At Five Years, U.S. Catholics Give Pope Francis Mixed Reviews on LGBT Issues

Jamie Manson

The fifth anniversary of Pope Francis’ election on March 13th has been a moment of reflection for Catholics on the impact this revolutionary pope has had, and that includes on LGBT issues. Today’s post highlights a few commentaries published around the anniversary. To view a full five -year chronology of Pope Francis and LGBT issues, click here.

Jamie Manson wrote for The Tablet about Francis and his treatment of gender and sexuality issues. She stated that, after five years, “from where I am sitting, little has changed.” The pope’s thinking on gender and sexuality “appears to be fundamentally identical to that of his papal predecessors.” Francis, Manson explained, buys into the idea of gender complementarity and has harshly criticized same-gender relationships even as he expresses a desire for a more pastoral Church. She concluded:

“It might be argued that it is unreasonable to expect the Pope to support same-sex unions or – particularly given how new awareness is of these realities – transgender persons. But the language that Francis chooses creates in many gay and lesbian and transgender Catholics a strong sense of shame. By pitting heterosexual couples – ‘God’s masterpiece’ – against same-sex couples, he ingrains the same old feelings of sinfulness not only in LGBT people but in their families as well.

“Again, no one expects the bar on same-sex couples marrying in the Church to be lifted easily or quickly, but language and gesture are all-important. Being barred from getting married in one’s own church can create a profound sense that one’s love and commitment are incapable of goodness and holiness.

“Francis’ stances on LGBT issues have global consequences. His failure to speak out against draconian anti-homosexuality laws during his trip to three African nations calls into question how committed he is to justice for the most marginalised and vulnerable. He has won global affection as a champion of the poor and oppressed, as a defender of the environment and as a promoter of human rights. His charisma and power over the consciences of world leaders could have untold influence on raising up women and LGBT people to equal status and dignity. Unfortunately, it is an opportunity he has so far failed to grasp.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke

DignityUSA’s Marianne Duddy-Burke released a similar response to the fifth anniversary, stating:

“However, for LGBTQI people and our families, early hopes that Francis’ openness would result in wide pastoral embrace or even changes to longstanding condemnatory dogma have not been realized. He has made inflammatory and hurtful statements, and has maintained inadequate and harmful traditional teachings on sex, gender, relationships, and marriage. . .Pope Francis is clearly a man and a leader moved by the needs of the poor and marginalized. If in the remaining period of his papacy he can come to understand the damage that the Church’s dogma and practices regarding sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity do to individuals, families, and entire communities, there may be an opportunity for real change.”

Manson’s and Duddy-Burke’s perspective little to nothing has changed on homosexuzlity since Francis was elected may reflect the mood of the general U.S Catholic population. In a survey released by the Pew Research Center, 57% of Catholics said the pope had done only a little in addressing lesbian and gay people, had done nothing, or had made the Church less accepting. 38% of those surveyed would like to see him do more. Just 7% said Francis’ handling of LGBT issues is the most important thing he has done.

Michael O’Loughlin

But one indisputable action Pope Francis has taken is his repeatedly expressed desire for there to be less judgmentalism in the Church, including on homosexuality. Michael O’Loughlin posited in America Magazine that the soundbite of this papacy will be the pope’s “Who am I to judge?” comment made in 2013. O’Loughlin wrote:

“It was a simple question that nonetheless would go on to define the papacy of a pastor whom the world was just getting to know. . .The pope’s question held obvious appeal for L.G.B.T. Catholics and their families. For one thing, Francis actually used the word gay—a first for a pope. . .It also signaled an openness from the highest echelons of the church toward accompanying gays and lesbians on their faith journeys, something relatively novel in recent church history. . . when Pope Francis had the opportunity in 2016 to address the comment himself, he repeated his assertion that gays and lesbians should not be marginalized in the church. . .

“Of course, the pope’s comments and his desire to rid the church of excessive judgment extend far beyond his thoughts about the L.G.B.T. community. In fact, resisting judgmentalism pops up again and again in the pope’s writings, homilies, and addresses.”

What do you think? Has Pope Francis made the Catholic Church more or less accepting of LGBT people? Or has his papacy had little impact at all? Let us know in the “Comments” section below. To refresh your memory of the papacy, review New Ways Ministry’s timeline of moments when Pope Francis spoke about or acted on LGBT issues. You can find that resource by clicking here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 15, 2018

8 replies
  1. Peter
    Peter says:

    Ultracrepidarian is a beautiful word to sum Pope Francis’s standing on LGBT issues. ‘pertaining to opinions given on matters beyond one’s knowledge.’

    • Kris
      Kris says:

      Ha ha ha Pointed, flawless comment.

      Pope Francis is a mass of self-contradictions when it comes to LGBT people.

      If I had to choose a word to sum up his papacy in this respect, it would be ‘confused’.

    DON E SIEGAL says:

    Has Pope Francis made the Catholic Church more or less accepting of LGBT people?

    I believe Pope Francis has opened the door to possibilities; nevertheless, he speaks in with a very middle of the road language without any real commitment to change in how the Church treats LGBT persons. This is especially true in regard to transgender persons.

    For these reasons, I believe Manson and Duddy-Berk are correct in their writings. In regard to O’Loughlin’s statement, I believe he takes Pope Francis’ words, “Who am I to judge?” out of the context in which they were made. That comment was made in reference to gay priests who observe their oath to celibacy. They do not reflect Francis’ thinking about LGBT persons in general.

    Further, I believe Bondings 2.0 is an optimist in how it interprets Pope Francis’ and others middle of the road language. This is all well and good—I am an optimist myself. But we must remember when we take that road, there may be disappointment along the way.

    Our biggest ally in all of this is the voice of the People of God!


    The absolute silence of Catholic higher education in the USA in the face of papal and magesterial reliance on a few words of Biblical text and the total rejection of the facts and wisdom of the sciences, anthropology, and the lived experiences of millions of people is far more appalling and alarming than the prejudices of poorly educated clerics. Catholic higher education is the Judas to the Son of Man in our times.

    • Friends
      Friends says:

      To be fair, Charles, that’s not quite true. A number of Jesuit colleges and universities — including Holy Cross (my own undergraduate college) — have been phenomenally supportive of both their GLBT students and their GLBT alumni. I’ve told the tale several times previously, of how Holy Cross specifically told their diocesan bishop to “stuff it”, when the guy attempted to shut down their GLBT-supportive programs. And the bishop himself got his karmic justice, when he was busted for DUI, and spent a night in jail. So credit where due: the Jesuits as a whole are extremely gay-supportive, even if Francis himself is a bit wobbly, mostly for reasons of political strategy.

        CHARLES NIBLICK says:

        I agree that many Catholic institutions of higher learning are pastorally attentive, kind, and supportive. It is the academic side of Catholic higher education that plays lap dog to a poorly educated clergy.

        • Deacon Tom Smith
          Deacon Tom Smith says:

          Yes, Academic thinking sometimes inadvertently fragments our focus away from Pastoral thinking. Francis calls us ALL to make that difficult shift away from ideology to reality. I hope all of us (academics and pastoral ministers) are working on that in our own ways.

  4. Deacon Thomas Smith
    Deacon Thomas Smith says:

    Still so surprising that so many thoughtful, articulate Catholic advocates consider this papacy a disappointment for GLBT folks. Yes, of course, there are failures to speak up against anti-gay spiritual and political abuses (“forgive us for what we have failed to do…”), BUT.

    Saying our name and opening dialogue (“Culture of Encounter”). These are major movements towards justice for GLBT Catholics. Why are so many still stuck in what Rohr calls “dualistic thinking”? Patience is a virtue. Don’t we see the light?

    Personally, I’ve been “stuck” in the Church’s DADT environment for so long, I sometimes become angry/impatient with the remnants of homophobia that rear their ugly heads and still occasionally wound my spirit, BUT…. I also feel enormous relief! And hope! We have a pope and a cardinal here in NJ who sincerely do not judge us, who seem to sincerely want to listen. Can’t the joy of this knowledge outweigh our criticisms sometimes? Non-dualistically thinking, we are moving forward. Small “Alleluia”?


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *