When Pope Benedict XVI announced his impending resignation earlier this month, the Roman Catholic Church was on the front page of every major news publication. The move is atypical—not having happened for nearly 600 years—and people began speculating almost immediately about who the successor would be. Since the news broke, some American Catholics have voiced their concern for the future of their Church, and have urged the coming conclave to elect a pro-LGBT Pope. "We call on our Church not only to embrace but to champion the dignity and equality of all humans," said Dignity USA, a pro-LGBT Catholic organization, "regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity." Equally Blessed, a Catholic coalition that created LGBT-positive images this Valentine's Day, released a similar statement:
Pro-LGBT people of faith pray for a pope who is willing to listen to and learn from all of God's people, and for a pope who will realize that in promoting discrimination against LGBT people, the church inflicts pain on marginalized people, alienated the faithful and lends moral credibility to reactionary political movements across the globe.
Vatican officials spoke about the some of the top candidates, none of whom are LGBT advocates: Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, Archbishop of Genoa; Cardinal Marc Oulette, former Archbishop of Quebec; Cardinal Angelo Scola, Archbishop of Milan; Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture; and Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, head of the Vatican's office for Eastern Churches. As the candidates are becoming clearer, a pro-LGBT option is looking less and less likely.
A 65-year old English woman seems to have captured much of the spiritual angst of the Roman Catholic community in a letter she wrote to her own Archbishop. "To me," she said, "you (particularly but not exclusively the hierarchy) appear to be a frightened group of men preoccupied with titles, clothing and other religious externals."
I would love to see the so-called ‘Princes of the Church’…get rid of the silk, the gold, the Gucci shoes, the ridiculous tall hats, croziers, fancy soutanes…and substitute bare heads and a simple pilgrim’s staff on all liturgical occasions and that might be taken as a small outward sign of your inner acceptance of fundamental Gospel values.
The frustration is hardly unique to older Catholics, either. In fact, it's far more common among the future of the church. A study by the Barna Group was released this week with new information about Catholics between the ages of 18 and 29. 60% believe that the Roman Catholic hierarchy's position on sexuality and contraception is outdated. A similar study by the Public Religion Research Institute reports 54% of white Catholics and 57% of Hispanic Catholics supporting the marriage of gay and lesbian couples. There is an undeniable groundswell within the Roman Catholic Church, and it will continue to grow whether or not the Vatican is listening. The question practically begs itself: what will the new papal election mean for the majority of American Catholics who are demanding a different ecclesial direction?
The answer is that the new pope's views on LGBT equality will likely have little sway on everyday American Catholics. While the election of a pro-LGBT pope would be symbolic of the Church's recognition of the theological convictions of its people, the election of an anti-LGBT pope will not dissuade the already organized and mobile bodies of Catholic persons who recognize the inherent dignity and worth of LGBT people. These Catholics have been compelled by their faith to promote equality and care for all people.