Despite the legacy left by his predecessors, Pope Francis I has all but turned age-old tradition on its head by proclaiming that he cannot judge LGBT people as morally bad based merely on their orientation. It is yet to be determined whether or not this will affect the church's official position on LGBT people.
Pope Francis was responding to a reporter's question about rumors of a "gay lobby" within the Vatican. The Catholic leader emphasized the difference between homosexuality and political lobbying:
They say there are some gay people here. I think that when we encounter a gay person, we must make the distinction between the fact of a person being gay and the fact of a lobby, because lobbies are not good ... If they accept the Lord and have good will, who am I to judge them? They shouldn't be marginalized. The tendency is not the problem ... they're our brothers.>
The pope's words represent a drastic shift from tradition, even from the approach of his immediate predecessor, Benedict XVI, who stepped down earlier this year. While Francis has adopted a tone of tolerance and openness, Benedict is remembered for writing in 2005 that same-sex affection is a "strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil" and an "objective disorder".
The Pope's apprehension over placing moral judgement on members of the LGBT community does not equate with an invitation for gay men to enter the priesthood. And it is a far cry from opening the doors of the priesthood to women (who comprise the majority of practicing Catholics) or married men. How the church will evolve on women's rights issues like reproductive health care and abortion remain unclear too.
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