Pope Francis moves forward, Archbishop Perez does not
by Mark Segal, Philadelphia Gay News
Those of us who have been fighting for equality for any length of time can see that change does not happen overnight. The best example is some big news this week that you might not have seen, which could mark a major shift in how the Catholic Church views marriage equality, and also notes a 20-year road to religious equality in the Catholic Church. Here are some of the headlines that others around the world woke up to earlier this week.
"Pope Francis suggests gay couples could be blessed in Vatican reversal."
"Pope suggests Catholic Church could bless same-sex couples."
And then there's this one, which actually tells the full story:
"Blessings for same-sex unions possible in Catholicism, Pope Francis wrote to conservative cardinals."
In 2013, just 20 years ago, he was elected Pope by the Church Cardinals.
Being optimistic, I saw an opening in the homophobic dogma of the Catholic Church upon his election since - as archbishop in Argentina - he had attempted to support civil partnerships rather than marriage equality, which was about to be approved by the nation's president. In 2013, that was an earth-shattering suggestion from a Catholic archbishop. And after he was named Time magazine's Person of the Year in 2013, I made the following statement in a column for Philly.com:
"The actual doctrine of the church has not changed, but the message that Pope Francis is sending is more powerful than the doctrines themselves. Francis seems to understand that messages can create instant change, while doctrine can take years. He performs simple gestures as a priest looking after his flock, rather then a bureaucrat, bringing change, excitement and hope…
"If we had a gentler church, the world would be a better place for us all. Pope Francis gives me that hope, and I wish him God's speed with his mission."
Part of that was based on one sentence he had made to a reporter's question about his attitude to homosexuals: "Who am I to judge?" Those five words were revolutionary. It also began a campaign by Francis to modernize a church that was losing believers due to its strict dogma on a range of issues.
Francis continued his campaign through small acts, which grew as he began to grow his papacy: A public meeting with LGBTQ+ friends, meetings with clergy who support more openness to LGBTQ+ members of his church, suggested changes in doctrine, blessing trans people, and denouncing a ploy by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to align him against marriage equality.
Many western Catholic churches have become welcoming to the LGBTQ+ community. Guess which one has not? The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Pope Francis cannot fight this issue alone. It's time for LGBTQ+ Catholics in the U.S. to do what their counterparts have done in other countries: Help him. While there are some national leaders who are doing just that on a national stage, local archdiocese must be contacted and do what Francis has done: Challenge Catholic leadership to be more LGBTQ+ inclusive.
A local note: To my knowledge, the last time our local LGBTQ+ Catholic organization reached out to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia was to ask them for some kind of acknowledgement that they were welcomed into the church. Instead, they were ushered to the church's ministry to "cure them of their homosexuality." Archbishop Nelson Perez, are you continuing the policy of hate of your predecessor?