Comment: The Pope’s ‘gay friendly’ image is a con, and it’s time we stopped falling for it

Pope Francis is a friend to the gays, don’tcha know. A breath of fresh air in the Catholic Church…

He said gay people shouldn’t be judged, and he’s such a swell guy – he even praised a children’s book featuring same-sex couples!

Except he didn’t. And he wouldn’t. And his inaction and deeply regressive thinking continues to hurt LGBT people around the world every single day.

He might be the darling of the media, but let’s make no mistake: the Pope is no friend of the LGBT community, and we need to start saying so.

Despite early rumblings, his symbolic gay rights reforms have entirely evaporated – much-praised proposals to ‘reach out’ to gay people were ditched at the first hurdle last year. There were promises of a Jesus-style rebirth at this year’s Synod, but it’s since become clear the Church has no plans to discuss the matter again.

On the flipside, the Pope has, if anything, gone further than his predecessors, rallying against same-sex marriage – and even inviting representatives from listed hate groups to a ‘traditional marriage’ conference.

He is indeed a truly radical Pope as commentators fawn, unafraid to interfere in the politics of the day: like urging Slovakians to vote against equal marriage, which he claims “disfigures God’s creation”, and freezing out France’s plans to appoint a gay ambassador to the Vatican.

The real stinger, though, is that he is yet to lift any of the actively homophobic and transphobic policies of his predecessors – or even attempt to.

Shady Catholic donations to anti-gay groups continue. Catholic groups and charities still routinely persecute same-sex couples. Catholic schools around the world continue to harm children by teaching homosexuality is wrong. And the Pope hasn’t lifted a finger, or spoken a word, to stop it.

So why is he so popular on gay rights? Elton John is a fan, branding him a “hero”, while Labour’s Andy Burnham thinks he’s the Pope that will bring change on LGBT rights.

Let’s look closer.

Last week, a story was run in the Guardian claiming that the Pope had ‘praised’ a gay children’s book. Of course, it circled the globe.

But then the Vatican confirmed the story was false: it was a standard courtesy letter sent out to an author who had written to the Pope. The response was not from the Pontiff himself, but a standard blessing sent on his behalf, sight unseen. A far cry from any endorsement of the book, or its content.

To be clear – and I can’t stress this enough – the Vatican’s press office took the unusual step of directly denying the reports. It claimed words had been “exploited” and taken “entirely out of context”, making very clear that “in no way” is the Pope endorsing any behaviours “that are not in line with the Gospel”.

But it’s hard to fight misinformation on the internet. The Guardian story circulated online, racking up thousands of clicks and shares. Though a minor edit (without a public clarification) was eventually made, it continues to be shared online with its original headline.

Then, incredibly, after being directly debunked by the Vatican, the Independent picked up the story, under the headline “Pope Francis ‘praises gay children’s book'”.

The Vatican directly denied that the Pope had praised a gay children’s book… but two of the UK’s leading newspapers continue to run headlines claiming exactly the opposite.

This is how the Pope’s gay-friendly image grows: because people will it to be so. The liberal media wish there were a gay-friendly Pope, and the Catholic media wish there were less gay rights pressure on the Pope, and the misinformation meets somewhere in the middle.

His infamous ‘Who Am I To Judge?’ comments are as prevalent as ever – but context-free snippets omit his endorsement in the same sentence of the existing Church Catechism, which says gay people are “disordered”.

You’ll also see perennial stories about the Pope ‘meeting’ with people – and PinkNews is not infallible on this front either. Pope meets with transgender man. Pope meets with Catholic gay group. Pope meets with gay activist. Pope meets with partially deceased parrot for all the good it does.

What you won’t see is ‘Pope acts’. ‘Pope speaks out’. ‘Pope tells Catholic church to stop discriminating’.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see these headlines, and I’d love to one day write them. But at this point in time they’re just not true.

506 days ago, an LGBT homeless shelter in New York wrote a letter to the Pope in the New York Times with a simple message: come see us. Come see the teens rejected by their parents over Catholic teachings. Come see the teens taught their homosexuality is a sin. And come speak out. Come make sure the children of the future don’t suffer the same way.

506 days, and no reply. The Pope will visit the US this month. He’ll even spend a day in New York. But you won’t see him visit that shelter.

The Pope is not an ally of LGBT people. And it’s about time we all stop pretending he is.

Nick Duffy is the UK Editor of PinkNews.

As with all comment, this does not necessarily reflect the views of PinkNews.