The saga of Pope Francis attempting to win over the gays continues, and once again, it’s quiet, underwhelming, and almost certainly a PR stunt.
The Italian Catholic LGBT group Kairos of Florence wrote a letter to the Pope in June, undoubtedly addressing many of the well-known issues that put the Catholic Church at odds with the LGBT community. They reportedly asked for “openness and dialogue” in talking about this rift and stated that a lack of openness “always feeds homophobia.” Hear, hear.
Now, months later, the Pope has written them back, according to enthusiastic reports out of the Catholic news world. Unfortunately, though, it’s hard to tell if this is anything significant (spoiler: it probably isn’t) because Kairos has chosen to keep the contents of both letters private.
Here’s what they did reveal:
The Kairos group said they also received a letter from the Secretariat of State, saying Pope Francis “really enjoyed” their letter and the way it was written. The Pope reportedly assured the group of his blessing, but Kairos decided to keep the rest of both letters private.
The letter was not the first of its kind to be sent to a pope, but one Kairos leaders, Innocent Pontillo, said that on previous occasions “No one had ever even given a nod of response.”
Okay, so the Pope acknowledged that LGBT Catholics do exist. That response is pretty consistent with other actions he’s taken throughout his reign so far, namely this watered-down “love-the-sinner-hate-the-sin” route, but it’s certainly nothing groundbreaking. In case you’ve missed any of the Francis-and-the-gays headlines from the last couple of months, The Advocate‘s got a quick refresher:
Pope Francis continues to make headlines for statements that seem more tolerant and accepting of LGBT people than those of his predecessors, though there has been no change in official Catholic doctrine condemning homosexual acts and opposing marriage equality. In September, Francis said the church shouldn’t “interfere spiritually” with the lives of LGBT people in a wide-ranging interview in which he also said the church cannot focus solely on opposing abortion, contraception, and marriage equality. A month earlier, the pope told a group of reporters that he wouldn’t judge gay priests, asking, “If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?”
The key phrase here is that there has been no change in official Catholic doctrine. The catechism still refers to LGBT people as mentally disordered, and the Church still won’t budge on marriage. Yes, there is emotional and mental value in affirming statements, especially for LGBT Christians who have been shut out for so long, and especially when they’re coming from the leader of the Church. But good feelings aren’t enough.
Vaguely pro-LGBT statements don’t protect gay Catholic youth who have been kicked out of their homes and are living on the streets, or ensure that same-sex spouses will be allowed to visit one another in Christian hospitals. They don’t protect LGBT kids who are tormented in religious schools while teachers preach against “alternative lifestyles” or help LGBT employees who are fired from their jobs in states where their rights aren’t protected.
For years, Christianity — Catholicism in particular — has played a leading role in the marginalization of LGBT people. That’s not a secret. What the Church doesn’t seem to get is that vague interactions like this one aren’t going to make people forget everything else they’re responsible for, no matter how extensively they’re publicized. Maybe I’m part of the problem by giving this story additional attention, but something tells me the Church won’t be tracking pageviews on articles like this one. Instead, we’ve got to take note of the countless little gestures the Church is making, add ‘em up, and look at the significant results.
Another spoiler: we won’t find any.
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