Pope Francis has once again been praised for his relatively progressive views on LGBTQ rights when compared to his predecessors. But while Francis represents a modicum of progress for a church that has long criminalized and condemned queer and trans people, his legacy on equality is as complicated as the organization he represents.
The Pope made international headlines on Monday when Juan Carlos Cruz, who was sexually abused by a Chilean priest, claimed that Francis validated his sexual orientation during a three-day Vatican visit last month.
While ministering to Cruz, the Pope claimed that his LGBTQ identity “does not matter” to God.
“God made you like this,” Francis is alleged to have told him. “God loves you like this. The Pope loves you like this and you should love yourself and not worry about what people say.”
This isn’t the first time that the 266th and current Pope has made positive statements affirming the global LGBTQ community. In the past, Francis has claimed God doesn’t judge homosexuality andthat the Vatican may be willing to recognize civil unions, even whilecensuring “unjust discrimination” against gay and lesbian individuals.
“By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and growth,” he wrote in a 2016 position paper.
These statements have repeatedly been lauded as “groundbreaking,” paving the way for further acceptance in a faith that widely views LGBTQ relationships as a “sin.” Two years after the beginning of his papacy, 70 percent of American Catholicsclaimed in a 2015 Pew Research survey that society should accept queer people.
That represented an increase of 12 percentage points from 2007, the same year Pope Benedict called same-sex marriage “terrorism with a human face.”
Even as his remarks have signaled some willingness to progress from previous administrations by recognizing the worth and dignity of LGBTQ people, the Vatican City sovereign has fallen back on the Catholic Church’s worst habits.
This is particularly true when it comes to transgender people, who have not been as warmly embraced under Francis’ tenure. Most notably, hecompared the affirmation of trans identities to nuclear holocaust and mass murder while promoting the book Pope Francis: This Economy Kills back in 2015.
The Pope claimed that each generation gives birth to “Herods,” a reference to the Biblical king who perpetrated mass genocide of children. Herod ordered the killing of all newborn sons so no man could usurp his rule.
These individuals “destroy,” “plot designs of death,” and “disfigure the face of man and woman, destroying creation,” Francis concluded.
“Let’s think of the nuclear arms, of the possibility to annihilate in a few instants a very high number of human beings,” he explained, as the National Catholic Reporter originally claimed. “Let’s think also of genetic manipulation, of the manipulation of life, or of the gender theory, that does not recognize the order of creation.”
“With this attitude, man commits a new sin, that against God the Creator,” the pope said. “The true custody of creation does not have anything to do with the ideologies that consider man like an accident, like a problem to eliminate.”
Lest supporters believe his comments were misconstrued, it’s not the only time Francis has made these sorts of claims about trans people. Heclaimed in 2016 that transgender individuals “must be accompanied” by Catholic priests and religious authorities “as Jesus accompanied them,” but the buck stopped at supporting trans and gender nonconforming youth.
The Pope alleged that teaching transgender young people their identities are valid is “causing a world war against marriage.”
“This is against nature,” he said at the time, adding: “It’s one thing if a person has this tendency and also changes sex. It’s another thing to teach this in school to change mentalities. This is what I call ‘ideological colonization.’”
Francis referred to so-called “gender theory” as “indoctrination,” calling it “terrible” and “nasty.”
The religious leaderalso took aim at medical transitions. He once claimed that gender-confirming surgeries and hormone therapy are a threat to society, intended to “cancel out sexual difference.”
Francis further claimed these life-saving interventions are megalomaniacal.
“Thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation,” the highest-ranking priest in the Catholic Church said two years ago.
The Pope even suggested that “biomedical advances” could fuel mankind’s extinction. Francis claimed that transition-related care, which has been shown to drastically reduce the risk of suicide among trans people, threatens “the source of energy that fuels the alliance between men and women and renders them fertile.”
Helamented that transitioning will “render [trans individuals] irrelevant for human development and relations.”
And despite his statements signaling support for civil unions, the Pope has openly condemned the full recognition of same-sex relationships, calling it part of “growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life.”
According to the Human Rights Campaign, Francisbacked a 2015 voter referendum in Slovakia which sought to ban LGBTQ couples from marrying. The issue never went to the ballot.
Even as the Popehas called upon Catholics to apologize to queer people they have “offended,” he has never atoned for his own history of anti-LGBTQ remarks. He remains a fair weather friend (at best) to the queer and trans people whose lives could substantially benefit from consistent and affirming leadership from one of the world’s foremost religious figures. When the Pope speaks, nations listen.
But for now, every step Pope Francis tentatively takes forward will just serve to obscure the two he already took back.
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