This week, Pope Francis received exuberant praise from openly gay British rock star, Elton John. At an annual HIV/AIDS fundraiser, John called the pope his “hero. The Guardian newspaper explains the context and elaboration of that remark:
“Sir Elton John has called Pope Francis his ‘hero’ for his compassionate drive to accept gay people in the Catholic church.
“At John’s annual AIDS benefit concert in New York City, the singer said Francis was pushing boundaries in the church and told the crowd: “Make this man a saint now, OK?”
“ ‘Ten years ago one of the biggest obstacles in the fight against AIDS was the Catholic church. Today we have a pope that speaks out about it,’ said John, earning cheers from the attendees at Cipriani’s on Wall Street. . . .
” ‘He is a compassionate, loving man who wants everybody to be included in the love of God,’ John said of the pope. ‘It is formidable what he is trying to do against many, many people in the church that oppose [him]. He is courageous and he is fearless, and that’s what we need in the world today.’ ”
Praise from such a prominent secular gay advocate surely shows how positively Pope Francis’ message of inclusion is received by the world beyond the Catholic Church. But it shows something else, too, I think.
Elton John’s praise shows that probably a good portion of the world sees that Pope Francis is trying to develop a new approach to LGBT issues. Despite the minor setback that the synod’s final report caused in the movement for greater welcome, people are picking up, instead, on the idea that Pope Francis is pushing for greater reforms.
Perception vs. reality? Pope Francis has certainly done more for LGBT people than any other pope, by his simple and powerful gestures and statements. Yet, we have yet to hear direct support for LGBT inclusion. We see him nudging the Church in a direction that is more welcoming, but we don’t see him making bold statements.
Is his nudging a strategy? For example, would making bold statements alarm too many conservatives? On the other hand, is his simple nudging a way of simply providing new window dressing for the same old, same old? Frankly, it’s hard to say.
I tend to be an optimistic person and one who favors pragmatic solutions over ideal ones. So, I guess I lean toward the side that Pope Francis may be more genuine in his welcome than not. Part of my perception is that I see the pragmatic effects of his nudging: pastoral leaders are becoming a little more courageous. Perhaps not much, but somewhat less fearful.
What do you think? Is Pope Francis really as good as Elton John says he is? Why do you think he is or isn’t? Leave your answer in the “Comments” section of this post.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry