Pope Francis: there's a "gay lobby" in the church

The new pope is shaping up to be the Vatican's damage-control nightmare

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Published June 12, 2013 2:37PM (EDT)

  (AP/Domenico Stinellis)
(AP/Domenico Stinellis)

He's only three months into the job, and Pope Francis has already more than distinguished himself as the pontiff most likely to go rogue. His latest oh-no-he-didn't move? The revelation this week that during a recent audience with the Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of Religious, the Argentine pope acknowledged, "In the Curia, there are holy people. But there is also a stream of corruption." He then added, "The 'gay lobby' is mentioned, and it is true, it is there. We need to see what we can do."

The news quickly became a bad case of the Mondays for Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi, who earlier this year tamped down what he called "unverified, unverifiable, or completely false" reports in the Italian media about blackmailers within the church hierarchy -- a group with "a worldly nature" and "united by sexual orientation." Lombardi, by the way, is the guy who also believes we should be looking at the church's truly prolific history of sex abuse in "the more general context of secularization" and says that marriage equality will lead to "freely chosen polygamy and, of course, not to discriminate, polyandry." In other words, having Federico Lombardi be the man who now has to do image control for Pope Francis just isn't going to stop being awesome any time soon. On Tuesday, he tersely issued the statement that "This was a private meeting held by the pope, and I will not comment on private meetings." Private meetings in which your pope admits to what you called completely false. HA HA HA.

The pope's cryptic statement about a "gay lobby" doesn't do anything to explain what a "gay lobby" actually is, how it's gay lobbying and what it's gay lobbying for -- or what the Vatican intends to do about what Francis calls the "difficult" work of reforming the genuinely corrupt aspects of the huge worldwide organization he recently became the leader of. But already his actions have revealed a Hillary-like determination to do it his way, protocol be damned.

Right off the bat, he shunned living in the papal palace, explaining, "I need to live with other people. I don't think it would be good for me to live alone." In March, he cheerfully blew conservative Catholics' minds during a traditional Holy Thursday ritual by washing and kissing the feet of two female prisoners, including a Serbian Muslim, at a youth detention center. The rite has in the past been a far more symbolic Holy Week one, performed by the pope on priests. Certainly not, gasp, female inmates. At the time, Lombardi wincingly explained that "excluding the girls would have been inopportune." And in May, Francis called for a "culture of encounter" that includes atheists, and called the apostles "a little intolerant" of outsiders. The Vatican once again quickly mansplained what he really meant, saying, "They cannot be saved who, knowing the Church as founded by Christ and necessary for salvation, would refuse to enter her or remain in her."

Like his institution itself, Francis still has a long, long, lonnnnnng way to go in terms of broadening the definition of love, humility and tolerance. But a guy who's been tweeting about "the unemployed, often as a result of a self-centered mindset bent on profit at any cost," is a guy who's having a good time shaking things up and making splitting headaches for the big shots around him. A guy who remembers that Jesus was a loudmouth and a troublemaker. Father Lombardi, I hope you've got plenty of Advil. Because I have a feeling your boss is just getting warmed up.

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Catholicism Lgbt Pope Francis Vatican