Charlotte's Web Thoughts
Charlotte's Web Thoughts
Francis: The Pope of LGBTQ Compassion

Francis: The Pope of LGBTQ Compassion

Yet another powerful move toward acceptance.
(image credit: Andrew Medichini // Associated Press)

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This morning, Pope Francis formally approved new guidance that allows priests to offer blessings to same-sex couples, an enormous step forward in welcoming LGBTQ families into the Catholic Church.

There will be no shortage of critical takes on this, both from conservatives who feel it’s a betrayal of Scripture (it is not) and progressives who believe it doesn’t go far enough, the latter of which would be similar to finding suitable water in the middle of a desert and whining that it doesn’t come with ice.

To be clear, this in no way changes the Catholic Church’s steadfast position that marriage is a sacrament between a man and a woman. In fact, the Pope took great pains to emphasize that such blessings cannot be offered liturgically or otherwise take place within the typical ceremonial parameters for a marriage or a civil union.

Without going into much detail, here’s the long and short of it: Francis is essentially permitting priests to be more encouraging to LGBTQ couples in their joint walk with God, albeit without specifically endorsing that path.

You’ve heard of same-sex weddings in which anti-LGBTQ relatives show up to offer their support to the happy couple, despite their own stated misgivings over same-sex marriages?

This is basically the Vatican’s policy version of that. Well… maybe it’s more like the relative attending the reception with a gift and warm words after skipping the nuptials on principle.

(Yes, that does happen, believe it or not.)

And sure, if we leave it at that oversimplification, without any context, I can see how some would be unimpressed and even offended.

But I want to encourage folks to observe this monumental sign of progress within the long arc of the Vatican’s notorious history of hostility toward the queer community.

Pope Francis, rather than follow his predecessors’ strategy of broadly shaming and demonizing LGBTQ people, has spent his tenure trying a different approach, one that, yes, doesn’t depart from the Vatican’s anti-LGBTQ scriptural interpretations on big questions (marriage, sex, etc.) but does encourages love and understanding toward queer people.

In 2013, mere months into his papacy, Francis famously remarked to reporters: “If a person is gay and seeks God and has goodwill, who am I to judge?”

Again, this was not an endorsement of homosexuality or bisexuality but a simple gesture of kindness and good faith toward gay people. It was an act of spiritual leadership urging compassion in place of condemnation, the essence of Christ’s teachings.

The Pope has also expressed support for the legal affirmation (but not religious affirmation) of same-sex civil unions (though, again, not a scriptural endorsement of same-sex marriage), stating that LGBTQ people are entitled to families, however formed.

He has also spoken out against the criminalization of same-sex activity or relationships, made clear that homosexuality is not an illness, urged Catholic families (really, all families) to love and include their LGBTQ relatives, and expressed unprecedented empathy for LGBTQ-led families.

Do I love his overall history on trans folks like me? Not quite. In the past, he has made some unnecessarily inflammatory remarks on trans people, stating that gender-affirming health care is a sin, once comparing it to nuclear arms. That was eight years ago.

Since then, Pope Francis, while not yielding from his basic view that trans people are misaligned with God’s will (I firmly disagree, of course), has taken a far more loving view toward the community, including much publicized conversations with trans people in which he again encouraged love and empathy.

Most notably, His Holiness offered substantial public support for Sister Mónica Astorga Cremona, an Argentinian Carmelite nun who started a safe home for trans women and has dedicated her life to ministering to trans folks in desperate circumstances.

In a letter to her, Francis stated: “God, who didn’t attend seminary and didn’t study theology, will reward you generously. I pray for you and your daughters.”

That was the first time in history that the Pope, spiritual leader to more than 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide, including the current President of the United States, has affirmed the gender identity of a trans person.

I’m a proud trans woman, and my Christian faith is very important to me. The most daunting aspect of my relationship with God—and, admittedly, the most difficult to master, an ongoing journey, to be sure—has been offering grace for others who may not fully affirm me but are taking steps toward me in good faith.

It is the same grace I wish for myself when I make mistakes or cause harm or require further learning and humility. It is never tidy or simple. Swallowing past pain to encourage the growth of fellow travelers can be exhausting, and yet, if there are other, effective routes available, they are wholly unknown to me.

Pope Francis has been an extraordinary blessing for LGBTQ people; even in my theological disagreements with him, I can see the forest through the trees and recognize that we are unlikely to see again in our lifetime a Bishop of Rome so dedicated to loving the queer community and reserving judgment to God.

Some will dismiss these efforts as publicity-minded. That is entirely foolish to me.

It would have been all-too-convenient for Pope Francis to eschew calls for LGBTQ affirmation during his papacy, hiding behind stale and cruel interpretations of God’s word.

In the past several years, as anti-LGBTQ extremism has grown substantially, the Holy Father, from a mass communications standpoint, could have stayed quiet or even leveraged endorsement of homophobia to mollify his conservative critics.

But he has rejected that approach, choosing to proactively love LGBTQ people and recognize our entitlement to God’s unconditional love and the earthly commission of clergy to express that love in their outreach.

In the papal declaration today, Pope Francis said, in part, the following:

“The request for a blessing, thus, expresses and nurtures openness to the transcendence, mercy, and closeness to God in a thousand concrete circumstances of life, which is no small thing in the world in which we live. It is a seed of the Holy Spirit that must be nurtured, not hindered.”

May we all give thanks for the Pope and our fellow children of God who choose to safeguard seeds of the Holy Spirit in grounds they may not fully recognize, leaving their growth unimpeded to Her warmth and light.

yes, I would love a coffee

Hi, I’m Charlotte Clymer, and this is Charlotte’s Web Thoughts, my Substack. It’s completely free to access and read, but it’s also how my bills! So, please do kindly consider upgrading to a paid subscription: just $7/month or save money with the $70/annual sub. You can also go way above and beyond by becoming a Founding Member at $250.

Charlotte's Web Thoughts
Charlotte's Web Thoughts
Charlotte Clymer is a writer and LGBTQ advocate. You've probably seen her on Twitter (@cmclymer). This is the podcast version of her blog "Charlotte's Web Thoughts", which you can subscribe to here: