What Did the LGBT Community Get Out of the Papal Visit? Not Much

Gabriel Sozzi/Wikimedia Commons

Gabriel Sozzi/Wikimedia Commons

There was a sense of optimism (naive, I’d argue) that Pope Francis would make a statement, or lend a hand, to the LGBT community during his time here in the United States. Philadelphia in particular seemed quite poised to be the location where Francis might slip some sort of gesture towards gays in one way or the other. It was a fertile place for such a thing to occur: Between the international publicity from the firing of the openly-gay teacher Margie Winters at Waldron Mercy to Mayor Nutter standing up for LGBT folks during the visit to a LGBT Papal Family Picnic held over the weekend, if there was a city for a gay statement from Francis, the City of Brotherly Love was it.

Of course, nothing did happen. And that shouldn’t surprise too many people.

The optimism that so many folks had that Francis would send an olive branch to the LGBT community was rooted in his slightly more progressive stance on social issues, but we must keep in mind that being “slightly more progressive” in a religious system that is so archaic when it comes to matters of sex, gender, and sexuality means that the institution is still years, if not centuries, behind what the vast majority of modern folks believe and think.

Yes, Francis may have uttered the question “Who am I to judge?” when discussing gay Christians, the line heard around the world, and he has, indeed, shown an extraordinary amount of compassion to a number of groups and individuals. Perhaps that is why, when you look at the man versus the institution, it is so hard, almost painful, for some folks to imagine that he represents a Church that has hurt so many LGBT folks.

As Mayoral candidate Jim Kenney said at yesterday’s LGBT Family Picnic, “When it comes time to stand up for people rights… it’s pretty easy and it’s the right thing to do…We are all world citizens. We are all members of the human family and the human race. And we all have to take care of each other.”

Mayor Nutter echoed this sentiment in a speech he gave before the Pope at City Hall: “In America, everyone has rights. Our lesbian, gay and bisexual citizens continue to fight for equality…Keep fighting for your rights. It’s a collective fight, and there are many others fighting with you.”

They’re both right: In a world where the Margie Winters can get fired for simply being gay, we’ve not only got a “collective fight” on our hands, but we really do need “to take care of each other.” As I was discussing the Winters’ case with a friend of mine, a gay Catholic school teacher who is still too nervous to come out to his colleagues at work, he said to me, “The most impressive thing is that Margie still remains a Catholic, despite what happened to her.”

That’s incredibly difficult for me to fully comprehend: How does one reconcile their faith with their own personal sense of truth? It’s for that reason, amongst many others, that the lack of LGBT commentary from the Pope is extremely bothersome and, one might argue, down right dangerous.

But then again, to use his words, who am I to judge?