The Catholic Church has had one of its busiest years in centuries. After a few short weeks in office, Pope Francis, the new, non-elitist and first non-European pope in years, gave an Easter mass and washed the feet of 12 young inmates at Casal del Marmo Penitentiary Institute for Minors – two of them women and two of them Muslim. Francis was the first pope to do so in a Holy Thursday ritual.
On the other side of the ocean, when asked about whether people feel excluded by the church because of their sexuality, Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, said a few weeks back on the ABC program “This Week”: “Well, the first thing I’d say to them is, ‘I love you, too. And God loves you. And you are made in God’s image and likeness.’”
Members of the gay community, especially those struggling between pairing their identity and Church doctrine, have been waiting decades for the words of relief and comfort. Dolan’s statements do not mean total acceptance of the gay community by the Catholic Church or that its policies will change overnight, but it is a huge step toward modernization and liberalism.
Dolan is one of the most, if not the most, important and visual members of the Catholic Church in the United States, and was considered a candidate for the papacy earlier this year. The fact that he spoke out for the gay community, saying, “Jesus died on the cross for them as much as he did for me,” was a sign of more changes to come.
Making these unprecedented statements around Easter makes them more poignant. The church cannot run away from them or claim that Dolan made them by mistake.
When asked by host George Stephanopoulos on “This Week” what the church will do next, Dolan responded: “I don’t know. We’re still trying. … We’ve got to listen to people. … We’ve got to do better to see that our defense of marriage is not reduced to an attack on gay people.”
There are a few ways that the church can change its policies to be more accepting of gay Catholics. In some places, the Catholic Church has a strong influence over education, medical care, care of the poor, homeless and sick. Its intentions are good, but in these places, the church needs to make basic changes to encourage safety, comfort and acceptance among all those who rely on Church-sponsored institutions and practices.
During the 2011-12 school year, 2,031,455 students across the United States were enrolled in Catholic schools, according to statistics. In those schools, future generations need to be taught acceptance, and one way to do that is by enforcing anti-bullying policies. It is vital that future generations in the Catholic Church be open and accepting of one another; the world doesn’t function otherwise.
And outside of school, the church needs to be more accepting of gay rights, gay marriage and gay parents adopting children.
The Catholic Church is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, hierarchical organization in the world and has reformed little since its creation. Other institutions like monarchies, families, education and government have modernized, and it’s time for the Catholic Church to adjust as well. That doesn’t mean that the church has to change every policy, but it does mean the church has to be more accepting and inviting to all its followers.
Claire Anderson is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.