Thursday, August 1, 2013

Pope Francis's Gay Remarks as Something New Under Papal Sun? Commentators Who Say Nay

I think that Andrew Brown, Kate Connolly, and Liz Davies make an excellent point in their recent Guardian article about the pope's comments on the plane this past Monday: 

As his remarks on the plane imply, an opening towards honesty in Catholic attitudes to homosexuality and gay people must form a part of what Francis was elected by the cardinals to do: reform the Vatican. It is a huge task.

An opening towards honesty: that is precisely what the Catholic community has not had for a long time now, insofar as its official discourse is controlled by draconian top-down mechanisms of repression that brook no opposition, no opening to honesty. In no area has the dishonesty been so deep, and so soul-twisting, as in the area of sexual ethics, where the vast majority of Catholic married couples contracept while all of us pretend that this signifies nothing for what we love to call "orthodoxy" and "tradition"--not even when members of those very same married couples using contraceptives write articles for major Catholic publications attacking gay and lesbian folks for severing the bond between procreation and marriage!

We are not honest about the fact that a great many of our priests are sexually active. We remain dishonest about the fact that many Catholics want to use the phrase "intrinsically disordered" as a way of knocking gay people in the head, even while those same Catholics claim--with an astonishing lack of honesty--that all they're about, after all, is mercy, graciousness, and respect for the gays!

Since I strongly agree that, if Pope Francis's remarks earlier this week are going to mean anything of significance in the real world, they have to represent an opening towards honesty (and isn't it fascinating that L'Osservatore Romano said the word "gay" for the first time this week--though John Allen, writing for the "liberal" U.S. Catholic paper National Catholic Reporter couldn't bring himself to do so?), I want to take note now of some honest reactions to Pope Francis's remarks that find them less than encouraging for gay folks.

So it seems to me that Pope Francis is just saying what many evangelicals say– hate the sin, love the sinner, celibate gays are welcome in the congregation, etc.  . . . This sentiment is more charitable than that of his predecessor, Pope Benedict, who said that gays of any sort weren’t fit for the priesthood. But only by neglecting to attend to nuance and context could what the Pope said be seen as a win for gays (and lets face it, it is only gay men that are even being talked about because their presence in the priesthood is what is at stake).

Bottom line: It is a way of appearing to change everything without changing anything.


But make no mistake, this pope’s congenial words offer ZERO relief for LGBT Catholics. They make no attempt to repair past evils inflicted on innocent people and so my advice is: leave! If you are LGBT leave the Catholic church, you can do better. If you are the parent or a family member of an LGBT person: leave! Your loved ones deserve better. If you are the parent of a child, leave! Your children absolutely deserve a healthier development. To raise an LGBT child in the Catholic church today constitutes de facto child abuse.  

Francis is changing the tone in the hope that the church will be perceived in a better light, but there is little evidence to suggest he will or wants to make doctrinal changes on women's equality, same-sex relationships or contraception, and his response to the issue of clergy sex abuse has been underwhelming at best.


If we cannot be honest about what this pope believes, and if we refuse to criticize him when criticism is justified, we could run the risk of giving the Vatican public relations machine exactly what it wants: a return to the days when the pope was an object of affection, adulation and unequivocal goodwill -- no questions asked.

I don't believe that it was a PR move. But he also didn't say anything revolutionary. The notion that gays shouldn't be discriminated against is already in the catechism. But when Francis says in the same breath that gays should please not advertise their sexual orientation, he puts himself in a category with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who supports laws against "homosexual propaganda."

Meanwhile, David Badash reports for The New Civil Rights Movement this morning that yet another Catholic school teacher has just been fired for gay this and that: in this case, Ken Bencomo was dumped by St. Lucy's Priory high school in Glendora, California, after he married his partner Christopher Persky. Bencomo had been at St. Lucy's 17 years.

These stories are getting as wearily predictable as stories from Russia about gay men who have been raped with beer bottles and have had their skulls crushed. What was it again that Cardinal Dolan was saying just the other day about how the Catholic church is all about mercy, graciousness, and respect for those who are gay? Seems like that message, or the papal call not to marginalize gay folks, has somehow not filtered down to Catholic schools, Catholic parishes, workplaces controlled by the Catholic church.

It's pretty hard to get more marginalized than being fired because of your sexual orientation and your refusal to hide or be dishonest about it. 

(I'm grateful to Chris Morley, Jim McCrea, and Jerry Slevin for some of the preceding links.)

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