As a gay married ex-priest who spent four years in Rome and had sex in the Vatican, I can speak with some authority about the literally incredible Pope Francis who gave hope to gay Catholics while remaining steadfast in his refusal to share the love of Jesus Christ with those who remain excluded from his sacraments.
Does Francis really think gay Catholics do not know the difference between being told we are loved and being loved? Is Francis unaware of the overwhelming number of gay priests who cower in closets because of the institutional homophobia he nurtures? Does he really not know that a good number of his 265 predecessors were sexually active gay men (including at least one recently beatified pope) all chosen by God to lead his church? How do you say, “Gimme a break” in Latin?
Buried deep in the timeless ground of Catholicism are beautiful seeds of faith, hope and love that await a pope who will make them spring to life with a good drenching of true compassion. I had hoped Francis would be that pope, but his refrain continues sadly and forcefully, rooted in some kind of fear that obliges him to be a custodian of the unhealthy traditions of recent centuries.
I have grown tired of swearing to my gay friends that in his heart Francis believes in equality for gay Catholics, in the ordination to the priesthood of women and married folks, and in the grace of God that flows throughout the Catholic Church despite its ridiculous canon laws of exclusion that Jesus himself would surely scrap.
I was wrong.
Francis has fallen short of becoming the prophetic pope we need. He admirably foregoes some creature comforts, but he is not the good shepherd who will risk doctrinal discomfort to care for his lost sheep. He is a man of sweet words, grand gestures of humility and the kind of intentions that pave those roads less traveled by greater men. Almost three years into his papacy, I have now stopped defending him.
I fear he may have already selected his retirement date “in pectore,” leaving the field open to the horde of cardinals who distrust him and will unite themselves to make sure his successor will not be remotely like him. This means that gay Catholics are damned if he does retire and damned if he doesn’t. Francis has all but extinguished the bright beacon of the first months of his papacy, leaving gay Catholics adrift in perilous waters infested with sharkine cardinals and bishops.
Recent news that Francis urged Catholics in Slovenia to “protect the family” which is code for “vote against marriage equality” hit me hard, arriving as it does like coal in the stockings of gay Catholics who might have been willing to extend him holiday wishes before receiving from him that kind of malevolent Christmas card. Pope Francis presides over yet another Nativity of his own design in which he invites gay Catholics to come to the manger, as long as we crouch just inside the drafty gate, straining to hear the distant angelic hosannas showered upon the infant while not being offered any of the holiday cookies brought to the Holy Family by the Three Kings. Some party.
Holiday despair is the most depressing kind there is. Doesn’t Francis know that the carols and candles that surround him also insulate him from our holiday pain? Doesn’t he know that gay Catholics, cut off from family and sacred traditions, manage to survive by creating our own families and our own sacraments? Doesn’t he see how we keep the Christ in Christmas by celebrating with and caring for each other in our own gorgeous ways that outshine the glitz of his decorations?
If even one seat in one pew of any one of his churches anywhere in the world is empty on Christmas because a gay Catholic felt excluded by words coming from the Chair of Peter, Pope Francis has committed serious sin, and until he seeks and retrieves those lost sheep, his sin will grow deeper and stronger.
But who am I to judge?
Let us let the gay Slovenians who have little to rejoice about on Dec. 25 because of the meddling of this curiously cold-shouldering pope, judge the man who is supposed to be the vicar of Christ on Christmas.