Is the pope a homophobe?

LGBTQ Catholics and allies are reacting harshly to comments by Pope Francis in a forthcoming Spanish-language book about religious vocations. 

The big question is, why?

The pope, an Argentinian, was elected in 2013. That same year, during a flight back to Rome, the pontiff told reporters that while homosexual acts are sinful, being inherently homosexual is not.

“If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?” This comment was isolated as an indication that Francis would be a more tolerant pope than any in recent history. But in that same impromptu press meeting, the pope also said that while women should play a greater role in the Church, there is no room in the priesthood for them. “That door is closed.”

For practicing LGBTQ Catholics who had hope for a more progressive Church, it is unclear why this pope would be fundamentally different from any other in past centuries. What is interpreted as Francis’ liberal politics ultimately is tempered by his own equally intolerant comments and a lack of action to counter the more virulent conservative current running through the Vatican. This pope has a penchant for saying one thing and then immediately saying the opposite.

To wit, he told Vatican journalists the year of his ascension that gay clergymen should not be “marginalized” but “must be integrated into society.” That remark was followed by a condemnation of gay lobbies, lumped in with Masonic and “greedy” lobbies, whatever that means:

“The problem is not having this orientation,” he said. “We must be brothers. The problem is lobbying by this orientation, or lobbies of greedy people, political lobbies, Masonic lobbies, so many lobbies. This is the worse problem.” It seems sisters and gender-variant people are not part of the pope’s worldview. Is that really surprising?

You don’t have to look as far as Rome to find homophobia in the Catholic Church. Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput told a synod, or an assembly of the clergy, in Rome this past October that references to LGBTQ people should not exist in church documents. Why? Because one’s “sexual appetites” do not define who they are, he said. Chaput is part of the conservative Catholic wing within the church that blames homosexuals for sexual abuse within the priesthood. Neither the pope nor his immediate representatives disavowed Chaput’s statements, which means Philadelphia’s archbishop speaks as a sanctioned representative of the Vatican.

For LGBTQ Catholics shocked by the pope’s most recent comments that homosexuality is becoming a “fashionable” lifestyle that negatively influences the Church, rest assured that this is just business as usual.