In the homily of his installation Mass, Pope Francis states,
The vocation of being a "protector", however, is not just something involving us Christians alone; it also has a prior dimension which is simply human, involving everyone. It means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as Saint Francis of Assisi showed us. It means respecting each of God's creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about.
These are beautiful words, and they move the heart. For many of us who are Catholic and gay, or who are Catholic and who have gay people whom we love in our lives, what remains to be seen is whether the new pope will recognize that these words apply quite specifically to LGBT human beings, as well:
"Being a protector means protecting LGBT human beings, who are susceptible to violence, discrimination, and exclusion in many societies around the world," many of us long to hear the new pope say.
Francis's homily also notes that St. Joseph, whose feast day is today, is often spoken of as the protector of Mary and Jesus, and so the protector of the church. Joseph assumed that role in the gospels, Francis points out, "by being constantly attentive to God, open to the signs of God's presence and receptive to God's plans, and not simply to his own."
I'm struck by the emphasis on Joseph reading "the signs of God's presence" in the world around him. This echoes the strong insistence of Vatican II that we must be attentive to the "signs of the times," to the Spirit speaking to us not merely through church officials and in the church itself, but in secular movements and in the world around us, too.
The ineluctable movement of many cultures around the world toward recognizing marriage equality for LGBT citizens is, for many of us, an important sign of our time. In the past week in the U.S. alone, a Republican senator has endorsed marriage equality because he has learned his own son is gay, and he does not want his son to live as a stigmatized, second-class citizen; former U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, who stated in December 2011 that "gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights," has announced her support of marriage equality; even die-hard opponents of marriage equality are now admitting defeat on this issue, since they indicate that they no longer want to be "at war . . . on issues of fairness, on issues of equality"; and polls are showing Americans shifting rapidly and in record numbers to welcome marriage equality.
To many Catholics, the continued refusal of the leaders of our church to endorse the equal rights (and the full humanity) of LGBT persons is growing scandalous, and is a refusal to read the signs of the times and to hear the voice of the Spirit in the world around us today. Many of us will continue listening carefully to the noble and heartening words of our new pope about protecting the least among us, and will be wondering when those words will include a specific recognition that the least among us include LGBT human beings, who deserve full inclusion in church and society and recognition as human beings whose humanity is equal to the humanity of all other human beings.