The Oberlin Review

Papal Support for LGBTQ Issues, Evolution Misleading

Kiley Petersen, Opinions Editor

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As a former Catholic, I can tell you that the pope is a big deal. He’s the head honcho, second only to Jesus, in modern Catholics’ “What Would _____ Do.” So what the pope chooses to endorse or to condemn is a sign of what direction the mainstream church is heading.

I grew up in a liberal African-American parish in St. Paul, MN. So while more conservative white Catholic churches were solemnly singing along to an organ and sending white savior mission trips off to less- privileged nations, we clapped our way through gospel songs, danced in the aisles and had much more enjoyable Sundays than any other Christians I knew growing up.

In an environment that so heavily immersed me in African- American and African and Latino immigrant culture, I knew a liberal side of the Catholic church that many of my other friends did not. Every single person who was old enough voted for Obama in 2008, and we were always very conscious of language and culture barriers that a majority-white Catholic church might not have been. Our golden days were during the reign of Pope John Paul II and Archbishop Harry Flynn, famously progressive leaders of the Catholic church, where our politics regarding race and gender were aligned with the Church authority.

So after the horribly conservative leadership of Pope Benedict XVI, my church was visibly relieved when Pope Francis was chosen in 2013. Not only was he the first South American pope in history, his history of activism and leftist social leaning seemed in tune with our anti-racist and anti-capitalist morals. Conservative Catholics took offense when Pope Francis first began making headlines — and we obviously rejoiced. Finally, here was a humble pope who would move the antiquated, obsolete Roman Catholic church into the 21st century. How could someone who used to be a nightclub bouncer before he entered the seminary be bad for the church?

Some of his recent headlines include “Pope Criticizes Vatican Bureaucracy,” “Pope Francis Suggests Church May Tolerate Civil Unions” and “Pope Francis Says Evolution Is Real and God Is No Wizard.” Seems like a drastic departure from typical traditional Catholic rhetoric at first glance.

On closer examination, however, Pope Francis’s seemingly reformist declarations are not as radical as one would think. The church’s views on evolution and other theories like the Big Bang have actually been pretty compatible with scientists for a half-century. In 1950, Pope Pius XII suggested in his papal encyclical “Humani Generis” that evolution is not contradictory with religion, and Pope John Paul II’s 1996 speech also declared that evolution “is more than an hypothesis.” A majority of Catholics have actually accepted most scientific theories in conjunction with church teachings; the extremist fundamentalists who believe in only the creation story are slowly dying out.

Some of his more radical statements that appear to support “homosexual marriage” are actually less progressive than they appear. His July 2013 quote about gay rights only appears liberal because of previous church teachings that have demonized and criminalized LGBTQ people. When asked if there is a “gay lobby” in the Vatican, the pope responded, “Who am I to judge a gay person of goodwill who seeks the Lord? You can’t marginalize these people.”

Maybe I’m just an angry atheist queer woman, but I would like more than an affirmation of my right to life. Thanks for not marginalizing me, for treating me as an actual human being? And no matter what the pope says, he unfortunately does not speak for all Catholics. Many Catholics, while professing “acceptance” of queer and trans bodies, also blatantly refuse to even consider civil unions for LGBTQ couples. I’m still not out in my liberal African-American parish because several older members would not approve, and even some of the self-professed “liberal” younger generation is still staunchly pro-life and anti-queer.

Another example of Pope Francis’s double standard is his acceptance of trans people. Diego Neria Lejarraga, a Spanish trans man, apparently wrote to the pope last year, received two phone calls from him and visited him in late January of 2015. This obvious acceptance of a trans man seems to be in direct opposition to Pope Francis’s comments in Pope Francis: This Economy Kills, which equate trans people to nuclear weapons as both contrary to the order of creation. “Let’s think of the nuclear arms, of the possibility to annihilate in a few instants a very high number of human beings. Let’s think also of genetic manipulation, of the manipulation of life, or of the gender theory, that does not recognize the order of creation. With this attitude, man commits a new sin, that against God the Creator,” the pope explained.

This hypocrisy in the pope’s language is confusing. He has an impressive approval rating probably because he is seen as a modernizer for the outdated church, yet his support for these contested issues is a false front. I view it just like a business executive who jumps on the rainbow LGBTQ trend, the feminist trend or the green trend to appear friendlier to younger members. The church, while still boasting an impressive 1.2 billion Catholics globally, has a decreasing base of young members.

No matter his reasons for these progressive claims, the pope falls short on any real advancement in church doctrine. This points to a central flaw in this type of logic. You cannot proclaim love for a person (based on race, gender, sexual orientation or gender orientation) and then refuse to admit them any rights in your religion. I’m not asking for the pope to demand that the Catholic church marry same-sex couples, or to allow women to become priests, because that is not going to happen in my lifetime. I’m asking that the pope and the church approve of the legal marriage or civil union of LGBTQ couples, and for the health, safety and acceptance of women, people of color and trans people. Basic humans rights, really, that the church claims to uphold.

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