Andrew Klein, a Catholic studies professor at St. Thomas University, said Pope Francis’ recent comments on homosexuality in the documentary, Francesco, are advocating for social inclusion and a way of creating conversation in the church.
In the documentary, Francis said, “Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God.”
“Past popes have said same-sex unions are inadmissible. What Francis is showing us is that there’s a shift here in the way that we want to talk about the inclusion of all peoples in society,” said Klein.
Tyler MaGee, the St. Thomas University Students’ Union sexuality and gender diversity representative, said he laughed when he read Francis’ recent comments. For him, it wasn’t a shock to read. Instead, he thought, “you’ve finally woken up?”
MaGee said he believes Francis’ comments are performative after he heard the Pope criticize a bill on same-sex marriage in Argentina back in 2010.
“In 2020, with the relevance that has been placed on queer issues, I think that it’s for that reason that we’ve seen this shift or that the Pope has said these words. It’s more so a way of staying relevant, rather than an actual change in opinions or belief structure,” he said.
MaGee said he believes this will open up conversations in Catholic and conservative homes. With Catholicism being one of the largest religions in the world, he said the Pope’s comments create a space for conversations at an individual level.
Still, MaGee doesn’t believe homosexuality will be endorsed by Catholics. He said beliefs are rooted in people.
“I think that the words of the Pope at least give a space for conversation to take place, in places like especially in different situations and in certain areas where conversations haven’t been seen before,” he said.
Klein said Francis is using positive language that will model behaviour for the Catholic community and allows for more open conversations about the 2SLGTBQIA+ community with children. Some families may also look at the Pope’s comments with openness, especially if their children are queer, he said.
What Francis is trying to do is separate church and state to an extent, Klein said. Francis isn’t looking to change the Catholic Church or how it views marriage, but the Church does say all people are deserving of dignity.
“What he said is that [queer people] need to be legally covered. That includes ensuring that they receive the legal recognition from their family and that they receive the state benefits and protections that it entails, which is different from changing the way the Catholic Church discusses marriage itself. Francis is actually walking a pretty fine line,” said Klein.
Klein said Francis, more than any other pope, has opened more dialogue. His statement gave the conservative Catholic family something to think about, but it’s not doctrine in the end, he said.
The Pope’s comments could build bridges and also burn them, Klein said. The Anglican church already marries same-sex couples and ordains gay men and women, while other sects of Christian churches in the U.S. are openly against it.
“We should just keep our eyes clear about this doesn’t change anything dogmatically,” he said. “But it should speak to the hope that Catholics I think are continuing to grow in their communities about understanding the LGBTQ+ community, and how there is room for more people in this house.”