Pope Francis explicitly rejected homophobia in his pastoral ministry, according to the pope’s former student and friend Yayo Grassi.
In impromptu remarks during New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award Ceremony on Sunday, Grassi, who made headlines in 2015 because of his personal meeting with Pope Francis in Washington, DC, shared about his relationship with the pope and Francis’ approach to homosexuality, saying:
“I have known Pope Francis since he was my teacher, my professor in high school when I was seventeen years old. I know that he knew then that I was gay, and we have been friends ever since. I visited him in Rome and then we visited when he came to Washington. He met who was at the time my boyfriend both times, and he’s always asking about him.”
Grassi and his partner met with Francis in Washington, D.C. during the 2015 papal visit to the United States last fall. This private meeting was made public after it was alleged the pope had met with and blessed Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who had denied marriage licenses to same-gender couples. Grassi told reporters at the time he felt he needed to defend his friend, the pope, from unfair criticism.
Grassi also told attendees at the New Ways Ministry event (which honored Jesuit Fr. James Martin for promoting dialogue in the church on LGBT issues) about an exchange he had with the pope, when Francis was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina:
“When the gay marriage law was being discussed in the Senate in Argentina, I read on the internet that then-Cardinal Bergoglio was very much against it and that he had said really painful and hateful things about the approval of the law. I was very surprised. I was very surprised more than anything else because knowing him, and knowing how much love there is in his heart, it was difficult for me to understand that he would do such a hateful thing. . .
“So I wrote him a quite extensive letter. I sent him an email telling him how much I admire him, how important he was in my life, and how much he did for me. How he had brought forward through his education the most open and progressive thought in my life. And then I went on saying, I will never be able to thank you, so you might think its a very strange way to thank you if I tell you I’m very disappointed by the way you treated the gay [marriage] law.”
Cardinal Bergoglio replied to Grassi’s letter in two days. He first asked forgiveness because of the hurt his former student felt and continued, as paraphrased by Grassi:
“Believe me I never said any of those things. The press picked up from two letters that I sent to the nuns asking them not to give any kind of opinion on this, and they were distorted and they were put as my words.”
Concluding his brief remarks, Grassi offered what he considered to be “the most beautiful thing. . .the most amazing thing” about Pope Francis, which came at the end of that reply letter:
“[Bergoglio in 2008] ends his letter, besides asking me to pray for him as he always does, saying, ‘Yayo, believe me, in my pastoral work, there is no place for homophobia.’ And that is the first time that I realized what an amazing person he was. He not only said, ‘Who am I to judge?’, there is something very important that he said later, he said ‘Who are we to judge?’. . .The we was the whole church, and the whole humankind.”
Fr. Martin’s address was about bridge building, an invitation to a two-way bridge on which LGBT communities and the institutional church can dialogue. You can read a report on the address here. What Grassi’s experiences with Pope Francis reveal is a model for just how the institutional church can be changed by encounter and by friendship.
Equally important, however, is the necessity for church leaders to explicitly and unequivocally reject homophobia in the church and in society. It would be a wonderful step towards building bridges if the supreme pontiff in the church, Pope Francis, were to publicly declare what he told Grassi privately, that “in my pastoral work, there is no place for homophobia.”
Watch Yayo Grassi’s full remarks below or by clicking here.
–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 1, 2016