Earlier this week, Pope Francis made headlines with the Associated Press after stating that “Being homosexual isn’t a crime” when discussing laws that characterize homosexuality. It isn’t the first time that the Pope has made headlines for his responses regarding members of the LGBTQ+ community. In another interview with the Associated Press in 2013, at the state of his papacy, he stated ‘Who am I to judge?” when asked about the acceptance of gay priests. To some extent, he was right, considering that local authorities often dictate who can become priests. Yet, his words are progressive compared to the past. While ambivalence has colored the Catholic Church’s responses to homosexuality, some feel that this is the beginning of change. After centuries of public condemnation, the Pope’s statement highlights the changing times.
For context, the beginning of Pope Francis’s papacy was markedly different from previous popes. He is the first Jesuit Pope, the first Latin American Pope, and the first non-European pope in over a millennium. Pope Francis became Pope following Pope Benedict XVI’s retirement after eight years. Pope Benedict XVI was the first Pope to resign in nearly 600 years, in 1415 after Gregory XII during the Great Schism. Pope Francis lost to Pope Benedict in 2005 in the papal election. In 2013, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires Jorge Mario Bergoglio, became the 266th Pope. Upon becoming Pope, the then Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope Francis. He changes his name because of the tradition of popes changing their names, dating back to the year 533. The tradition of popes changing their name is to assert the type of leader they aim to be when heading the Vatican. Pope Francis’s name hails from St. Francis of Assisi. The name reflects the commitment to the poor and wishing to “have solidarity with the people of the world.”
Pope Francis has made himself a man of the people by speaking on issues that previous popes have either shied away from or rejected altogether. He has been less critical in homosexuality and requested more understanding under the name of God. Moreover, he argues that God is merciful, forgiving, and accepting. His words reflect commonly taught readings of God in the Bible: understanding, merciful, and supportive. Nevertheless, the ostracism of people from the Church does not always reflect these values.
One example of this would be the rejection of homosexuality within the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, the Bible’s teachings are largely up to interpretation. Homosexuality is not listed anywhere within the bible, nor are any other mentions of same-sex interactions explicitly labeled as sinful. Nevertheless, some interpreters of the Bible argue that in the Book of Genesis, God demolished the city of Sodom and Gomorroh for their homosexual practices. Others underscore that God’s judgment on these cities happened before the homosexual practices occurred and that it was because of a gross violation of hospitality led to the destruction of these cities. While the debate amongst interpretations continues, a cleavage has occurred in the Church in accepting Christians within the LGBTQ+ community. Nevertheless, Pope Francis’s words may be the necessary healing.
Pope Francis previously has extended healing words to another marginalized group: women. When discussing the role of women, Pope Francis has urged for more equality for women. He also has urged for women to be protected against violence. However, there have been limitations. He has gone without promoting equity within the Archbishop or allowing women to become priests. This inconclusive response of protecting women’s dignity but not allowing for total advancement reflects the delicate paradigm the Pope is glossing over.
Pope Francis’s statements regarding homosexuality juxtaposed with the years of rejection from the Church. The more conservative popes before Francis rarely acknowledged homosexuality in a positive light. Instead, the conflict between heterosexual Catholics and homosexuals (both Catholic and non-Catholic) continued without the Vatican’s support. However, it’s not possible to rejoice. Pope Francis’s tone does not speak from a different tone from the 1994 Catechism The Pope himself stated that “homosexuality is still a sin”. But he categorically disapproves of the criminalization of homosexuality. While not explicitly accepting homosexuality, advocates and allies alike believe Catholic Church needs to do more. However, the current Pope’s words are progressive compared to the past.
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