Since his election in 2013, Pope Francis has caused much ink to be spilled in evaluating his stand on LGBT issues. Now, a gay Catholic offers his latest thoughts after the pope's remarks on gender identity last month, suggesting the pope's record will remain weaker until he comes around on transgender equality.
Xorje Olivares, a gay Catholic writing for Vice, called on Francis to welcome the entire LGBTQ community after the pope decried the "biologic and psychological manipulation of sexual difference" in early October.
Olivares opened his column saying this comment is "yet another example of how Pope Francis has completely missed the mark on displaying full acceptance of his queer flock, including our transgender brothers and sisters." He described the pope's handling of LGBT issues these past few years as "a bundle of contradictions," and wrote further:
"It's that kind of inconsistency that continues to puzzle LGBTQ Catholics, who are still looking for their rightful place within a Church that has discriminated against them for decades. It also begs the question: who is the real Pope Francis, and what are his true feelings towards the LGBTQ community? . . .
"Which is why I, and other LGBTQ Catholics, are conflicted about our approach towards Francis. Are we holding him to an unreasonable standard, given the gulf between the Church he inherited and the incredibly queer-inclusive society [at least here in America] we live in? Or should we continue holding his feet to the fire of Scripture's burning bush in the hopes that it ignites change from the top-down?"
Dawn Ennis, a transgender journalist who is Catholic, told Olivares that while Francis is "appealing to progressive Catholics who are hanging onto our Church by a thread," he's also "adhering to outmoded, outdated, and antiquated dogma that please those on the right by reinforcing transphobic, misogynist and anti-LGBTQ teachings."
For Olivares, who participated in the Owning Our Faith video about LGBT Catholics ( produced by people fro St. Paul the Apostle parish, Manhattan ) that was presented to Pope Francis by the pastor, there are clear positives and negatives in his papacy when it comes to gender and sexuality. But what is unacceptable, and what LGBT Catholics need to be in solidarity against, is the disparaging of any person because of their sexual and/or gender identity. He wrote:
"Like any good politician, [Pope Francis is] navigating the inner workings of the Vatican by trying to please both pro- and anti-LGBTQ elements within the Church all at once.
"But the sad part of that impossible arrangement comes when it prompts him to disparage the lives and existence of trans people ( Catholic or not ), who are just as vital and integral to the LGBTQ community as any other cisgender person. After all, injury to to one of us ultimately hurts us all ( even if the LGBTQ movement doesn't always adhere to this mentality ). Yes, Francis can endorse civil unions and claim he's not one to judge, but until he tightly embraces ALL of God's children, including our trans peers, I'd be reluctant to call him 'Advocate of the Year'at least not yet."
Ennis offered an even stronger critique of the pope's failure to reach out positively towards trans individuals, commenting specifically on the pope's most recent critical remark about gender-affirming surgeries:
"Francis, like all popes before him, is clinging to doctrine that will burn the bridges we have built between the Church and its laity. Those bridges need reinforcement, and all Francis has done with these new, disturbing pronouncements is weaken them."
The concept of bridge building has been prominent in Catholic circles due to Fr. James Martin, SJ's new book, Building a Bridge, which addresses LGBT issues in the church. In the eyes of many people, the pope is doing precisely that, building a bridge. But Olivares and Ennis are important, critical voices that remind us there is much work to be done. A bridge built without transgender equality as a constitutive part of it will fail.
Robert Shine is is the associate director of New Ways Ministry, and has been with the organization since 2012. The original article, published Nov. 15, is at www.newwaysministry.org/blog .