Writing that “Pope Francis is still not pro-gay by today's standard,” the Advocate magazine has named the new leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics its Person of the Year.
“Like it or not, what he says makes a difference,” the magazine argued in making its announcement on December 16. “Sure, we all know Catholics who fudge on the religion's rules about morality. There's a lot of disagreement, about the role of women, about contraception, and more. But none of that should lead us to underestimate any pope's capacity for persuading hearts and minds in opening to LGBT people, and not only in the US but globally.”
The magazine hung its faith in Francis’ “capacity” –– and willingness –– “for persuading hearts and minds in opening to LGBT people” on several comments the new pope made in recent months.
In a September interview with the Jesuit magazine America, Francis said if he were asked his views on homosexuality he would respond, ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love or reject and condemn this person? We must always consider the person.”
A month earlier, when asked about gay priests, the pope said, “If a person is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge him?”
Francis used the America interview to urge others in the Catholic Church away from overemphasis on social questions such as homosexuality and reproductive freedom, saying, “It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.” Significantly, as many noted at the time, the pope said nothing to indicate that the Church’s position on any of these issues would be changed when they are talked about.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, New York’s archbishop and at the time the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, hit the morning television circuit in the wake of the pope’s remarks, saying of them, “The way he’s doing it is so fresh and is so captivating, but he’s not really changing anything of the essence of the Church.”
Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, the LGBT Catholic group, told Gay City News, “The pope’s comments on women show underdeveloped thinking about women. He talks about a new theology, but doesn’t give a new sense of direction. There is no change on women’s issues. No change on gay relationships. It is not a policy change document.”
Still, the pope’s embrace of the humanity of LGBT people –– which under Church doctrine amounts to “love the sinner,” a position staked out by former President George W. Bush as he waged war on marriage equality and even nondiscrimination protections –– was enough for the Advocate. The magazine offered an analogy based more on wishful thinking than any evidence in hand, writing, “In the same way that President Obama transformed politics with his evolution on LGBT civil rights, a change from the pope could have a lasting effect on religion.”
The magazine acknowledged that, in a joint encyclical issued earlier this year with his predecessor, Benedict XVI, Francis reiterated the Church’s position that marriage is a “stable union of man and woman. This union is born of their love, as a sign and presence of God’s own love, and of the acknowledgement and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation.”
Despite this, the magazine hinted that the new pope might be open to supporting civil unions for gay couples, noting that he pushed for that option during his homeland Argentina’s debate over marriage equality –– as the “lesser of two evils,” however.
The magazine’s cover image put a NO H8 sticker –– the symbol of opposition to California’s Proposition 8, which denied same-sex couples the right to marry (a right the pope opposes) –– on Francis’ face.
The Advocate not only followed Time magazine’s lead on selecting its person of the year, it also offered a list of runners up. Time’s ranking put Edie Windsor, who successfully challenged the Defense of Marriage Act at the Supreme Court, in third place, while the Advocate put her in a group that included as well the two couples who challenged California’s Proposition 8 in fourth place.
Noting that its sister publication had just honored Windsor with a Lifetime Achievement Award in its Out 100 event, the Advocate wrote, “But even Windsor herself is a powerful symbol for the many others behind the scenes. Also at the Supreme Court that day, for example, were the four plaintiffs in the related Proposition 8 case from California, and they should be lauded. Or, any of their lawyers.”
The magazine wrote that other cases challenging DOMA were also headed for the high court when Windsor’s challenge was accepted.