LGBT activists in Argentina have welcomed Pope Francis’s new moves towards reconciliation for the “grave crimes of sexual abuse” committed against children. The President of the Argentine Homosexual Community (CHA) praised Francis’s humble and fiercely-worded homily as “a much need and timely gesture” that he hopes will lead to change in lower levels of the Church. In a private mass for six victims of abuse this week, the Pope lamented the role of “Church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves.” In late May, he compared abuse by clergymen as akin to performing ‘satanic mass’.
This strong language is approached with more skepticism in the Pope’s home-country where rights groups are used to a contentious relationship with the man once known as Cardinal Jorge Bergolglio. While LGBT groups are warming up to the Pope’s role in a global debate that is far more conservative than Argentine politics, they are still cautious about how much reform is still needed.
CHA President César Cigliutti encouraged Vatican cooperation with the United Nations but remained skeptical. “In 10 years there were 3,420 priests accused of sexual abuse and only 884 were it removed, representing less than 26 percent,” he said. “We hope that in Argentina the bishops follow the example of the Pope, that they also apologize and meet with victims of abuse.”
The cooperation of bishops has been a characterizing feature of LGBT groups relationship with the Church in Argentina. As the elected president of the Argentine Episcopal Commission, Cardinal Bergoglio was an active but confusing opponent of gay-marriage when Argentina became the first Latin country to federalize equal unions. Groups like the Argentina Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Trans (FALGBT) found themselves matched against the Cardinal in a passionate national debate pitting Vatican ideology against Peronist Catholic rivalry.
The Cardinal was one of the most outspoken opponents during the marriage debate but eventually he publically supported same-sex unions as an alternative to full marriage. However, when he took this pragmatic suggestion to the commission, it was democratically rejected. While remaining an opponent of marriage, he reached out to FALGBT and other LGBT activist groups on behalf of the church, sympathising with gay issues and even calling himself a supporter of ‘gay rights’.
Now, as Pope, Francis is continuing his sympathy for gay issues, even if he remains squarely in support of doctrine. He is opening a two-year debate on LGBT topics as well as other sensitive progressive subjects such as contraceptives and the role of women. While this is unlikely to be revolutionary, Francis still plays an important role as an ally of individual liberalism.
This is where LGBT and other activists in Argentina can find some optimism in perspective. At home, Francis was a rallying force for conservative arguments relative to progressive local politics, but in a global conversation that is much more radical it’s hard to vilify a voice pushing towards center.