Many individuals and groups have called for Pope Francis to listen to LGBT people during his September visit to the United States. Others are skeptical that there will be truly positive engagement from the pontiff on this crucial pastoral issue.
However, real change can happen if U.S. Catholics model Pope Francis’ commitment to encounter and to conversation, a “miracle” of sorts when it happens.
Recently, Ross Murray of GLAAD questioned the pope’s impact in the United States given how troubled the local church remains. In a recent essay for The Advocate, Murray cited the many firings of LGBT and ally church workers as one example of church troubls. Murray admitted to seeing the “profound impact the pope has on people around the globe,” but asked:
“However, until everyday, pew-sitting Catholics feel the lived and tangible impact of Francis’s statement, his words have little meaning. . .
“We have to wonder if Pope Francis and Roman Catholic leaders will spend any of their time in the United States talking about the lives, commitments, and faithfulness of LGBT people. Will they speak up against the oppression of those who are LGBT? Will they call for a church that advocates for the full dignity and humanity of each person?”
Murray’s organization, GLAAD, joined with dozens of Catholic and Latino organizations in a letter asking the pontiff to meet with LGBT Catholics. Letters addressing the church worker disputes specifically were sent from fired gay priest Fr. Warren Hall and Andrea Vettori, wife of fired Philadelphia-area educator Margie Winters.
Murray is skeptical that Pope Francis will address LGBT issues directly, but if the pontiff does pass on one of the American Church’s most talked about topics, advocates need to remember Murray’s conclusion:
“The heart of the church is the people of God, living out their everyday lives. They act in faith, following God’s call to love their neighbor as themselves. Whether the neighbor is a loved one, an LGBT advocate, or even a stranger, loving involves listening and caring. It is through sharing personal stories that acceptance is fostered. The change is slow, but acceptance on an interpersonal level can lead to big changes — even in an institution like the Roman Catholic Church.”
Jo McGowan’s recent column in Commonweal affirms that the deepest ecclesial changes emerge from meaningful encounters. She noted that many who oppose LGBT equality have often never had such encounters with LGBT people. This lack of relationship, combined with negative magisterial pronouncements, can make discrimination and persecution “acceptable,” even though “there is no such hysteria about other ‘sins.’ ” She concluded:
“The more gay people we know, the less likely we are to hang on to the old stigmas and exclusions: love changes everything. Perfect love casts out fear. Nothing—nothing—has changed me as much as being friends with gay people has. The theory, the doctrine, the dogma: it all disappears in the face of friendship, lived experience, and love.
“I can’t speak for Jesus. None of us can. But considering the people he hung out with, I think he might approve.”
Maybe the best hope LGBT Catholics and allies can hold for Pope Francis’ visit is his modeling a way of being church too long suppressed in the United States, one that is marked by loved and summed up well by a columnist in The Prince George Citizen:
“We live in a time of religious differences and even violent extremism, but Francis’s example of love for each other, tempered with integrity and courage, inspires us to live the same way. This is what is needed to get us through the challenges that lie ahead.”
At the MassI attended a few weeks back, the priest preached on the Multiplication of Loaves narrative and brought up one of my favorite interpretations of this “miracle.” Scholars suggest that Jesus’ unbounded love brought out an intense altruism among those 5,000 men and many others gathered. Each person or family shared what fish and bread they had brought, allowing all to eat their fill and fill multiple baskets with even more.
What if, like Pope Francis, each LGBT Catholic, partner, family member, or advocate committed to share their story with a fellow Catholic who thinks differently? What if these others who have not supported LGBT people listened closely to that person’s story to understand their perspective, even if they disagree? What if we focused less on the pontiff’s statements or lack thereof, focusing more on courageous listening and intentional conversation? That would be a “miracle” indeed!
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry