Pope Francis was named Time‘s Person of the Year this past Wednesday, and since then voices from all quarters have expounded on just why this new pope is so popular. Beyond Time‘s award, he’s been cited as the most talked about figure on Facebook and has 10 million followers on Twitter (and that in less than nine months). Polling shows Pope Francis has a 92% favorable rating among US Catholics, and he has won praise from outside the Church as well. And what of LGBT issues specifically?
Time‘s write-up for Person of the Year emphasized Pope Francis’ outreach to LGBT people in their decision, and a more merciful tone on homosexuality led to two of the Top 10 Pope Moments Time published earlier this month.
For some, this honor comes from Pope Francis re-prioritizing that which matters most for Catholic Church: pastoral love over canonical judgments, alleviating poverty over regulating relationships, evangelizing with joy over criticizing with doctrine. David Cloutier expands on this at the blog Catholic Moral Theology, writing:
“In its construction of the story, the article effectively distinguishes between talking about ‘change’ and talking about ‘priorities.’ Francis is not so much changing the Church as making clear determinations about the Church’s priorities… which also means ‘change,’ but of a certain sort.”
Certainly, Pope Francis has shown that acceptance and welcome of LGBT people is the first step for Catholics and that combating marriage equality or other LGBT rights are not the Church’s top priorities.
Cloutier also highlights two elements in Time‘s write-up explaining Francis: he is foremost a priest, not a theologian or bureaucrat and he was personally censured by his provincial while lecturing in theology. This may explain his pastoral emphasis and aversion to use heavy-handed measures against anyone. It is precisely this new approach that people have been so receptive too.
Drawing off this, Paul Raushenbush of The Huffington Post writes of Pope Francis’ popularity:
“Pope Francis resonates with so many people because he actually lives up to the highest ideals of religion which challenges us to think both about our personal spiritual life alongside the concerns of the ‘other.’…
“His forthright statement like ‘Who am I to judge’ gay people; acknowledgment that atheists can work alongside religious people for the common good, his outreach to people of other faiths, and his amazing critique of economic systems that leave so many in this world hungry and homeless have been like a salve for the global community.”
For some, this honor is a promise of progress to come. Writing at Philly.com, Mark Segal looks forward to Pope Francis’ impact and writes:
“The actual doctrine of the church has not changed, but the message the Pope Francis is sending is more powerful than the doctrines themselves. Francis seems to understand that messages can create instant change, while doctrine can take years. He performs simple gestures as a priest looking after his flock, rather then a bureaucrat, bringing change, excitement and hope…
“If we had a gentler church, the world would be a better place for us all. Pope Francis gives me that hope, and I wish him God’s speed with his mission.”
One interesting final note is that Pope Francis beat out a leading LGBT advocate, Edith Windsor, who was the plaintiff behind the court case which led the US Supreme Court to strike down DOMA earlier this year. For some LGBT advocates, awarding the pope is misguided recognition, as in an opinion piece published by The Baltimore Sun which says:
“The simple phrase ‘who am I to judge?’ reverberated across the LGBT community and got church leaders talking openly about an issue that had been essentially verboten. But actual large-scale change — the kind Windsor sparked — has yet to come.
“Now that Time has honored Pope Francis for preaching compassion and tolerance, citing in part his softening stance on LGBT individuals, the real question is: What’s next?”
Regardless of why Pope Francis won Person of the Year or whether he deserved it among other contenders, Catholics and many others will continue asking the same question of Pope Francis in reconciling the hierarchy with the LGBT community and their allies: what’s next?
-Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry