Today’s post highlights the voices of LGBTQ Catholics in response to Pope Francis’ blockbuster statement last week in support of civil unions. The reactions are mixed, with almost everyone agreeing that Francis needs to go further. Excerpts are provided here, but you can use the links to read further. (You can find the blog’s full coverage with links to these posts at the bottom of this post.)
Xavier M. Montecel, a doctoral candidate in theology at Boston College, wrote in the National Catholic Reporter that Pope Francis’ distinction between sacramental marriage and state-regulated civil unions is actually found throughout the church tradition (he cites Aquinas and Augustine as authorities), and points out how anomalous it is for Catholic priests in the U.S. to function as both religious and government authorities when celebrating weddings. Montecel affirms that the pope’s comments indicate progress, in part by making this church-state distinction clearer, but argues more change is needed:
“But LGBT Catholics still deserve more. While civil unions may offer security and inclusion to same-sex couples as far as the law is concerned, they cannot do so within the church. I applaud Francis for his courage and for the care he offers to those who live ‘on the existential peripheries.’ But frankly, to keep LGBT people at the peripheries and to make life on the margins just a bit more livable through legal arrangements that do not transform the life of the church is not good enough. . .
“Like any other Catholic, my heart breaks at the polarization we see in the church. But I have never understood why LGBT people, already relegated to the margins of church life, should shoulder the burden of inhumanity for the sake of avoiding schism.”
In the end, Montecel asserts the need for changes in doctrine that recognize same-gender couples as able to “contribute something to the work of human flourishing,” rather than being a threat, as some church leaders have suggested. The church must recognize institutionally that such couples also reflect Christ’s love.
Jamie Manson, the president of Catholics for Choice who is a gay Catholic, wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post that argued the pope’s positive remarks are insufficient for LGBTQ Catholics. She commented on the story of love between two former nuns, whose marriage Manson officiated in 2011:
“It pains me that Francis, who clearly sees the radiant face of God in the homeless, in the outcast, in the prisoner and immigrant, cannot see the sacramental life of God that is expressed in so many of our beautiful and sacred relationships. . .
“[U]ntil Francis etches these ideas in a definitive papal teaching, there is little real hope for institutional change to be found in impromptu remarks and secondhand accounts of support. As a Catholic, I know God is fully and sacramentally present in my love and the love of all LGBTQ couples. Given all that we continue to suffer, especially at the hands of the Roman Catholic Church, we deserve far more than what amounts to crumbs from a table controlled by an extraordinarily powerful and influential man. We are worthy of the same level of outspoken, vigorous advocacy that this pope has offered to so many other oppressed and marginalized groups throughout his papacy.”
Eve Tushnet, a gay Catholic author, also wrote in The Washington Post . She focuses not on the pope’s call for civil unions, but on his emphasis that families should not reject lesbian and gay members, and that family is central to the lives of lesbian and gay people, too. Tushnet writes:
“So no, the pope does not support gay marriage; those who believe these latest clips indicate a change of his stance will be disappointed. But many people wanted the pope to talk about gay people’s own longing to form a family because they hunger for some acknowledgment that being gay is about more than sexual desire. What surprised and delighted many gay people, both outside and within the church, was the possibility that he would speak about our longings in positive terms. . .He hasn’t yet — but I hope he will.”
But though more progress is indeed needed, gay Catholic journalist Michael O’Loughlin of America helped highlight responses from areas where LGBTQ equality is under greater attack:
“Another L.G.B.T. Catholic who lives in Uganda, Ssenfuka Joanita Warry, called the pope’s message a ‘bombshell.’ Ms. Warry, who leads Faithful Catholic Souls Uganda, a group of L.G.B.T. Catholics, said a focus on acceptance was more important than debates about changing the church’s teaching on same-sex relationships. The pope’s comments urging people to accept their L.G.B.T. family members, she said, especially struck a chord. . .
“‘He is saying that it is our culture—as Catholics or as Christians—to do exactly what he said: acceptance and inclusion of everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity,’ she said. ‘I think he’s given me a reason for not changing my religion or going to any other church. It gives me courage.'”
In a separate America article, O’Loughlin, who produced a podcast on the Catholic Church and the AIDS crisis, does not want the significance of this moment undervalued, even as more is needed. He points out just how negative and exclusionary some church leaders have been historically, using the Catholic campaigns to stop non-discrimination laws for LGBTQ people or the Vatican’s harmful language as examples. O’Loughlin concludes:
“There is a cliche that the church thinks in centuries. So it is important to keep in mind how much the tone around L.G.B.T. issues has changed in just decades. . .Against all that, to downplay the pope’s view on civil unions today is to ignore the not-too-distant past, when L.G.B.T. Catholics could not even dream of a papal pronouncement such as this.”
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 29, 2020
Bondings 2.0 Coverage
October 22, 2020: “The Good and the Bad of Pope Francis’ Support for Civil Unions”