There’s no doubting that Pope Francis’s comments about gay people have sent ripples through the Church. After all, when the new CEO says that things should be different, it’s hard not to take notice. The pope’s more relaxed attitude doesn’t have any doctrinal impact, but that hasn’t stopped Catholic conservatives from going into full freak-out mode.
But there are plenty of reasons to believe that, no matter what the pope says, things won’t be changing all that much among the U.S. bishops for quite some time. Here are six signs that the hierarchy is sticking to its guns on LGBT issues.
The new president of the National Catholic Conference of Bishops compares marriage equality to abortion. The Conference elected its new leaders this week, and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville was chosen as president for the next three years. Kurtz has compared marriage equality to Roe v. Wade and has chaired the bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for the Defense of Marriage. This isn’t someone who is about to let go of his antipathy to all things LGBT in a hurry.
The next president will likely be even worse. The bishop chosen for the number two leadership spot by the Conference traditionally moves on to become president. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston is a hard-core conservative whose views closely mirror those of Francis’s predecessors. DiNardo has largely focused on abortion, but he has paused long enough to take on marriage equality: “We must redouble our efforts to show why marriage between one man and one woman is important, especially for the children involved.”
The old president isn’t going away. Kurtz replaced Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who has a built in microphone as the leader of the largest U.S. diocese, which is conveniently located in the nation’s media capitol. Dolan has an impeccable record when it comes to LGBT issues–if by impeccable, you mean disgusting.
Look at what they said about ENDA. Here’s very recent proof that the homophobia continues unabated. The bishops just issued a statement condemning federal legislation to ban workplace discrimination as potentially enshrining adultery into law. If you can’t get behind stopping someone for being fired for no good reason, what can you get behind?
The bishops weren’t appointed by Pope Francis. DiNardo’s case underscores a truism for the bishops: they got their jobs by hewing to the hard line established by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. Now, that doesn’t mean that they don’t know how to suck up to the new boss. But it also means that they all belong to the same club. Francis is the outsider, not them. It will take a long time to change the club’s culture.
The bishops have their own echo chamber. Even though the majority of Catholics are more liberal than the hierarachy would have you believe, especially on marriage equality, the Catholic media apparatus is overwhelmingly conservative. (After all, no one is about to bite the hand that feeds you, let alone blesses you.) After years of beating the drum about the intrinsic evils of homosexuality, they aren’t about to switch gears. Add to that the fact that the bishops have cast their political lot with the religious liberty lobby, which thrives within the right-wing bubble, and you have a lot of voices drowning out the pope’s.
The Church doesn’t turn on a dime. The Catholic Church is notoriously inefficient and unwieldy. The kind of changes that Pope Francis seems to be interested in, even if they are just rhetorical, require undoing more than 30 years of direction. It also requires overcoming the resistance of all those people who came to power in those 30 years and are perfectly happy with the way things were going.
The jury is still out on Pope Francis and his intentions. But if he really is committed to ratcheting back the antigay rhetoric, he has his work cut out for him. Just don’t expect to see any changes any time soon.