His latest statement does not undercut his previous messages on LGBT families: The church has never wholly embraced gays and lesbians.
Pope Francis made a statement yesterday that seemingly undercut his previous messages on LGBT families and individuals. “Children have the right to grow up in a family with a mother and father,” Pope Francis remarked at a conference in Rome.
Conservative religious leaders immediately took to Twitter to announce that the Pope had affirmed the church’s traditional narrow and harsh view of homosexuality and tempered previous statements that were more inclusive of the LGBT community.
As a lesbian and ex-Catholic, I have watched these events with a great deal of interest. And I believe that the Pope’s message has been consistent throughout. He has always held up traditional families as the ideal model for society. Where he’s progressive is in his stance that homosexuals who are seeking God should not be ostracized, but rather should be embraced by the church, even though or maybe even because we are “sinners.”
The confusion lies in the way many of his previous comments have been interpreted by progressives to mean that the Catholic Church wholly embraces gays and lesbians. It decidedly does not.
For example, when the Pope said of gay people “If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them?” he was not implying that the homosexual life is without sin; he was saying that we are all sinners (LGBT or not) and that LGBT folks should not be judged in their search to find God. Some interpretations even suggest he was only talking about homosexuals who remain celibate.
Similarly, in October Catholic bishops released a recommendation that the Church create a more inclusive space for LGBT families. The bishops did not recognize LGBT marriages as sacred unions, but rather said:
“It is necessary to accept people in their concrete being, to know how to support their search, to encourage the wish for God and the will to feel fully part of the Church, also on the part of those who have experienced failure or find themselves in the most diverse situations.”
Or in other words, LGBT families, by virtue of their homosexuality, are collections of sinners who need the mercy and compassion of the church.
Sadly, this constitutes significant progress for the Catholic Church. In 2013, Pope Francis’s predecessor Pope Benedict went so far as to say that gay marriage threatened the world’s “justice and peace.” LGBT folks have long been ostracized from the church and the hatred was never more evident than when the Church attempted to blame gay people for the sex abuse scandal.
Pope Francis does not share these extreme views. He views LGBT persons with the same compassion he views all “sinners.” Such a vision promotes tolerance in and out of the church. It’s a step in the right direction.
But for families like mine, our return to the church would entail us accepting on some level, that our family is tarnished. It’s not equality. And we won’t be going back.
Anne Penniston Grunsted is a Chicago-based writer who focuses on her experience with disability (her son has Down syndrome and she lives with mental illness) and parenting. She has published in Chicago Parent and won the 2014 Nonfiction prize from Beecher’s Magazine. She lives with her wife and son in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago.