In the short five months since Pope Francis took the reigns of the Catholic Church he has already displayed a pastoral countenance to his papacy.
Just this past weekend, flying home after a weeklong visit to Brazil, the pontiff was queried about the much-talked-about "gay lobby" in the Vatican.
"When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby. If they accept the Lord and have good will, who am I to judge them? They shouldn't be marginalized. The tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem ... they're our brothers."
Pope Francis remarks are still sending global shock waves. And they are the most LGBTQ-affirmative remarks the world has ever heard from a Catholic pontiff.
Unlike his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI a.k.a. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who used his authoritarian persona and "Rottweiler" enforcement of church doctrine to maintain an ecclesiastical lockdown on the church's progressives, Francis's conciliatory demeanor is shockingly disarming and inviting. His views on gay priests, while not quite in lockstep with its Catholic LGBTQ parishioners and allies, have moved the furthest of any pontiff in history. Nonetheless, his views on the surface are only perceptually progressive.
While it might be argued that the Pope's understanding about human sexual orientation -- especially that of LGBTQ people -- is expanding, and his concern for the dignity and humanity of LGBTQ people is genuinely shown, the pontiff is still a doctrinal conservative who holds largely to the Catholic Church's universal catechism on homosexuality.
Before we LGBTQ folks and our allies rejoice in what we think the pontiff pontificated on our behalf, perhaps hearing what many progressive Catholic pundits and parishioners are saying will give us pause. John M. Becker, Managing Editor here at the Bilerico Project, said in a recent posting on Facebook:
"Don't let Pope Francis's remarks on gay priests fool you into thinking the Catholic Church leadership is becoming any less anti-gay. Earlier this month, in fact, the U.S. Catholic Bishops came out in opposition to ENDA."
"That's right: America's Catholic bishops oppose legislation that would make it a crime to discriminate in the workplace on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Does this look like a church whose leaders have relented one bit in their war against our rights? It sure doesn't to me."
This pope, like the previous one, is using his papal authority to hold back the tide of modernity, but with a more friendlier and pastoral façade. And the early signs were there long before Francis became pope.
Case in point: although Francis springs from the first Latin American country (Argentina) to legalize same-sex marriage, his unsuccessful opposition to the legislation in 2010 left him spewing these remarks:
"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."
And sadly, Francis's views on the role of women within the Catholic Church hierarchy are both antiquated and spiritually abusive.
Ashley E. McGuire, Senior Fellow with the Catholic Association and the editor of Altcatholicah, writes for the Washington Post:
"All the questions about, 'How long should I wait to have the next kid?' or 'How many hours are too many hours at work?' or 'What roles of authority are okay in the church and what are not?' are shots in the dark without a more profound and synthesized philosophy of woman that takes modernity into account and comes from the highest level of church authority."
Like Benedict, Pope Francis was in the same camp of condemning clerics suppressing the growth of liberation theologies in Third World countries -- the emerging face of the Catholic Church -- for their supposedly Marxist leanings that exposed classism. However, liberation theologies combine Christian theology with political activism on issues dealing with human rights and social justice. Liberation Theologies emphasize the biblical themes that God's actions on behalf of the enslaved, the poor, the outcasts like women, people of color, and LGBTQ people, just to name a few, are a central paradigm for a faith that embraces the world -- as it is today -- from an engaged and committed stance that does justice.
It is liberation theologies that have given women, people of color, LGBTQs, and developing countries a voice. And it's liberation theologies that allow us all -- churched and unchurched, believer as well as atheist -- to stand in the truth of who we are. But this pope, like previous ones, won't allow us.
For Pope Francis the gay lobby within the Vatican is a problem, not the gay priests if celibate.
"The problem is not having this orientation. The problem is lobbying by this orientation," Francis told reporters.
I'm hoping for a new era in the Catholic Church with this pope: just hours after Pope Benedict XVI announced his unexpected resignation, a bolt of lightning struck St. Peter's Basilica.
Many say it's unequivocally a sign from God.
If so, I'm still hoping it's an "amen" moment signaling the end of an oppressive era of LGBTQ-bashing as the people of the church are eager to move forward. It's time for a queer-friendly pope.
I believe Francis is that pope as long as we, LGBTQ people, don't sexually act on our orientation.