Sandwiched amid the Pope Francis-Kim Davis controversy and the Synod on the Family was news that the pope had met with a gay couple while visiting the U.S. — and that this meeting, unlike his encounter with Davis, was of Francis’ own initiative.
Yayo Grassi, the gay man and former student who met with Pope Francis, spoke to the Washington Blade and his interview is worth reading even several weeks later for its insights into the pope as a human being when it comes to LGBT issues.
The meeting, which included Grassi’s partner of 19 years, was considered private. Grassi, now 67, had Pope Francis as a high school teacher back in Argentina many years ago and the two have remained friends in the interceding decades. Grassi decided to make their meeting public after the Kim Davis controversy erupted, overshadowing the pope’s trip:
” ‘One of the things that upset me extremely and profoundly was that people who were so much in love with this Pope immediately turned against him. . .And I was telling my friends how can you forget everything this guy did? How can we forget these things for something that this woman said that we don’t even know is true or not?’ “
When a The New York Times reporter identified Grassi as the former student who had met with the pope, Grassi confirmed that identification, concluding that he had to defend a friend, the pope, now under attack because of the Davis incident. He explained to the Blade:
” ‘To me it was a meeting with a friend of mine. . .It was a meeting between two friends. . .who love each other and I admire him deeply. That would have been the end of the story and I wouldn’t have you here sitting in my kitchen if it wasn’t that this lady Kim Davis came out with this information saying she got a private audience with him.’ “
This was the second time Grassi met Francis since he was elected in 2013, the first time being in St. Peter’s Square during an audience. Grassi had let the pope know he and his partner would be in Italy for a friend’s wedding and were immediately invited to the audience. Pope Francis walked to them amid “hundreds of people. . .with his arms open” and said, “You made it. You make me so happy.” The pope was introduced to Grassi’s partner, hugging him, too.
Grassi is firm in his belief that the pope is trying to help all those who are marginalized and oppressed, including LGBT communities:
” ‘What I can say is we have to recognize the small steps that Pope Francis has taken and that considering the place where he comes from are actually giant steps. . .It’s not that the man does not want to do it. He has a timing for things. He has a way of saying things that are so extraordinary and making them with small steps.’ “
Grassi also shed light into one of the more controversial criticisms of the pope, his actions against marriage equality in Argentina. The student explained he wrote to his former teacher, then Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, after seeing his harsh comments against same-sex marriages:
“So I fired an email to him explaining to him how much I owed him, what an important person he was in my life, how much he developed my most progressive thoughts in my life and that I was disappointed to hear that he was saying these negative things about gay people and about gay marriage. . .And I mentioned my boyfriend by name and told him at that time we were 14 years together.”
The reply was “beautiful” and “very loving” according to Grassi, who continued:
” ‘He started by apologizing because he had hurt me, because I was hurt. . .And immediately after that he said I have never said any of those things that the press is publishing about me. . .He said as a matter of fact he never expressed himself about this question. And he ended up by saying something that to me is so important. . .He said believe me, in my pastoral work there is no place for homophobia.’ “
Grassi’s account is further confirmation of what Pope Francis seemingly seeks for LGBT people in the church — an unhindered welcome, a loving embrace by pastoral ministers, and a focus on the person first while setting aside questions of doctrinal reform. This is insufficient for some LGBT advocates, but a pope who can apologize and say “there is no place for homophobia” in the church’s mission is a pope who is laying the groundwork for real changes to come.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry