The “Mercy and Compassion” visit of Pope Francis to the Philippines has been avidly welcomed by the 74.2 million Roman Catholics in the country, including the clergy, politicians, and marginalized sectors including workers, peasant, urban poor, indigenous peoples, government employees, women, youth, human rights organizations. Not surprisingly, and as if with just as much gusto, members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community also welcomed the Pontiff.
The so-called Pope-mania that gripped the nation is considered a given, what with the current head of the Roman Catholic Church called the “People’s Pope” for his supposed concern for the poor, for the victims of war, for the sick and suffering, for his critique of corruption and inequality brought about by what he called “savage capitalism”, and for his more progressive approach toward non-believers and members of the LGBT community since his election in March 2013.
Members of the LGBT community in the Philippines, however, got a dose of double-talk, with the Pope once again re-iterating the church’s position that negatively looks at LGBT people.
In July 2013, Pope Francis made the news when he was quoted as saying: “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?” In Manila, however, in his speech at the Encounter with the Families on January 17, Pope Francis stated: “Just as our peoples were able to say ‘no’ to the period of colonization, as families we have to be very wise and very strong, with fortitude, to say ‘no’ to these initiatives of colonization that could destroy the family… While all too many people live in dire poverty, others are caught up in materialism and lifestyles which are destructive of family life and the most basic demands of Christian morality. Those are the ideological colonizations… The family is also threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life”.
Vatican spokesperson Fr. Federico Lombardi said gay marriage is part of what Pope Francis described as “ideological colonization” threatening the foundation of families.
Regarding the papal visit, skeptic optimism was expressed by Bishop Richard Mickley, Ph.D. of the Catholic Diocese of One Spirit and founder of the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) in the Philippines.
Speaking outside the Apostolic Nunciature in Manila on the day of the Pope’s arrival, Mickley stated: “We are here because we love you. We would like to thank you for the nice things you said since your election about LGBT people. We look forward to more acceptances in the future.”
Mickley, nonetheless, stressed that “we also want to tell you, Holy Father, (that) we feel you haven’t gone far enough because I’m afraid that the suicides, murders, and the broken lives will continue until there is a change in the attitude of the Vatican, of you, of your heads of departments to LGBT people. So, we love you Holy Father, but we don’t love your rules,” he said.
Mickley’s sentiment was shared by other LGBT leaders.
“We, the LGBT Catholics and Christians in the Philippines, hope the Roman Catholic Church opens its door for the LGBT couples and individuals as part of God’s Children. Let the church affirm and accept us the way that God made us to be. Let no one judge us on whom to love and be with (for) the rest of our lives,” said Rev. Ceejay Agbayani, founding pastor of the LGBTS Christian Church Inc. “You gave us hope to return to the church, and we hope you stand by on your statement (when you said) ‘who am I to judge?’ We seek the Lord, and we hope the church will be a safe place for all LGBT Catholics and Christians, free from bigotry and hate.”
Pastor Myke Sotero of MCC – Metro Baguio also initially expressed his optimism for the Pope’s visit in the country.
“Dear Pope Francis, welcome to the Philippines, I am gay and I have a gay partner, Jojo. We thank you for looking at us differently from how other Catholic bishops see our love. We have been hurt for so long by the church. I believe your positive and loving ways can make a difference in bringing a more accepting and loving atmosphere in the church. Thank you for giving us something to hope for,” Sotero said prior to the papal statement considering LGBT relationships as “ideological colonizations”.
Sotero, however, added that he hopes Pope Francis “could someday find time to really get to know us, LGBTs. We’re not asking for the church to change overnight and welcome gay people like me. You said no one has the right to judge us. Yet you say our love for our spouses is unacceptable. We are confused. Are you saying that it’s ok for us to be gay but not to love our partners? That doesn’t make any sense. So much for compassion and love,” Sotero added.
“Even if this visit is overdue, as the Pope himself said, the visit may still be considered an honor by Filipinos,” said Michael David C. Tan, editor of Outrage Magazine. “But – particularly for people at the fringes of the society, including LGBT people – let us not lose sight of the fact that we remain considered outsiders. The celebratory atmosphere should, therefore, be taken with a pinch of salt.”
Like other activists who expressed cautious admiration of this Pope, Tan said blind admiration will not help progress the call of LGBT people for equal rights. This is because, for Tan, the church’s doctrines remain the same. “And particularly for LGBT people, those doctrines are still anti-LGBT. So celebrate all you want; but keep in mind that you are still not wanted unless you deny your being LGBT.”
Outside of the LGBT community, the Pope’s call to “break the bonds of injustice and oppression” and intention to hear about the problems of the poor and marginalized also rallied approximately 2,000 activists in the City of Manila to greet Pope Francis by unfurling banners that highlight hunger, landlessness, and injustice. These are some of the issues that affect the nation’s poor, and which this Pope repeatedly highlighted in the past. However, the police blocked such marches from getting near any of the papal motorcades. The Philippine government has been criticized for prohibiting various groups to tell the Pope of the real situation of the Philippines. This is not to mention the things forbidden by the government during the papal visit, even if Presidential sister Kris Aquino could just invite anyone she wanted to, to meet the Pope.
For Sotero, the Papal visit to the Philippines was “one leap forward into the 21st century, 10 leaps backward into the Middle Ages. Tell the world of his love… FAIL.”
In this, it seems like the “People’s Pope” still does not include all people with the exclusion of – among others – LGBT people.