Have you heard the news? Pope Francis decided that gay Catholics like me should be able to get marri— wait, no, he didn’t say that. He said we should be able to have sex without going to hel— ah, well, no, that’s not quite true either.
Let’s read the official quote, from the doc Francesco: “Homosexual people have the right to be in a family,” he says. “They are children of God. You can’t kick someone out of a family, nor make their life miserable for this. What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered.” Wow, what’s next — will he let the Queer Eye boys turn him from an “ecclesiastical ew” to a “theological thot”?
Of course, for Catholics, a statement like this sounds like a progressive dictum from the leader of the church. After millennia of gay Catholics learning they’re going to burn in hell, it’s nice to see a pope who doesn’t want to kill us off. But Francis endorsing civil unions is like hanging a NoH8 sign from a $3 million condo. What he’s advocating is legal acknowledgement on a state level — similar to domestic partnership — but lacking key federal benefits and protections.
Jorge Mario Bergoglio assumed the papacy in 2013 and was quickly declared the “People’s Pope” for eschewing the popemobile and riding the subway (humbling!). Shortly after his institution, he publicly stated, “If a person is gay and seeks God and has goodwill, who am I to judge?” — a comment that rippled through liberal Catholic communities like the one in which I grew up. My family wanted to know what I, an out gay man, made of this new pope who seemed to tolerate my kind.
That was an easy question to answer. Seven years later, it’s still clear we need to scrutinize Francis’ actions before taking his words at face value. The pope is the one to judge: He holds the power, and he’s repeatedly failed to wield it for anything other than blanket statements. He’s a better Instagram inspirational-quotes account than he is a head of state.
The Cool Pope may delight mothers and Catholic-school teachers who are unsure how to reckon church doctrine with the closeted kids who come to them for guidance. It’s easy to tell a questioning kid that the faith “wants the best for you” if you omit the Vatican’s failure to act. No institutional change has come from this statement or any of Francis’ other decrees of “goodwill.” In 2017, he spoke out against transgender education being taught in schools, calling this “gender theory.” Earlier this year, he reiterated that married men and women shouldn’t be priests — a long-held conservative belief among Catholics. He has never changed the church teaching that acting on homosexuality — that is, having sex — is a sin. In 2019, he clarified his stance: Having queer attractions is “not a sin,” but expressing that attraction is. This is still the active thinking: hate the sin, not the sinner.
Having a pope — the only one in history — to publicly consider gay people not worthy of death is a big step. This cannot be understated. For devout Christian families and countries that closely follow his words, the statement could have a seismic impact on the home lives of queer people worldwide. Yes, the pope preaches Catholic kindness. But there is no kindness in empty words. Under civil unions, I still can’t get married in a church and I can’t adopt from a Catholic center (many church adoption agencies turn away queer couples).
There’s a common retort when seemingly straight celebrities allude to some sort of queerness, like when Justin Bieber said he had a boyfriend. We respond, “But is he sucking dick?” Are these figureheads putting out, or are they just aligning with queer people for clout?
Pope Francis talks a big game. But he ain’t actually sucking Catholic dick.