Pope Francis comes from one of only eleven countries where same-sex marriage is legal. In Argentina, where Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, as he was known until Wednesday, was the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, the population is mostly Roman Catholic, and yet same-sex marriage became legal there in July, 2010, a full year before the law changed in New York. (It is the first Latin American country with marriage equality.) Yet any Catholics who were hoping that new leadership would modernize (even a little) the Church and its teaching when it comes to the issue of homosexuality will likely be disappointed.
In the debate leading up to the successful passage of same-sex-marriage legislation in his home country, then-Cardinal Bergoglio was a strong and vocal opponent, most famously saying, in a private letter to nuns that became public,
Let’s not be naïve, we’re not talking about a simple political battle; it is a destructive pretension against the plan of God. We are not talking about a mere bill, but rather a machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.
According to the National Catholic Reporter, Pope Francis has referred to adoption by gay parents as a form of “discrimination against children.” Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the President of Argentina, said that Francis’s remarks suggested “medieval times and the Inquisition.”
On CNN, and in some other reporting on Wednesday, much was being made of Pope Francis’s interest in caring for the sick. He has reportedly visited AIDS patients and washed their feet, in a sign of humility. Herndon Graddick, the President of GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, said in a statement right after Francis was named:
In his life, Jesus condemned gays zero times. In Pope Benedict’s short time in the papacy, he made a priority of condemning gay people routinely. This, in spite of the fact that the Catholic hierarchy had been in collusion to cover up the widespread abuse of children within its care. We hope this Pope will trade in his red shoes for a pair of sandals and spend a lot less time condemning and a lot more time foot-washing.
But it would seem unlikely, certainly given these early and fragmentary reports of the new Pope’s positions, that the Catholic Church would soften even a little bit on the issue of homosexuality, or the important marriage-equality issues to be argued at the Supreme Court in two weeks.
In fact, American bishops submitted amicus briefs in support of California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage there, and of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents the federal government from acknowledging same-sex marriages that are legal in a state. In the briefs, they pose the legal issue in stark terms: throwing out laws against gay marriage by applying the “heightened scrutiny” standard that judges use on other discriminatory laws “would compromise the ability of states to accommodate religious and moral objections to homosexual conduct on the part of employers and individuals.”
This even though a new Quinnipiac poll released last week showed that American Catholics support same-sex marriage by even a greater percentage (fifty-four per cent) than average Americans (forty-seven per cent). The poll also suggested that they think the Church leadership is out of step with their thinking overall.
So far, there is nothing in Pope Francis’s record to suggest that the Church will be any more welcoming to gay Catholics or on the subject of gay rights. There was, though, some reporting right after Francis’s selection which suggested that his handling of gay marriage in Argentina was largely seen as a model of how not to talk about the issue. Perhaps that, at least, is a lesson that the new Pope would not like to repeat.