Pope Francis’ mostly gay-friendly comments on June 26 have called attention to the massive divide between his perceived progressiveness and the actual policies of the Catholic Church towards LGBTQ+ people.

On a flight home from Armenia, the Pope said that Christians should apologize to and ask forgiveness from gay people and other groups that have been marginalized by the Church. While he has yet again received praise for being far more accepting of homosexuality than any Pope before him, his words have failed to materialize bring about any significant change or action. And turns out his words aren’t all that progressive in the first place.

In 2013, the Pope said, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” This was received quite positively by liberals, but in an interview with Reverend Antonio Spadaro, he added: “When God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person? We must always consider the person.” In a 2015 piece for Slate, William Saletan assessed this comment, as well as the Pope’s overall position, as fairly standard for the Catholic Church:

“Francis was forswearing condemnation of the whole person, not judgment of homosexual behavior. He was repackaging what conservative Christians have always said: love the sinner, not the sin.”

Francis has never called into question the church’s fundamental teaching: that while people ‘who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies … must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity,’ they are ‘called to chastity’ because ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’ In fact, Francis has affirmed that ‘children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother,’ and he has condemned efforts to ‘redefine the very institution of marriage.’”

On April 8, 2016, the Pope released The Joy of Love, an apostolic exhortation on marriage and family issues, in which he discussed the Church’s official stances on homosexuality. Pope Francis’ supposed progressiveness is not evident here, as he reaffirms the conservative opposition to same-sex marriage. “There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.” Though he decries “unjust discrimination” against gay people, he says that gay people “should be given respectful pastoral guidance” not because homosexuality should be accepted, but “so that [they] can receive the assistance they need to understand and fully carry out God’s will in their lives.”

He made several other anti-LGBTQ+ statements, including a clarification that the Church is officially anti-transgender. He strong denounced ideologies “that promote a personal identity and emotional intimacy radically separated from the biological difference between male and female,” and went so far as to say that transgender people threaten “the anthropological basis of the family.”

Though these anti-LGBTQ+ statements went largely ignored by the media, LGBTQ+ religious members and advocates found themselves incredibly disappointed and disheartened.

“While not expecting a blessing on marriage for lesbian and gay couples, many were anticipating that Pope Francis would offer an affirming message to LGBT people, and not the same ill-informed comments,” said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, an organization dedicated to LGBT equality within the Christian community. “Many were hoping for something more pastoral from this pope known for warm gestures and statements. Where is the Pope Francis who embraced his gay former student and husband during his U.S. visit? Where is the Pope Francis who invited a transgender Spanish man for a personal meeting at the Vatican? This Pope Francis is hard to find in his latest text.”

Just last month, in an interview with La Croix, Pope Francis said that Christians should have the right to discriminate against gay people, specifically in reference to county clerks like Kim Davis denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Kim Davis and her lawyer claimed that she had a private meeting with the Pope during his D.C. visit in 2015, a lie that was circulated by the media. Though it was debunked by the Church itself, few media outlets cared to follow up. The official Vatican Radio clarified that the Pope never planned to meet Davis at all, and only encountered her in a group of people “greet[ing] him as he prepared to leave Washington for New York City.”

It turned out that outspokenly anti-gay Archbishop Carlo Viganò, U.S. Ambassador for the Vatican, invited Davis. In response to Viganò’s actions, the Vatican announced that it would be replacing him as Ambassador. However, it allowed him to leave with dignity. Viganò turned 75 in January, the age when bishops and archbishops are required to submit a letter of resignation to the Vatican. These letters do not have to be accepted, and many clergymen continue to work far past the age of 75, but Viganò’s resignation was accepted swiftly.

Nonetheless, this does not excuse the homophobia and transphobia of the Church. A few somewhat gay-friendly comments by Pope Francis do not change the official anti-LGBTQ+ stances of the Vatican. While the media may prefer to report the slight progress made by the Pope, LGBTQ+ Christians are still waiting to truly be accepted by the religious institutions that have been discriminating against them for so long.

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