At the moment I find myself the furthest removed from organized religion that I've ever been. Though I pray on my own now and again and even attend an occasional synagogue service, having recently discovered the egregious hypocrisy and absurdity of religious "leaders" in my own faith, I've moved further and further away from respecting much of the religious establishment. That is not to say that I do not respect religion itself. I firmly believe that the world's various faiths have many things to teach us -- that my faith has many things to teach me -- but much of what we learn from religion depends on the teacher who interprets it for us, and that's where my -- the -- problem lies.
The things I've recently learned about some Orthodox Jewish "leaders" have also been pervasive among "leaders" of the Catholic Church. How many times now have we learned of cover-ups of sexual abuse or other scandals that occurred at the highest levels of the Vatican? Combine that with hazardous teachings about contraception and human sexuality (along with a laundry list of other issues big and small that are outside the topical bounds of this blog post), and it seems -- at least to me -- that we're left with an outdated, irrelevant-to-many but nonetheless dangerous-to-many-others-whom-it-still-influences-or-who-suffer-at-the-hands-of-those-it-influences institution that only hinders progress and respect for human dignity. Therefore I don't regard the church with much esteem.
However, the latest news from the Vatican may help change my long-held feelings.
For those unfamiliar, while traveling back to Rome from a recent trip to Brazil, Pope Francis spoke with the media aboard his plane. During the conversation the pope was asked about his feelings regarding gay priests, and he had this to say: "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?"
When I first learned about Pope Francis' comments, my immediate reaction was surprise, followed quickly by excitement. Wow! I thought. Here was news from the Vatican that was shocking not for its salacious content but for its message of respect that is too often missing in many religious discussions about LGBT people.
Case in point: Fox News. As many people took to the media to express their hopes that the pope's comment signals that he will lead the church to soften its long-staunch position against homosexuality, fundamentalist Fox News unsurprisingly rushed to claim that the pope had made no such signals but merely confirmed the status quo by reiterating a basic tenet of Christianity that teaches against judgment. Unfortunately, Fox News hasn't rushed to make a single report on Russia's recent anti-gay law barring alleged "homosexual propaganda," or the humiliating acts of violence against LGBT people being committed there. After all, reporting such things does not help the conservatives' continued hijacking of religion to brainwash the masses into following their abhorrent religiopolitical agenda.
I'm not sure whether the pope's comment is a signal of a new course for the future. It is more likely an isolated incident in which the pope gave a simple, honest answer when confronted with a concrete question, though it is my hope that this was the first of many change-inspiring incidents to come. It's also possible that Fox News is right to some extent, in that the pope may have simply found a different way to say that he judges the sin without judging the sinner -- an idea that has long been propagated in both Christianity and Judaism and doesn't yield much in the way of respect and non-judgment of people. However, I am choosing the path apart from cynicism.
I'm far from an expert on Catholicism or the Catholic Church, but I fancy myself fairly good with words (at least most of the time), and it is the pope's words that give me hope. Maybe it was just a slip of the tongue that he did not mean, but I think that the pope's choice to use the general word "someone" instead of the more specific "priest" is significant. By answering the question the way he did, the pope gave a broader answer to what was a limited question. The answer may have been simple -- it may already have deep roots in longstanding Christian theology -- but its greatest significance lies in the fact that it was orally reiterated by a leader whom many in the world look up to. His guidance, even if this turns out to be limited to a single moment, can inspire respect in both the faithful and skeptical people like me. But his usage of a broader statement this time also suggests that he is prepared to use broad statements next time -- ones that may not even be prompted by a rare press interview.
Time will tell whether the pope's recent single statement on the topic of gay people will usher in a revolution, or whether the status quo will remain. Regardless of any eventual outcomes, though, at this moment in time, this pope has thus far demonstrated himself to be a true leader whom, because he spoke out against judgment, I and many others can and should respect.
Daniel Davidson's blog is Pulse of My Nation.