Analysis: Pope’s Friends and Observers try to make sense out of the homophobic PR disaster

VATICAN CITY, Reuters – Francis has many firsts to his name: he is the first pope from Latin America and the first Jesuit. He’s the first pope since last week to apologize for foul language.

Francis used the Italian word “frociaggine”, which roughly translates as “faggotness”, or “faggotry”, during a meeting held behind closed doors with Italian bishops on May 20.

After the Vatican apologized, Italian media reported that he used more homophobic slurs, and also used chauvinist words to associate women with gossip. This was in another meeting with Roman priests.

Friends of the Pontiff and top Vatican observers insist that the worst PR disaster in his 11 years of papacy shouldn’t obscure his record of reforming, LGBT friendly pope.

Some say that the 87 year old’s gaffe is part of a pattern papal missteps which undermines his authority, and raises questions about his beliefs and the reform path for the Church he envisions.

“Anyone who’s been online…has seen the pope reduced into a meme. A social media tool that anyone can use to make jokes, some funny, others in poor taste,” said Massimo Fagioli, professor of theology at Villanova University.

“The word of the pope should have some weight and credibility.” “Whether you agree or disagree with him, it’s normal to think his words are well-thought out… But now that is more difficult,” he said.

SALTY TONGUE

Francis is known for his salty tongue. Those who know him well say that the reported anti gay slurs were not out of character.

Austen Ivereigh, papal biographer, said: “I don’t justify his use of a offensive term… but in private he speaks very, very direct.” “He does not talk like a politician.”

One of Francis’ closest friends, a gay Argentinean man who has been his friend for over 30 years but asked to remain anonymous, said that Francis is aware he uses foul language.

The man said, “He calls himself a bocon”, which (from Spanish), translates into someone who cannot keep their mouth shut. “He is not diplomatic.” “I am surprised that this hasn’t happened earlier.”

The friend said that when Francis went to Ireland to try and learn English in the 1980s, his teachers were horrified at the way he used English swear words in the classroom.

Sources said Francis has come a “long way” in terms of openness to LGBT rights for a man his age, noting that he was raised in a conservative family who considered divorcees and gay people social pariahs.

Francis said this early in his pontificate: “If someone is gay, and they seek God, and have good will, then who am I?” He allowed priests last year to bless couples of the same gender, which sparked a backlash from conservatives.

He also had lunch with transgender sexual workers at the Vatican and developed a close friendship with Father James Martin who is a prominent American priest of the Jesuit order that ministers to the LGBT Community.

Martin wrote in an emailed comment: “The idea that this man would be homophobic is absurd to me.” His record with LGBTQ people speaks volumes. “No pope has ever been a friend of the LGBTQ community more than he is.”

Francis’ Argentine Friend also praised Francis’ support for civil partnership – although Francis remains opposed same-sex weddings – as well as his quiet efforts to assist victims of homophobic crimes committed in Argentina during the 1990s “when being gay in Argentina was difficult”.

“GAY SUBCULTURE”

The pope’s profanity, however, has angered many.

In a statement, Marianne Duddy Burke, the head of LGBT Catholic rights organization DignityUSA said that “even if it was intended as a prank, (it) revealed the depth of institutional discrimination and anti-gay prejudice still existing in our church.”

Andrea Rubera was initially in disbelief. “At first, we thought it wasn’t true. We thought it was a bit of gossip,” said Rubera.

Francis’ gaffe, according to reports occurred as he was discussing with bishops gay candidates for the priesthood. Officially, the Church believes that homosexuals should not be allowed to serve in ministry.

Faggioli, Ivereigh and others have said that the issue is especially sensitive for the Italian Catholic church because of what they say was an active homosexual “subculture” within some of its seminaries.

Father Martin stated that “my sense was the pope responded to a specific question regarding certain behavior in Italian seminaries rather than closing the priesthood off to all gay men”.

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