In contrast to the words of Pope Francis — who said "Who am I to judge?" — Cardinal Timothy Dolan maintains that the Roman Catholic Church hasn't revised anything about its opposition to homosexuality. Earlier this year, Dolan, who is the archbishop of New York and the nation’s highest-ranking cardinal, told a group of reporters that the pope was “articulating … the traditional teachings of the church,” and clarified that the church still believes “homosexual acts” are a sin. This may be a case of two seemingly opposing ideas both being true simultaneously. The pope's statement did signal a real change, but it also isn't a departure from Catholic teaching. Meanwhile, Dolan has spoken out quite often about his antigay views — which also contradicts the pope's advice that "it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time." During the Democratic National Convention last year, he famously prayed that national acceptance of marriage equality would decline, and he was a leading crusader against the passage of same-sex marriage in New York. But he doesn't seem to connect his own role with the view that the Catholic Church is antigay. Most recently, Dolan blamed the church's antigay image on bad marketing.
If the pope would prefer that less emphasis be put on fighting marriage equality, then the Knights of Columbus will have to make some changes. One of the largest international Catholic organizations, it has financed numerous campaigns against marriage equality, including spending more than $1.4 million in California to pass Proposition 8. It's not that the pope favors legalizing same-sex marriage (he doesn't). but would the pope now prefer huge sums of money like that to be spent on the poor instead? Would he be bothered to know that Knights of Columbus has the unfortunate distinction of being the largest financial supporter of California's now-defunct constitutional ban on same-sex marriage? The group has also contributed millions to the antigay organization National Organization for Marriage and state campaigns against marriage equality in Minnesota, Washington, Maine, and Maryland. Carl Anderson, the leader of Knights of Columbus, bemoaned how the media calls attention to his group's agenda in a recent article in the National Review. He claimed that there is “a disproportionate focus on Church teaching about sexuality and abortion.” In this article, he also claimed that the pope’s words on accepting gay people were essentially taken out of context.
This nonprofit comprised of active and retired leaders of the Catholic Church is a powerful lobbying group that most recently opposed passage in the Senate of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would stop employers from firing people just for being gay. The council went so far as to invoke Pope Francis in its letter to senators, misusing his words as if suggesting the pope also supports firing someone for what the council calls "homosexual conduct." For his part, Speaker John Boehner, who is Catholic, refuses to let the House of Representatives vote on ENDA. Meanwhile, the council also recently endorsed the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act, which is being described as a license for religious institutions to discriminate against same-sex couples when doing business. The council is also a longtime collaborator with the National Organization for Marriage, which has recently extended its agenda to demonize trans people, especially kids in schools.
The President of the Catholic League
Bill Donohue, the president of the Catholic League, has been vocal against reproductive rights and LGBT rights for years. Even after Pope Francis's pledge to confront and eradicate pedophilia in the church, Donohue still takes the simplistic, homophobic view that priests who molest children are gay. "Less than 5 percent of the priests involved in molestation are pedophiles," he said after pope said he doesn't judge gay priests. "I will never stop telling the truth. And the pope never said we should either. I am against gay bashing."
Despite the encouraging words from Pope Francis regarding the acceptance of gay priests, the recent excommunication of a pro-LGBT priest speaks to the deep-rooted homophobia that still exists within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Father Greg Reynolds, a priest in Australia, received a letter dated May 31 that informed him of his severance from the Catholic faith, an act that is usually reserved for those that commit atrocious crimes like pedophilia. Though the letter, which had to be translated from Latin, did not provide a reason for the excommunication, Reynolds said that "I’ve come to this position because I’ve followed my conscience on women’s ordination and gay marriage." His archbishop, Denis Hart, later confirmed that Reynolds had been excommunicated for preaching "contrary to the teachings of the church."
While many practitioners of the Catholic faith rejoiced at the pope's message of acceptance, there was an outcry of protest from some sectors. Churchgoers in Africa, where Catholicism is quickly gaining a new generation of converts, were vocal about their disapproval, with many threatening to leave the faith if they hear pro-gay sentiments expressed at their own parish. "His words are a message from the devil, and they will force people to leave the Catholic Church," Seraphine Yalikako, a churchgoer in Kinshasa, told Reuters. "If we don't condemn homosexuality, then we're accepting homosexual priests, and I can never accept that. I'm not going to hear Mass from a homosexual priest." Added Ahimbisibwe Nkuba: "The pope should not advocate for making homosexuality normal. ... I would walk out of the church if I ever hear my priest say it."
When Pope Francis said "Who am I to judge?" when it comes to LGBT Catholics, Bishop Thomas Tobin of Rhode Island said his words — heralded by more progressive Catholics and non-Catholics alike — were misconstrued. "That’s been used a lot and it’s been abused a lot by those who want to further their own agendas, but it’s clear the Holy Father did not intend to change the teaching of the Church," Tobin said in an interview with The R.I. Catholic. "I think everybody who studies it seriously knows what he meant by that, but it’s caused a lot of people, including bishops and cardinals a certain amount of angst in trying to explain what the Holy Father meant by his off-the-cuff-comments." For the record, the pope himself has clarified "what he meant by that." In an interview with America magazine, Francis said, "A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘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."
Croatia not only voted down a marriage equality bill in December, but the mostly Catholic country went one step further by amending its constitution to ban same-sex marriage. The vote was a major coup for conservatives, backed heavily by Catholic church leaders like Croatian cardinal Josip Bozanic (right), who has kept a stranglehold on the country's politics. Billboards and placards at rallies favoring the ban carried the Catholic Church's slogans.
LGBT teachers in private schools are already vulnerable to discrimination, but those in Catholic schools are especially at risk of losing their jobs. Months after Pope Francis first spoke as the head of the Catholic Church about his rather tolerant views on homosexuality, English and religion teacher Kristen Ostendorf was fired from a Minnesota school after coming out to colleagues. The principal at the same school resigned after rumors that he was gay began to circulate, according to LGBT Catholic organization Equally Blessed. These two are not the only Catholic educators who have been fired for being who they are, since the pope first said his famous words, but unless the leaders within the church listen up, they certainly will not be the last.