Pope Francis has expressed support for civil unions in the Catholic Church. Once again, the pontiff has sent shockwaves across the globe to 1.3 billion of his followers with another LGBTQ- affirming statement. However, this one might very well create talks of a schism in the Catholic Church, as we have seen in Protestant ones.
"Homosexual people have a right to be in a family. They are children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable over it," Francis said in the new documentary Francesco, by Oscar-nominated director Evgeny Afineevsky.
Sadly, Francis' statement is not a Hallelujah moment for many LGBTQ Catholics, but rather it is celebrated with cautious optimism.
"If true, the Pope's comments could represent an international game-changer and a major step forward for LGBTQI equality," said Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA in a press release. "Civil unions laws can provide essential legal protections to LGBTQI couples and their children. We hope that Catholic officials worldwide will work to provide essential legal and social protections for LGBTQI people and their families.
Francis' statement about civil union doesn't mean he or the church embrace marriage equality.
"Marriage between people of the same sex? 'Marriage' is a historical word. Always in humanity, and not only within the Church, it's between a man and a woman… we cannot change that. This is the nature of things. This is how they are. Let's call them "civil unions.," Francis stated, according to New Ways Ministry, a pro-LGBTQ Catholic organization.
Since marriage equality is out of the question, can the LGBTQ community trust Pope Francis to follow through on civil unions? Regrettably, Francis has shown to be the consummate flip-flopper who has been consistent in his inconsistency toward us.
I recall remarks the pontiff made while flying home after a weeklong visit to Brazil in 2013, responding to a question about a possible "gay lobby" in the Vatican. His answer set off global shock waves.
"When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby," he said. "If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them?"
This public statement then was the most LGBTQ-affirmative one the world has ever heard from the Roman Catholic Church. It was partly in response to "The Advocate," a nationally renowned LGBTQ magazine, naming Pope Francis their 2013 "Person of the Year."
However, since 2013, Francis has come out of the closet displaying his true feelings concerning the LGBTQ community, especially his denunciation of transgender rights. Would trans couples be afforded civil unions? Pope Francis has compared transgender rights to nuclear weapons, saying transgender people destroy and desecrate God's holy and ordained order of creation.
"Let's think also of genetic manipulation, of the manipulation of life, or of the gender theory, that does not recognize the order of creation." In 2015, Francis stated in an interview with the National Catholic Reporter in 2015.
"With this attitude, man commits a new sin, that against God the Creator. The true custody of creation does not have anything to do with the ideologies that consider man like an accident, like a problem to eliminate."
For some LGBTQ Catholics, Francis' statement is merely lip-service since the Catholic Church still excludes the LGBTQ community from officially receiving any sacraments. Since 2015, DignityUSA, an LGBTQ faith organization headquartered in Boston, has been advocating for "sacramental equality" in the Catholic Church. Now, with COVID-19 hitting the LGBTQ community globally as hard as other minority communities worldwide, Francis should speak up on this urgent issue to change a homophobic church to open its heart and doors.
"It is simply cruel and shameful to refuse burial or Communion to those who seek the grace and comfort that our Church offers at some of the most difficult moments of life. This is reminiscent of the appalling practice of denying Communion, funerals, and burial to people dying of AIDS at the height of the epidemic," Duddy-Burke stated in 2015 that still holds true today.
Since Francis opposes marriage equality and transgender rights, what does his pronouncement endorsing cvil unions really mean?
For some, it is the hope for policy change in the Church, eventually leading to marriage equality. To me, it's lip service, again.
Pope Francis continues to command attention worldwide with his liberal-leaning pronouncements. However, the pontiff is a complicated, if not confusing, figure to the LGBTQ community, because Francis is not a reformer. On the surface, Francis displays a pastoral countenance to his papacy that seemingly extends to our community, while cloaking the iron-fisted Church bureaucratic that he is. In truth, his welcoming tone doesn't match up with the unwelcoming church policies he upholdsespecially when it comes to "the family of God," meaning LGBTQ Catholics, too.