As Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio made his way to the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square, I felt a sense of unease. With full knowledge of Bergoglio’s past comments regarding gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) people, I was truly concerned about what his papacy may mean for me and the future of the Church.
However, as Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, readied himself for his first apostolic blessing it was his simple acts of humility that caused me to pause and reflect on how he may be the gay community’s greatest hope.
Now, I am by no means condoning or blanketing comments Bergoglio has made about same-sex marriage or adoption by gay parents during his tenure as Archbishop of Buenos Aires; however, I do think that his episcopal career and even the early moments of his papacy provide strong indications that change may be on the horizon.
I’m sure that this claim will cause some to brand me as an “optimist” and perhaps even accuse me of “defending the enemy,” but I truly believe that we have reason to hope.
Standing on the balcony of St. Peter’s Square and looking out at the thousands gathered to welcome the new Holy Father, Pope Francis asked those gathered and around the world to pray for him before extending his apostolic blessing upon them. It was in this moment of great humility, that the new pope bowed and received the prayers of the faithful. This was the moment when I realized that Bergoglio may be the source of renewal and change that the Church has been waiting for.
It was then that I realized the Cardinal electors selected a simple man to lead a church in need of great reform and new energy.
Outside the simple and humble acts that have marked the beginning of Bergoglio’s papacy, his history as a priest and bishop also provide reasons as to why we should hope he will advance dialogue on issues related to LGBT people. First, although Bergoglio opposed the same-sex marriage legislation in Argentina (with language that clearly lacked a pastoral tone), he is the first pope to be elected from a country that has legalized marriage equality. In this way, Bergoglio has perhaps witnessed firsthand how same-sex marriage has been a public good in Argentina.
In addition, Bergoglio's experience in Buenos Aires also means that he has seen and heard from LGBT people of faith in a way that has hopefully informed his understanding of human sexuality.
Again, this is not meant to overshadow the new Holy Father’s past comments about LGBT people, but rather to point out that he may be the first pope who has any real experience in meeting LGBT people while also witnessing the impact of gay marriage -- namely, no negative impact at all. In fact, if anything, perhaps his experience with gay marriage in Argentina has caused him to question his previous understanding of committed same-sex relationships.
This might explain why Bergoglio has been practically silent on LGBT issues since the 2010 marriage law was passed in Argentina.
Outside of marriage equality, the newly elected Pope’s willingness to stand alongside the marginalized is truly reminiscent of Christianity’s foundation and the very acts of Jesus Christ himself. As the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Pope Francis chose to travel the city alongside the poor, to wash the feet of people living with HIV/AIDS, and to decline the luxuries often associated with the episcopacy for the sake of a more simple life.
In short, the Pope’s desire to be among those most in need and those who have been forgotten by society should be a source of great hope for all of us. As a marginalized people not only in society, but particularly in the Church, it is my hope that Pope Francis will take this opportunity to extend a loving embrace to his LGBT brothers and sisters around the world.
Now, I in no way believe that the Church’s teachings regarding LGBT people are going to evolve overnight; however, I do think that we may start to see a softening of language. This is a much-needed first step toward witnessing, appreciating, and encouraging LGBT people of faith to share their gifts openly in service to the Church.
As Pope Francis emerges on the global stage, I can only hope that his commitment to reaching out to a world in need will help him to see the desire of LGBT people to be appreciated as living and contributing members of the Body of Christ.
As the man whose motto declares “miserando atque eligendo” (lowly, yet chosen) I have great hope that Pope Francis will continue to stand alongside those who have been declared outcasts by others and society. By this simple action, perhaps Pope Francis will find himself looking into the faces of LGBT people and crying out: “Today salvation has come to this house because LGBT people are descendants of Abraham.”
Today, as a Roman Catholic and a gay man, I look to Rome with newfound hope as I see a man who sheds the luxuries of life to sit alongside the Samaritan woman, to sleep at the home Zaccahaeus, and to witness the faith of the Canaanite woman.
Bergoglio is by no means the perfect choice; however, in a Church that has struggled for two thousand years to understand perfection, it will take a simple man and great acts of humility for this “journey of fraternity, of love, [and] of trust among us” to make our greatest hope a reality.
Photo via flickr Catholic Church (England and Wales)