Out of the Shadows, Into the Light :: Italian Gays Bask in the ’Francis Effect’
In a sad illustration of the human proclivity for "follow the leader," societies on Uganda and Russia have responded to homophobia and anti-gay hate from the top with sharp increases in violence directed at gays or those perceived to be gay. But that same principle works in reverse, as gays in Italy are now learning.
A March 27 article in the Washington Post took note of how the new leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, has dialed back Church rhetoric that demonized sexual minorities. Under pontiffs John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the Church issued infamously anti-gay proclamations, including statements that homosexuality is "an intrinsic moral evil," gays and lesbians are "disordered," and gay parents are guilty of child abuse for doing nothing more than raising their children in a household headed by two adults of the same gender. By contrast, Pope Francis, whose style has been characterized as more "pastoral" than those of his immediate predecessors, has effectively created a new, more tolerant atmosphere for gays both inside and outside of the Catholic faith tradition. In the summer of 2013 he said, "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?" That was a far cry from high-handed and sweeping generalities about the "intrinsic moral evils" of GLBT people and their family lives.
The Post article said that Italian sexual minorities spoke of this new sense of relief as "the Francis Effect."
Earlier this month, Cardinal Timothy Dolan -- who has in the past given voice to anti-gay sentiments -- said on Meet the Press that "rather than condemn them," Pope Francis had suggested that the Church should study the issue of civil partnerships for same-sex families. The media seized on those words as evidence that the Church’s stance on gay and lesbian family parity might be evolving.
Pope Francis excited and inspired similar hope earlier this year, when he spoke out against what he termed "administering a vaccine against faith" by attacking the same-sex parents of children.
Any true dogmatic change is likely to be slow in coming: The Post article noted that, "Francis’ shift so far has been one of style over substance; nothing in the Church’s teachings on homosexuality has changed, and conservative clerics remain deeply skeptical of any radical move toward broad acceptance." Even so, the article went on to report that Francis’ more humble approach to social questions such as sexuality and the place of GLBT families in society had helped inspire a mood of detente between gays and lesbians from Catholic backgrounds and their families.