The election today (13 March) of Pope Francis as the leader of the Roman Catholic Church has led LGBT groups to call for a Pope different from his anti-gay predecessor Benedict XVI.
'For decades the Catholic hierarchy has been in need of desperate reform,' said Herndon Graddick (pictured), president of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
'In his life, Jesus condemned gays zero times,' he added. 'In Pope Benedict’s short time in the papacy, he made a priority of condemning gay people routinely.'
The new Pope, 76-year-old Argentinian Jorge Mario Bergoglio, has previously made statements against gay marriage and has also called the adoption of gay couples child abuse, saying it was discrimination against children.
'This, in spite of the fact, that the Catholic hierarchy had been in collusion to cover up the widespread abuse of children within its care,' Graddick said. 'The real discrimination against children is the pedophilia that has run rampant in the Catholic Church with little more than collusion from the Vatican.'
The GLAAD president added that he hopes Pope Francis 'will trade in his red shoes for a pair of sandals and spend a lot less time condemning and a lot more time foot-washing.'
Dr. Sharon Groves, director of the Human Rights Campaign's Religion and Faith Program, congratulated the new Pope and pointed out that Francis has 'enormous power' to be a source of spiritual healing.
'But for him to be the best kind of spiritual leader, he must acknowledge the signs of the times and embrace LGBT people as worthy of dignity and respect,' Groves stated. 'American lay Catholics are fully supportive of equality, even more so than the broader population. The new Pope should follow the virtuous lead of his flock.'
HRC points to recent poll from New York Times/CBS News which found that more than six in ten American Catholics support equal marriage, compared to 53 percent of the country as a whole.
'We hope the new Pope understands the time for religious-based bigotry is not only over, but must be denounced,' Groves said. 'Demonizing LGBT people and their families from this powerful platform not only fails to keep faith with the most charitable principles of Catholic teachings and the Jesuit tradition of caring for the marginalized, but it does real psychological damage to millions of LGBT people around the world.'