Notes & Essays

The Pope Telling Parents to Support Their Gay Kids Is Another Step in the Right Direction

We should celebrate the wins, no matter how seemingly small they are.
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Pope Francis is back in the headlines, a couple of weeks after his widely controversial kids vs pets statement earlier this month. This time, the leader of the Catholic Church said parents of gay children should not condemn them but instead offer them support.

“Parents who see that their children have different sexual orientations should not hide behind a condemning attitude," the Pope said during his weekly general audience at the Vatican, which was dedicated to St. Joseph, the husband of Mother Mary and father figure to Jesus Christ. 

According to Reuters, the comments were unscripted and were spoken in reference to difficulties that parents can face in raising their children. 

This isn’t the first time that Pope Francis has sought to mend the Church’s fractured relationship with members of the LGBTQ community. Catholicism urges tolerance and acceptance for gays and lesbians but considers homosexual acts to be sinful. However, in 2013, Pope Francis famously said, “Who am I to judge?” about gay priests in the Church.

And back in 2014, a Vatican document had some surprisingly compassionate things to say about gay people. 

“Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a further space in our communities?” it said. “Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of proving that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony? 

"Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners," the document added.

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Even if you don’t follow religious news, that was a pretty big deal. It’s like your hopelessly homophobic Uncle Junjun or Lolo Boyet—that crusty old relative who warned you that being gay is a sin—suddenly making a 180-degree turn and giving the family gay son or lesbian apo a warm embrace. 

To put this into perspective, ex-Pope Benedict XVI (aka Joseph Ratzinger) was, in the past, quoted as saying that gay people are “intrinsically disordered.” Then again, Benedict was a hardline conservative, in as much as the Pope we have now is, well, not. Francis was reportedly present at the synod (the bishop’s assembly happening at the Vatican this week) when the document was read.

This latest statement is certainly another step in the right direction for acceptance and love for all peoples, regardless of their circumstances in life. For sure it’s not enough; it doesn’t exactly overturn and even recalibrate Church doctrine about homosexuals in general. But it is still a statement worth celebrating.

Yes, the Church stops short of actually condoning homosexuality, and still see the acts related to it as immoral and unconscionable. Being gay is fine, official Church policy states, as long as you do nothing about it. In 2021, the Vatican published another document—with the Pope’s consent—that maintained that the Church won’t be blessing same-sex unions because, ostensibly, God “cannot bless sin.” And that, for many people, is unacceptable.

But lest people forget, we’re talking about a 2000-year-old institution, with tenets and traditions that have been so deeply ingrained in the psyche of its most ardent followers they may as well be carved on the actual rock upon which St. Peter’s Basilica supposedly sits on.

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In the case of that church document from 2014, some people may have found that pivot on official Church dogma to be slight, but in the context of a major religion that has kept its beliefs virtually intact for two millennia, it’s something of a milestone. The acknowledgment of the reality of same sex relationships, the fact that it was even brought up and seriously discussed in a major Church forum, and, most of all, the possibility of acceptance and recognition of “positive aspects” of said relationships—these are all significant strides in the discourse of our collective humanity.

And now, we have Pope Francis exhorting parents to be supportive of gay kids, urging them not to condemn them. That’s a pretty powerful statement, and one that believers will hopefully take to heart. These statements should be held up as wins, however small, and should not be dismissed or taken lightly.

The question now is, can the Church do more to show sympathy and inclusiveness towards slightly different lifestyles and preferences? Of course it can. But will it? Don’t hold your breath. Pope Francis may be worlds different from his predecessor, but he is still leader of an organization with a billion followers, most of whom are not ready for something as radical as gay relationships. (And despite the seemingly open society we currently inhabit, in many parts of the world, the mere concept of anything other than male-female partnerships might as well be alien). We may not see a Church that will embrace gay people as much as we would like it to in this lifetime, but a Church that has proven that it is not averse to a discussion about it—and one with a relatively open-minded and tolerant leader—is, perhaps, the next best thing.

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