Pontificating About the Pontiff

Pope Francis Holds His Weekly General Audience

Lately a lot has been written and said about Pope Francis, namely that he seems to hold relatively liberal values, especially as Popes go.  While I would argue that being more liberal than Pope Benedict XVI is anything but difficult, that is hardly the point.  Yes, Francis is undeniably more liberal than Benedict XVI and perhaps John Paul II as well, the only Popes I have been around to see.

However, it worries to me how many LGBTQ people and straight women are so seemingly willing to let bygones be bygones and accept whatever crumb of “tolerance” or “progress” might fall from the papal table.  It is true that the Pope was quoted as saying, in July 2013 “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge them?”  Forgive my my cynicism, but this is hardly a ringing endorsement.  According to Biblical teaching, this same statement can (and should) be made about any “sinner.”  No “sin” is greater than any other, and ultimate judgement is the domain of God and God alone.  While many are eager to view this as an evolution on the part of the Catholic Church, it doesn’t seem to represent any substantive change.  Sure, the Pope won’t judge you anymore, but God will. *spoiler alert* You’re going to Hell.   The Pope, and by proxy the Church, have not actually changed their minds about the sinful nature of homosexuality; they’ve just decided to be quieter about it and let God deal with the inevitable lake of fire part.

Add to this another quote from (then Cardinal) Francis from 2010, as Argentina prepared to legislate marriage equality.  Francis referred to it as a “destructive attack on God’s plan.”  As he championed a law that would prohibit marriage equality and adoption rights from same-sex couples he said:

“[T]he Argentine people will face a situation whose outcome can seriously harm the family,” he wrote to the four monasteries in Argentina. “At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother and children. At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts.”

These are hardly the words of a devoted LGBTQ ally.  Moreover, it points to a more historic problem in the church: that of institutionalized misogyny.

I am by no means the first to say that homophobia is, in many ways, an extreme manifestation of misogyny.  In a world where gender roles reign supreme, there is no is room for “effeminate” men or “masculine” women, and our very existence is a threat to the oppressive social order upon which the Catholic Church (along with many other organized religions) relies.  This is especially true in terms of the “traditional” family structure.  Every so-called defense of the family is in fact a thinly veiled defense of gender status quo.  The idea that children need a mother and father implies that women and men are inherently different; they could never assume each others’ roles because everyone knows you can’t change diapers if you have a penis, and your vagina somehow prohibits you from playing catch in the backyard.

This is of course to say nothing about gender non-conforming and trans* people, apparently destined to walk the Earth alone as they don’t fit into the Church’s idea of what family (read: patriarchal gender roles) is supposed to look and act like.

Although the issue of LGBTQ inclusion in the Church is, perhaps, of more recent importance to most, the Church has a misogyny problem that dates back at least a millenium, inherent in the prohibition of women priests.  While there is a growing movement to repeal to proscription, as it is not even scripturally mandated, the new Pope has been adamant in toeing the party line of his predecessors, saying that “that door is closed.”  Can we really expect the Pope, and the Church, to advocate for any real change for LGBTQ folks when they cannot yet see their way to advocating for the full spiritual personhood of 50% of the Church’s population?  Essentially, the Church’s position is “We know we made up this rule, and it’s not even in the Bible, but you’re still not enough of a person for us to change a rule that WE. MADE.

Should we be cautiously optimistic that the Catholic Church appears to be advocating for slightly more liberal politics since the election of the new Pope?  Yes.  Any progressive change is good change.  Should we be filling every newspaper, blog, and cable news network with stories of Francis’s greatness?  No.  Not yet.  We LGBTQ people have subsisted on the table scraps of the rich and powerful for long enough.  It is time for us to stop applauding the hegemony for espousing views that we view as basic human decency in those around us.

Ask yourself: Would you tolerate the idea that LGBTQ people and straight women are inherently less than from your friends or your family?  If the answer is yes, you have some deep thinking to do about why that is (and I’m confused about how you found this blog.)  But if the answer is no, and I hope it is, you shouldn’t be tolerating it from your Church either.