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. His approval of the decree is a betrayal despite the many liberal-leaning LGBTQ+ positive pronouncements heard during his papacy.
For example, 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 the Catholic Church.
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 optimistically suggested a game-changer -having dogma-transforming ramifications- for the church in this 21st century despite conservatives priests still hell-bent to continue on an anti-modernity track of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.
Aside from the fact that the decree is bad theology, executing the decree will be a pox on the church. The decree is damning of LGBTQ+ love in its messaging, and it is punitive in its intent. The decree will cause harm and hurt to a community of worshippers that loves a church that doesn’t love them.
“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 DignityUSA, which is based here in Boston, stated 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. 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.”
Clearly, the Vatican’s orthodoxy office is tone-deaf to 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. Our biggest support for the movement in that direction, at least thought, was Pope Francis.
Looking back, however, I can say Pope Francis’s support of civil unions was merely lip-service. Francis’s statement about civil unions was understood it didn’t mean he or the church would embrace marriage equality.
“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.,” Francis stated in 2017 to New Ways Ministry, a pro-LGBTQ Catholic organization.
However, since marriage equality was out of the question, the LGBTQ community queried whether Pope Francis would follow through on same-sex civil unions, especially with his 2020 verbal support. Regrettably, Francis has shown to be the consummate flip-flopper. He has been consistent in his inconsistency toward us. However, proponents of the Vatican’s decree would contest that Francis’s support of same-sex civil unions referred not to the church but rather to the state. Nonetheless, Francis’s support of the Vatican’s decree not to bless same-sex couples’ unions will hurt those who saw the pontiff as a transformative figure.
On the surface, Francis displays a pastoral countenance to his papacy that appears inclusive and extending to its LGBTQ parishioners. However, Francis 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 been advocating for “sacramental equality” in the Catholic Church. With COVID-19 death rates hitting the LGBTQ community globally as hard as other minority communities worldwide, one would think the church could put aside its homophobia.
Francis’s pastoral demeanor cloaks the iron-fisted church bureaucrat that he is. Regrettably, it took this moment for many to see it clearly.