Exploring Pope Francis’ Mixed Messages on LGBT Issues

Why doesn’t Pope Francis seem to fully “get it” when it comes to LGBT issues?

Kaya Oakes, writing at Religion Dispatches, tried to answer this knotty question.  She believes that those who hoped the pope would become a “staunch LGBTQ ally in three years of papacy were probably setting their sights too high.”  Instead, she has a theory to explain his contradictory messages:

Pope Francis

“The pope and the Catholic church are both on a learning curve, scrambling to keep up with the larger social acceptance of LGBTQ people in many Western nations. Francis is, after all, a 79-year-old Argentine, and sometimes his ideas about gender reflect his complex responses to the pervasive machismo of the Latin American culture in which he was raised. . . .

“As with many members of his generation, his struggle to understand the realities of LGBTQ life has been one of small steps forward, large steps back.”

Oakes also attributes the pope’s more open, dialogic style to his training as a Jesuit:

“. . . [Many Jesuits also train in spiritual direction, which is a guided one-on-one conversation about faith. Jesuits often teach and write in addition to working in pastoral ministry during their formation, all practices that involve a fair amount of back and forth with people from all over the Catholic spectrum. Rather than ‘either/or,’ Jesuits like to talk about ‘both/and,’ another invitation to dialogue.

“With that background as a Jesuit, it’s no wonder that the pope often follows broader sweeping statements about gender and sexuality with pastoral stories.”

This dichotomy of being socially/sexually conservative on one hand, and open to discussion and dialogue on the other creates confusion when trying to figure out where the pope stands on LGBT issues.  Oakes used the recent example of the pope’s remarks about “gender ideology” in a speech, which were followed up two days later by a call for more pastoral understanding for LGBT people.  She commented:

“. . .[I]t would seem that Pope Francis was trying to have it both ways: condemning the ‘ideological colonization’ of children supposedly being taught they can choose their gender (rather than trying to understand how some people are born feeling trapped in the wrong one), and also putting the emphasis yet again on the Jesuitical notions of dialogue and accompaniment.”

Oakes also cites Fr. James Martin, SJ, who explained Pope Francis’ comments from a non-USA perspective:

“Martin . . . emphasized how much Francis is trying to speak to a global church. ‘Imagine reading this [in the Global South] and even parts of Europe where a bishop or a priest may be antipathetic to LGBT people,’ where for more conservative clergy, this emphasis on walking with LGBTQ people ‘is quite a challenge.’ “

But Oakes comes down on the side of cutting the pope some slack, noting that he is way ahead of his predecessors on LGBT issues.  She concludes her essay by positing a very important choice fo our church has to make:

“We will either learn to walk with one another, or we will be forced by dogma to condemn one another. That is the choice both we and the pope have to make.”

Oakes’ essay is a good reminder that we can’t just take Pope Francis’ message from the surface of his words, but there is a need to look at context, influences, and even intended audiences.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, October 24, 2016




3 replies
  1. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    Too many continue to buy into the colonial guilt defense about why the Church must take baby steps regarding LGBT issues among others. We are acting like the conservatives of the world are mentally incapable of having the intellectual capacity to learn to live out the challenges of the Gospel. Moral logic does not require some special grace, but it does require courage and bravery
    and and faith that God loves all of her children. Same sex rights have been recognized where citizens came out to their families and friends and the straight members of society realized they are valuable contributing members of society and should not be viewed as criminals and laws were changed. To do this may be a challenge to the bishops, priests and peoples of conservative cultures just as abolishing slavery and racial segregation was. Can they be asked to do anything less? Rather than wear red satin or silk, perhaps each bishop should wear a scapular with the blood of a martyr on it to remind them of what their office signifies.

  2. Patrick
    Patrick says:

    The hate speech in the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church against gays needs to be addressed. These teachings need fixing as human rights come first. It is an outrage that the Catechism refers to the stoning verse as authoritative proof that God condemns homosexual activity. That reference along with the up and coming removal of the Catechism’s text approving capital punishment needs to be removed and apologised for.


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