The Francis Papacy at Five: What Has Changed for LGBTQI and Ally Catholics?

March 8, 2018. 

LGBTQI Catholics See Mixed Record in First Five Years of the Francis Papacy, Renew Offer of Dialogue

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, issued the following statement in conjunction with the fifth anniversary of the election of Pope Francis:

On March 13, 2018, Catholics and many others in the world will mark the fifth anniversary of the election of Jorge Bergoglio as Pope. What have these five years meant for LGBTQI and Ally Catholics? What can we expect from the next phase of Francis’ papacy?

From his first appearance in St. Peter’s Square, where he asked the people of the world to pray for him, to his famous “Who am I to judge?” comment in response to a question about whether a gay priest could be holy, Pope Francis has set a tone that many people find hopeful and engaging.   Beyond that, he has also done much that many find inspiring, including his habits of personal simplicity, frequent presence among marginalized communities, advocacy for refugees and migrants, calls for nonviolence, and urgent appeal for increased global environmental stewardship in the encyclical Laudato Si.

In addition, he has been something of a disruptor of an entrenched and often out-of-touch Curia, demoting cardinals seen as flaunting wealth and power, and raising up new, pastorally focused bishops in under-represented parts of the Church. Furthermore, Francis has encouraged dialogue and dissent, while acknowledging that the Church lives in a complex and rapidly changing world.

Moreover, this Pope has broken a number of barriers on LGBTQI issues. Francis is the first Pope to use the term “gay.” He has said that Christians should apologize to gay people, and apparently supported an early draft of a Vatican report on the 2015 Synod on the Family, which said that gay people have gifts the Church needs and acknowledged that there can be grace in same-sex relationships. He met with a transgender person and his fiancée, has friends who are gay and married, and has called on the Church to better accompany families with LGBTQI children.

However, for LGBTQI people and our families, early hopes that Francis’ openness would result in wide pastoral embrace or even changes to longstanding condemnatory dogma have not been realized. He has made inflammatory and hurtful statements, and has maintained inadequate and harmful traditional teachings on sex, gender, relationships, and marriage. The Pope used his personal authority to promote a successful anti-LGBTQI referendum in Slovakia, which prevents same-sex marriage and adoption in that nation.

Additionally, Pope Francis has made numerous ill-informed comments condemning “gender ideology,” and even said transgender people are as dangerous to society as nuclear weapons. In Uganda, although condemning the death penalty simply for being LGBTQI, he referred to LGBTQI people as criminals. He quickly surrendered to conservative outcry about the gay-positive language in the early draft of the 2015 Synod on the Family report, resulting in a document that offered no tangible steps toward greater inclusion of or support for our community.

A number of Catholic Church leaders have been vocal in support of pastoral inclusion of LGBTQI people and families, and some have even questioned whether Catholic teaching and pastoral practice must change in light of changing realities in the world (e.g., legalization of same-sex marriage in many countries). Clearly, Francis’ leadership style has made space for this to happen. The Pope seems untroubled by the fact that Church leaders are taking a variety of approaches to LGBTQI issues. This could lead to the development of new models of pastoral care that may spread to other areas. But will bishops who deny pastoral care and sacraments to LGBTQI people, or support the firing of LGBTQI people from Catholic institutions simply because of their identity or because they have exercised the civil right to marry, as recently seen in the United States and elsewhere, face any censure?

It remains the case that gender complementarity is still the foundation of the Church’s official approach to human relationships, that homosexuality continues to be named an “objective disorder,” and that same-sex relationships are still labeled “intrinsically evil.” Consequently, the Catholic Church led by Pope Francis continues to see LGBTQI people as persons unable to fully embody the Divine, who are subject to what Church leaders call “just discrimination,” and who can justly be denied any appeal to canon law.

These doctrines continue to drive legal and cultural oppression in many parts of the world and leave LGBTQI people in danger of being targeted for violence; imprisoned as criminals; denied access to health care, housing, education, and employment; and forced into marriages with opposite-sex partners that can be destructive to both adults and to the children they may produce. These teachings contribute to mental health problems, addictions, vulnerability to suicide, and isolation from the broader Church community.

Pope Francis is clearly a man and a leader moved by the needs of the poor and marginalized. If in the remaining period of his papacy he can come to understand the damage that the Church’s dogma and practices regarding sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity do to individuals, families, and entire communities, there may be an opportunity for real change.  To that end, we call on Pope Francis to meet with LGBTQI people and families, at the Vatican and during his travels around the world, in order to come to know our hopes, dreams, challenges, joys, and gifts.

On the fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ election to the papacy, we offer, once again, to enter into respectful dialogue with him and other Catholic Church leaders, so that they can become more keenly aware of their responsibilities to the LGBTQI community, to our families, and to the Church of which we are an integral part.