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:
“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