Being Catholic in a progressive society while having views of the same nature is not as effortless as it sounds. There is no denying that some Catholic beliefs can be seen as consertive, and trying to balance two opposing views can take a toll on you. Your faith says one thing, but your own views of the world say another. Personally, for me, it has always been conflicting trying to live by the Church’s teachings while, at the same time, trying to be true to myself. I want to be a good and faithful Catholic, but there are certain teachings of the Catholic Church that make me question its teachings. Luckily, Pope Francis makes it just a little bit easier to reconcile my progressive views with my Catholic faith.
On Oct. 21, a documentary film called Francesco, which tells the story of Pope Francis, came out at the Rome Film Festival. The documentary included exclusive interviews with the Pope, one of which caused a stir within the Catholic community. During one of the interviews, the Pope stated that, “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 caused mix reactions among the Catholic community because it seemed like the Pope supported same-sex civil unions, which is what most consider to be a 180-degree turn from the Church’s usual teachings on homosexuality. Some Catholics even fear that it is the first step in changing the Catholic Church’s doctrine on marriage. Yet, Pope Francis is still a firm believer that a marriage is between one man and one woman, just as the Catholic Church teaches. In the past, he has supported civil unions for same-sex couples within the Church, which basically gives them the same rights and protections as a regular marriage would. I know, a bit confusing, but several states in the U.S. have, in fact, allowed civil unions for same-sex couples before same-sex marriage was legalized.
As much of a shock that this statement was for a majority of people, it really shouldn’t be that surprising based on how open Pope Francis is about the LGBTQIA+ community compared to past popes. In 2013, when asked about his opinion on gay priests aboard a plane from Brazil, Pope Francis responded with “if someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” This is a drastic change from his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI, who approved a document in 2005 which stated that, “while profoundly respecting the persons in question . . . those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture’” should not be allowed into the seminary to become priests. However, the same document does also say: “Such persons must be accepted with respect and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”
According to Church teachings, while being gay in and of itself is not really considered a sin, acting on it is. Furthermore, within the Catholic Church, homosexual people are called to a life of chastity.
Unfortunately, there are Catholic people and priests who see being part of the LGBTQIA+ community as sinful and tend to exclude, discriminate, and disrespect them despite what the aforementioned 2005 doctrine says. Because of this, Catholic parents of LGBTQIA+ children don’t know how to respond when their kids come out to them. One of the worst case scenarios: these kids are kicked out of their homes just because of who they are, which is something they can’t control. However, there are parents who are supportive and try their best to include their children in the faith. La Tenda di Gionata (Jonathan’s Tent) is an Italian outreach ministry for LGBTQIA+ Christians; parents of this ministry spoke to Pope Francis in a meeting last month about the experiences LGBTQIA+ Catholics have had with the Church, both good and bad. During this meeting, Pope Francis told the parents that “God loves [their children] as they are, and that the Church loves them because they are children of God.” Again, a far cry from the tone bigots usually use to express hate to the LGBTQIA+ community and to tell them they are going to hell. In fact, it is those same bigots that created most of the uproar around the Pope’s comment on same-sex civil unions.
Since he became pope, Pope Francis has been known to be more liberal than previous popes. He wants to create a more accepting Church, similar to how Jesus was accepting of everyone — even those who were considered sinners during his time. It really shouldn’t come as a shock that Pope Francis is for same-sex civil unions, even though he doesn’t support same-sex marriage. While others may not see it as a huge deal, since the Pope still believes that marriage is only for man and woman, those within the Catholic community know that this is almost unprecedented. Many claim that Pope Francis is changing the doctrine of the Church, but he’s not. In fact, changing any doctrine within a Church takes a long process. Making a comment in an interview doesn’t equate to changing Church teachings, it just shows the Pope’s personal opinion on certain matters. Pope Francis’ goal is not to uproot the foundations of the Church, no matter what the haters say. Rather, his goal is to create a more accepting Catholic community that is inclusive, not exclusive. His statement is only another example of how accepting the Church has become. Cal State Long Beach first-year Charlie Du stated, “Getting the chance to know that now the LGBTQ[IA]+ community is publicly accepted by the Pope, the head of the Catholic Church, gives many of us hope and joy that we are seen and acknowledged as beings still loved by God. It is the right move on the Pope’s part because he’s bringing together more of us now than before. We are seen, we are heard, and we are now respected as equals.”
A true Catholic knows that Jesus practiced what he preached, which was unconditional love and acceptance. In fact in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says to both “love your enemies” (New American Bible Revised Edition, Matt. 5.44) and “love your neighbor” (Matt. 22.40). If a Catholic wants to see the LGBTQIA+ community as their “enemies,” fine, but they have to show compassion to them still. If a Catholic sees the LGBTQIA+ community as their fellow neighbors, then they’ll love them and avoid any microaggressions towards them on their part. Anyone who calls themselves a Christian or Catholic and yet still has the guts to spew hate on people who are different from them, are not truly showing the fruits of being a Christian or Catholic.
Church doctrines are not changing anytime soon, but the environment within the Catholic community is becoming more accepting and inclusive, which isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it gives me comfort to know that, as I begin to identify what my sexual orientation is, I still have a place in the community that has comforted me through the good and bad times. At the end of the day, no matter who we are, love is love.
Feature Image: Courtesy of New Ways Ministry