Once again, Pope Francis has shocked the global Catholic LGBTQ+ community.
Last week, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s orthodoxy office, issued a formal statement instructing its priests not to offer blessings for same-sex couples. The church’s reason: God cannot bless sin. To the shock of LGBTQ+ Catholics and allies globally, Pope Francis approved the decree.
That approval is a betrayal, despite the many liberal-leaning LGBTQ+ positive pronouncements heard during his papacy.
In 2013, while flying home after a weeklong visit to Brazil, Francis responded to a question about a possible “gay lobby” in the Vatican. His answer set off global shock waves.
“When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby,” he said. “If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them?”
The pontiff’s public statement was then the most LGBTQ+ affirming remark the world had ever heard from a senior Vatican official, much less a pope.
In October 2020, while being interviewed for the documentary “Francesco” about his life, Francis made a full-throated endorsement of same-sex civil unions, again setting off global shock waves.
“Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God,” the pontiff said in the film by Oscar-nominated director Evgeny Afineevsky. “You can’t kick someone out of a family nor make their life miserable for this. What we have to have is a civil union law; that way, they are legally covered.”
Francis’s statement was a hallelujah moment for many LGBTQ+ Catholics. It suggested a game-changer — with dogma-transforming ramifications — for the church in this 21st century, despite the many conservatives church officials still hell-bent to continue the anti-modernity track of Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.
Aside from the fact that the new decree is bad theology, implementing it will be a pox on the church. The decree is damning of LGBTQ+ love in its messaging and punitive toward LGBTQ+ people in its intent. It will cause harm and hurt to a community of worshippers that loves a church which does not love them back.
“The Vatican’s denial of blessings to same-sex couples will exacerbate the pain and anger of LGBTQI Catholics and our families,” Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of the LGBTQ+ Catholic group DignityUSA based here in Boston, said in a press release.
“This statement is hurtful to same-sex couples and dismissive of the grace demonstrated by same-sex couples who live deeply loving and committed relationships,” Duddy-Burke added. “It harms families of LGBTQ+ people and young LGBTQ+ people who hoped the church would be more affirming, and even hoped to be married in the church someday.”
Proponents of the Vatican’s decree would say that Francis’ support of same-sex civil unions referred not to the church but rather to the state. In other words, just because Francis believes that civil authorities should grant same-sex unions equal rights doesn’t mean that the church should bless those same unions.
What they miss is the universal message that “love is love.” However, if the Vatican hierarchy doesn’t understand anything else about LGBTQ+ Christians, it needs to understand this: Gay people love Jesus just as much as straight people. Our love should be acknowledged and our unions blessed.
Many of us believed that Francis was our biggest supported for movement in that direction within the Catholic Church. Regrettably, the pope has been consistent in his inconsistency toward us.
Here’s what Francis told New Ways Ministry, a pro-LGBTQ Catholic organization, about LGBTQ+ marriage in 2017: “Marriage between people of the same sex? ‘Marriage’ is a historical word. Always in humanity, and not only within the Church, it’s between a man and a woman … we cannot change that. This is the nature of things. This is how they are. Let’s call them ‘civil unions.’”
On the surface, Francis displays a pastoral countenance that appears inclusive and toward LGBTQ+ Catholics. But he double-speaks when it comes to our issues and upholds a double standard for full church inclusion.
The Catholic Church still excludes the LGBTQ+ community from officially receiving any sacraments. Since 2015, DignityUSA has advocated for “sacramental equality.” With COVID-19 death rates hitting the LGBTQ+ community around the world especially hard, one would hope that church could put aside its homophobia.
Francis’ pastoral demeanor cloaks the iron-fisted church bureaucrat that he is. Regrettably, it took this moment for many to see it clearly.
The Rev. Irene Monroe is a syndicated religion columnist, the Boston voice for Detour’s African American Heritage Trail and a visiting researcher in the Religion and Conflict Transformation Program at Boston University School of Theology. Together with the Rev. Emmett G. Price III, she hosts the All Rev’d Up podcast produced by GBH.
First published by WGBH on March 23, 2021.