Cross-1024x768Many within Australia’s LGBTI community have been left unimpressed by Pope Francis’s recent comments on gay people and the Catholic Church despite the new pontiff distancing himself from his predecessor, Pope Benedict, by suggesting “who am I to judge?”

During a flight back to the Vatican from World Youth Day in Brazil late last month, the Pope held an impromptu and somewhat candid press conference with reporters where he was said to have openly discussed the debate over women in the Church, the continuing ‘VatiLeaks’ scandal and the place of gay people in relation to Church teachings.

“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Pope Francis was quoted as saying.

“The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well. It says they should not be marginalized because of this but that they must be integrated into society.”

Some commentators have pointed to the remarks as a thawing of the Church’s official position on LGBTI people in light of the virulently anti-gay stances of previous popes Benedict and John Paul II. Prior to stepping down earlier this year due to apparent ill health, Pope Benedict was well-known to be fond of delivering messages that denounced gay people and any plans they may have for marrying as a threat to “the future of humanity itself”.

Pro-LGBTI Catholic ministry Acceptance Sydney spokesman Paul Harris told the Star Observer he welcomed the Pope’s words.

“These comments acknowledge that being gay is a reality, and gay people should be welcomed into the Church as fellow travellers seeking comfort from our Church, on our pilgrimage here on earth,” Harris said.

The Sydney Archdiocese, though, is adamant that Catholic doctrine has remained the same. Speaking to the Star Observer, a spokesperson for Cardinal George Pell said the Pope was simply “repeating the classic Catholic teaching” and defended the Church’s continuing opposition to equal marriage rights as not “an attack on homosexuality”.

“Sexual orientation one way or another is morally irrelevant,” the spokesperson said.

“What is important is how this is acted out and the Pope repeated that traditional Christian teaching is that sexual activity outside heterosexual marriage is not recommended and not permitted by Christians.
 Pope Francis went on to say homosexuals must be respected and loved the same as any other person and they are certainly not to be condemned.”

Others, however, have pointed to Francis’s related comments during the flight alleging a conspiracy by a “gay lobby” as a sign it was business-as-usual for the church hierarchy.

“Being gay is a tendency. The problem is the lobby,” the Pope told reporters onboard. “The lobby is unacceptable, the gay one, the political one, the Masonic one.”

Reverend Karl Hand, who is both a pastor at the LGBTI-inclusive Crave Metropolitan Community Church and a co-convenor for Community Action Against Homophobia (CAAH), told the Star Observer a “condescending statement” was meaningless in his view unless it was attached to a real commitment to fight against injustice and discrimination of LGBTI people, particularly in Africa and Eastern Europe.

“By saying ‘who am I to judge’, the Father has already implied that somehow, we are sinners, worthy of judgment, and he is being merciful by letting us off the hook. Gay people do not need to be let off the hook, there is nothing wrong with us to begin with,” Hand said.

“The ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ line is a sneaky way of telling someone they are defective without appearing to be too much of a bastard.”

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