Pope Francis made history on his trip back to Rome on Sunday from celebrating World Youth Day in Brazil. He spoke with reporters. He took questions from them for an hour and 20 minutes. This is remarkable enough, given that Popes tend not to speak out on church-related issues in this kind of venue, preferring to use the pulpit or the published encyclical to get their word out.
Pope Francis took questions on a number of issues, but when asked about the possibility of ordaining gay men to the Catholic priesthood, and on gay priests more generally, he responded, as quoted in the New York Times, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”
“Who am I to judge?”
That one sentence resonated in a way that I believe signals a serious shift in tone on the topic of homosexuality in the confines of what the Church believes or what the Church allows. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York has already spoken out, suggesting the Pope really meant to say that he did not judge the gay person, and was not addressing the actions of the gay person. The tone shifts, the doctrine does not.
But here’s the thing – that’s all we do these days. We judge. We judge everything, everybody, all day every day, and we do it in new, creative, and frequently permanent ways.
We judged George Zimmerman guilty the same way we judged Casey Anthony and O.J. Simpson guilty before any jury verdict was returned. Then we were shocked that someone judged these cases differently than we had, as if the collective were somehow betrayed. How could the six women jurors not have gotten the memo that Zimmerman was guilty of Trayvon Martin’s murder?
We judge young men by the clothes they wear and by whether or not we can see their drawers when their jeans hang too low. “They’ll never amount to anything.” Men who wear suits and ties are successful. Men who wear overalls are not.
We judge older people because of our own fears about aging. It’s easy to marginalize older people in order to distance ourselves from them. They can’t “get” the Internet like I do. They don’t use or understand social media like I do. They don’t acquire skills as quickly as I do. Judged.
We judge restaurants and every slip, every mistake is plastered for eternity on Yelp. We judge our friends by “liking” their posts on Facebook. I’ve wondered if my own friends think it means something if I don’t “like” their last post. It doesn’t, by the way. And I won’t judge you if you didn’t “like” mine.
It starts simply enough, I think. In the morning, we have to judge the chance of rain. Do I bring an umbrella or leave it at home? Will my friends think I’m an idiot if I bring it and it doesn’t rain or will it be worse if I don’t bring it and it does?
We judge books by their cover every time we go to Barnes and Noble. Looks good, I pick it up. Looks blah, it sits. We judge lots of writers by their first paragraph or by the way the book has already been judged by advance reviewers. And now that we judge whether or not we are going to read a lot of things by the way it fits our screen, we judge poetry by whether or not we have to keep scrolling to keep reading. Consider the poets who would not have survived if the brevity of their poem were any indication of success. Imagine limiting Montaigne, Tolstoy, Dickens, or Homer!
So to judge a person based on their “good will,” as Pope Francis indicated in his remarks on gay ordination, is an interesting call. How do you define good will? Are we all free to determine good will? I think I’d like that. Good will should be rewarded and that’s a good thing for everyone because it would encourage further good will. But separating one’s good will from one’s actions, according to Cardinal Dolan, is what keeps gay Catholics on the sidelines.
It’s not hard to judge. We judge to keep the “other” at bay. We judge freely once our friends have already weighed in. We judge timidly if we‘re the one to cast the first stone. We judge political candidates not solely by their actions in the political arena, but by their personal lives. You make a bonehead decision at home, we really can’t trust you not to make a bonehead decision on the job. That’s part of the reason why your credit score can keep you from getting a job. If you are not quick enough paying your bills, how could we trust you to stock shelves?
While I certainly applaud Pope Francis for changing the Church’s tone from harsh and punitive to welcoming and embracing, we all have a long way to go on this topic. I like to think his taking this fresh approach will signal a willingness to take a fresher look at a lot of the Church’s hot topics. He has already said he will be looking to involve women in new ways and while that will not satisfy those who want women ordained as priests right away, it will make a difference for women in the Church and I want him to be successful.
So, who am I to judge? I judge by what I have seen from this new pope so far and what I have seen makes me cautiously optimistic.
Anne Born has been an editor and writer all her life. She writes poems, short stories, and personal essays on family history and her view of living in a big city after growing up in a small one. She likes an audience or she would keep her writing in her personal notebook. This embarrasses her children. She lives in the South Bronx and writes on and about the MTA – the New York City system of buses and subways. You also find her at Open Salon and Red Room, and you can follow her on Twitter at @nilesite.