Pope Francis has captured the world’s imagination by his informal style of manners and speech. He seems to have an innate ability to speak directly to the heart of the common person even when dealing with the most difficult of topics.
Two weeks ago he gave a press conference during his flight back to Rome from World Youth Celebrations in Brazil and candidly answered questions on a variety of subjects including the thorny issue of homosexuality.
“Who am I to judge if someone is gay and searches for the Lord and has good will?” he stated. His audience must have been dumbfounded by this response and may have wished to retort “you are the Pope, and we expect you to have all the answers.”
The Pontiff not only showed humility in his response but also respect by referring to gays as ‘gays’ the term in which they prefer to be recognised.
Many refer to gays as homosexuals or speak of the ‘homosexual condition’ as if it were a medical condition or worse still an illness. But Francis chose not to go down that dismissive or judgmental path and added “gays should not be marginalised because of their orientation but they must be integrated into society. The problem is not having this orientation. We must be brothers and sisters.”
In a most radical way he was saying that gays do not choose gayism as a lifestyle or as a deviant behaviour. Rather it is their innate orientation.
That was groundbreaking teaching even if it might have left many of the Catholic faithful confused and even angry. In one swift statement, he was calling a halt to all discrimination, hatred and prejudice by taking one small but very significant step towards reversing centuries of dehumanisation of gay people.
By accepting the existence of gay people and by referring to them as brothers and sisters, the Pope removed any legitimacy for judging and condemning them. By honouring gay people, the Pontiff could not be so naïve as to suggest that gay love should not be expressed. Yet, ‘homosexual acts’ are illegal in 38 countries worldwide, including Kenya.
When President Barack Obama visited Africa recently, he called for respect, equality and recognition of the gay community and for the repeal of the criminalisation of homosexual acts.
His comments met a hostile reception in the continent and locally, with John Cardinal Njue claiming “we need to act according to our own traditions and our faiths and these people who have already ruined their society ..let them not become our teachers to tell us where to go.”
That opinion is fairly representative of the prejudices that portray gayism as a foreign import that will destroy African cultures and faiths.
Yet, the Pope says it is an orientation and as such is found everywhere. We may find it abhorrent, disgusting or sinful but gays are our brothers and sisters, and who are we to judge them? They clearly have not selected their orientation any more than the rest of us have chosen to be attracted to the opposite sex. That may be a hard pill to swallow but it is what the Pontiff said.