My Facebook feed has lit up like a Christmas tree. For some, the Pope’s meeting with Kim Davis reveals his hypocrisy, advising American bishops not to insert themselves in the middle of cultural wars while at the same time inserting himself in the midst of what might be the last gasp of the religious right’s homophobic crusade. According to the Pope’s apologists, he was tricked in meeting with her, had no idea who and what she represented, and/or is being used to sully an otherwise triumphant U.S. visit. Unfortunately, what this current give-and-take ignores is that the Pope, along with the hierarchal religious organization he represents, continues to officially be anti-LGBT and unaware of indigenous sentiments.
To be clear, and speaking as a Catholic (yes – you read that right and more on this in the next posting), this is probably the best Pope since Pope John XXIII. I too was swept up in Popemania during the visit, excited about most of his pronouncements. I really like this Pope, specifically his preferential option for the poor, his care for the environment, and his contribution in bringing about reconciliation between the U.S. and Cuba. But those who are scholars, and not ideologues, have a responsibility to apply critical analysis even to subjects with whom we agree.
So, in spite of all the good will generated from this Pope, why are we so shocked that he remains anti-LGBT? Even if he never met with Kim Davis, his past praxis and current writings continue to discriminate against our queer brothers and sisters. While serving as an Argentine Cardinal, he was a political rival to the president who was moving to establish LGBT civil rights. In a book he co-wrote with Rabbi Abraham Skorka, On Heaven and Earth: Pope Francis on Faith, Family, and the Church in the Twenty-First Century (2010), he defines homosexuality as transcending religious doctrines, and instead being an “expression [of] ‘anthropologic regression,’ a weakening of the [marriage] institution that is thousands of years old and that was forged according to nature and anthropology.” While homosexual unions can be of “a private nature,” it becomes destructive when a third party is involved, as when “the union is given the category of marriage and they are given adoption rights, there could be children affected.” And of course, they would be negatively affected because “every person needs a male father and a female mother that can help them shape their identity” (116).
So the Pope can respond to a question concerning homosexuality with “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” But in his mind, such relationships must be kept closeted and can never be recognized as a marriage or be able to raise children. His approach to homosexuals – by saying “who am I to judge?” – may appear refreshing, but in his mind homosexuality remains a sin to which the church’s response should be pastoral and aimed at restoring the “sinner’s” fullness of life. In his book Open Mind, Faithful Heart, the events at Sodom and Gomorrah remain “a sin of the flesh” (p. 220). Hence, his approach to homosexuality is not that different from other conservative churches who encourage “hating the sin while loving the sinner.” Pope Francis best expresses his views on homosexuality when he writes in Evangelii Gaudium “Marriage now tends to be viewed as a form of mere emotional satisfaction that can be constructed in any way or modified at will” (2:I:66). So does it really matter that he met with Kim Davis? They do agree that believers should fight the legalization of same gender marriages.
Just as troubling as his anti-LGBT views was the canonization of Father Junípero Serra, an insult to both indigenous people and U.S. Hispanics. But then again, why are we shocked with his romanticization of missionary conquest? His world view, as expressed in Open Mind, Faithful Heart, is one where “The first evangelizers [of South America] gave Native Americans knowledge of why they should engage in struggle . . . we should help people to learn the real reason for their struggle” (p. 31). Yet Indian scholars believe Christianity is the real reason for their struggle, a struggle against the physical and cultural genocide implemented by the evangelizers. Nevertheless, the then-Argentine Cardinal credits symbols of the Virgin for the spiritual unity of Latin American nations, bringing as one “Spaniards and Indians, missionary and conquistador, Spanish colonization and racial assimilation” (p. 102). Problematic is the lack of nuance in his view of the Church which he describes as “glorious precisely because it is a history of sacrifices, of hopes, of daily struggles” (p. 96); a history unrecognizable to many on the underside of Christendom, specifically the Indian, the conquered, and the assimilated. Yes, the Pope did apologize to Native People. But what good are apologies if you then make one of their first oppressors into a saint? Such acts nullify any apology offered.
As I said before, I really like this Pope and his agenda, but I cannot ignore when he – or anyone else I admire – remains complicit with structural sins that expands institutionalized violence. I am less concerned with whom the Pope met and instead hold him accountable for his oppressive dogmas and world views that remain detrimental to queer folk and Indian people.