When will Catholic LGBT activists wake up to the fact Pope Francis doesn’t particularly like them? He thinks the Church should go a bit easier on them, and — as he made clear last year — that they should enjoy the legal protection of gay civil unions. But, as the Vatican yesterday reaffirmed, official Catholic teaching won’t be changing. There will be no church blessings of homosexual unions, because they’re not part of God’s plan.
Progressive media is wailing like a Sicilian widow at the news. In issuing its latest decree, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is ‘dashing the hopes of gay Catholics who believed Pope Francis might have created a more open environment’.
No it isn’t. It’s dashing the hopes of gay Catholics who thought, naively, that Pope Francis might allow blessings of homosexual unions, civil or otherwise, in church. To which I suspect the Pope would reply ‘over my dead body’, and mean it literally. It’s one of those things, like women priests, that he can imagine a future pope permitting, and for which he may even have prepared the ground, but which he doesn’t want to see happen in his lifetime.
So why did he allow himself to be filmed saying gay people should enjoy the protection of civil unions? His motives are difficult to read, and that’s how he likes it. Anyone who wants to understand Jorge Mario Bergoglio should read Henry Sire’s The Dictator Pope, which explains the Trump-like delight he takes in playing one faction off against another. That’s not to say he has no convictions. It does mean we have to guess.
So, here’s my working hypothesis, which I admit is colored by unverifiable but very similar reports of the Pope’s behavior in private from separate insider sources.
Francis holds the sort of opinions one would expect from an 84-year-old Argentinian who’s Catholic but not fanatical about it. I think his views align more closely with those of occasional Mass-goers in his native country than with the very devout.
His Peronist cat-and-mouse games with different Catholic interest groups are played according to a loose set of rules influenced by his own experiences and prejudices. Here’s my attempt to guess what they are.
First, Francis is determined that in any conflict between conservative and liberal Catholics the conservatives should be the ones who suffer public humiliation. He loves to spring nasty surprises on them. So he says he supports gay civil unions without spelling out what that means. He hints that he wants divorced-and-remarried people to receive Communion, pulls back from making any ruling on the matter but carries on hinting. He decides that he can’t rescind Benedict XVI’s limited reintroduction of the Tridentine Rite, but imposes massive restrictions on its celebration in St Peter’s.
Second, the Pope is never going to make any changes to Church teaching so fundamental that they provoke his bishops into full-scale civil war and increase the likelihood of the next conclave electing a strictly orthodox candidate. Allowing gay church blessings would fall into this category even if Francis privately favored it, which he doesn’t (see below). A kinder way of putting this would be to say that at the bottom of his heart lies a thin sediment of orthodox Catholicism.
Third, there is a Bergoglian hierarchy of oppressed groups who can expect the Pope to speak up for them or enjoy his private support (which are not necessarily the same thing).
At the top sits the ill-defined category of the world’s poor, all of them victims of capitalism who can be lifted out of poverty by socialism. Francis, who has a Latin American understanding of the intricacies of political labels, is careful not to use the S-word, but there’s no doubt that he’s a sort of socialist.
Below them come divorced people and the irregular marriages of others. Francis’s own sister is divorced; he wants priestly finger-wagging, as he sees it, to be replaced by ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’.
Then, much further down the ladder, women in the Church. The Pope’s nods in the direction of Catholic feminists are window-dressing intended to annoy traditionalists. On this subject his views are as much instinctive as theological: he doesn’t want bossy women deacons, let alone women priests, in his sanctuary. But if the Church wants to do it after his death? Shrug.
Next, persecuted Christians. The Pope blows hot and cold on this one. In Iraq, he was horrified by the destruction he saw. But out of sight, out of mind. So no support for Chinese Catholics who stood in the way of the Vatican’s despicable pact with China, now revealed to be a con-trick by Beijing.
Finally, the gays. According to my sources, His Holiness is not especially PC when talking about them in private. We had a hint of that within weeks of his election, when he told Latin American priests that he would ‘see what we can do’ about ‘the gay lobby’ in the Vatican. Funny how you never hear that quoted. Instead, it’s always the hard-to-interpret ‘who am I to judge?’, a comment on a papal flight in 2013 which he immediately qualified by saying that the Church’s mustn’t be lobbied by gay people or Freemasons.
As far as I can work out, the Pope believes that that gay people are born with their orientation and shouldn’t be bullied; civil unions are defensible as protection against discrimination. But that’s it. As for the question ‘Who am I to judge?’, Francis has actually answered it. I am the Pope, he says. I’m sticking to the line that gay sex is wrong and that homosexual seminarians should be weeded out because, well, you never know. Again, his comments to that effect seem to have been wiped from the collective memory of the liberal media.
In short, nobody’s happy, and I’m not sure that this bad-tempered old man wants them to be. Keep them on their toes! On the other hand, given Francis’s consistent refusal to follow up on his heterodox hints, conservative Catholics can conclude from the evidence that the Pope is, after all, Catholic. Ten years ago it seemed inconceivable that they would need this reassurance, but there you go.