As someone who was born and raised Catholic, I have firsthand experience on how harmful these ideologies can be. I attended Catholic school up until I started college, where I was spoon-fed how wonderful the Church was, and what my relationship with God should be. I remember classes being put on hold so that my classmates and I could watch Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio be ordained as Pope Francis in 2013. There are a lot of things that were unorthodox about his ordination as Pope. For starters, his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, chose to retire from his position instead of following the usual tradition of dying. From my perspective, Pope Francis has always taken on the approach that I had learned as a child growing up as a Catholic. He reserves his judgement, as only God is in a place to judge, on how people lived their lives, and reprimands people who “have their hearts closed.” By condemning these core character traits of Catholics, naturally, many members of the Church hate him.
All things considered, Pope Francis is by no means a progressive. He still fully stands behind the Church condemning abortion and contraceptives, and his comments about sexual abuse in the Church has been pretty dismal. It’s the fact that he has voiced a passive tolerance for the LGBTQIA+ community (his famous “who am I to judge?” quote) and promoting more tolerance — even saying atheists could go to Heaven — that makes him seem like the Bernie Sanders of the Catholic Church.
In October of 2020, the Quaker Campus published an article discussing how Pope Francis could be creating a more inclusive Church. In a documentary on Pope Francis’ life, he was quoted saying, “Homosexual people [. . .] are children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable over it. What we have to have is a civil union law — that way, they are legally covered. I supported that.” This didn’t help his popularity in the conservative Church, but, as someone who had developed a poor relationship with religion, I was impressed with the ‘radical’ changes that the Pope seemed to be taking. The Church should want to advocate for love and acceptance.
However, on Monday, March 15, the Catholic Church issued a statement — approved by Pope Francis, mind you — stating that the Church cannot bless same-sex marriage, “regardless of how stable or positive the relationship may be.” The response has been met with plenty of backlash, and has of course disappointed many Catholics who identify with the LGBTQIA+ community. Jesse Tyler Ferguson, an openly gay actor who was on Modern Family, tweeted, “As a graduate of a catholic high school, I am deeply saddened by this archaic rhetoric and not at all surprised. The good news? I’m still happily married & I don’t need the Pope to acknowledge the love that exists in my family.” This particular tweet struck home with me; as someone who identifies with the community, and was once part of a Catholic community, it’s not at all surprising to see this kind of rhetoric being spread. The Church has never been the pinnacle of morality — this applies to many, many churches, not specifically the Catholic Church.
No one had ruined my relationship with God more than members of the Church, or the people who had claimed that they were doing the work of God. The worst people I have met have labeled themselves as Christian or Catholic — they are uninterested in upholding the values of the Bible, focusing, rather, on what it can do for them. Strange, how the Bible only seems to reflect what they believe in, and they never acknowledge the parts about being loving and kind. I had almost believed that Pope Francis was trying to make a positive change, but he isn’t any different. Now, instead of having tentative allies outside of the Church, he has people who hate him inside and outside of the Church. Ironically enough, this is also a longstanding tradition of popes.
While plenty of conservatives have praised the news, there has also been criticism from within the institution, much to my surprise. Johan Bonny, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Belgium, wrote how he felt “great shame” and wanted to apologize: “God has never been stingy or pedantic with His blessings on people.” Archbishop Mark Coleridge from Brisbane, Australia, said, “It’s one thing to say we can’t bless same-sex unions. Well, let’s then commit ourselves to grappling with the question about how else we might include same-sex couples [ . . . ] it’s not enough to say ‘we can’t, we can’t.’” There have been about 1,000 people, many of them priests, from Germany that stated that they would not refuse to give blessings, an act of pastoral disobedience, and many other priests echoing their concerns that LGBTQIA+ Catholics would be driven out of the Church.
If you are someone who has found comfort in religion, that is absolutely fantastic. By no means would I ever want to take that away from you. I remember the comfort it brought me, and how heartbroken I was when I finally made the choice to turn away from the teachings of the Church. Ultimately, it was the best decision for myself, and, seeing that a lot of the concerns seem to revolve around “people will want to leave the Church,” I am unimpressed. The Church, quite honestly, has no say in what is morally appropriate or not, given their long history of sexually abusing children. They could stand to do with a little less bad press, especially when they have bigger issues at hand, such as their own financial issues that they have been facing due to the pandemic. They’re hardly in a position to act as though they’re taking the moral high ground, when their own history is rife with abuse, corruption, and greed.
To members of the LGBTQIA+ community who have been disheartened by this news: I’m sorry. You deserve better than a thinly-veiled tolerance in a community, especially by one that is supposed to promote love and spread kindness. Pope Francis’s lack of outright hatred is not acceptance, but is at best a condescending nod — his first and only concern will only ever be the Church. Your personal lives aren’t to be judged by strangers who think they know the best for everyone. You deserve to be actually loved and accepted, and you certainly don’t need that validation from the Church.
Featured Image: Courtesy of America Magazine