Elessar Younglove (they/fae)
Last April, I created a graphic of a man named Haaz Sleiman for “The Michigan Gayly” Instagram page. The photo was placed on a green background and the quote was short. “I am a gay Muslim, Arab American man,” he said. That was it. But in the interview I quoted Haaz added, “And I’m going to take it even further: Not only am I gay, but I’m also a bottom. Not only am I a bottom, but I’m also a total bottom which means I like it up you know where.” The addition seemed unnecessary to me at the time. But after reading Pope Francis’ interview with the Associated Press, I now think all queer people could benefit from vocalizing their sex life.
On Wednesday, January 25th, 2023 Pope Francis sat down to discuss gay marriage. It's not the first time he’s spoken about the queer community. In 2020, he caused an uproar amongst the prejudiced practicing Catholics. His comment especially upset retired Philippine Bishop Arturo Bastes who, surprisingly, is homophobic. According to the Associated Press and NBC, Bastes called the statement “shocking.” In an interview over the phone, he said, “I am really scandalized by his defense of homosexual union, which surely leads to immoral acts.”
What did the Pope say to cause such an uproar? “They’re children of God and have a right to a family,” he said. “Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of [their sexuality].” Pope Francis went on to advocate for creating a civil union law under the Catholic Church. While civil unions would grant legal benefits, it wasn’t a marriage, and it rang hollow after the Pope’s self-congratulatory interview. “I stood up for that,” he said. If you look closely you could see Pope Francis patting himself on the back. Yesterday, the Pope conducted a similar act of congratulating himself while still condemning homosexuality. And, like a beaten dog given a treat, news anchors are eating it up.
CBS is already framing the interview as a humanitarian effort, saying, “Pope Francis continued his outreach to the LGBTQ community, declaring in a new interview that homosexuality is not a crime and laws against it are unjust.” “Homosexuality isn’t a crime,” Pope Francis said yesterday. But engaging in “homosexual activity,” he reiterated, is a sin. Imagine holding a press conference just to establish you’re still anti-gay sex. This announcement is concerning for various reasons, but I’ll try my best to break it down. First and foremost, gay sex is great, and if you haven’t had it then you’re missing out. Not only did Pope Francis pat himself on the back for further contributing to homophobia, he refused to acknowledge this homophobia simply because it was said in the name of decriminalizing homosexuality.
The Pope said laws that criminalize homosexuality are “unjust,” and called us sinners in the same breath. All this to claim that he’s helping us. Homosexuality is illegal in 68 countries. How exactly does Pope Francis think his insults are helpful to people whose mere existence is deemed a crime? “The Catholic Church teaches that homosexual activity is sinful,” he said. This teaching puts the blame of religious homophobia on the queer community. With this framing, it's the queer community’s fault they aren’t accepted– after all, we should have known to refrain from having gay sex after reading the Bible. We aren’t allowed to get angry and demand equal treatment. We’re expected to condemn our own lives by agreeing that acting on our sexuality is an act against God, in order to satisfy years of the Church’s hatred and hubris. It is immoral and illogical to only support a group when they are abiding by the regulations you place on their identities and personhood. Conditional love is not compassionate, it's an example of manipulation and abuse. If, and only if, gay people stop prioritizing their needs they may be accepted by the institutions that sent them to conversion therapy and contributed to their suicide rates. Conditional acceptance is not revolutionary; it is nothing more than a breeding ground for subjugation.
The Catholic Church is no stranger to prejudice, or ignoring the plight of others. Just last month a new report found decades of sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic priests. A previous Vicar of Christ, Pope John Paul II, created a day for pardon acknowledging failures in the Catholic Church. On March 13th, 2000 he begged God’s forgiveness for sins committed or condoned by the Church. These sins included racism, sexism, hatred of Jewish people, and violence in the name of the Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II wanted to reconcile with the victims of these sins. “But what does the word ‘reconciliation’ mean to us?” He said. “To grasp its precise sense and value, we must first recognize the possibility of division, of separation.”
Not only must Pope Francis apologize for the Catholic church’s homophobia, but he must use his power and influence to bring about reconciliation. Pope Francis needs to separate himself from the institutional homophobia and work directly with members of the queer community to heal their trauma and decriminalize homosexuality worldwide. If Pope Francis turns his back on the queer community he will turn away from God. As no loving God would want his people to suffer. Pope John Paul II said that Catholics have a responsibility to pursue peace and equality, despite whatever prejudice the world holds. “Yes,” he said, “man is the only creature on earth who can have a relationship of communion with his Creator, but he is also the only one who can separate himself from Him.”
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