10 years after Pope Francis said ‘Who am I to judge?,’ what has changed for LGBT Catholics?


Ten years ago on the flight back from his first World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Pope Francis spoke these five simple words that reverberated around the world: “Who am I to judge?”.

Then a relatively new pontiff, this was his comment in response to a reporter who inquired about a “gay lobby” in the Vatican.

Francis went on to add that L.G.B.T.Q.+ individuals “shouldn’t be marginalised. The tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem…they’re our brothers.”

Given the West’s dramatic increase in acceptance of L.G.B.T.Q.+ individuals, revisiting the last 10 years can ensure that the impact of these simple words is not lost to time.

According to Gallup, Americans’ view of the moral permissibility of gay and lesbian relationships increased from 55 percent to 71 percent from 2012 to 2022.

Moreover, Obergefell v. Hodges, granting the legal right for all Americans to civil same-sex marriages, would not be decided until 2015.

The recent controversies over special Masses for Pride Month were non-issues because it was unfathomable for any parish to celebrate Pride.

Lastly, Pope Benedict had written in his 2010 book Light of the World: The Pope, The Church and the Signs Of The Times that “homosexuality is incompatible with the priestly vocation.”

Having contextualised the world of 2013, it is less surprising how these five words featured prominently in the press’s coverage of the new pope.

Time Magazine, which named Jorge Bergoglio as the “People’s Pope”, cites this famous question in its promulgation of Pope Francis as their 2013 Person of the Year.

Some press outlets suggested that Pope Francis might even change official Church teaching on homosexuality.

Meanwhile, other media organisations were quick to parse Francis’ statement to demonstrate that he had no intention of changing Church teaching.

What is the significance of these words 10 years later? Indeed, the debate is still ongoing as to what degree L.G.B.T.Q.+ individuals can participate in the life, activities, and sacraments of the Church.

A brief review of the last 10 years of Francis’ pontificate will reveal how the Catholic Church’s relationship with queer Catholics has evolved.

Certainly, Pope Francis through various statements and actions has continued to invite L.G.B.T.Q.+ Catholics into closer relationships with the Church and broader society.

Most notably, Francis in a 2020 documentary voiced support for civil same-sex unions, saying that “What we have to create is a civil union law. That way [gay people] are legally covered.”

More recently, the pope instructed bishops not to support criminalisation laws for homosexuality, stating that a homosexual act is “not a crime. Yes, but it’s a sin.”

Just a few weeks ago, Francis sent his good wishes and prayers to the Outreach LGBTQ Catholic Ministry Conference.

Earlier in his papacy, he wrote in The Name of God is Mercy that he “prefer[s] that homosexuals come to confession, that they stay close to the Lord, and that we pray all together.”

Francis even dined with incarcerated gay and transgender people in 2015.

Beyond the pope, the broader Church has made efforts to minister to LBGTQ+ Catholics.

Following the shooting at Pulse Nightclub, Fr. James Martin, SJ wrote Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity.

Last month, the Vatican released the working draft of the ongoing synod’s document which calls for a new pastoral approach to queer Catholics, notably using the L.G.B.T.Q.+ acronym which the Church had long avoided.

A brief review of the last 10 years of Francis’ pontificate will reveal how the Catholic Church’s relationship with queer Catholics has evolved.

At the same time, the Church’s teaching authority has been clear in upholding traditional teachings on marriage and family life.

This article was originally published by The Jesuit Post. Continue reading

  • Ty Wahlbrink, S.J., attends Fordham University in the MA in Philosophy and Society programme.
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