The Slatest

America’s Oldest Gay Rights Magazine Picks Pope Francis as Person of Year

Pope Francis waves to the crowd from the window of the apostolic palace overlooking St.Peter’s square.

Photo by ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images

Pope Francis has made quite a splash during his first year as the Holy See. He’s changed the tenor of the church publically in a number of ways and his leadership earned him Time magazine’s Person of the Year. But, this week, the head of the Catholic Church was honored by a more unlikely source when America’s oldest gay rights magazine, The Advocate, named Pope Francis as it’s own Person of the Year.

At the core of the magazine’s reasoning was the Pope’s landmark assertion earlier this year: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” The selection of Pope Francis comes during a year, The Advocate points out, when there were plenty of choices. Edie Windsor, for example, “is a hero to LGBT Americans for taking the final punch in the fight against the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act,” the magazine writes. Instead, however, the magazine concluded “the most influential person of 2013 doesn’t come from our ongoing legal conflict but instead from our spiritual one — successes from which are harder to define.”

Here’s more from The Advocate on Pope Francis’ selection:

The remaining holdouts for LGBT acceptance in religion, the ones who block progress in the work left to do, will more likely be persuaded by a figure they know. In the same way that President Obama transformed politics with his evolution on LGBT civil rights, a change from the pope could have a lasting effect on religion.

Pope Francis’s stark change in rhetoric from his two predecessors — both who were at one time or another among The Advocate’s annual Phobie Awards — makes what he’s done in 2013 all the more daring… Pope Francis is still not pro-gay by today’s standard. He started his term by issuing a joint encyclical in July with Benedict, in which they reiterate that marriage should be a “stable union of man and woman.” It continues, “This union is born of their love, as a sign and presence of God’s own love, and of the acknowledgement and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation.”

…As pope, he has not yet said the Catholic Church supports civil unions. But what Francis does say about LGBT people has already caused reflection and consternation within his church. The moment that grabbed headlines was during a flight from Brazil to Rome. When asked about gay priests, Pope Francis told reporters, according to a translation from Italian, “If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?”

The brevity of that statement and the outsized attention it got immediately are evidence of the pope’s sway. His posing a simple question with very Christian roots, when uttered in this context by this man, “Who am I to judge?” became a signal to Catholics and the world that the new pope is not like the old pope.