The Catholic Church on LGBTQ Rights: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back


“Homosexual people have a right to be in a family,” said Pope Francis in a documentary about his life called “Francesco”. “What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered,” he said. 

When this statement first reached the public, lots of people celebrated. They saw it as a huge step forward for LGBTQ rights. If the leader of the Catholic Church could recognize them as “children of God”, as Francesco said in the documentary, then perhaps they were one step closer to enjoying widespread equal rights. Jesuit Father James Martin, a longstanding LGBTQ rights advocate, responded to the Pope’s statements by saying that people who are “violently against” civil unions would have to reconsider their stances. He said that the statement from Pope Francis could pave the way not just for tolerance of LGBTQ people within the Church, but for actual support. 

So, when I set out to write this article, I anticipated writing about the good and the bad. The good: the Pope himself recognized the LGBTQ community as deserving of family and civil unions. The bad: civil unions are not marriages and therefore gay people would remain disenfranchised. Unfortunately, I only found the bad.

This is because soon after “Francesco” debuted, the Vatican issued a letter saying that Pope Francis’ seemingly affirming statements were taken out of context. The letter clarified that when the Pope said we need “a civil union law”, he was actually opposing the possibility of legalizing same-sex marriage in Argentina ten years ago, while he was still Archbishop of Buenos Aires. Not only was he not fully condoning same-sex relationships, he was also actively fighting against same-sex marriage. Next, when Pope Francis said that “homosexual people have a right to be in a family”, the Vatican clarified that he only meant that children should not be “discriminated against within the family”. Basically, he said that parents shouldn’t disown their children for being gay. 

Neither of these two statements, within the intended context, are revolutionary. They are hardly even affirming. Honestly, saying that kids shouldn’t be disowned over their sexual orientation is really the bare minimum. What these statements really say is that the Church, while apparently against the discrimination of LGBTQ people, actively discriminates against them. It is hypocritical to suggest that gay people should be treated equally within their families, but not have the same rights to create a family should they desire to. What could have been an unprecedented affirmation of a community long-oppressed by the Church, ended up just being a sugar-coated version of that same oppression. 

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