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Pope Francis’ views on homosexuality cause controversy for the Catholic Church

by Hannah Benson, ’15 and Jane Eskildsen, ’15

“What I would want everyone to know is that I live my life the same way everyone else does,” senior John Lagucki said. “Yes, I hold hands with someone I like in public. I think I’m pretty normal.”

Lagucki began identifying himself as a LGBT+ student his freshman year. Before informing his family, who continued to think that he would grow up and marry a woman, Lagucki searched for support within UAHS. He started by coming out to an older LGBT+ student and spread the news to the rest of his friends after finding security and becoming more comfortable. His family found out soon after.

“[My mother is] cool with everything now; she was just surprised at the time,” Lagucki said. “My life has been pretty great so far because of that.”

It was a similar case for junior Anna Smoot, who told a friend at school before telling her family.

“The hardest part about coming out was [coming out] to myself,” Smoot said. “My friends weren’t surprised—apparently everyone knew before I did—but they accepted me completely. My parents didn’t seem surprised, but they also accepted me… I think that I’m lucky to have such open-minded friends and family in my life.”

Smoot found the high school a comfortable place to be herself. Between the warm reception she received from her friends and the welcoming environment of UA, she was able to focus on accepting her sexuality.

“With high school came a whole new world,” she said. “It was OK to be gay. I knew people who were gay. I began to feel more comfortable with who I [was].”

Unfortunately for Smoot, with the new acceptance came some discrimination. Several people attempted to undermine her. She said some tried to convince her that she wasn’t gay.

Smoot was undeterred by the backlash from her peers.

“I have run into instances of homophobia in the past few years, but I simply ignored them,” Smoot said. “The world is changing, and those who refuse to change with it are just going to be left behind.”

One major contributer to the changing world is the newest Pope Francis of the Catholic Church. Francis laid out his progressive stance in July of 2013.

His liberal opinion on homosexuality has been placed under the media’s spotlight across the world. UA students also react to Francis’ controversial step and think about the future of LGBT+ rights.

History

Ever since the Middle Ages, same-sex unions have been increasingly frowned upon. These unions were banned in many countries by the church, state or both. Although homosexuality was permitted in pre-Christian Rome, it remained controversial and was debated about amongst the people.

Christianity became increasingly influential, as did its ideas of heterosexual marriage for conception and procreation purposes. This opinion discluded same-sex relationships and led to the then-popular idea that being gay is sinful. It led to shame, secrecy and silencing of homosexuals around the world.

In 1994, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and the National Education Association made October the official “Coming Out Month” of the year, because of its existing tradition of “Coming Out Day” on Oct. 11. LGBT+ history month celebrates 31 lesbian or gay celebrities—one for each day of the month—and their achievements.

The phrase LGBT+ was established by gay rights activists in order to encompass the community in its entirety.

LGBT+ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender. The phrase has variants, sometimes referred to simply as LGBT or even just LGB. There are other terms altogether such as Minority Sexual and Gender Identities (MSGI), Same Gender Loving (SGL), and Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Alternative (GLBTA). Because it is difficult to coin an umbrella term for the whole plethora of sexual identities, LGBT+ is most commonly used.

Within the United States, state governments have begun exercising their right to determine marriage equality.

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a federal law allowing states to deny legal same-sex marriages formed in other states, was enacted in September 1996 and repealed on June 26, 2013. Same-sex marriage is now legal and valid in 13 states and Washington D.C., although it remains unconstitutional in Ohio.

Section 15.11 of the Ohio State Constitution makes same-sex marriages and civil unions illegal. It also outlaws recognition of same-sex unions. It was passed under the name “Issue One” in 2004 with approval from 61.7 percent of voters.

Smoot, however, believes marriage equality will soon become universal.

“I was pretty sure [DOMA] was going to be repealed,” she said. “It is just kind of the way society has been going. It is becoming more pro-gay. I was happy because our government took the initiative to take the step forward and be a little bit more liberal than it has in the past.”

Lagucki agrees with Smoot.

“The repeal of DOMA is very important. Now me and my future husband can go get married in NYC and the United States can recognize us as husband and husband,” Lagucki said.

The Catholic Church

On March 13, 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected Pope Francis, the 266th leader of the Catholic Church. With his election came leadership over one billion Catholics around the world.

In the past six months, Francis has publicly made a stance on gay rights and marriage equality. In July, Francis made a statement that impacted the entire Catholic Church.

“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Francis said.

This quote went viral in a matter of days, which—when combined with videos of the pope drawing finger-hearts and taking selfies with teenage girls—rapidly constructed his image as an incredibly liberal pope, especially when compared with his predecessors.

Senior Andrew McCombs is bothered by the change in leaders and thinks that Francis’ thoughts on poverty are much more important than what he has said about homosexuality.

“Much of what Francis has said is taken out of context by the media,” McCombs said. “Quite honestly it’s sad, because the media is taking advantage of an elderly man in another country for their own purposes.”

McCombs hopes that the spotlight on Francis will soon shift from his views on homosexuality to his stance on poverty.

“I personally liked Benedict better,” McCombs said. “[But] Francis certainly puts emphasis on the poor, and I appreciate that.”

Francis’ other opinions seem to counteract his previous liberal statement. Francis is opposed to same-sex marriage, denies same-sex couples the right to adopt and has described same-sex marriage and adoption as “a destructive act on God’s plan.”

Smoot said the pope is not contradicting himself; rather, he is acknowledging different areas of LGBT+ rights.

“I think that the pope is trying to give the church a different rap on the subject of gay rights,” Smoot said. “The previous connotation between gay rights and the Catholic Church was extremely negative.”

Pope Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, was even more conservative regarding LGBT+ rights. In a 1986 letter entitled “On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons,” Benedict described homosexuality as “a strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil.”

The stark contrast between the two successive popes has sparked controversy both within and about the Catholic Church. Although many Catholics and LGBT+ people support Francis’ relatively progressive views, some have expressed their concern over his failure to address issues that Benedict stressed during his leadership.

Close to Home

Smoot, although not ecstatic that Francis isn’t in full support of LGBT+ rights, still said that his new stance is a step in the right direction for the Catholic Church.

“I’m kind of OK with the fact that he isn’t for marriage equality because… I think it is a difference,” Smoot said. “Because of the ideology you have to accept that a lot of Catholics aren’t going to be in support of gay marriage.”

Smoot believes that no ties should exist between religion and marriage, just as she believes there should be no ties between church and state.

She also believes that marriage should no longer be a legal ordeal, but instead a domestic union between two partners.

Despite Smoot’s objection to the connection between religion and homophobia, the two often come hand-in-hand for her, and both have negatively impacted her life.

“Someone told me in middle school that they didn’t want to be my friend because they thought I was a lesbian,” Smoot said. “She was Christian. My co-worker, who tells me not to be gay because it’s unnatural, is also…Christian.”

Smoot understands, however, that religion is not the only factor in how others treat her; their home life and past experiences influence their beliefs. Often parents’ opinions of LGBT+ rights will impact those of their kids.

Junior Michaela Edmonds, a Catholic who believes in the acceptance of homosexuals, tries to take both opinions into account.

“I don’t think that the state, the church, or anyone can tell you who you can fall in love with,” Edmonds said. “I just don’t think there is any reason for the Catholic Church to rewrite thousands of years of history to allow a change in the church.”

McCombs agrees with Edmonds while also siding with the Catholic Church.

“I care for homosexuals, but I don’t want to see the legalization of same sex relationships,” McCombs said. “At first this may seem confusing, at least to many people. However, I really want their salvation [and] their eternal happiness in heaven.”

Lagucki and Smoot still hope to see marriage equality in their futures.

“I am a huge supporter of gay rights… but in the end, the pope won’t decide if I can get married or not,” Lagucki said.

Lagucki ignores those who disagree with his sexuality, including Francis and sometimes even the government, always knowing that he cannot change who he is.

“Yes, [the pope] is a very important world leader, but I was born this way and if God didn’t want me to be gay, he wouldn’t have made me,” Lagucki said.

Smoot deems the restrictions on gay marriage unconstitutional.

“The First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion, and the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees equal protection under the law in states, so I don’t see how banning marriage equality is constitutional,” Smoot said.

Although the arguments against LGBT+ students are likely to continue, Lagucki and Smoot want to encourage others who are apprehensive to step out of their comfort zones and join the fight.

“For the gay boy or girl who is reading this who is too afraid to come out or thinks they will never find happiness,” Lagucki said, “I promise you, it really does get better.”

Image caption: LGBT+ students often wrestle with prejudices from the Christian community. Pope Francis has recently made a statement that homosexuality is now recognized in the Catholic Church.

Image by Kota Ashton