But, of course, Pope Francis is still the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, an institution that judges a lot of things about a lot of people (for instance, judging that women cannot be priests). So, while it's nice to hear that the rhetoric from the papacy has gotten less harsh, we can't duck the fact that the Church still takes a lot of positions based on the judgment that homosexuality is immoral.
Here are some things Pope Francis could do to demonstrate greater justice and compassion toward gays:
1. Admit the Bible Goes Too Far
To quote Chief Wiggum, "The Bible says a lot of things." And a lot of what it says — particularly in the Old Testament — is morally atrocious, from the extermination of the people of Canaan (Deut. 20, Jos. 6, 10) to imposing the death penalty for cursing one's parents, for adultery, and for homosexuality (Lev. 20). Not just atrocious in light of the new covenant of Gospel; atrocious period. Maybe the pope and the Church don't have to accept homosexuality, but they should at least demonstrate the moral clarity to say straight out that the death penalty is unacceptable as a punishment for being gay. And the fact that the Bible advocates just that is a huge moral failing, a failing that should be pointed at and denounced, not ignored in the hopes that it will be overlooked and forgotten in a sea of scripture.
2. Support Decriminalization
They may not call for the death penalty, but there are countries where it is a criminal offense to be gay and/or to advocate gay rights (Russia, for instance). The Church has opposed some efforts to decriminalize homosexuality in the past on the grounds that it might amount to supporting same-sex marriage or adoption. If they don't want to sign on to a UN resolution, fine. But there's no reason that the pope can't, on his own, publicly call for the elimination of all laws that punish people merely for being gay or advocating gay rights.
3. Allow Gay Priests, Not Pedophiles
If you want to be a priest, you have to be celibate, and celibacy knows no sexual orientation. Yet the Church makes it a point to weed out those with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies," but not those with similar heterosexual tendencies. Why? If they're successfully not having sex, who cares what sex they're not having? And, as he tries to erase the Church's sexual abuse scandals, the pope should make it clear that gay pedophiles don't demonstrate the immorality of homosexuality any more than straight pedophiles demonstrate the immorality of heterosexuality.
4. Describe a Plausible Alternative Lifestyle
Currently, the Church's advice to people who are gay is to be chaste. This is perhaps like telling someone who is bulimic that the solution is to stop eating. Granted, I disagree with the Church's initial premise — that homosexuality and gay marriage are wrong (let alone "insidious and dangerous") — but is it too much to ask the pope to outline a realistic course of action that gay people can take, something short of marriage but still more fulfilling than "don't ever have sex again?" And, "Hey, why don't you become a Catholic priest?" won't cut it, either. It's a pretty distant second place, and isn't an option for lesbians, anyway.
5. Define the Problem
If the pope is going to keep condemning homosexuality as being somehow second-class sexuality, could he at least define what the problem is? The Church insists that sex must involve an "openness to new life;" that is, it must be procreative. Homosexuality isn't, but neither is sex with an infertile heterosexual couple, so why shouldn't that also be off-limits? And why isn't the "rhythm method" prohibited for fertile heterosexual couples? And how do heterosexual couples (like Abraham and Sarah) figure out that they're infertile, anyway, without having a bunch of sex that fails to get anyone pregnant?
And why must the purpose of sex be procreation? Just because sex can lead to procreation, why does that have to be the purpose of sex? After all, hands can be used to strangle people does that's the purpose of having them? I sure hope not. Or, in the other direction, if sex is procreative by definition, then maybe gay sex — being obviously un-procreative — doesn't even qualify as sex at all? Maybe it's just a perfectly acceptable non-sexual activity — like holding hands — that brings two people together emotionally. (This "definition of sex" approach might have to wait until Bill Clinton becomes pope.)
At the very least, if the pope and the Church are going to insist that gays are failing at sex and at life, they should explain: who does gay sex or same-sex marriage actually harm, and how?