Pope Francis gave new hopes to the LGBT communities at the beginning of his papacy in 2013. However, two years later, it seems that actions following the words are still lacking.
Cut-off date: 5 December 2015
“If they accept the Lord and have good will, who am I to judge them?” said Pope Francis about gays on a flight back to Brazil in July 2013. This famous speech has made many see Pope Francis as a kind of revolutionary, liberal pope and gave hope to LGBT communities around the world.
“I think generally certainly within Quest and within the LGBT Catholic community, people were very excited,” said Ruby Almeida from Quest, which gives pastoral support to LGBT Catholics.
“I never heard subsequently since he made this speech so many people wanting to talk about the pope whether they had a faith or not.”
However, even if Pope Francis gave a clear message of hope and compassion to the gay community, is a speech really enough to make a change on that issue? This year, the actions following the words of the pope were not delivered as showed by various events impacting the gay communities.
At the end of September, Polish priest Monsignor Krzystof Charamsa, Vatican official, came out publicly as gay, and was then dismissed of his position. Even more recently, Pope Francis remained completely silent during his trip to Africa regarding the gay rights violation in Uganda. So, does Pope Francis really have the power and the will to change the situation?
For sure, thousands of years of religion cannot be changed overnight.
“There is a perception and I think it’s an erroneous perception that things are a fast moving situation,” explained Reverend Gareth Jones, Roman Catholic Chaplain in Cardiff, in an interview.
“Soundbites and the unguarded opinion of prelates do not make for change in religious teaching.”
On the contrary, the perception of gay communities around the world have been changing fast these past years, with more and more countries now accepting gay marriage.
“I see in various demonstrations around the world writings in English, writings about homosexuality, homosexual rights.” said Francesca Montemaggi, religious anthropologist at Cardiff University, in an interview.
“These barriers come down. It’s been very rapid but also there’s been a big step in term of globalization that might have helped in that sense.”
Through all these recent shifts and transformations, the Catholic LGBT community acknowledges, nevertheless, that Pope Francis’s “Who I am to judge” speech had a real positive impact on their lives.
“He [Pope Francis]’s created a culture and an environment where he is supporting and encouraging people to stand up and present themselves,” said Ruby. “And I’ve seen in the last two years a difference. The first year that I’ve written to every bishops and archbishops in England and Wales, I got back maybe five replies. Now, if I ring up people, they are a lot more hospitable and receptive to the idea of engaging with Quest or any other LGBT group.”
However, despite the huge popularity of Pope Francis it is necessary to remember that he does not have the full power to change things just by himself.
Reverend Jones said: “Nowadays there is a fascination about Pope Francis, I suspect he is seen rather like Obama, seen as somehow new. But of course as we’ve come to the second term of Obama, we realize that very little has been achieved. Because whether it’s the United States or something much bigger like the Catholic Church, the Pope is not the CEO of the Catholic Church Incorporated.”
“So it’s easy to have the soundbite and everyone get excited but what is much more important is what the bishops on the ground are saying.”
So the change must happen at every level and not just at the top of the Catholic hierarchy, and that’s exactly what Quest has been trying to ensure.
“In the past few years that has been our objective to come out of the shadows, to be very open and transparent about what we’re doing and who we’re meeting with,” said Ruby. “So one of the things that Quest is doing and will continue to do is to make regular contact with the various bishops and archbishops.”
This fight to get their voices and opinions heard went this year to a brand new level with the first ever Global Network of Rainbow Catholics (GNRC). This event gathered 13 LGBT Catholic groups from various countries which had for goal to initiate a global network. This gathering was happening exactly at the same time as two other main events: a Synod on the Family and the coming-out of priest Krzystof Charamsa. This latter was actually willing to come to the conference organized by the GNRC but decided to come-out first.
“If he had come [to the GNRC], he would have had a great welcome and wonderful support but what he did is he did his statement first, and then wanted to come at our conference,” said Ruby. “He would have genuinely got an amazing support from us but the fact that he did it the other way around actually could have destroyed what we were trying to do with the first major assembly in Rome.”
The synod on the family brought some openings for divorced families but did not deliver any openings for LGBT families. According to the BBC, the final synod document stated that gays should not be discriminated but that there was “no basis for any comparison, however remote, between homosexual unions and God’s design for marriage and the family.”
Nevertheless, the lack of actions in term of policies and doctrines does not mean that Pope Francis stopped acting towards LGBT communities. According to the Time, Pope Francis met various LGBT individuals and activists in the early months of 2015 such as a “transgender man from Spain”, “gay and transgender prisoners in Naples” and a “gay Paraguayan activist”.
Francesca said: “I think what is important is that aspect of compassion because it really brings down barriers a lot. So I think it’s an important step and people shouldn’t rush into, you know, seeing different changes or wanting a priest to fit secular society or the pope to fit secular society.”
The change cannot depend only on Pope Francis actions. It also require some internal changes from the LGBT communities themselves.
“I think what the pope is saying is ‘I want change to happen but I can’t do it on my own. I’m giving you permission’,” said Ruby. “’I want you to go and to make a mess in your parishes, you want something, you go and ask’.”
LGBT individuals are not a rare thing in the Catholic Church but they tend to remain largely quiet and passive.
“In any parish, in any mass, in the congregations, there would be a number of LGBT who are very quiet and haven’t, you know, presented themselves in the sense of being an LGBT,” explained Ruby. “You know, they are very passive. So they need our help. The moment someone stands up and says I’m Polish or I’m Indian or I’m gay or I’m this or I’m that, people notice them and it’s all about being brave enough to go. No bravery is wrong. It’s about being confident enough to stand up and say, ‘here I am’, or ‘I’m not happy with what you said’. “
In this sense, the action of Krzysztof Charamsa can be seen as an attempt to stand up confidently, and to state what he was unhappy about.
He wrote in a letter that he had decided to “publicly reject the violence of the Church towards homosexual, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual and inter-sexual people” and accused the Church of causing “immeasurable suffering” to gay Catholics. However, the way he chose to do his campaign involving the media and the fact that as a priest he was not allowed to have a companion, either man or woman, in the first place triggered criticism from both the Church and the LGBT communities.
A more effective way to change the mentality, according to Ruby, is to be persistent in opening the dialogue with all levels of the hierarchy of the Church.
“To put our issues on the table for them to address. So that means they can’t ignore it. It’s been presented to them may times. We don’t do it aggressively. We do it very kindly, very gently but we do it on a regular basis to say that we’re here and we can’t and we won’t go away.”
“We are part of the fabric of the Church,” said Ruby, “and our needs must be acknowledged and recognized.”