Pope Francis’ views on marriage equality made headlines this past weekend, giving a clearer view of his position on this matter, and also a little insight on how he may be shaping a more positive Catholic discourse about LGBT issues for the future.
During Francis’ visit with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby at the Vatican, the two spoke about many issues including ecumenical relations and global poverty, but it was their conversation about marriage equality which captured most headlines. Archbishop Welby has spoken out against the marriage equality bill in the United Kingdom which is still being considered by legislators there.
London’s Daily Mail noted that their views on marriage was a point of agreement that two shared:
“The meeting of minds on the controversial issue is a rare moment of agreement between the two churches amid strained relations.
“The Pope praised the Archbishop for ‘recalling the value of marriage’.
“He said: ‘ Particularly important is our witness to the reference to God and the promotion of Christian values in a world that seems at times to call into question some of the foundations of society, such as respect for the sacredness of human life or the importance of the institution of the family built on marriage, a value that you yourself have had occasion to recall recently.’”
London’s Telegraph also highlighted another important point of commonality:
Archbishop Welby said afterwards: ‘Our experience in the UK with [Roman Catholic] Archbishop Vincent [Nichols] and in our conversation today with the Pope is that we are absolutely at one on issues and equally we are at one in our condemnation of homophobic behaviour.’ ”
GayStarNews.com, not noted for praising the pope, had a favorable assessment of Francis’ statement to Archbishop Welby:
“Pope Francis has surprised in gay marriage talks by proving he is a more diplomatic figure than his predecessors.
“The leader of the Catholic Church deftly avoided speaking against gay rights while speaking to the head of the Anglican Church, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. . . .
“Most importantly, Francis did not say marriage should be based on a union between a man and a woman, which is how Benedict XVI and John Paul II repeatedly defined marriage.
“Vatican officials have said the talks were a diplomatic attempt to make his point without saying, for example, gay people were a ‘defection of human nature’.
“It is believed Francis has not made any headline-making statements on homosexuality and same-sex marriage due to the divisive, violent nature of the debates in France, which has seen widespread protests. “
“Speaking to members of the French Senate and Assembly at the Vatican, Francis told lawmakers that their ‘duty … involves proposing, amending and abolishing legislation.’
“ ‘However, it is also necessary to instill something extra in them, I would say a spirit, a soul, that does not limit itself to reflecting the modalities and ideas of the moment, but which also confers upon them the indispensable quality that elevates and dignifies the human person,’ Francis said, according to a transcript provided by Vatican Radio.”
Reuters also viewed these remarks as referring to France’s marriage equality law:
“Pope Francis urged a delegation of French lawmakers on Saturday to avoid following only ‘fashions and ideas of the moment,’ when legislating, in an apparent reference to the country’s legalisation of gay marriage last month.”
Gay commentator Michelangelo Signorile sees Pope Francis views on marriage equality as significantly different than his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI. In a Huffington Post essay entitled “Is Pope Francis Waving a White Flag on Gay Marriage?, Signorile compares these recent statements of Francis with Benedict’s involvement on the issue:
“Let’s put all of this in some perspective. In the time since Francis became pope, France became the largest predominantly Catholic country to pass marriage equality, right in the Vatican’s backyard. In the U.S., three states, including Rhode Island, which has the highest percentage of Catholics in the country, passed marriage equality. Predominantly Catholic Mexico continues to move forward on the issue in the courts, and Brazil’s National Council of Justice green-lighted gay marriage in that country, which would become the largest country in South America and the largest predominantly Catholic country in the world to allow gay marriage. Another Latin American country near the Argentine pope’s old stomping grounds, Uruguay, passed marriage equality in recent months, as did New Zealand.
“And Pope Francis had nothing publicly to say about any of it. Zero. Zilch. Nada. He was busy washing the feet of the poor and tweeting about how selflessness is a virtue. Go figure.
“Back when Spain passed marriage equality in 2005, Pope Benedict whirled himself into a frenzy, railing against it regularly. He told Catholic officials there that any support of the law would cost them their jobs and told secular public servants who are Catholic to flout the law and refuse to marry gays. He traveled to Spain and railed some more, oblivious toprotests of his trip. From then on, he regularly attacked gay marriage, even calling it a ‘threat to the future of humanity.’ “
Signorile’s conclusion on Francis:
“. . . having harshly railed against gay marriage back when he was in Argentina, only to lose that battle, he may be seeing that the handwriting is on the wall and that he’s got better things to do with his time.”
My own assessment of these statements is that Pope Francis realizes that the heavy-handed approach of his predecessor was causing too much pastoral damage to the church. Time after time, Benedict’s statements caused more and more Catholics to be alienated from the institution. Pope Francis’ approach, though not as positive as I would hope it to be, is a giant step forward for Catholic discourse about LGBT issues. His more moderate and pastoral example will surely influence bishops around the world. And when more bishops end their strident rhetoric against LGBT issues, we will see a reduction in homophobic attitudes and actions among Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry