Some Hope But Not Much Joy for LGBT Catholics in Pope’s ‘Joy of Love’ Document

Statement of Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry,                                               in response to Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on marriage and family life

While Pope Francis’ latest document, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), contains some hopeful passages, it does not inspire joy in LGBT Catholics and their supporters.  As far as sexual orientation and gender identity issues are concerned, the pope’s latest apostolic exhortation reiterates church formulas which show that the Vatican has yet to learn from the experiences and faith lives of so many LGBT Church members or their supporters.

Though the pope calls for church leaders and ministers to be less judgmental and to respect individuals’ consciences, he has not provided a new pastoral approach to LGBT issues or people.

On other family topics such as divorce and co-habitation, Amoris Laetitia, offers some hopeful advice—and if this advice were simply applied to LGBT issues, which would not be incompatible to do, this document would have been much more positive.  Pope Francis calls for non-judgmental pastoral care, assisting people in developing their consciences, encouraging diverse pastoral responses based on local culture, and calling church leaders to be more self-critical.  All these things, if applied to LGBT people and issues, could produce enormous positive change in the church.

Pope Francis

Instead of listening to more progressive voices at the synods who called for greater understanding and dialogue with the LGBT community, the pope simply repeated church condemnations of same-sex unions, adoption by lesbian and gay people, and the complexities of gender identity.

Most egregious is his repetition of the synod fathers’ false claim that international aid to developing nations is dependent upon openness to marriage equality.  No evidence exists for such a claim. Randy Berry, the U.S. Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI People categorically denied this claim last November during meetings with church officials at the Vatican to discuss the persecution of LGBT people globally.

Moreover, Pope Francis’ one statement discussing pastoral care to families with lesbian and gay members is included in a section entitled “Casting Light on Crises, Worries and Difficulties.”  Such a classification reveals an assumption that LGBT topics are simply problems to be surmounted, and it does not recognize the giftedness and grace that occur when a family accepts and loves its LGBT family members.

While Pope Francis repeats church teaching condemning discrimination and violence against LGBT people, the fact that there is no elaboration of this teaching concerning countries that are criminalizing sexual and gender minorities makes these words ineffective.

Many in the Catholic LGBT community had great, but realistic, hopes for this document.  While not expecting a blessing on marriage for lesbian and gay couples, many were anticipating that Pope Francis would offer an affirming message to LGBT people, and not the same ill-informed comments. Many were hoping for something more pastoral from this pope known for warm gestures and statements. Where is the Pope Francis who embraced his gay former student and husband during his U.S. visit?  Where is the Pope Francis who invited a transgender Spanish man for a personal meeting at the Vatican? That Pope Francis is hard to find in his latest text.

The two synods in 2014 and 2015, as well as the wide consultations among the laity which preceded them, served as the research for this new papal document.  Unfortunately, as far as LGBT issues are concerned, there is nothing in Amoris Laetitia that indicates the great call for new approaches to these issues that occurred during these discussions.

Perhaps there is hope in the suggestion made by some bishops at the 2015 synod that the Vatican hold an entirely separate synodal discussion on the issues of sexuality and gender.  While this document has a lot to offer on a variety of important family topics, it did not give adequate attention to LGBT family issues that deserve serious examination by church leaders.

Given the new general pastoral direction of this document, there is potential for further development in regard to LGBT issues.  Much more faithful witnessing of LGBT Catholics and their supporters, as well as continued steps toward dialogue with Church leaders, will further this goal.

In one of the more hopeful parts of the document, the conclusion of chapter 8, Pope Francis actually calls for the continuation of such a dialogue:

“I encourage the faithful who find themselves in complicated situations to speak confidently with their pastors or with other lay people whose lives are committed to the Lord. They may not always encounter in them a confirmation of their own ideas or desires, but they will surely receive some light to help them better understand their situation and discover a path to personal growth. I also encourage the Church’s pastors to listen to them with sensitivity and serenity, with a sincere desire to understand their plight and their point of view, in order to help them live better lives and to recognize their proper place in the Church.”

Such dialogues can transform those in so-called “complicated situations,” but they can also transform the Church’s ministers and leaders.  This process is a proven method for the development of doctrine in the Catholic Church.

–Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry


46 thoughts on “Some Hope But Not Much Joy for LGBT Catholics in Pope’s ‘Joy of Love’ Document

  1. Thomas April 8, 2016 / 7:04 am

    This feeble attempt on the Pope’s part still views the normal everyday lives of LGBT people to be
    ” difficulties or worries” and encourages them to speak with a pastor about their “plight” . This is actually more insulting than if he had said nothing. Why am I not surprised?

  2. Sue April 8, 2016 / 7:35 am

    Sad. The priest who denied me and my partner communion at her mother’s funeral mass, is further encouraged to persue his hatefulness. I have given up hope of ever seeing a “Christlike” turn in the church, in my lifetime, towards Gay Catholics

  3. Carolyn Shalhoub April 8, 2016 / 7:38 am

    Yes, disappointing. Not surprising, unfortunately, but incredibly sad, as the hopes and prayers of so many had been raised by the process, and the personality of this pope after the unrelieved decades of near despair under the previous two popes. I will have to read the document, but it seems like he could have left out what you have noted and just left it up to a pastoral process. Well, I guess we will have plenty to keep us busy in years to come. God bless you, Frank, and God bless us all.

  4. Matt D April 8, 2016 / 8:04 am

    Thank you, Frank, for your analysis. You touched on all the points that stood out to me and you articulated them well. I’m appalled that in a document about love, mercy and family, that gay marriage would be politicized (erroneously at that) in regard to foreign aid. I think you hit the nail on the head when you state that Pope Francis is hard to find in his latest text. I can’t help but feel that, as always, LGBT issues are plainly and blatantly misguided.

  5. Thomas April 8, 2016 / 8:14 am

    I have just read the PDF version of the Papal Exhortation. It is remarkable in its scope and brilliant in its language. OK, so the Synod Fathers do not place same sex marriage on the same plane as traditional marriage. It would be nice if they could just acknowledge that marriage is first and foremost a legal contract. You need a state marriage license to get married in any church. Like millions of others, I hoped for more inclusion , but there is a lot of good in this work. Sadly, it may never get any better than this and it is possible, things could slide backwards.

    • Susa Khan April 8, 2016 / 12:39 pm

      According to the Catholic Church, Marraige is first and foremost a Sacrament.

      • Thomas April 8, 2016 / 3:32 pm

        But, sacrament or not, you still need a license first. There are many millions of people who are legally married and never set foot in a church.

      • Don Siegal April 8, 2016 / 6:21 pm

        That statement is simply in error, According to Catholic Theologian Michael G. Lawler marriage is first and foremost a civil institution to which the Church has added a Sacramental Character.

  6. Loretta Fitzgerald April 8, 2016 / 9:03 am

    I’m not surprised, but the disappointment still stings. What can we expect from a church mired in centuries of dysfunction, that is, an all male hierarchy forced to repress their own sexuality, to view women as less than male except to give birth, that continues to hide sexual abuse of children and accept countless affairs and sexual harassment to their lay employees, perpetuating a homophobia within their own ranks thus condoning self-hatred among the gay priests, keeping Humane Vitae on the books while most Catholics had to ignore it out of conscience, denying holy Communion to those they don’t deem fit, and on and on. Would any of us who have dealt with an active alcoholic not expect him/her to lie? Know a tree by its fruits.

    Francis, I admire your faithfulness and tenacity in trying in making the blind see. Your reward will be great.

  7. amagjuka April 8, 2016 / 9:21 am

    Just yesterday my daughter called me. Her friend is in a relationship with a woman and just came out to her parents. My daughter said, “how did it go?” The friend said, sobbing, “Not well. They asked me never to tell anyone else, not even my brother.” I am so happy my daughter was there to say, “I am so sorry. Maybe with time they will learn to understand. I am here for you, and your partner seems great”
    The problem with the Pope’s message is that it re asserts all the bad things. It reinforces the response of these parents to their child. It causes suffering all around. It is tragic. It is wrong. Caring Catholic voices must redouble efforts to call out every homophobic remark, every bit of injustice we see in and out of the church. We must speak up, and never stop speaking up. There cannot be “regional and cultural differences.” There is only one response–love.

  8. John Hilgeman April 8, 2016 / 9:43 am

    Reminds me of the story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman in Matthew and Mark, who sought to have the devil cast out of her daughter. He ignored her at first and his disciples told him to send her away because she was bothering them. Jesus said he was sent to only the lost sheep of Israel. She came to him and pleaded with him to help her. He said it was not fair to take the children’s bread and cast it to the dogs. Then she said that even the dogs eat the crumbs from their masters’ table. Finally, he praised her faith, and told her that her daughter was healed.

    Basically, LGBT people are being treated as dogs by many RC leaders. Even Francis treats us as problems to be dismissed without understanding. But we are not dogs, and we will not stop crying out, and we will have a welcome place at the table. Francis and those who would ignore, or dismiss us, or choose to believe lies and prejudicial beliefs about us, need to be constantly called out on their biases.

    However, in the process, many are simply dismissing Francis and the other uninformed bishops as irrelevant, or ignorant old fools, or roadblocks and enemies, and are turning away altogether from those who use their prejudicial and ignorant beliefs to attack people they don’t understand.

  9. taxes4hart April 8, 2016 / 10:00 am

    Thank you for the examination of “JOY OF LOVE” today Frank. The exhortation was a disappointment. Yet your Bondings log is always received with joy , and it is HELPFUL!

  10. Bishop Carlos Florido, osf April 8, 2016 / 10:20 am

    Truly disappointing!

  11. Chris Nunez April 8, 2016 / 10:38 am

    Both sides have to move towards the middle in order to meet half-way… his language has changed the tone in the Vatican, now how about you folks at New Ways and you Francis DeBernardo moving a bit towards the middle too! The negativity is paralyzing… really, after all these decades the negativity is killing me. Stop it and move forward….

    • Don Siegal April 8, 2016 / 12:07 pm

      Chris, I don’t understand your post. Francis DeBernardo and all the staff at New Ways Ministry always present the most favorable interpretation of church teaching. They avoid negativism at all times. They truly put the best construction on everything.

      Chris, in what ways do you believe that New Ways Ministry could move more toward the center? Please be concrete and specific.

    • amagjuka April 8, 2016 / 4:12 pm

      Chris, I could not disagree more. I am often frustrated by the epic patience and eternally optimistic outlook shown by Francis DeBernardo and New Ways Ministry. Meet halfway? New Ways Ministry is meeting the church 90% of the way, hoping for any shred of decency or progress.

  12. pjnugent April 8, 2016 / 11:03 am

    We need to pray and to talk more with folks who do not understand LGBT people and their needs – and rights.

  13. Brian Kneeland April 8, 2016 / 11:16 am

    The main emphasis was on the divorced and remarried. That leaves so many of us out in the cold! He followed science on global issues – but not on sexuality issues. Be consistent Francis!

  14. Susan Grimes April 8, 2016 / 11:39 am

    Disappointed, not surprised. I hold on to a comment a priest once said about Pope Francis; he is a “John the Baptist” type figure, stirring things up, making way for change. Let’s hope the next Pope is even more like Christ……..

  15. James Sheya April 8, 2016 / 1:30 pm

    Same old rhetoric from this Pope regarding LBGT people and reinforcing the idea that we are different and to tolerate us within the straight Catholic community without ever recognizing our marriages or the fact that many gay and lesbian couples have children of their own. This is very sad and doesn’t leave much hope within the Catholic church of any change in the future.

  16. Joe April 8, 2016 / 5:21 pm

    This is a step forward. Pope accepts other, non-traditional forms of family, but stops short of sanctioning. At least he seems open to discussion.

    What more did you expext, reasonably?

    • Friends April 8, 2016 / 10:14 pm

      I tend to agree with you, Joe. Pope Francis is following a “blanket of bread crumbs” strategy: toss a whole lot of stuff out there, and let us hungry birds peck away at whatever looks edible. As far as I’m concerned, the most truly offensive aspect of this package resides in the fact that it awards the African bishops an implicit (or perhaps even explicit) permission to continue their vicious cultural and political pogrom against GLBT Catholics in their own countries. This particular accommodation in his encyclical strikes me as utterly wrong-headed, hateful and harmful. So much for any notion of “Papal Infallibility” — in spite of our personal love and enthusiasm for Francis. He needs to condemn hatred and cultural persecution, in whatever form they occur. What would Jesus say? What would Jesus do? The thing He clearly would NOT do is to justify the persecutors — which Francis comes perilously close to doing, by giving the African bishops a “free pass” to stigmatize and marginalize GLBT Catholics in their own countries. And even beyond Africa, it’s a plain fact that Iran and Saudi Arabia have been known to HANG gay people, simply for being gay. Where is Francis’ outrage against this horrible abuse of basic human rights?

  17. Larry April 9, 2016 / 6:41 pm

    All this fuss….two years of discernment and two synods and questionnaires and lots of clerical chat that produces a dense document that folks in the pews and probably most priests will never read. But it will have something there for everyone – language for the African Bishops to support their violence against gays and the imprimatur for marriage purists to keep civil marriage, adoptions and civil rights from gay folk.

    And look at how Francis views us, that being gay and wanting real personal relationships is a crisis, a worry, a difficulty and a complicated situation. This strips us of our dignity and relegates us to no more than a problem in a very patriarchal way. Pope Francis does not elevate us or our love of one another but just suggests that those who must “deal” with us do so in a loving way. Softer language but the same core lack of real understanding which will feed the hate of those opposed to gay rights.

    This is not mercy. This is not love. It is becoming increasingly apparent that where LGBT rights are concerned, the Pope is the same old, same old with a smiley face.

  18. lynne1946 April 10, 2016 / 2:43 am

    That last quote struck me as not very encouraging. He says go to your priest or someone who is close to the Lord (strikes me as implying ‘unlike you’) and they will tell you how to change your ways so you can be a good Catholic again. Am I just being pessimistic?

  19. Bernadette Thibodeau July 15, 2016 / 5:52 pm

    Chaput has spent a good amount in the place of a “leader” in the Roman Catholic Institution as a beater of God’s people. What an example of a follower of Jesus who came to show love to His people.

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