesus Christ (who, by the way, made absolutely no recorded mention of homosexuality) and I demand more from an institution that so many gay people look to as a source of hope. How dare the Catholic church turn its back on its own gay laity, and how dare all of us for settling for the not-so-bad guy.
When I try to sum up Pope Francis’ record on moral issues, I come to this conclusion: He has made two, possibly three, positive or at least neutral statements about gay people, but behind the words has reaffirmed the ultraconservative and foul views of his predecessor. Liberal hero? Not so much.
To finish, I refer to a quote from Benjamin Brenkert, a guest writer for The New Civil Rights Movement, who had this to say on the Catholic Church’s relationship with LGBT people:
“The all-male gay and straight prelates at the Synod did not demand that Roman Catholic institutions rehire fired LGBTQ employees or volunteers, they did not discuss employment non-discrimination laws, they did not invite same-sex couples to discuss dating, love or their marriages … they did not walk back on hateful language vocalized about LGBTQ people by Popes John Paul II or Benedict XVI, they did not condemn punitive laws that penalize LGBTQ men and women in countries like Russia, Egypt, Uganda or Jamaica. No openly gay man or lesbian woman was invited to mass during the Synod or to pray with the prelates … The Roman Catholic Church did not apologize for centuries of anti-gay theology that has tormented the LGBTQ community for millennia … Imagine too just what might happen to LGBTQ men and women if the current Pope said: I have known and loved and served with my gay and straight Jesuit brothers around the world or more simply: I love gay and straight people. Imagine how many LGBTQ second-class citizens might be immediately rehabilitated to their broken families, released from physical or spiritual self-imprisonment, how many homeless LGBTQ youth might be welcomed home (some 200,000 LGBTQ youth are homeless in America alone).
Kind words are just that: Words.