I’ll start off this article by stating clearly that I am not Catholic. Given that, I try not to pass judgment on other religions and will defer to those who practice that religion to inform me about their institution and doctrine. I was not raised with a connection to any organized religion. I was allowed to figure things out for myself from a spiritual perspective. Christianity, however, was, in a way, ever-present since we participated in Easter egg hunts and had a Christmas tree up in our house every year. In high school, I attended a Pentecostal church for a while but decided that it was not for me. As an adult, I found that Buddhism was what spoke to me the most. I remember when my father began to practice Buddhism, it changed his life for the better. So that has been my spiritual focus since then.
People wondered why a liberal would attend a Catholic law school. I found the University of St. Thomas School of Law’s mission to be impactful; it states that it is “dedicated to integrating faith and reason in the search for truth through a focus on morality and social justice.” The faith focus there wasn’t purely Catholic, and it was up to each individual student to decide what truth there was to discover, determine their own moral compass, and advocate for the social justice concern that lifted their spirit. I, a pro-choice West Coast liberal, received the distinct honor of the “Living the Mission” Award in 2007.
I had always wanted to study abroad and finally got the chance to do so during the summer of 2009. I took some amazing classes like Art & Cultural Heritage Law and Comparative Corporate Scandals: Enron vs. Parmalat. Our classes were in Rome, but we had the opportunity to travel all over the country. One of the group trips was to Assisi, a picturesque town of Italy in the Province of Perugia in the Umbria region, on the western flank of Monte Subasio. I was enthralled to learn that UNESCO had collectively designated the Franciscan structures of Assisi as a World Heritage Site in 2000. This is where I first learned about Saint Francis of Assisi, who had abandoned a “life of luxury” to live devoted to Christianity after reportedly hearing the voice of God, commanding Francis to rebuild the Christian church and live in poverty.
Who knew that on March 16, 2013, the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires Jorge Mario Bergoglio would take on the name Pope Francis, telling journalists he had chosen the name in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi, and had done so due to his concern for the well-being of the poor. The Pope lauded that St. Francis “brought to Christianity an idea of poverty against the luxury, pride, vanity of the civil and ecclesiastical powers of the time. He changed history.”
Since then, Pope Francis has maintained traditional views of the Church regarding clerical celibacy, abortion, and the ordination of women. Yet he has initiated discussions regarding deaconesses and has made women full members of dicasteries in the Roman curia. He’s been sending mixed messages, however, to the LGBTQ community. In 2013, the Pope famously said, “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?” Then, in 2019, the Vatican released a document which “calls for public recognition of the right to choose one’s gender, and of a plurality of new types of unions, in direct contradiction of the model of marriage as being between one man and one woman, which is portrayed as a vestige of patriarchal societies.” This was viewed as a direct attack against the transgender community. Recently, we heard excerpts from a documentary where the Pope encouraged the Church to be more open and welcoming to members of the LGBT community, even arguing for civil unions of same-sex couples, their ability to adopt children, and possibly being against conversion therapy. Wow!
When I think of Catholicism, the Pope, its churches, and the 1.2 billion people they represent from liberal to conservative parishioners, I envision a giant ship. A ship with 2,000 years of doctrine weighing down its hulls. Seventy-two countries still criminalize adult homosexual intimacy, and at least eleven would apply to the death penalty. Trying to turn such a huge ship in a direction that differs from where it is naturally heading has to be difficult and burdensome. The weight of one’s tradition must bend one’s soul. The position of the Catholic Church today is not where I’d like it to be, but I’m not Catholic and it’s not my church.
When I think about these changes, I think about a queer kid living in a devoutly Catholic home, and I wonder if these incremental moves make their lives any better. Will one less parent kick their kid out of their family home once they’ve come out of the closet? Will one family choose not to send their child to conversion therapy due to the Pope’s words? Will one more congregation welcome a queer kid with open arms because of this significant change in posture—coming from the highest person within their church? Although I hope and want the church to do much more, today, for the sake of those who are not in the privileged autonomous position that I’m in, I am willing to acknowledge and accept this progress when looking at it through the eyes of that child who could benefit from this. In the end I see that progress in the right direction is worth encouraging, and it seems better to praise it and then raise the bar immediately after.
I’ve heard how some “conversations” within the Vatican can last decades or even a century. It was only in 1962 that Catholic Mass could be heard in local languages, and not only in Latin. That was progress. Hopefully, the full acceptance of gay marriage within the Catholic Church won’t take that long. As with all reforms, those discussions are currently still taking place behind Vatican walls. Stay tuned.