Pope Francis has received accolades for attempting to build a more inclusive Catholic culture, including his welcome of LGBT people, and these have come from Protestant, as well as Catholic believers. Still, two Protestant voices are asking the pope to do more in his second year to reverse homophobia and transphobia in the Church.
Episcopalian Bishop Gene Robinson, who was the first gay bishop consecrated in his church, wrote an open letter to Pope Francis in The Daily Beast about how to move forward on LGBT issues. Acknowledging his appreciation for what Pope Francis has done, especially the “Who am I to judge?” remark, Robinson notes that this first year has been marked by charity. But justice, the overturning of systemic problems, must always accompany charity. He continues:
“If Pope Francis is to be believed in all the kindly pronouncements of his first year (and I do), his good tone should be followed by the tough work of changing the systems of belief, doctrine and religious practice which perpetuate the victimization of those he seeks to serve. It is a small step forward to say of homosexuals, ‘Who am I to judge?’ Yet the official teaching of the Catholic Church is that homosexuals are ‘intrinsically disordered.’ Not a lot of wriggle room in that, is there? That judgment and teaching about LGBT people is the basis for discrimination, rejection and violence the world over.”
However, Robinson is realistic about Pope Francis’ power, and he acknowledges that a systemic overhaul of the Church’s professed sexual ethics is a tall order. He writes:
“There will be resistance to any change, much less the kind of change to which Francis’s humble ways point. Over the years, we have learned what happens to people who are just too good for us! But this pope seems to know that sacrifice is part of the deal of living with God.
“I hope this pope keeps surprising and delighting us, sitting a boy in his papal chair and allegedly sneaking out of the Vatican at night to work with the homeless! I hope he continues to show us the mind of Christ by his acts of humility and compassion. I pray that he persists in eschewing luxury and pretension. And I pray that he will stay close to the Son of God he is supposed to represent on earth, despite the institution’s every effort to tame their new leader and rob him of his pizazz.”
Elsewhere, Bill Tammeus, a Presbyterian Elder, echoes Robinson’s sentiments in his column at the National Catholic Reporter. Pope Francis is not judging gay people, but what about the pesky problem of doctrine? Tammeus writes:
“So far, although he suggested he’s in no position to judge someone who might be gay, he’s done nothing we know of to repeal of Section 2358 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which says that ‘deep-seated homosexual tendencies’ are ‘objectively disordered.’
“There is, of course, still some debate even among scientists about the causes of homosexuality, but there’s now almost no doubt — save among some people who distort the Bible – that being gay is not a choice. The church should be in the forefront of welcoming all people into the embrace of the Gospel of Jesus Christ — and ‘all’ is a pretty inclusive term. Calling someone’s sexual orientation ‘objectively disordered’ fails that test.”
Finally, John Gallagher lists five changes Pope Francis could make in year two for Queerty that “don’t challenge Church teaching on the nature of homosexuality or its opposition to marriage equality. All they do is acknowledge that LGBT people should be treated with respect, an idea that is clearly in keeping with the pope’s pastoral approach.”
The changes he suggests are as follows: tell Catholic schools to stop picking on gay and lesbian teachers; let priests know that ‘Who am I to judge?’ isn’t just for the pope; come out in favor of nondiscrimination laws; reprimand Nigeria’s bishops who supported a brutal anti-gay law; end the rhetoric equating pedophilia and gayness. You can read commentaries on each suggestion here.
Though Pope Francis may not change doctrinal teachings on homosexuality any time soon, he has surprised the world often with his words and deeds. It will be interesting to see how year two shapes up on LGBT issues.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry
Washington Blade, “LGBT Catholics Reflect on First Year of Francis Papacy“