Be more mindful of your words, Your Holiness

Pope+Francis+has+suddenly+changed+his+views+on+LGBTQ+rights+this+year.

Graphic illustration by Sharlene Chen

Pope Francis has suddenly changed his views on LGBTQ rights this year.

Sharlene Chen

“God can’t bless sin.” 

This is how the Vatican responded when asked if the Catholic clergy have the authority to bless same-sex marriages. When this message was announced on March 15, Catholics across the world were in shock. In the United States, where 61 percent of Catholics approve of gay marriage, LGBTQ Catholics and non-religious communities alike felt a wave of anger and frustration. 

Pope Francis has historically been known as a figure who is more welcoming to the LGBTQ community, famously stating “who am I to judge?” in the documentary about his life, “Francesco,” released in October 2020. The new statement released by the Vatican contradicts his previous sentiments completely: the Church still supposedly supports non-heterosexual individuals, just not their union. As a leader of such a large organization capable of influencing so many, the Pope and the Church should not have provided such an excuse that allows bigots to further rationalize their homophobia. It has been speculated that the document with the announcement was the work of conservatives in the Church, but it does not in any way justify their behavior. 

“The Pope’s teachings have a lot of weight because so many people listen to him so really a lot of people are going to look at that as justification for what they do, especially in countries where people are really religious, this gives them more opportunity to strip away LGBTQ rights,” Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) President Ibraheem Qureshi said. 

Marriage is seen as solely a heterosexual thing, which means that gay couples are inherently seen as ineligible to be married and therefore not on the same level as straight couples, which is kind of dehumanizing.”

— Emma Sumanaweera, GSA secretary

In the past, while he was an archbishop in Buenos Aires, Pope Francis had endorsed same-sex civil unions, which is a legally recognized arrangement similar to marriage, with protection from the state and all the rights of marriage except the title itself. Civil unions are not at all the same as marriage. Down to its core, it attempts to use the logic of “separate but equal” often used to justify discrimination, putting homosexual individuals in a “second class” category. If civil unions were truly the same as marriage, as advocates of it say, there would be no point in two separate laws. The Pope only supported this movement to prevent LGBTQ marriage, so his further segregation of same-sex marriage does not neccesarily come as a surprise. 

“Marriage in the United States is a civil union; but a civil union, as it has come to be called, is not marriage,” said Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry to Wikipedia. “It is a proposed hypothetical legal mechanism, since it doesn’t exist in most places, to give some of the protections but also withhold something precious from gay people. There’s no good reason to do that.” 

According the Church’s logic, marriage, as part of “God’s plan,” is a union between a man and a woman with the intent of creating new life, and thus, in the eyes of the church, same-sex marriage cannot be considered a true “marriage.” This also means all sexual relations outside of “marriage” are technically considered sin. But a marriage is simply the union of two people who love each other, and whether they are male or female should not be defined so rigidly in 2021. 

“Marriage is seen as solely a heterosexual thing, which means that gay couples are inherently seen as ineligible to be married and therefore not on the same level as straight couples, which is kind of dehumanizing,” GSA secretary Emma Sumanaweera said.

The Church may claim that it accepts LGBTQ individuals, but setting a strict and isolating standard of rules for them is nowhere near tolerance. Being queer is an integral part of an individual’s identity, and with its statement, the Church essentially pits identity against the teachings of religion. Why should this have to be a choice or a fight? Shouldn’t everyone be allowed to express themselves and all their individuality and uniqueness? 

Even if someone is atheist, hearing such a powerful force openly condemn one’s chance for happiness and love is very hurtful and damaging. Many could face further discrimination when they were already scared about revealing their sexuality to the world. This statement increases the risk of judgement from religious fanatics who treat every word out of the Vatican’s mouth as their life philosophy. With this newest message, these fanatics could very well take harmful actions. 

“I think this conversation is so difficult because even though some more traditional and conservative Christians may read the Bible in a way that says that same sex marriage is not okay, how can you tell someone that how they feel for or how they love someone else is wrong?” AGAPE president Elwing Gao said. 

Since they hold influence over 1.2 billion followers worldwide, the Catholic Church should be aware of its power and must be more cautious when making decisions that can potentially affect millions. With LGBTQ youth already five times more likely to commit suicide than heterosexual youth, any further condemnation could be the catalyst for disaster, much less direct disapproval from the Catholic Church. Many could also suffer whiplash from the false hope the Pope previously provided. 

While the Church has long been a conservative organization with traditional beliefs beginning from centuries ago, it needs to become more cognizant of the weight of its words in this modern digital age and more welcoming toward all individuals regardless of their backgrounds. 

“Tolerance is a good place to begin; acceptance is a good place to begin,” Sumanaweera said. “But I think it’s more like welcoming with open arms rather than saying if you’re here, we’ll take you. I think welcoming with open arms would be a better choice.”