The headlines blared, “Who am I to judge?” News outlet after news outlet led with the pope’s conciliatory stance toward gays, expressed during an interview aboard the pope-plane as he returned from Brazil. Among the several headers from Fox News (I encourage not clicking!), we find discussions of the pope’s “reaching out” to gays and even one that combines this development with his “urging” of a “greater role” for women. The New York Times story introduced the pope’s comments as follows: “For generations, homosexuality has largely been a taboo topic for the Vatican, ignored altogether or treated as ‘an intrinsic moral evil,’ in the words of the previous pope.” Ignoring the astonishing comment that this has been the case “for generations,” as though homosexuality has historically been the kind of issue for the church it has become in the wake of radical queer movements – see Mark Jordan’s several books on this for the most helpful treatments – the story went on to say that the pope’s comments “resonated throughout the church.” Although the NYT article did a better job than some contextualizing and nuancing the pope’s comments, they were still termed “revolutionary” in an assessment better suited to an opinion page than to a news report. Better-informed commentators, such as James Martin, offered a measured response. Martin said that although the pope’s remarks didn’t really signal a significant change in policy, “in the church, style often proves substantial,” implying that the “pastoral” tone might have effects in the implementation of policy. More significantly, Martin praised the pope’s adherence to Jesus’ injunction not to judge as an instance, first and foremost, of the pope’s commitment to mercy as the hallmark of his pontificate.
My Facebook feed, predictably, lit up with links to and discussions of these comments. While most were thrilled, a few posts noted that, even if Pope Francis is in fact (which is not proven) walking back Benedict XVI’s language of “intrinsically disordered,” the church’s policy has not and will not change in any significant way. What was missing in all but a few instances was attention to the pope’s comments in the same interview on women, and the deep theological problems with the assumptions contained in those comments. And while I, as a queer theologian, would never wish to downplay the struggles of LGBTQI people in the Roman Catholic church, there are rather more women than queers in that church (as elsewhere!). What’s more, it is arguable that it is the sexism and heterosexism of what Marcella Althaus-Reid memorably termed “T-Theology” that underlies condemnation of homosexuality in Roman Catholic theology. Continue reading “Who is the Church? by Linn Marie Tonstad”