It looked like the first movement towards a reconciliation between Catholicism and the queer community. On July 29, during a flight back home from the Rio de Janeiro World Youth Day festivities, newly-inaugurated Pope Francis said that he was in no position to “judge” homosexuals. Twitter imploded. The Gay Catholic Voice Ireland praised the Pope’s airborne comments as “a significant development from previous papal pronouncements, which have usually referred to a ‘homosexual condition’”. But even the elated queers of Éire acknowledge that this was merely a “helpful contribution” in what continues to be a political and moral struggle for the church.
In an interview with Der Spiegel, theologian David Berger likened the Pope’s stance to President Vladimir Putin, who has recently made ‘propaganda for’ (ie. any positive discussion of) homosexuality illegal in his Russian Federation. “The notion that gays shouldn’t be discriminated against is already in the catechism. But… [he] says in the same breath that gays should please not advertise their sexual orientation.” Berger puts the comments into perspective: “[In Rome], gentle discrimination is already a step forward.” And he warns that we should lower our expectations when it comes to seeing female priests or a change to the rigid celibacy rules of the Vatican: “From a pedagogical standpoint, nothing will really change. The prohibition of sex remains the most important factor of the Church’s power.”
This is the latest in some of Pope Francis’ attempts to drag the Church into the twenty-first century. On March 28, Maundy Thursday, the Pope is expected to wash the feet of twelve god-fearing Catholics, reflecting Jesus’ ritual of washing the apostles’ feet before his crucifixion. Instead, Francis washed the feet of twelve criminal offenders, including two women, one a Serbian Muslim.
God’s representative on Earth has also been known to walk amongst the poor of Rio de Janeiro, speak from his doorstep instead of his balcony, insist on carrying his own bag and take the subway. These are all be promising steps in the right direction. But only have to take a glance at the Vatican’s site (a nauseating trip back to the early days of web design) to see that this is an institution caught up in the past, but trying desperately to engage its future worshippers (note the Twitter feed churning over in the corner). And a bit of positive PR for the Church should not distract from the reality of homophobia engrained in the Catholic doctrine. Pope Francis might be closer to being an ally, but he has not earned a spot on the float at Mardi Gras. Yet.
The non-evolving views of the Catholic Church on homosexuality.
Pope John Paul II/Karol Józef Wojtyła (1978-2005)
The push for same-sex marriage is part of a “new ideology of evil… which attempts to pit human rights against the family and against man.” – Wojtyła’s memoir Memory and Identity, 2005
Pope Benedict XVI/Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger (2005-2013)
Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered to an intrinsic moral evil, and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder. – Ratzinger’s “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons,” 1986
“According to the teaching of the Church, men and women with homosexual tendencies ‘must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided’… The homosexual inclination is however ‘objectively disordered’.”- Doctrinal document On the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World, 2004
Pope Francis I/Gorge Mario Bergoglio (2013- )
“If someone is gay and seeks God and shows good will, who am I to judge?” – Bergoglio, 2013