Pope Francis has made headlines worldwide for his conflicting statements and actions when it comes to LGBTQI people. In famous off-the-cuff remarks, he stunned many by asking “Who am I to judge?” when asked about gay priests. He also had a reportedly warm meeting with a transgender man and his fiancée, and even said that the Catholic Church owes an apology to gay people. On the flip side, he worked to advance a referendum to prevent same-sex marriage and adoption by gay people in Slovakia, he bowed to pressure to remove positive statements about gay people and same-sex couples from a report during the global Synod on the Family, and he has called teaching about transgender people and gender theory a “global war” against the family.
On December 8, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy promulgated a new set of guidelines for the selection and training of Catholic priests. This document, which states it was approved and ordered to be published by Pope Francis, states that the church “cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture.’” It states that such people are unable to have appropriate relationships with women or men and warns against “the negative consequences that can derive from the ordination of persons with deep-seated homosexual tendencies,” an allusion to the hierarchy’s claims that it was gay priests who are to blame for the decades of sexual abuse of children.
The pope’s endorsement of this document sends a clear signal to those of us in the LGBTQI and ally community who follow church politics. Despite the pope’s tendency to say reasonable things about us in unscripted moments, when he is acting for the institution of the church, he shows no willingness to disrupt the status quo. This means that those who saw the Franciscan papacy as a time when official Catholic teaching on gender identity and sexual orientation might be changed are likely to be deeply disappointed.
In the case of the new guidelines for priests, the way that gay men are described is rooted in the church’s belief that human relationships are and should be rooted in “complementarity,” a belief that women and men have different, divinely ordained roles rooted in biology. Anything other than that is “objectively disordered” in the technical language of the church. This thinking establishes a hierarchy that puts gay and transgender people in a degraded position, and it seems that this is where we are going to stay, at least when it comes to Pope Francis and most other members of the church’s hierarchy.
The fact that church leaders cannot accept the wide variety of human expression and relationships has far-reaching implications. It impacts social policy, educational systems, health care delivery, and cultures in many countries around the globe. Their willful ignorance about healthy sexuality and gender puts countless people at risk of violence, imprisonment, mental and physical health problems, social isolation, and increased poverty. This is shameful, sinful even.
It is also a perversion of the core of the Catholic faith, which teaches inclusion, equality, compassion, and love. Fortunately, solid majorities, at least of Western Catholics, reject church teaching on homosexuality and gender identity. They realize that LGBTQI people should be accepted in the church and in society for who we are, and many are actively resisting harmful teachings and practices. Some do this by withdrawing support from or even leaving the Catholic Church, and others strive to work from within, leading by example and resisting practices with which they disagree.
How long will it take before the voice of this majority influences the Vatican? That is the great and too often tragic unknown. In the meantime, it is the unfortunate truth that despite being drawn to Pope Francis’s commitment to responsible environmental stewardship and many who are pushed to the margins of society, our community will continue to experience misunderstanding and rejection from him. DignityUSA, the organization I represent, has long called for Pope Francis and other church leaders to engage in deep and open conversation with LGBTQI people and our families to learn the reality of our lives, our relationships, our struggles, and our strengths. We believe they must listen in the spirit of humility. We continue to believe that this step is a necessary beginning to the process of substantive and beneficial change for our community and families.