Pope Francis received many honors and accolades at the end of 2013, including Time‘s “Person of the Year.” Of all these, few were as notable, and surprising, as The Advocate‘s selection of the Catholic Church’s highest official for their “Person of the Year.” It seems the world’s leading LGBT magazine was not far off, as two Catholic commentators who follow LGBT issues affirm the positive steps Pope Francis has taken on gay issues.
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, wrote an essay for the anniversary of Pope Francis’ election published in The Advocate today. In it, he writes of the strange new reality that Pope Francis’ openness has created:
“When I go to gatherings of LGBT and progressive Catholics, everyone lately is quoting the pope — in gushing terms. Friends who have been staunch anti-papists (both Catholic and non-Catholic) now use papal quotations as their authoritative justification for every argument. It’s bizarre. I’m still not used to it…
“No one could have predicted Pope Francis. His many headline-making statements about gay and lesbian people and relationships are radically reshaping the Catholic discourse on these topics. Even Cardinal Timothy Dolan, a staunch opponent of LGBT equality, recently echoed Pope Francis’s famous “Who am I to judge?” line…
“Some have downplayed Francis’s achievement by saying that he is all style and no substance. While it is true that he has not made any doctrinal changes, a change in style is still very significant. The fact that Francis is the first pope to use the word ‘gay’ is a giant step forward.”
DeBernardo notes that change in the Church is an evolutionary process, not a revolutionary one. Pope Francis’ shift in practice anticipates doctrinal change in the future, as has happened many times before in church history, as he writes:
“Francis’ greatest contribution to LGBT causes may not be overturning repressive teaching, but laying the path that will allow that teaching to be overturned by a successor…
“At the end of November, Pope Francis issued “The Joy of the Gospel,” in which he laid out his vision for a new church. What gives me hope from this document is humility. He called for the church to emphasize diversity and decentralization. He stressed that the opinions of laypeople and knowledge gained from science should contribute to church teaching. He called for the church to update its old traditions.
“In short, Pope Francis’s greatest contribution so far, and perhaps what will be his lasting legacy, is not what he has said, but in the fact that he wishes to listen.”
Michael O’Loughlin’s reflection on Pope Francis’ first year was also published by The Advocate. In it, O’Loughlin says the pope has opened the door slightly to LGBT people. He is mindful of the Church’s slow process of reform and the continued harm against LGBT justice inflicted by the American bishops, and writes:
“Many Catholics have been hurt by the harsh rhetoric and actions on LGBT issues from previous popes and American bishops.
“So if LGBT people are less than enthused about the pope’s gentle remarks, it’s understandable. There’s a lot of pain in this community, and it will take more than a few remarks to heal…
“Progress in the religious sphere must be measured differently. Religions slowly and deeply form consciences and worldviews, and they animate the actions of billions.”
Still. O’Loughlin concludes hopefully that even with shortcomings, Pope Francis is paving the way for progress by humanizing LGBT people and allowing open discussions:
“Has the pope gone far enough in welcoming LGBT people of faith into the Catholic Church? Hardly. And it’s fine to focus on his, and his church’s, shortcomings.
“But Pope Francis has cracked the door ajar, ever so slightly, an invitation for LGBT people to talk about their experiences, good and bad, joyful and painful…
“The Catholic Church has the power to mold minds in a world where it’s still illegal in over 80 countries to be gay, where suicide rates among LGBT people dwarf those of their straight counterparts, and where families still abandon LGBT children in even the most liberal enclaves.
“The pope’s opening the door for lay Catholics to reconsider their views on LGBT issues might, ultimately, usher in progress on scale with legal, political, and social victories. One year in, the door is open.”
Through this week, “One Year Later”has been exploring just how Catholics in the pews have responded and what long-term impact Pope Francis might have as he embarks on a second year. You can view the full series by clicking here.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry