Would Pope Francis Condemn or Defend LGBT Church Workers?

By Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 15, 2016

The recent, terrible trend of Church employees being fired because of LGBT issues raises many questions about justice, equality, and human rights in the Catholic community. An Associated Press reporter also identified another important tension that this trend highlights. Michelle Smith noted that this trend also shows “the confusion that permeates some U.S. Roman Catholic parishes over Pope Francis’ words on homosexuality.”

Michael Templeton

Many of Bondings 2.0’s readers have often wondered in their comments why Pope Francis, who seems concerned with pastoral outreach to LGBT people, has not become involved in the too many examples of church workers being fired because of a pastor’s or bishop’s disapproval of LGBT issues. Reporter Smith examined this question using the recent case of Michael Templeton, a Providence, Rhode Island, parish music director who was fired for marrying his male partner.

Smith notes that in this case:

“Francis is being cited by both the music director, Michael Templeton, and by Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin, known for taking a hard line on church teaching about marriage and abortion. Tobin has criticized Francis, writing after the pope’s summit on the family two years ago that ‘Francis is fond of “creating a mess.” Mission accomplished.’ “

The pope’s positive statements on LGBT people have been mixed with traditional orthodox defenses of heterosexual marriage, thus making the positive statements “a Rorschach test open to interpretation,” observes Smith. The reporter summed up this problem with a quote from a theological expert:

” ‘Pope Francis has not said, “Here’s what you should do in a parish where you have a music director who has married his partner of the same sex,”  said the Rev. James T. Bretzke, a professor of moral theology at Boston College. ‘Pope Francis is articulating general principles: forgiveness and mercy and not harsh judgment. But how you handle a particular case like this, he has been very reluctant to weigh in on it.’

“That means a gay Catholic’s fate depends on his diocese or individual pastor.”

Bishop Thomas Tobin
Bishop Thomas Tobin

As Bondings 2.0 reported previously, Bishop Tobin had released a statement citing Pope Francis’ statements and actions to defend the firing of Templeton.  (Yet, not all of Tobin’s supposed precedents are relevant.  For instance, the bishop said Francis fired Msgr. Kryzstof Charamsa of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for coming out as gay and acknowledging he was in a relationship.  Yet, more likely is that the prefect of the CDF fired Charamsa, and, in any case, the examples are not parallel since Charamsa was ordained.)

Smith offered a few recent examples that show the mixed messages that Francis has been giving:

“Francis underscored his emphasis on mercy over defending orthodoxy with his first U.S. picks for cardinals, announced Sunday, choosing bishops who have taken a more welcoming approach to gays and others who have felt alienated from the church.

“Asked this month about how he would minister to transgender Catholics, Francis responded: ‘When someone who has this condition comes before Jesus, Jesus would surely never say, “Go away because you’re gay.” ‘

“At the same time, he recently supported Mexican bishops working against a push to legalize same-sex marriage.”

The mixed messages may be indicative of how far–or not–Francis wants to go.  Smith cited Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry:

“Before Francis, ‘people were afraid to even say the words gay or lesbian,’ DeBernardo said. ‘I do think he’s taken an important step that could lead to further steps. I’m not certain, I don’t think he will make a change in church doctrine, but I think he is laying the groundwork for future changes.’ “

Pope Francis may not opine directly about a specific church worker firing or even the trend of firings now being experienced, but a close reading of his writings clarifies how he might respond. In Evangelii Gaudium, the pope warned against pastoral workers who exhibit a “spiritual worldliness,” manifest in one form as the “self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism” of church officials who act as if they are superior to others. Francis commented:

“A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying.”

Where a church worker is fired for their gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, marital status, or political beliefs, church leaders have harmfully analyzed and classified that person strictly according to their gender and sexuality. Right-wing Catholics have expended themselves inspecting and verifying, and then publicly outing and shaming too many LGBT people in the church.

For those who think Pope Francis has made a mess of the Church, like Bishop Tobin has expressed, they would do well to ponder the words of Cardinal-elect Kevin Farrell who recently said, “If you find Pope Francis ‘confusing’ – you have not read or do not understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

In Evangelii Gaudium and elsewhere, Francis condemns church ministers whose foremost attitude is not mercy. Foremost for the pope is to see every person as beloved by God, and he consistently attacks each and every effort which reduces the mystery of the human person to something less than a child of God.

Like all of us, Francis is human and he is clearly grappling to understand sexuality and gender, confined as he may be by his own limitations and contexts. His outreach to LGBT people is as notable as it is imperfect, but on this point we can be clear: one can find no support for discriminating against LGBT church workers in the pastoral witness of Pope Francis.


7 thoughts on “Would Pope Francis Condemn or Defend LGBT Church Workers?

  1. Wilhelm Wonka October 15, 2016 / 4:47 am

    Your defence of Pope Francis would carry greater weight if he were prepared to employ OPENLY gay people at the Vatican, including those in committed relationships. There would, therefore, be no need for him to intervene personally in every case of LGBT employment discrimination in Catholic dioceses around the world.

    Words are one thing; action is quite another. Christ led not just by word, but by deed. Francis needs to do the same. His apparently warm words towards LGBT people will soon grow cold unless he is prepared to lead, by practical and clear example, Pharisaical prelates like Tobin .

    • Wilhelm Wonka October 15, 2016 / 5:16 am

      (Any news of Professor Griffin?)

      • newwaysministryblog October 15, 2016 / 5:44 am

        Unfortunately, no, but when we learn something more, we will let you know. Thank you for asking.

  2. Friends October 15, 2016 / 5:30 am

    Once again, Wilhelm, we are on the same wavelength here. Even before reading your post, I had been prepared to comment: “I think we can cut Pope Francis some slack, because of his evident good intentions and kindness of heart — but no slack whatsoever for Tobin, who seems to be genuinely hateful and vicious, rather than kind and pastoral, in his approach to diocesan governance. I suspect that he has deep internal conflicts and insecurities around issues of human sexual and romantic relationships — even when those relationships are faithfully-bonded. All the more reason why MARRIED PRIESTS, with families of their own, would be in a much more advantageous position, when dealing with human relationship issues. The priesthood in the early Church was largely a married priesthood. So what’s the difficulty about restoring this early precedent? As far as I can see: no theological difficulty whatsoever — just a lack of any resolve at the Papal level to get it done.

  3. Tom Bower October 15, 2016 / 9:58 am

    Sorry, but cutting slack is the same as going no where. In spite of platitudes, nothing has changed since the harsh 1986 condemnation of LGBT people. Not endorsing burning at the stake is not welcoming one to your heart. Francis has a powerful pulpit, but he declines to reign in his bishops. Ignoring his statements that he would focus on poverty, the Vatican still seems stuck in the bedroom, particularly the same sex one. One change is that the stance against artificial contraception is hardly ever mentioned while LGBT people have been getting decades of hate. Francis is sounding more and more like a mis-tuned gong that does not ring true or sound of love. .

  4. Nancy Mascotte October 15, 2016 / 3:26 pm

    I appreciated the pastoral tone of the Pope’s response when asked how he would minister to a transgender Catholic. You reported he responded “When someone who has this condition comes before Jesus, Jesus would surely never say, ‘Go away because you’re gay.'” But I believe his response is also evidence that Francis, along with many others, is confused when it comes to the reality of gender and orientation. Just because a person identifies as transgender does not mean they necessarily identify as gay. Thank God there are people like “Sister Monica” and Evelyn and James Whitehead offering education within the Catholic community around the important reality of Gender variance.

  5. Clyde Christofferson October 15, 2016 / 5:43 pm

    There is perhaps a simpler way to understand Francis. He loves the whole Church, individuals, communities, institutional realities — all the parts of who we are as Church. He understands as Jesus understood that we are all on a journey toward union with a loving God.

    But that journey must have its integrity. The one on the journey must take the steps, guided by the Spirit of Christ. What is the nature of that Spirit? Does that Spirit stand in judgment from the vantage point of some better place further along on the journey? Or does that Spirit take each of us, and our communities and institutions as well, at the place that we are on the journey, giving small encouragements to take the next step?

    It is hard to judge from the outside, because the Spirit is within. So Francis if he is wise and loving would be likely — would he not — to be supportive in a way that provides encouragement to take the next step. To recognize the damage done to the Church by the teachings on homosexuality may be a step too far at a particular time for a particular individual, community, or institution. It is for us at the grass roots to continue to speak up for justice in those circumstances, so that the offender is challenged to continue the journey.

    In one sense that makes Francis a contradiction, calling us to our better selves with one hand and with the other hand supporting rather than admonishing one who falls short of mercy and love. But it is not necessary to play the politics of contradiction. It all falls into place if we give priority to the integrity of the journey of the ‘other’, while at the same time never holding back from calling injustice by its right name.

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