In atheist news, the new Pope Francis has been a hot topic over the past year. Pope Francis has gotten much praise from mainstream sources, earning Time's Person of the Year as well as Person of the Year of LGBT news outlet The Advocate. Specific actions include his comment "Who am I to judge?" said of gay priests, and his suspension of the "Bishop of Bling".
The predominant atheist reaction has been, "You're praising the Pope? Of the Catholic Church, that obscenely wealthy instution which protects child-abusers while blaming them on homosexuals?" I for one think it's a particular travesty that Pope Francis was praised by The Advocate; it seems emblematic of the way that mainstream LGBT activism is unjustifiably friendly towards religion.
However, my negative view of Pope Francis is somewhat moderated, because I think there's some real good in incremental change. Like the father in the prodigal son I see it in terms of the harm reduction now rather than the harm caused by the long arc of Catholic history. While it would be preferable for people to just leave Catholicism, there is also something to be said for reducing the amount of harm caused per Catholic.
Specifically on the "Who am I to judge?" comment, one can imagine this causing real change in Catholic barring of priests with "deep-rooted homosexual tendencies". Though I've heard of no official change in policy, people may enforce it less strictly in response to the Pope's comments, or it could indicate an impending change to official policy. While I don't have much sympathy for people trying to become Catholic priests, I will grant them the minimal human decency of opposing discrimination within their ranks. This may seem like a fairly weak positive, but take it for what it is.
Similarly, one can imagine the Pope's comments inspiring other actions lower down in the hierarchy, similar to the way that SCOTUS's opinions influence lower courts even when they're not binding.
But let's be clear, the Pope is an improvement, but is far from being a net positive. A recent illustrative story is his opposition to adoption by same-sex couples in a proposed Maltese law. If you think you're okay with same-sex couples, but are not okay with adoption by said couples, then you are not actually okay with same-sex couples (nor they with you). It doesn't matter if studies find children of same-sex couples do worse (and this I do not grant)--would it matter if studies found that children of different religions did better or worse?
This is all part of what makes Catholic attitudes towards LGB people horrible. Catholics think that they're compassionate towards homosexuals--it's in the Catechism! But their compassion is as it would be towards someone with alcoholic tendencies--they accept it, but don't approve of their drinking. While there is some internal consistency to this narrative, internal consistency is not a sufficient to make a decent human being. Catholics seem not to realize that this makes the Catholic Church one of the most anti-LGB organizations on the planet. Given their position it's no surprise that Catholics are one of the biggest funding sources of anti-LGB activism.
In Catholic doctrine, it seems compassion just means being nice to your face. It means recognizing that you are a human being like any other, and then not really thinking about the implications of that, certainly not extending it to one's political actions. It means valuing your life, but not valuing it nearly as much as an unjustified moral belief. If this is what compassion is, then compassion doesn't count for much. Catholics should be ashamed.
I started this by saying I had a more moderate view of the Pope, but I ended with a scathing critique of Catholic doctrine. I honestly think there is widespread delusion among lay Catholics that their religion is more LGB-friendly than it is, not because they misunderstand official doctrine, but because Catholicism has so lowered their standards that they don't even know what it means to be LGB-positive. I include my Catholic relatives in this, and my former Catholic self.