Is Pope Francis Waving a White Flag on Gay Marriage?

This week we saw reports about Pope Francis cryptically acknowledging the existence of a "gay lobby" in the Vatican, about which he supposedly believes something has to be done. But if I were on a crusade against gay marriage, like Maggie Gallagher or Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage (both devout Catholics), I don't think I'd be very happy with this pope so far. In fact, I'd say he stinks.

Let's put all of this in some perspective. In the time since Francis became pope, France became the largest predominantly Catholic country to pass marriage equality, right in the Vatican's backyard. In the U.S., three states, including Rhode Island, which has the highest percentage of Catholics in the country, passed marriage equality. Predominantly Catholic Mexico continues to move forward on the issue in the courts, and Brazil's National Council of Justice green-lighted gay marriage in that country, which would become the largest country in South America and the largest predominantly Catholic country in the world to allow gay marriage. Another Latin American country near the Argentine pope's old stomping grounds, Uruguay, passed marriage equality in recent months, as did New Zealand.

And Pope Francis had nothing publicly to say about any of it. Zero. Zilch. Nada. He was busy washing the feet of the poor and tweeting about how selflessness is a virtue. Go figure.

Back when Spain passed marriage equality in 2005, Pope Benedict whirled himself into a frenzy, railing against it regularly. He told Catholic officials there that any support of the law would cost them their jobs and told secular public servants who are Catholic to flout the law and refuse to marry gays. He traveled to Spain and railed some more, oblivious to protests of his trip. From then on, he regularly attacked gay marriage, even calling it a "threat to the future of humanity."

And now here is Francis allegedly saying, according to a Chilean newspaper that quoted a source who took notes inside a private meeting of the Latin American Confederation of Men and Women Religious during a discussion about corruption inside the Vatican, that "they speak of a 'gay lobby,' and that is true. It is there.... [W]e will have to see what we can do [about it]." No context was offered as to whether Francis asked about it or brought it up on his own (nor was there an elaboration of exactly what Francis would do about the "gay lobby"), and the Vatican ran from the statement, declining fuller comment, saying that it was a private meeting, not for public consumption. Later, CLAR released a statement refuting the statement entirely, saying that the assertion that there is a gay lobby at the Vatican "cannot be attributed with certainty to the Holy Father."

The backtracking likely happened under pressure from the Vatican, which underscores that Francis just doesn't seem as if he wants to be out front on this issue. That was even clearer when Francis met this morning with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who'd railed against gay marriage in the United Kingdom, which is about to pass marriage equality. According to the Associated Press:

In his remarks to Welby, Francis said he hoped they could collaborate in promoting the sacredness of life "and the stability of families founded on marriage." ...

Significantly, though, Francis didn't specify that marriage should be based on a union between a man and woman, which is how Benedict XVI and John Paul II routinely defined it in a way that made clear their opposition to same-sex marriage.

Vatican officials said Francis' phrasing was a diplomatic attempt to make his point without making a provocative pronouncement....

A diplomatic way of being against gay marriage? Wow. Once politicians start doing that -- such as when Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both stopped defining marriage as "between a man and woman" a few years back -- they eventually support same-sex marriage. I'm not saying Francis is anywhere near there (though he did reportedly support civil unions, as I noted in a post a couple of months back). But having harshly railed against gay marriage back when he was in Argentina, only to lose that battle, he may be seeing that the handwriting is on the wall and that he's got better things to do with his time. And that can only be seen as a loss for Maggie Gallagher and other anti-equality advocates who hoped the pope would loudly lead their crusade.