The Advocate magazine put Pope Francis on its cover, proclaiming him the Person of the Year, offering a myriad of reasons why it passed up others, such as Edie Windsor. The best thing about this is that Francis has a "NoH8" decal Photoshopped onto his face, and it's driving poor Bill Donohue of the Catholic League into a blood-vessel-popping rage.
But mostly, this was idiotic. Pope Francis is a lot of things to many people in the world. But he is not our hero of the LGBT community in 2013. Can we please get a grip, folks? Are we that starved for validation?
Pope Francis' statements of the past, which he's never repudiated, and the doctrine of his church, are horrendously homophobic. As Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Argentina three years ago, he called gay marriage the work of the devil and said it was "a destructive attack on God's plan." And his recent statements, saying church leaders are too "obsessed" with the issue of gay marriage, and that he can't pass judgement a gay priest, while very encouraging, do not in any way take back those statements.
Now, I honestly don't think Francis really believes the ugly statements he made in Argentina, as he actually tried to broker a deal on civil unions in Argentina at one point, trying to get the government to back off gay marriage. I offered my thoughts on that in a post that brought me some criticism, "Is Pope Francis Secretly Pro-Gay?" I believe he made those horribly anti-gay statements just to keep his job, as Argentina was embarking upon gay marriage and he was expected to rail against it, and it was the only way to advance in Benedict's Vatican. And it worked. But what does that actually say about Francis? That he's a pretty shrewd politician who says what he has to, even if it means horribly attacking a minority, in order to win -- not much different from some in the current Republican Party. And does being secretly pro-gay really count? Aren't we past that?
It's true that once he became pope, Francis refrained from gay-bashing, and I noted that too in a post in which I asked, "Is Pope Francis Waving the White Flag on Gay Marriage?" He'd not said anything about several countries and U.S. states passing marriage equality earlier this year -- and that was months before his commenting that church leaders are "obsessed' with gay marriage and abortion.
All of that is a good thing, just like when some Republican leaders (not many) realized the anti-gay rhetoric didn't work for them and that it was time to pull back. And maybe they, too, weren't ever so anti-gay and were glad to be pulling back. But do we give them a prize for it? Sure, if the pope is not speaking as virulently on the issue as the previous pope, certainly that's a positive. But the Catholic Church has a long way to go on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people -- and women -- in terms of changing its doctrine. Francis may be embarking on that monumental project, which may take a century. Or he may not be, and is just keeping his head down, focusing on the issues he wants to focus on, like helping the poor, which is surely laudable. He may be tamping down the talk of homosexuality among church leaders while not bothering with really changing the homophobia built into the church, which could just ruffle too many feathers.
All of that means we should take note, watch and see. As I write this, little boys and girls in Catholic schools all across the world are still being taught that homosexuality is "intrinsically disordered." Many of them will grow up hating themselves, living in pain, perhaps finally coming out, yet feeling damaged -- or perhaps living a tormented life in the closet. Some will even take their own lives, as we have painfully witnessed. Sure, some will see the message of the pope ("Who am I to judge?" he said when asked about gay priests), but others will have that waved off by an anti-gay Catholic leader who points them to the doctrine of hate, right there in the catechism. And as I write this, Catholic teachers have been removed from jobs simply for exercising their rights as gay Americans. I haven't heard the pope weigh in or stop it, while many other people are actually fighting the fight for them.
Sure, we should note that Francis has made some relatively supportive statements toward gays this year, but to make Francis the person of the year for the LGBT community, when so many others have worked tirelessly to advance equality, is silly and seems like a PR move by the Advocate to get attention. Bravo for them, they got it. How it advances LGBT rights and upholds our credibility when we give out honors so lightly, however, is another matter.