Italy is one of the few western European countries that don’t recognize marriage equality in spite of the fact most Italians support it.
In January 2015 the European Court of Human Rights ruled Italy was in violation of human rights by not allowing civil partnership or same-sex marriage.
This week, to the cheers of supporters of LGBTI civil rights, a debate will be presented in the Italian Senate pushing for the legalization of civil unions for lesbian and gay couples.
So where does Pope Francis – who exercises huge influence in Italy – stand? The pontiff made his position abundantly clear.
‘There can be no confusion between the family God wants and any other type of union,’ Francis said.
‘The family, founded on indissoluble matrimony that unites and allows procreation, is part of God’s dream and that of his Church for the salvation of humanity.’
Luckily, Italy is more enlightened than the pontiff.
In January 2013, for example, an Italian court granted sole custody of a child to a lesbian mother in spite of the father’s claim the mother’s sexual orientation ‘would be dangerous for the child.’ And in July 2013, to the shock and awe of its citizens, the Court of Bologna chose a gay couple to be foster parents of a three-year-old.
There was much made of Pope Francis’s remarks when flying home after a weeklong visit to Brazil in 2013 where the pontiff was queried about the much talked about ‘gay lobby’ in the Vatican.
‘When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby. If they accept the Lord and have good will, who am I to judge them?’
The statement set off a global shockwave. It is the most LGBTI-affirmative remark the world has ever heard from the Catholic Church.
It was enough for respected gay magazine The Advocate to name Pope Francis their Person of the Year for 2013.
Pope Francis continues to surprise with his liberal-leaning pronouncements, but the pontiff is a complicated, if not confusing, to the LGBTI community.
On the surface he displays a pastoral countenance that extends to all of our community.
Sadly, his welcoming tone to us and his church’s policies don’t match – especially when it comes to ‘the family of God’.
Last year the Meeting of Families in Philadelphia included only one workshop on LGBTI issues – a panel with a celibate gay Catholic and his mother – and no workshop on LGBTI families.
But his point about LGBTI families and marriages got across loud and clear during his talk to the US Congress with his jab at gay marriage: ‘I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family.’
Supporters may argue Pope Francis’s understanding about human sexual orientation, especially LGBTIs is expanding, and his concern for the dignity and humanity of LGBTI people is genuinely shown. But the pontiff is still a doctrinal conservative and is sticking with the Catholic Church’s universal catechism on homosexuality.
He is tailing behind his Catholic LGBTI parishioners and their allies. But his view on gay priests has moved the farthest of any pontiff.
Supporters and activists of the ‘gay lobby’ in the Curia emphatically state that this brave and visible group is essential to the running of the Vatican. Their reward? The church they uphold scapegoats them for many of its own social ills.
This pope, like the previous one, is using his papal authority to hold back the tides against modernity, but with a friendlier pastoral face.
We shouldn’t be surprised. There were early signs this would be his attitude long before Francis became pope.
Case-in-point, although Francis springs from Argentina, the first Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage, his unsuccessful opposition to the legislation in 2010 left him spewing these remarks:
‘Let’s not be naïve, we’re not talking about a simple political battle; it is a destructive pretension against the plan of God. We are not talking about a mere bill, but rather a machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God.’
Despite this, Francis was right when he said in December 2013 interview with 16 Jesuit magazines that ‘the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards’ should the Catholic Church continue on it anti-modernity trek as it did under his predecessor, Pope Benedict XV.
It’s not enough for Francis to say he embraces our community. He must also do it.