Pope Francis waves during his weekly general audience in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican on October 14, 2020. Photo: Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP
Pope Francis’s stunning endorsement of same-sex civil unions has reverberated around the globe as Catholics from the LGBTQ+ community reflect on the real-life changes that could ensue following the historic remarks.
The pontiff made the comments in a recent documentary released on October 21, and while he has made similar endorsements before, this is the first time he has done so as head of the Catholic Church.
“Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family. They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it,” he told filmmaker Evgeny Afineevsky during an interview in the feature-length documentary Francesco. “What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered. I stood up for that.”
The Catholic Church has always resisted the idea of same-sex marriage. Though the 83-year-old pontiff hasn’t spoken out in favor of same-sex civil unions since becoming Pope in 2013, he expressed support for the idea
during his tenure as archbishop of Buenos Aires. But critics point out that this was part of failed efforts to block a same-sex marriage law in Argentina.
However, his statements on camera are sure to shift debates around same-sex marriage. We reached out to gay Christians in the world’s most populous region to see what they thought about the surprise endorsement and whether they believed it would bring about actual change. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Nody Mae Martir and Rhea Peñaflor, Philippines
As part of the LGBTIQ+ family, we are so happy and grateful for the moving pronouncement of unequivocal support for civil unions for same-sex couples by Pope Francis. We have been together for eight years, and though we got married in 2017, this was purely ceremonial as same-sex marriage is not yet recognised in the Philippines.
This historic development in the Catholic Church is another first under the leadership of Pope Francis. We thank him for articulating that we are all children of God, and that we have the right to a family. This landmark endorsement of our Pope gives us hope that we might be able to witness in our lifetime that we are finally accepted.
I identify as a non-binary, a Christian, and my mother is a Christian priest in a Presbyterian Calvinist Church. I’m quite impressed by the brave statement of Pope Francis as a public figure of power despite the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church and the stance made by its previous leaders. I believe that the church is the people in it – not the buildings, not the system, and especially not those few in power who make laws and decisions that may affect many queer folks who exist as a part of the church.
I think this will make a change, no matter the degree. It might be a long way for queer people to be legalized for civil union universally, but the announcement will spark thoughts and conversations all around the world, especially when someone who is at the very top is taking a stand. I know that there are queer folks abroad who become priests and study the scriptures to finally understand that the scriptures do not condemn queerness as itself but when it is related to forbidden worship. However, the problems with language, scripture translations, and interpretations keep followers from understanding their context since followers are most likely not skilled in the languages of the scriptures and depend solely on the leaders’ interpretations to understand them.
Even so, I think the main problem is that people, followers or leaders, are refusing to listen, as human beings are resistant to change and it is easier to make an enemy of something we do not understand. This is why a voice like Pope Francis’ is important. No matter what happens later, his voice is not something people, especially Catholics, can ignore.
I don’t know how long a significant, tangible change will take place where I live, but Catholic families here will definitely hear the announcement by Pope Francis, and so will Christians. I think many Christian leaders will not easily accept it; they might even talk about it as some sort of propaganda or a “sign of the second coming” and try to convince followers to resist even more strongly. However, I believe it will create a perspective shift in both Catholic and Christian individuals. I think most of us will take this as a blessing because we’ll take whatever support we can get.
Recently, news came out that Sri Lankan authorities have subjected at least seven people to forced physical examinations since 2017 in an attempt to provide proof of homosexual conduct. Then, one Catholic parliamentairian said homosexuality is a mental disorder.
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But hopefully, the Pope’s statement will create at least a tiny ripple of change in the land which criminalises LGBT identity.
Honestly, I don’t think this will affect the law of the land or people’s mentality at large. But I come from a devout Christian home which does not know of my identity and hopefully, this push by the Pope will help whenever I gather the courage to come out. Today, I casually mentioned this news to my parents while pretending to read the news. They hardly reacted but I think they will at least think about it now that the Pope himself has said this.
I am one of the very few Catholics in this Muslim-majority country, and among the very, very few gay people here. Though the Sharia law doesn’t apply to us, I don’t think I can ever tell anyone except very close friends about me being biseuxal. I try and have relationships with only girls, and keep my fascination for men locked away. Though no one has been given the death penalty for gay sex, the threat always hangs over us. The Pope’s announcement means nothing for my diocese, and I’m sure will be overlooked by everyone like it never happened.
Pope Francis has always been vocal about gay rights, which I see as playing to the crowd after the very draconian Pope Benedict. He’s a welcome change but has also been known to associate with homophobes in the past.
That said, there won’t be much difference because a lot of the homophobes in the world are from the Abrahamic religions (Jews, Christians and Muslims). And within them, devout Catholics are few. And furthermore, even fewer will be actually accepting. I think the movement in general should now focus on transgender rights and amplification of queer voices that get lost in the babble of gay marriage.
Indah Andreas*, Indonesia
For many, the Pope’s statement is an acceptance. But for me, the statement has brought up more questions than answers.
From what I understand, Pope Francis endorses legally-recognised civil union for same-sex couples, that we’re all children of God, and have the right to a family. This is still a broad statement, especially for a diverse community that is the LGBTQIA+. Did he mean only the gays and lesbians or the entire community? That alone will bring up more questions to clarify his statement. The words “civil union” are ambiguous too, considering he is opposing gay marriages too. In some parts of the world, to have a “family”, one must be legally married which only heterosexual couples can do. Two queers living in the same house or apartment are still living in fear of public judgment.
In Indonesia, especially, being completely out means you’re responsible for public ridicule and life-threatening treatment that you receive because you’re different, against the norm, and caused community unrest. It is especially hard being in a religious community. My mother is a devout Catholic who prays every morning and evening, yet believes that being gay means you’re crazy and need to be healed.
So will his statement affect my life as a queer in any way? Probably not, at least as long as I remain in Indonesia. However, I do believe it will open up opportunities for LGBTQIA+ in more progressive countries to belong within the Church and the community and have a family of their own.
It will also take time for this to trickle down to all parts of the Church. From what I know, the Church is very political, and many still oppose Pope Francis for being too progressive. His statement would mean nothing if other members of the clergy disagree with him. For what it’s worth, I still believe this will open up further discussions about accepting LGBTQIA+ in the community. But a more specific statement would be good too, with clarity on some of the terms that he used.
*Names have been changed on request.
With additional reporting from Anthony Esguerra, Rosa Folia and Dhvani Solani.
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