On Friday morning, Catholic apologists in the U.S. sighed a collective breath of relief when the Vatican Press Office attempted to clear up the controversy surrounding the pope's meeting with Kim Davis. The pope is innocent, they announced. Kim Davis was hurried in and out of the meeting with a group of many other visitors. The pope wasn't at all clear on the details of her case. His embrace and encouragement for Kim Davis should not be regarded as his support for her politics. The pope, after all, is "kind and available" to meet with all sorts of people, not just those he agrees with. When it comes down to it, the pope is just like you and me, tired of political partisanship and eager for justice and equality.
Just like that, LGBT people who expressed hurt and offense from the pope's meeting with Kim Davis were supposed to get over it. Just like that, all the feelings of pain and exclusion that have built up from centuries of homophobia and bigotry against LGBT people are supposed to disappear. Just like that, we all ought to look up to Pope Francis as the liberator of LGBT people in the Catholic Church and the bringer of all things good to the U.S..
Excuse me if I don't buy it. Self-styled Catholic liberals have been pushing this narrative of the Francis papacy since he was elected. "Just look at Francis' gestures of acceptance toward LGBT people!" they say. "Who am I to judge?" he asked! Last year he hugged a transgender man! His Vatican sent a note of congratulations to an Italian author who is an ally for LGBT families! Now we know that the pope even has a gay friend!
Indeed, what gestures! Gestures that for other people would be considered basic to human decency have become, for Francis apologists, signs of the pope's revolution of mercy in the church toward LGBT Catholics and everyone else on the margins of faith. Yet, in spite of these gestures, very little has changed in the structures of Catholic teaching and practice to show any amount of mercy to LGBT Catholics. The Catholic Catechism still calls same-sex desire "disordered." The only church-endorsed national and international ministry towards LGBT people treats "same-sex attraction" as an unwanted sickness or addiction, akin to alcoholism. Archbishops such as Salvatore Cordileone and Charles Chaput continue to act out against LGBT equality without repercussions from the broader church. It still shocks the world and church when a German cardinal suggests that there may be something good in committed LGBT relationships. There were no LGBT allies invited to speak at the recent World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, and there is little hope that this month's Synod on the Family in Rome will be any better. LGBT people cannot get married in the Catholic Church, and the rhetoric of bishops leads many to believe that the church will not bless same-sex relationships anytime soon.
It's time for progressive Catholics to recognize that, in spite of the pope's gestures towards LGBT people, systematic sin and injustice runs much deeper that the pope's pastoral style. Why do we keep fooling ourselves into believing that one pope can fix the deep-rooted problem of homophobia in the church?
It's time for all Catholics to start listening to how LGBT people feel about their experience in the church. It's time to hear the cries of pain that come from those hurt by the church's long-standing and continued abuse. It's time we stop pretending that Pope Francis has fixed everything. He hasn't. He can't. The sooner we recognize how much work remains to be done addressing systematic sins of homophobia in the Catholic Church, the sooner we can begin the healing process.