LOS ANGELES — The Advocate, the oldest and largest gay-interest magazine in the U.S., on Monday announced it has selected Pope Francis as “the single most influential person of 2013 on the lives of LGBT people.”
In naming Francis “Person of the Year,” The Advocate cited a “stark change in rhetoric from his two predecessors,” while at the same time acknowledging that the pontiff “is still not pro-gay by today’s standard.”
In fact, The Advocate reminds readers that Francis started his term by issuing a joint encyclical in July with Pope Benedict, in which they reiterated that marriage should be a “stable union of man and woman.”
But in supporting its choice, The Advocate writes that “what Francis does say about LGBT people has already caused reflection and consternation within his church,” reflecting on the pontiff’s remark to reporters last July while on a flight from Brazil to Rome. When asked about gay priests, Francis replied: “If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?”
The announcement Monday caught many in the LGBT community off guard, with hundreds of social media comments expressing shock and disbelief in the magazine’s choice.
One reader commented that it “was ignorant of Time to name him ‘Man of the Year.’ It is unconscionable for The Advocate to do so!”
But in defending the selection, Editorial Director Lucas Grindley writes:
“Pope Francis is leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics all over the world. There are three times as many Catholics in the world than there are citizens in the United States. Like it or not, what he says makes a difference.
Sure, we all know Catholics who fudge on the religion’s rules about morality. There’s a lot of disagreement, about the role of women, about contraception, and more. But none of that should lead us to underestimate any pope’s capacity for persuading hearts and minds in opening to LGBT people, and not only in the U.S. but globally.
Grindley wrote that the brevity of the Pope’s “who and I to judge?” statement “and the outsized attention it got immediately are evidence of the pope’s sway.”
“His posing a simple question with very Christian roots … became a signal to Catholics and the world that the new pope is not like the old pope,” explained Grindley.
Yet, in the weeks and months that followed that now famous quote, the Catholic Church in the U.S. and abroad continued to fire school teachers it learned are gay, or because they chose to make loving, lifelong commitments to their same-sex partners.
And despite the Pope’s “sway,” and criticism by the Pope himself that the church was too “obsessed” with with gays and abortion, church leaders have continued their assault on the LGBT community.
In Honolulu’s Catholic Bishop Larry Silva issued an “urgent” appeal against same-sex marriage, advising parishioners that discrimination against gay couples is “just.”
In Illinois, Bishop Thomas John Paprocki, leader of the Catholic Diocese of Springfield, said marriage between gays and lesbians is a union that “comes from the devil” and performed a gay marriage exorcism as the governor signed a marriage equality bill into law.
And under Francis’ authority, an Australian priest learned in September he had been both defrocked and excommunicated over his support for women priests and same-sex marriage.
Pope Francis was chosen by The Advocate’s editors over nine other finalists, including Edith Windsor, plaintiff in the U.S. Supreme Court challenge that resulting in Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act being struck down.
On Windsor, Grindley called her “a hero to LGBT Americans for taking the final punch” against DOMA, but “she is not Person of the Year,” but “a powerful symbol for the many others behind the scenes.”