Pope Francis issued a sweeping apology to LGBT people on Sunday, calling for the Catholic Church to take ownership of the wrongs it has perpetrated against the bisexual, transgender, lesbian, and gay community. But many LGBT advocates say the pontiff’s words ring hollow, noting the Church has yet to change its official opposition to homosexuality and continues to fire people for being openly gay.
While speaking to reporters this weekend on a flight back to Rome from Armenia, Francis was asked to respond to comments made by a Catholic Cardinal in Germany who said the Church should apologize to LGBT people — especially in the wake of the horrific shooting earlier this month that left 49 people dead at a gay night club in Orlando, Florida.
“I will repeat what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: that [gay people] should not be discriminated against, that they have to be respected, accompanied pastorally,” Francis said. “The matter is a person that has that condition [and] that has good will because they search for God.”
“The questions is: If a person who has that condition, who has good will, and who looks for God, who are we to judge?” Francis said this week.
…the Church must not only acknowledge the wrongs of the past, but take concrete actions that demonstrate its commitment to treating LGBT people justly from now on.
Francis’ conciliatory remarks, delivered in his characteristic freewheeling style, were initially welcomed by some LGBT advocacy organizations. The Human Rights Campaign released a statement lauding the pontiff, saying his words “are a welcome step toward bringing LGBTQ Catholics closer into the Church and healing the wounds of those who have felt pushed away from their Church and its teachings.”
Yet many LGBT Catholics were unimpressed with Francis’ apology. Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of LGBT Catholic organization DignityUSA, said the pope’s admission that the Church has harmed LGBT people is “essential,” but didn’t change the lived reality for many gay Catholics.
“In order to bring about the full healing of the relationship between the Catholic Church and LGBT people, the Church must not only acknowledge the wrongs of the past, but take concrete actions that demonstrate its commitment to treating LGBT people justly from now on,” Duddy-Burke’s statement read.
Similarly, Eliel Cruz, leader of faith-based LGBT advocacy group Faith in America, noted that such an apology — when decoupled from any substantive theological shift within the Church — rings hollow to millions of religious people who remain ostracized from Catholic communities because of their sexuality.
“Pope Francis’ comments about the church’s ‘past treatment’ of gays doesn’t acknowledge the harm being caused in the present day,” Cruz said in a press release. “Seeking an apology without recognizing the root cause of the harm caused is useless. Francis’ apologizes for harm caused without changing the theology that continues to do this harm … Francis continues to believe LGBT people are intrinsically disordered. The Catholic Church’s teachings on LGBT people demonizes the community.”
Other LGBT Christians — both Catholic and Protestant — repeated skepticism of Francis’ comments. Many pointed out that while the Catechism of the Catholic Church does prohibit “unjust discrimination” against gays, it also still refers to “homosexual tendencies” as “objectively disordered.” Catholic leaders have long held that condemning homosexual acts is different from condemning LGBT people, but, as ThinkProgress has reported, many mental health experts argue that anti-LGBT theology — either demonizing them as people or decrying same-sex relationships as inherently sinful — can result in crippling, long-term psychological scars.
What’s more, Duddy-Burke and others note that the Catechism’s prohibition against LGBT discrimination has not stopped the Church from repeatedly firing Catholic workers simply for being publicly gay. Since 2012, Catholic institutions in the United States have fired church music directors, assisted living center employees, and food pantry workers who were open about their sexuality, as well as letting go LGBT schoolteachers in Iowa, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, among other places. Meanwhile, Catholic groups in Florida, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Ohio, and California are fighting to push back against Church leaders who are threatening to do the same in their regions. The problem is so pronounced that LGBT groups gathered in Chicago in 2015 to devise a strategy to end the firings.
The pattern is especially frustrating for believers in the United States, where 60 percent of Catholics publicly support same-sex marriage, and where a number of Christian denominations now openly embrace marriage equality and ordain LGBT people.
Granted, several Catholic bishops in America openly condemned the Church’s homophobia in the wake of the Orlando massacre, with the Bishop of St. Petersburg, Florida, declaring, “…Sadly it is religion, including our own, which targets, mostly verbally, and also often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people.”
But for LGBT advocates such as Duddy-Burke, such kind words are only first step towards reconciliation, and mean little without further action on the Church’s part.
“[The Church] it must speak out strongly and clearly against the horrific violence and discrimination that is often directed against LGBT people in countries around the world, including our own, many with substantial or majority Catholic populations,” Duddy-Burke said.