After being elected by the papal conclave on March 13, 2013, Pope Francis, the 266th Pope of the Catholic Church, has been making waves. It seems like his name is in the headlines every week, The Huffington Post might be mildly obsessed with the man, and he has people watching his every move from all corners of the world. Surprisingly, almost all of the media’s attention has been overwhelmingly positive. Pope Francis has been portrayed as compassionate, merciful, and a champion for starting dialogue as a way to bridge people with different views and backgrounds together.
Some of the dialogues that he’s started have been about aiding the poor, economic justice, and learning from people of other faiths. However, his stance on gay rights and the gay community can’t be easily summarized. Here’s where it gets messy. In July, during an interview on his way to Rome, Pope Francis told reporters, “If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?”
This statement, though upon deeper reflection might not seem nearly as groundbreaking as it was made out to be, was a huge deal. The Pope publicly speaking out against the condemnation of the gay community was previously unheard of. This comment landed Pope Francis the title of popular gay rights magazine The Advocate’s “Person of the Year,” which is enormous considering all that happened for the gay rights movement in 2013: the defeat of DOMA, gay marriage legalized in 9 states this year alone (bringing the total to 18), the rise of the same sex marriage approval rate in the US to 58%, and athletes publically coming out. And this is just the tip of the iceberg for the year that “broke the rainbow ceiling."
I’d argue that the Pope doesn’t deserve the honor.
Hear me out. His comment was a big one from the Church, and his televised appearances testify to the amount of people who hang on his every word and take it all to heart. So if indeed his comment inspired at least some of his followers not to judge members of the gay community, that’s an achievement and it matters.
However, as anyone who’s been through middle school assemblies can attest, there is a very big difference between taking an active stance, and being a bystander when someone is in need. I’m arguing that the Pope is a bystander. While “not judging” might be viewed as an active response by some, I’d argue it fundamentally isn’t. Judgment is a personal lens people employ and it falls on the individual to look past it; abdicating judgment does not require any interaction with the person being judged.
By not judging, the people are simply seeing what is for what it is. There is no acceptance, no understanding. Pope Francis did not advocate for gay people, he simply acknowledged their existence. He just admitted that there are gay people who are religious and there is nothing he can do about it but see it for what it is: a person seeking the Lord.
Pope Francis is a frenemy (if you’ll let me continue with middle school references) to the LBGT community. From the media's standpoint, he is a “friend,” they blow him up to be progressive, different, a sort of hero. But beyond his comments, Pope Francis’s actions are not friendly. People seem to forget that before Francis was Pope, he was the archbishop of Buenos Aires. As archbishop, he vehemently fought against the passage of same sex marriage and publically opposed it in Buenos Aires.
In a 2010 debate about same-sex marriage in Argentina, the pope wrote an article where he stated, “Let’s not be naïve: This is not a simple political struggle, but an attempt to destroy God’s plan. It is not just a bill but a move of the Father of Lies, who seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.”
Those sound like the words of an enemy to me. Yes, marriage is a “holy matrimony.” But today, marriage has new meanings. It's viewed as the closest two people can be, the most dedication two people can give one another, and their mutual promise of forever. On a more practical note, the financial and legal commitments in marriage are overwhelming. Calling legislation which promotes gay marriage an attempt at "destruction," or a plan to "deceive" is just plain cruel. The only deception I’m seeing is the Pope's: he's hiding his real feelings for the LBGT community from the media.
A further stab at the community came from the pope recently in early December. Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna, an opponent to a proposal made allowing gay couples to adopt, recently told the media in Malta that Pope Francis was “shocked” by the idea of gay couples adopting, and furthermore encouraged the bishop to speak out against gay adoption.
For those of us who so badly want to see the Pope in this new, refreshingly progressive light, I’m sorry. You can keep using his position’s past as a point of comparison, you can keep saying how great the Pope is compared to the harsh close-mindedness of his predecessors, but you cannot call this man is an ally to the gay community. As if his “shock” wasn’t offensive enough, the Pope was noted as believing that gay adoption is a form of discrimination against children, in a 2010 issue of the National Catholic Reporter.
The Pope does not believe in the most important, and personal, causes the LGBT community is fighting for. They want marriage, and they want to be able to have a family of their own. Nowhere written in their laundry list of rights they've been denied is a plan to take down the church and dismantle religion. The LBGT community wants equality, not power. Pope Francis has power, yet he still actively fights to keep the gay community oppressed: this active attack is often overlooked by the media because they love the idea of a trendy Pope.
I challenge you to form your own conclusions and to see Pope Francis for who he is. The man has taken actions against the gay community that speak so loud they scream when compared to his whispered words of “support,” of “not judging.”
Listen to the man and his actions, not the media.
Photo courtesy of forbes.com