So much for The Advocate’s Man of the Year.
By choosing to meet with Kim Davis, the reigning pin-up queen of homophobia, Pope Francis has sent the clearest possible signal about where he stands when it comes to LGBT rights. In doing so, he vaporized the good will that he generated during his visit to the U.S. last week. As turns out, all those friendly-sounding statements were little more than a distraction from the Vatican’s hard-core disapproval of all things gay.
Some of the reason lies with Francis, who has been ambiguous enough at times to raise expectations. A lot of disaffected Catholics, gay and straight alike, had hoped that the pope was more open to LGBT people. After all, he sent his blessing to an LGBT group in Italy, something that would be impossible to imagine under his predecessors. Apparently at his direction, the Church is flirting with the idea of some recognition of the existence of gay families. People have been desperate to believe that change was coming.
Yet doctrinally the pope has never wavered from the existing line that homosexuality is a moral disorder. In fact, there’s been plenty of evidence from Francis’s own lips that he was every bit as opposed to gay rights as Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II. In one of his many statements opposing marriage equality, last April he called heterosexual marriage “the masterpiece of society.” According to one of his bishops, he is “shocked” at the idea of gay couples adopting. He took a swipe at transgender people for seeking “to cancel out sexual difference.”
The meeting with Davis, however, is a declaration that the pope has declared his allegiance with the religious right when it comes to gay issues. A more colossal PR blunder is hard to imagine. Davis got 15 minutes of precious time in a private meeting with Francis, which she and her allies will use to fundraise until the end of time. The pope lent credibility to Davis’s lawyers at Liberty Counsel, the right-wing group defending her. They needed that boost, given that Liberty Counsel’s relationship with the truth would fall under the classification of casual encounter (how about those 100,000 Peruvians rallying for Davis?).
To wade into this battle with these people is just dumb. Yet Pope Francis is a Jesuit, the intellectuals of the Church. There are few naive Jesuits, and you don’t get to be pope by being one. The pope knew what he was doing when he met with Davis.
Some apologists are already insisting that the move “confounds the culture warriors.” Sorry, but that doesn’t wash. If Francis had spent some time with a gay youth who had attempted suicide or a gay couple raising a family as well as meeting with Davis, that would be confounding. But it’s impossible to see how Francis hasn’t taken a side in the culture war.
The meeting is a wake-up call to all of the would-be Fran-atics who think that the pope is going to change the Church. Maybe at the edges, he will. But the core teaching — that you and I are predisposed to evil because of who we are — will remain unchanged. A few crumbs tossed our way won’t ever make up for that. Let’s just not forget it again.