In a press conference given in the airplane, on his trip back from Rio de Janeiro to Rome, pope Francis said that he has no authority to judge gay people, that “gays shouldn’t be discriminated” and that “they must be integrated into the society”.
Some organizations in the Brazilian LGBT movement received these statements with excitement. Carlos Magno, president of ABGLT (Brazilian Association of Lesbian, Gays, Bisexuals, Travesties and Transsexuals) asserted that “when we see a religious leader saying that our community must be included in society, we even have the hope that the church may revise their positions”. Fernando Quaresma, president of the São Paulo LGBT Pride Association, believes that “the statement represents a great advance. All the other popes have made only destructive critics”.
With more reservations, Luis Mott, from the Grupo Gay da Bahia (Gay Group of Bahia), said that “if the Catholic Church will not be our ally, may it, at least, stop being our enemy”, although he also said that the pope’s statements are “words of relative acceptance”. He also said the statements are “from now on our shield, our support, our passport to confront any insult, comments or homophobic practices”.
In turn, the feminist and pro-choice catholic organization Católicas pelo Direito de Decidir (Catholic Women for the Right to Decide – in relation to abortion) has pointed out the difference in the pope’s statement, “if we compare with the other ones, who strongly condemned homosexuality”, but asserted that “it’s superficial, since it stays in speech, and does not cause structural changes in the doctrine”.
For us, from PSTU (United Socialist Worker’s Party), the speech, in appearance, seems progressive; but, in reality, it doesn’t change the practices of the Catholic Church, which always condemned the homosexuality, preached homophobia, and, under a “acceptance” speech, reinforces hate and violence. It is worth remembering that we are talking about the Catholic Church as an institution, not as a faith practiced by millions, which we respect.
The official position of the Catholic Church on homosexuality: no change
First of all, it’s important to make clear that: Pope Francis’position is not new. On the contrary, it has been, for years, the official position of the church.
In 1983, for instance, Dom Avelar Brandão Vilela, then Cardinal Archbishop of Salvador, declared: “We can’t praise or encourage this kind of minorities, but since they exist, we can’t and shouldn’t be violent against homosexuals: we have to help them, not be violent”.
The paragraphs 2357, 2358 and 2359 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published in 1997 by pope John Paul II, are exclusively about homosexuality. The first of these paragraphs states that homosexuality is contrary to the natural laws. The second one says that homosexuals should be accepted in the church, that “every sign of unjust discrimination” should be avoided, and that the Christian homosexuals should “unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s cross the difficulties they may encounter because of their condition”. The third one calls homosexual people to remain chaste.
Futhermore, it is necessary to remind that although this is the official position of the Church, its practices are much different, as the feminist women of Católicas pelo Direito de Decidir highlight: “The Catholic Church not only defends, but also practices, “cure” for homosexuals all over the world.”
There is even a specific orientation from Vatican, called Homosexualitatis problems or “letter to the bishops of the Catholic Church on the pastoral care for homosexual persons”, published in 1986 by Joseph Ratzinger (later pope Benedict XVI), to fight sectors inside the church who were starting to defend homossexuals.
The letter follows the same line of the Catechism published 11 years later: homosexuality is seen as abomination, and the catholic faith by homosexuals can only be expressed by abandoning the homosexual practices. Besides, the Catholic Church remains against any act or law that could make the rights of LGBT advance, as criminalization of homophobia and the same-sex marriage. And it has also supported bills that allow homophobia to advance, like the “gay cure” bill in Brazil and other homophobic laws in several countries.
In other words, Catholic Church says it accepts homosexuals, but can’t tolerate homosexuality. People can be homosexual, since they don’t practice homosexuality, since they continue to live their lives in the closet. The homosexual is (theoretically) accepted, but the church will always be there, to condemn what it considers a sin.
This has been the official position of the Catholic Church for years, and it is shared by many protestant denominations, like some branches of the Presbyterian, Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist and Anglican Churches (although there are exceptions, including branches that celebrate same-sex marriages in their temples), as well as many Neo-Pentecostal denominations that share the Chatolic position.
Pope Francis, as archbishop of Buenos Aires, was one of the fiercest objectors of same-sex marriage in Argentina. His position on homosexuality has always been conservative, and it still is, as demonstrated in his conversation with the rabbi Abaham Skorka, published by Veja magazine, in April of 2013, when the then archbishop Bergoglio said homosexual couples are an “anthropological throwback”.
Therefore, although the pope’s statements seem to be opening a dialogue, or opening the church doors to homosexuals, they are, at least, ambiguous and remain in the speech framework. Evidence of this is the fact that, in the same interview, the pope said the Vatican will not announce any changes on abortion or same-sex marriage positions.
Make no mistake: only the organized struggle can guarantee our rights!
It’s essential for us, in the LGBT movement, to recognize who are our enemies. Pope Francis, with his ambiguous speech, is not showing us an increasing openness to homosexuals. Instead, he is reinforcing the Church’s position, which stimulates its followers to live their lives in chastity, in the closet, and not express nor practice their sexuality. The pope’s statement, unfortunately, gets lost in words, and it doesn’t indicate, in any way, that the Church is changing its position; let alone its position of fighting homosexuality.
It’s worth remembering that the choice of Jorge Bergoglio to the pontificate came in a moment of serious crisis on the Catholic Church, with visible reduction of its followers, due to the growth of evangelical churches in the American continent and of Islam in several parts of the world. Not to mention all the scandals with pedophilia and corruption, which led the unpopular pope Benedict XVI to renounce.
Pope Francis came to reverse this crisis: he is Latin American, shows charisma and has the aim to improve the relationships between the Church and its followers. He is the pope of sweet speeches to the poor people; of dialogue with different sectors of society. He is the pope of the Church in modern times, in contrast with the arrogance and the regressive speeches of Benedict XVI. Therefore, it doesn’t sound weird his speech to dialogue with homosexuals. But the Catholic Church, as an institution, remains the same for all practical purposes; as the “acceptance” of homosexuals also remains the same.
We should, indeed, use the pope’s speech as a “weapon”, a “shield” and a “support” to point the contradictions of the Catholic Church and the pope himself at every attack we suffer. But the Church should not be the depositary of our confidence: we should always remember that the Catholic Church is the major institution for the persecution of homosexuals in the history of humanity – and still persecutes.
An institution that says, day after day, that we live in sin and that we are abominations cannot be our ally. And a pope who states his respect for us but worked hard to prevent us from be granted with the same-sex marriage in Argentina, and will try hard to prevent us from acquiring any rights, is not by our side too.
If the church says we can be homosexuals, but we can’t live our homosexuality, is the same as saying we shouldn’t exist. Coming out of the closet and fighting homophobia is a political attitude, and only the LGBTs, organized in movements, allied with women, black people and the worker’s movement, can defeat homophobia in all society. And the Catholic Church (we highlight again: this is not about the Catholic faith, but the policy applied and defended by the Vatican), on this fight, is on the other side of the trench.
There’s no difference between the pope’s speech – reinforcing the position of the Catholic Church – and the position of the religious fundamentalists – as the evangelical pastors Marco Feliciano and Silas Malafaia (who even said he loves homosexuals) – that we are fighting so hard, every day. The Catholic Church didn’t turn into a “more moderate” one: our historical enemies remain the same!
(*) from the LGBT Bureau of PSTU – Brazil