Dear Pope Francis,
It’s with a bit of reluctance that I write today’s post. The reason is that I’ve come to like you and what you seem to stand for. You’ve been a breath of fresh air and I have taken heart from much of what you’ve said since becoming Pope.
But I have a real problem with your recent comments on the role of women and gay people in the Church.
I realize I’m going against the grain here, and I’m not wanting to criticize. I, like many others, was at first astounded that you addressed the issue of gay priests. You used the word “gay,” for example, which was a first for any Pope. You used much softer, more accepting language. And you said “Who am I to judge?” which was a significant admission.
While your words were more pastoral, you did not indicate a change in doctrine. At the same time as you signalled acceptance, calling gay priests “brothers”, you underscored Church teaching that celibacy is the only option for gays and lesbians. This means that, to be accepted, gay and lesbian Catholics must ignore — or hide — who they are.
I also have an issue with the comment “Who am I to judge?”. Saying it is not for you to judge still implies there is judgement to be made. That there is still something wrong in being gay or lesbian. I saw a comment from Fr. James Martin, whom I greatly respect, that this was an example of your showing mercy. Mercy is still a loaded word. It conveys the impression that something needs to be forgiven, that someone has done something wrong.
Many saw hope in your words, of change and acceptance. I’m not so sure that’s what I see. I think, in reality, this might be a situation where people were so relieved you didn’t come out with the hate-filled language of your predecessors that they took this as a hopeful sign of a great leap forward. As I said, I am not so sure.
As for your comments about women, Pope Francis, I was deeply disappointed. While it was nice, I suppose, to acknowledge the role of women in the Church and say that they should fill more administrative roles, you closed the door firmly on women in the priesthood. This was pushed aside in the headline-grabbing attention paid to your comments on gay priests, but I know it must have been heard by many women as yet another dismissal. What I heard was that it’s OK for women to teach, care for the sick, minister to the abandoned, take on all the scut jobs in the Church, and maybe get the odd chance to make a few inconsequential decisions, but they can never hope to be equals to men in ministry or Church hierarchy. That makes me sad and, if I’m being honest, just a little bit angry.
As I said above, I’m writing this with some reluctance. I really wish I could get caught up in the euphoria over your remarks and see them as a sign of change. The problem for me is that even the most hopeful commentators have said this is a perhaps a sign of change that will come slowly over time. And, for women, there wasn’t even a glimmer of hope that things might change. That door slammed firmly shut.
I’m sorry, Pope Francis, but I’m tired of waiting. There is no slow or fast when it comes to equality and justice. We must have equality and justice now.
Anything else is simply wrong. People are tired of crumbs when they have every right to sit at the whole feast.
My prayer is that you be guided by the Divine to take the same approach to inequality in the Church as you have to rooting out corruption, siding with the poor, and doing away with excess.