Church may not preach tolerance like the Pope

Credit: Braden Kelner/Forum Editor Credit: Braden Kelner/Forum Editor
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​For those striving to create a better world for LGBT people, the Catholic Church has stood as both a physical and symbolic obstacle. With 1.2 billion members (according to a study by the Catholic Near East Welfare Association) looking to the Pope and the Vatican for religious guidance, the Church is a powerful force when it comes to social issues. It is difficult for the gay rights movement to gain traction among people whose spiritual leaders, while they no longer view homosexuals as expressly evil, still see the homosexual lifestyle as a surrender to an intrinsically immoral urge and a perversion of God’s will.

​However, it appears that Pope Francis desires a change. Speaking on rumors of a gay lobby in the Vatican, Pope Francis stated in late July that, “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?” according to the Los Angeles Times. Such a statement from Pope Francis shows an unprecedented level of acceptance for homosexuals, especially coming from that highest Church authority. Such an open and clear statement from Pope Francis reveals his willingness to break from the formal conservatism of the Church’s views — at least on homosexuals.

​In many ways Pope Francis seems like a good candidate for bringing change to the Church. He is already a pope of firsts, being the first Jesuit pope and the first pope to hail from the Southern Hemisphere, as well as from the Americas. Already Pope Francis has been lauded for bringing a sense of humility to the papacy and professing a desire to reach out to other cultures.

The election of such a man indicates that there is a possibility that the Vatican — and the archbishops and priests who comprise it — are changing. However, it is not certain that the rest of the Church hierarchy is quite as willing to move toward tolerance as Pope Francis. Additionally, while the Pope’s words clearly express a desire for tolerance, it is important to realize the difference between tolerance and acceptance. Pope Francis still sees homosexuality as a sin. While he may tolerate LGBT individuals, he does not fully accept them.

​The Catholic Church has never been known for it’s willingness to change. For example, when it comes to women, the Catholic Church professes a belief in the equality of sexes, and women play a major role in the ministry. However, the involvement of women stops at the priesthood, and the Vatican remains an organization dominated by men. The Vatican’s position on women seems to show that the Church can adopt a liberal ideal while maintaining the overall status quo. Despite Pope Francis’ kind words, it is doubtful that the Church will change the canon on homosexuality anytime soon.

Within the Catholic Church, there is far too much organizational inertia for LGBT people to find real and lasting acceptance. Hundreds of years of institutionalized discrimination and well-fossilized religious doctrine will go a long way in preventing the Vatican from embracing the rainbow. True change within Catholicism, as a religion and an organization, will come from everyday Catholics taking Pope Francis’ words to heart and refusing to pass judgment on the LGBT community. Pope Francis can be a great force to improve relations between homosexuals and the Church, but Catholics all over the world will have to embrace his message and be prepared to accept change. Without popular action, Pope Francis’ words will never translate into reality.

​Although an ideological revolution within Catholicism regarding the Church’s teachings on homosexuality may now be an elusive fantasy, the fight for tolerance must be maintained in the hope that acceptance comes with time.