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Topics In the News
Pope Francis's Recent Comments: A Turning Point or a Public Relations Ploy?
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 07/30/13
Last updated on: 07/31/13
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In recent comments made aboard the Papal jet on his return from Brazil, Pope Francis made history by using the term "gay" to refer to homosexuals and seemed to be charting a starkly different approach to gay people from that of his predecessors, John-Paul II and Benedict XVI, who lost no opportunity to demonize homosexuality and homosexuals. It is unclear, however, whether this apparent new approach is a significant turning point or merely a public relations ploy.

As Rachel Donadio reported in the New York Times, the new pope's comment in regard to gay priests--"If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?"--has "resonated through the church." She points out that "Francis's words could not have been more different from those of Benedict XVI, who in 2005 wrote that homosexuality was 'a strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil,' and an 'objective disorder'" and said that men with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" should not become priests.

Moreover, in his recent comments Pope Francis made remarks that could have far-reaching implication for the Church's political stance toward gay people. He said that gay people "shouldn't be marginalized" and that the church should regard them as brothers and sisters.

Perhaps most significantly, the Pope specifically cited the Catechism, which forbids discrimination against homosexuals.

The Catechism reads as follows: "The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. They do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition."

In the United States, the Catholic laity has tended to take the Catechism to heart. They tend to be supportive of gay rights and, indeed, of marriage equality, despite the homophobic positions of the church hierarchy.

Indeed, there has been a disconnection between the acceptance frequently shown by Catholics in the pews and at the polls and the harsh rhetoric of the hierarchy, which has tortured itself to find ways to support and practice discrimination against gay people despite the Catechism.

The Catholic hierarchy has not simply opposed same-sex marriage. It has opposed every legislative and social attempt to improve the lives of glbtq people, from repealing laws that criminalize same-sex sexual behavior to laws that forbid discrimination in employment and accommodations.

Moreover, they have practiced discrimination themselves. Scarcely a week goes by without a news story about a Catholic diocese or college firing an employee when their sexual orientation or same-sex marriage comes to light. The employees have ranged from janitors to choir directors to teachers. The hierarchy has been able to convince themselves that their discrimination against their own employees is somehow "just."

Most recently, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued a statement in opposition to the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA), which is pending in Congress.

In addition, the Catholic hierarchy in the United States has repeatedly and baldfacedly lied about the effect of same-sex marriage on religious freedom and has supported extreme homophobic rhetoric as articulated by the National Organization for Marriage, which is little more than a Roman Catholic-front organization, and such subsidiary organizations as the Witherspoon Institute, which has funded junk science in an attempt to defame same-sex parents.

My question is whether the new tone enunciated by the affable new pope will translate into different policies regarding civil rights for glbtq people. In other words, will the most visible spokesmen for the Roman Catholic Church in the United States continue to be people like the Archbishops of San Francisco and New York, who have been particularly voluble in their homophobia?

Many glbtq Catholics have hailed the new tone from the Pope as a major turning point that may lead to reconciliation within the church. Others have pointed out that the Pope's comments do not alter the church's longstanding doctrine that regards homosexuality as a sin and a tendency toward evil.

For me, the question is whether this new tone will lead to real changes in the Roman Catholic Church's position on civil rights for glbtq people. Do the remarks by Pope Francis signal a turning point or are they merely a public relations ploy intended to help staunch the Church's declining influence in the developed world?

The video below reports on the Pope's comments as a reaching out to gay people.

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