How Progressive Is Pope Francis's Stance On Homosexuality?
The Catholic Church has historically opposed efforts to defend LGBT rights. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Vatican’s authoritative book of doctrine, states that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered’ and can ‘under no circumstances be approved’. For nearly all of its history the Church has refused to ordain homosexual priests, failed to respect either gay marriage or civil unions and acted generally problematically on matters of LGBT rights. This history of homophobia is both shameful and outdated, especially in a modern setting.
The question held by many is the extent to which Pope Francis represents a transformation of this legacy of homophobia. A change of policy from the Vatican on LGBT issues, or by the Pope personally, would be extremely consequential. Due to the centralised nature of the Catholic Church, such a change could help to transform the policies and views of Catholics across the world, thereby improving conditions for the LGBT community. This effect would be particularly acute in Latin America, where half the global Catholic population of 1.6 Billion lives. Even if Francis affected even a small portion of this following, conditions for hundreds of thousands or even millions of queer individuals could improve.
Some believe that Pope Francis is bringing about the general in sentiment that the Catholic Church needs. Described by the Wall Street Journal as leading an ‘unofficial revolution’ within the Catholic Church, Pope Francis as a figure has drawn hope that the Catholic Church may begin to change its established doctrine.
In perhaps the most momentous words of his early papacy, Pope Francis appeared to question established Catholic doctrine in 2013 by asking "If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has a goodwill, then who am I to judge him?”. While this was an offhand remark, and additionally perhaps a bare minimum when it comes to acceptance of homosexuality, it fostered hope that Pope Francis signalled the start of a new era.
This new era, however, has unfortunately failed to materialise. Since then, the Pope’s statements have intentionally been very limited. Until last year, very little in terms of actual statements have come from the Vatican about their views towards homosexuality.
This trend of silence was changed at the end of last year. In the documentary, ‘Francesco’, which was released at the end of last year, Pope Francis suggested that he supported Civil Partnerships, and stated: "Homosexual people have a right to be in the family. They are children of God. They have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out of the family or made miserable over this". At first glance, this is momentous progress. Whilst approving civil partnerships alone would not singularly remedy the Catholic Church’s woes, it would represent an initial step towards the reconciliation between Church and homosexuality.
However, edited out of the interview, Francis stated that his support of civil partnerships "does not mean approving of homosexual acts, not in the least." This is a somewhat bizarre stance to hold. The idea that homosexual individuals would enter into a civil partnership yet refrain from all sexual relations verges on nonsensical. Yet, it broadly makes sense when considering previous Catholic doctrine on the immorality of homosexual sex. Francis through his words, while adding a more pleasant face, failed to challenge this doctrine.
Additionally, Francis has failed to sufficiently take action to challenge established homophobia within the Vatican. For instance, in 2015 when Father Krzysztof Charamsa was dismissed from his position as a priest by the Holy See for openly stating that he was gay, Francis remained entirely silent. By failing to actively change policies leading to such actions, Francis is responsible for a general type of negligence.
Much like his predecessors, Francis adopts broadly the doctrine that homosexual people are good and that homosexual acts are morally bad. While Francis adds a far more human face towards the views of the Catholic church, ending the most egregious and inflammatory rhetoric towards homosexuality, his actual views and doctrine are at best an incremental improvement over that of his successors. This is a shame and fails to sufficiently tackle homophobic attitudes which are often found within the Catholic Church hierarchy.
It is unrealistic to believe Francis could singlehandedly change the entire views of the Catholic establishment. In several regions across the world, particularly within Africa and the US, moves towards the recognition of LGBT have been met by repudiation and scorn. There is a very likely possibility that some liberal doctrine he could potentially introduce would be outright rejected.
However, Pope Francis could undoubtedly do more than he has. As a pope who has been outspoken about climate change, the refugee crisis, the global economy and a broad range of other topics, Pope Francis has shown both willingness and ability to take an ideological stand. A change in attitude towards LGBT rights and rejection of the deplorable doctrine stating that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered’ would lead to millions of Catholics across the world re-assessing currently prejudiced views towards the LGBT community.
It thus seems wrong to characterise Francis as leading a silent revolution in favour of LGBT rights. He has failed to truly address the core issues of homophobia within established Catholic dogma, and one can only hope that his successors buck this trend.