When Pope Francis announced that he supports civil unions for same-sex couples, I was thrilled to hear the news, but I’m weary that his statements won’t actually lead to real change within the Catholic church.

Pope Francis expressed this view in a new documentary about his life and the social issues he cares about. The documentary, titled “Francesco,” premiered at the Rome Film Festival, and his comments on same-sex civil unions have drawn a mixture of positive responses and backlash. 

It’s no secret that the Catholic church hasn’t always been (and in many places still isn’t) accepting of the LGBTQ community. While not all Catholics are against same-sex marriage, the Catholic church still teaches that a marriage is between a man and a woman, and that any form of homosexual behavior or legal recognition of same-sex unions is wrong.

Pope Francis has been supportive of LGBTQ individuals in the past. In 2018, while he was having a conversation with Juan Carlos Cruz, who is gay, Pope Francis told him that God loves him and made him the way he is. 

As someone who was raised Catholic, this makes sense to me – if people want to live a life that lines up with what Jesus stood for, it should follow that Catholics would accept members of the LGBTQ community because God made them that way, and there is nothing wrong with that. So why would the church reject someone for loving someone of the same gender? It shouldn’t.  

A quote I think is especially applicable in situations such as these is a lyric by the band Panic! At the Disco, “love is not a choice.” Neither love nor sexual orientation are a choice, they are a part of who we are and should not be pressured into being something we must change in order to be accepted.  

The Pope’s statement in support of same-sex civil unions gives me hope for a future where the Catholic church will one day engage in a dialogue with the LGBTQ community and be fully accepting of its members, as well as acknowledge the way the church has treated them. 

Even though the Pope’s message was a welcome statement of hope for LGBTQ Catholics, the first thing I noticed about his statement is that he did not use the word “marriage,” instead opting for the phrase “civil union.” 

Language matters, and although the Pope’s statement is mostly positive and a step in the right direction, choosing not to use the word “marriage” marks same-sex marriages as inherently different from heterosexual marriages. 

A marriage, no matter the gender of each partner involved, is about the union of two people and their love for each other. While the Pope did say that “What we need to have is a civil union law; that way they are legally covered,” the hesitation to define the union between two people of the same sex as a marriage reflects the Catholic church’s belief that being gay is wrong.

What needs to happen next for Pope Francis to really demonstrate that he supports the LGBTQ community is for him to work for change in the way the church views members of that community and to actually advocate for the right of same-sex couples to marry. 

However, given that his statement was met with resistance from conservative members of the church and that it goes against Catholic doctrine, I have a feeling that making this a reality is still far away. Even for the Catholic church to own up to the way it has historically treated members of the LGBTQ community would be surprising, because confronting issues of injustice within the church has never been a strong suit. 

While it’s hard to ignore that the Pope’s recent statement gives hope and recognition to members of the LGBTQ community and their allies, I sincerely hope Pope Francis acts on his words. Failure to do so would be performative allyship, since he was claiming to be supportive without making an effort to go beyond just saying it in words. 

Although it will take time and energy to change the way the Catholic church as a whole views the LGBTQ community, Pope Francis has the power to start that change and use his voice to keep advocating for and lifting up the LGBTQ community.

Lillian Piel is a staff writer. 

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