Archbishops Correct Irish Bishop’s Insensitive Remarks About Lesbian & Gay People

March 12, 2015

The two leading bishops of Ireland have refused to support the recent statements by another Irish bishop in which he said that gay people are not parents and that homosexuality was comparable to Down’s Syndrome and spina bifida.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and Archbishop Eamon Martin speak with the press about Bishop Kevin Doran’s comments.

The Irish Times reported that Armagh’s Archbishop Eamon Martin and Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin held a press conference during the national bishops’ meeting to correct the statements by Bishop Kevin Doran, of Elphin, which he made during a recent radio interview focusing on the Irish hierarchy’s opposition to the upcoming national referendum on marriage equality.  [For a transcript of selected portions of the interview, click here.]

Both Eamon Martin and Diarmuid Martin are, respectively, president and vice president of Ireland’s national conference of bishops.  The Dublin archbishop made headlines last year when he said:

“God never created anybody that he doesn’t love.…

“Anybody who doesn’t show love towards gay and lesbian people is insulting God. They are not just homophobic if they do that – they are actually Godophobic because God loves every one of those people.”

The Irish Times report carried a good deal of the two archbishops’ statements concerning Doran’s interview:

“Asked whether Bishop Doran had his confidence following a Newstalk interview he gave on Monday, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin replied: ‘I won’t go into that.’

“He continued ‘I believe certain types of language are inappropriate.’

“He described as ‘an unfortunate phrase,’ a comment by Bishop Doran in the interview that ‘people who have children are not necessarily parents.’

“The Archbishop continued: ‘I hope that people were not offended by it. We have used the term parenthood…we talk about adoptive parents, we talk about lone parents. There are very many, many definitions. I think that we should look on that variety of situations in a way that is more positive. We shouldn’t use phrases that may offend people.’ . . .

“Archbishop Eamon Martin said ‘I believe there are many different kinds of parenthood and indeed there are many gay people who are parents.’ ”

Archbishop Eamon Martin also commented on another important error in Bishop Doran’s interview:

“On Bishop Doran’s claim that ‘the jury is out’ on whether people were born gay or became gay Archbishop Eamon Martin said ‘I believe people are born the way they are born and I believe that God creates us as we are.’ “

While Bondings 2.0 reported on Doran’s comments on Down’s Syndrome and spina bifida, we were not, at the time, aware of his comments on parenting.  What follows is the transcript of that portion of the interview with host Chris Donoghue:

Doran: “Yeah, but you obviously haven’t heard what I’m saying. There’s an essential relationship between marriage and the giving of life to, and caring for, children.”

O’Donoghue: “What I’m saying is…”

Doran: “Ad so when you change the meaning of marriage, you change the relationships of parents because if children are now, to have say, two parents who are of the same sex, that…”

O’Donoghue: “But children do, Bishop. As in lesbian people, lesbians, gay men they are already parents..”

Doran: “They’re not parents. You see the point about it is…”

O’Donoghue: “But they are, all over Ireland. They have children.”

Doran: “They may have children but that’s the difference, you see that’s the point, people who have children are not necessarily parents. ‘

Both archbishops did not back down on their opposition to marriage equality becoming the law of the land in Ireland.  They restated their arguments, including noting that Pope Francis is opposed to marriage equality laws.

Significant still, however, is that these two leaders would make such a public denouncement of one of their brother bishops.   In fact, they noted that Doran does not speak for the conference:

“When it was put to him that Bishop Doran had been fronting the Catholic bishops stance on the marriage equality referendum, the Archbishop of Dublin said the position was being fronted ‘by the President and Vice President of the Conference. That is why we are here today.’

Archbishop Eamon Martin said that Doran apologized for any hurt that his words had caused.

In a separate incident earlier this month, Doran made headlines by stating that gay people could already legally marry–jut not each other.  Thes public relations fiascos are a lesson in how bishops need further education on LGBT issues, and this could best be accomplished by greater dialogue with LGBT people.  Let’s hope that Bishop Doran, who will likely not be speaking further on the marriage referendum, will use his time to educate himself by open and honest conversations with Catholic LGBT people in his diocese.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Bishop’s Insensible Remarks Reveal the Great Need for LGBT Dialogue

March 10, 2015

The greatest evidence that bishops need to have more dialogues with LGBT people is in the insensible remarks these prelates make regarding sexuality.

Last week, we pointed out how Ireland’s Bishop Kevin Doran made an uneducated remark about how gay people can already get married–just not to each other.   This week, Bishop Doran, of the Elphin Diocese, made an equally uninformed statement when he compared homosexuality to Down’s Syndrome or spina bifida.

Doran was a guest on Ireland’s NewsTalk Breakfast radio program discussing the nation’s upcoming referendum on marriage equality. RawStory.com captured part of the dialogue:

“The radio host asked the bishop people being born gay was ‘as God intended.’

“ ‘That would be to suggest that some people are born with Down’s syndrome or spina bifida, that that was what God intended,’ Doran opined. ‘The thing about it is, I can’t see it in the mind of God.’

“ ‘The things you mentioned are disabilities,’ the host pointed out. ‘Your sexual orientation is not a disability.’

“ ‘Well, I’m not entering into that,’ Doran replied. ‘I’m just saying it would be wrong to suggest that everything that happens, happens because God intended it. If that were the case, we’d be talking about a very different kind of God.’ “

[You can listen to the interview by clicking here.]

It is somewhat embarrassing for Catholics to have to have a radio interviewer point out to a bishop that his analogy is incorrect. Moreover, Doran’s remark seems predicated on the premise that people with Down’s Syndrome or spina bifida are somehow “less than” other people.  I don’t know people with spina bifida, or their friends and family members, react to this.  As someone who has a Down’s Syndrome relative, I know that he was sent to us by God.

Furthermore, the bishop fails to see that the magisterium’s approach to homosexuality codes it as a moral category, not simply a biological one.  That is not something it does with other biological manifestations. If homosexuality and Down’s Syndrome or spina bifida were truly comparable, then why doesn’t the magisterium remove the moral shadow it places over people’s attractions to those of their gender.

Most egregious in Doran’s comments, though, is the implication that he is somehow able to understand what God intends for a person.  I think that understanding God’s intentions for the life of a person is something that borders on mystery. Or, at the very least,  it is something which can be understood only by the person, through prayer and discernment, not by an outsider.

That is where dialogue comes into play.  Open, honest, candid conversations between bishops and LGBT people would help bishops better appreciate what many LGBT people understand so intimately: that they have been wonderfully made by God; that they experience their sexuality as a way of drawing into more intimate relationship with another human being and with the Source of Life and Love; that their gender identity allows them to see the world, other people, and God in new and life-giving ways.

Bishops will not learn about such realities from a book.  They will only learn about it from faith-filled discussions with real people.

Bishop Doran should start such conversations before he says another word about marriage equality or LGBT people.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Diocese in Spain Issues Guidelines for Baptism of Children of Same-Sex Couples

March 9, 2015

A diocese in Spain has issued guidelines to priests on baptizing children of lesbian and gay couples, as a way of making sure that these children are not ignored by the Church.

Gnom.esan English-language news service from Spain, reported that Diocese of Osma and Soria produced these guidelines to clarify the

“legal and pastoral requirements for both adopted and biological children of either all-male or all-female couples, either married – currently not possible through the church, in Spain – or cohabiting, to ‘clear up any doubts’ among church leaders asked to conduct the ceremonies.”

Spain is one of 12 European nations to legalize same-gender marriage, and in 2005 it was the third nation in the world to do so.  The Diocese of Osma and Soria is in the Castilla y León province, in the west of Spain, and it is headed by Bishop Gerardo Melgar Viciosa.

The Vicar General of the diocese, Father Gabriel-Ángel Rodríguez, said that the same “prudence and charity” should be shown to same-gender couples, as is shown to heterosexual couples and single parents.    The news story elaborated further on his explanation:

“Father Rodríguez says the past few years have seen an upsurge in the number of baptisms into the Catholic Church in Spain of children who have been born to or adopted by same-sex couples, and that this has posed a new challenge for priests and parish leaders which often leaves them with questions and confusion.”

The guide encourages respect, as well as pastoral sensitivity, for gay and lesbian couples who bring their children to be baptized.  The news article observed:

“The guide does not aim to ‘judge the conscience’ of these children’s parents and warns vicars and priests not to do so either, says Father Rodríguez, even where those conducting christening ceremonies consider the parents’ ‘moral conduct’ to be ‘objectively contradictory’ to the teachings of the Church.

“Children baptised into the Catholic Church, whatever their parents’ sexual orientation, must be educated in the Catholic faith, the guide states.

“And those whose parents are gay or lesbian must be treated with ‘the same pastoral tact’ as children of heterosexual parents.”

A resource such as this one will go a long way to helping to welcome families headed by lesbian and gay couples to the Church.  I hope that other dioceses, especially in the United States, would adopt such an approach.  It is so much better than continuing to ignore or oppose the legal reality of same-sex marriage which is spreading rapidly across the U.S. and the globe.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related Post:

Bondings 2.0: Lesbian Couple’s Child Baptized with Argentine Archbishop’s Blessing


The Ups and Downs of the Hierarchy’s New Discourse on Gay and Lesbian People

March 6, 2015

An African archbishop’s recent comments on homosexuality is an example of a new type of ecclesial discourse that is emerging on the topic.  His message shows the dangers of such a discourse, the small progress that our church leaders have made, and the hope for future advancement.

Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckle

In an interview with the website Aleteia.org,  Archbishop Charles Palmer-Buckle of Accra, Ghana, discussed his hopes and expectations for the Vatican’s October 2015 Synod on Marriage and the Family. In a discussion about different forms of marriage, he digressed into the topic of lesbian and gay people, saying:

“In Africa — this is the context I’m dealing with — I will not close my eyes to the fact that there are instances in Africa of homosexuals, people with homosexual tendencies, people with lesbian tendencies. Africa has always frowned upon that, because we have always looked at marriage as contributing to the well being of the greater society, not necessarily only to the well being of the individuals.

“So in a way, we may have to say that anyone who had a certain tendency was not happily looked at. In fact, there have been instances when their human rights have been trampled upon. The Church is calling us to understand that. Whether the person has homosexual tendencies or heterosexual tendencies, the person is created in the image and likeness of God, and that image and likeness of God is what we must protect. That is what we must defend. And that is why we must help that individual listen to what God says about his or her state. And I think that is the beauty of what the Church teaches us.”

What are the features of this new ecclesial discourse?  First, like Palmer-Buckle, I think we are going to see a lot more members of the hierarchy speaking about the human dignity of gay and lesbian people.  That’s a step forward.  For too long, bishops have been reluctant to enunciate this aspect of orthodox church teaching.

But, another feature is the use of the word “tendencies.”  This word, which began to be used more widely towards the end of John Paul II’s papacy and continued through the papacy of Benedict XVI, is problematic for two important reasons. First, it focuses homosexuality on acts, not persons or relationships. Second, it has the connotation that homosexuality may be temporary or fleeting.  A “tendency” is much less permanent or foundational than an “orientation.”   So, using “tendencies” is a step backward, or, more accurately, remaining in place–a very bad place.

The interviewer asked Palmer-Buckle: “. . . the word “accogliere” [to welcome] was a word used a great deal during the Extraordinary Synod last October. The word, in some instances, has been hijacked to make it seem as though the Church is on its way to approving homosexual relationships. What do the bishops need to say next October in order to communicate both to Africa and and to the West exactly where the Church stands? “

Interestingly, instead of agreeing with the more traditionalist agenda embedded in that question, Palmer-Buckle answered in a more “pastoral” way:

“You know, if there is anything I find beautiful about Pope Francis, it is how he calls us back to the question: How would Christ act in this circumstance?

“And I think one of the deepest respects I have for him was when he was returning from Rio de Janeiro and was interviewed by journalists who were interested in knowing what the Pope thinks about lesbians and gays, when he said: ‘If a gay is looking for Christ, who am I to condemn the person?’

“I think the Pope took the stance of Jesus Christ. For instance, in the face of the woman who was caught in adultery, those who were standing there wanted to stone her to death. And what did Jesus say? ‘Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.’ The Bible tells us ‘they went away one by one.’ Now if you remember the question Jesus posed to the woman: ‘Woman, has no one condemned you?’ She responds: ‘No one.’ He says: ‘Then neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.’

“The beauty of what I like about this is that Jesus first thought he must save this woman and her God-given dignity and the gift of life that God had given her. After he had saved her and made her understand that God loves her, then he tells her: now go and repair whatever is between you and God. I find it beautiful.”

There is a welcome in the archbishop’s message, which, if it were unconditional, would be helpful. However, his comparison of lesbian/gay people with the woman who is caught in adultery is demeaning.  Furthermore, his emphasis on the need for repentance of sexual sin cancels out any welcome might have been offered.

Such negative attitudes in language indicate that church leaders like Palmer-Buckle still have a lot to learn about homosexuality and the lives of lesbian and gay people–particularly their lives of faith and love.

At the same time, Palmer-Buckle shows an important development in ecclesial discourse which I hope will be emulated:  he has the ability to acknowledge where the church has failed.  In answer to a question about pressure from the media, he answered:

“So I don’t blame [the media]. Most probably we have for so long a time made people suffer just because they are not ‘like us.’  We’ve made them suffer, discriminated against them, we have ostracized them. So if today the gay lobby is very loud it’s because we have almost de-humanized them. . . .

“What the Pope is bringing out is that we have no right to dehumanize anybody, either for color, for creed, or for sexual orientation. We should embrace them, and then point out, walk with them towards what the Pope believes is a certain inner voice that nobody can suffocate, that not even the media can suffocate.

“Those who are in the gay lobby, for one reason or another, have been compelled by us, the so-called ‘good ones,’ to even shove down a certain voice in themselves which definitely I think has been pointing out to them that something is not 100% right. We have contributed to that. We have also shut down in ourselves the voice which says: Everyone is a child of God, and we should welcome them all. We have no right to stone anybody, and we have no right to ostracize anybody. We should welcome them.

Self-criticism is a major step forward.  Awareness that zeal about sexual ethics has cancelled out any human empathy and Christian compassion is also a significant advancement.  To me, these qualities are pre-requisites for dialogue.  Dialogue can’t happen if either side is unwilling to see themselves from the other perspective.

My hope would be that such bishops would be open to honest dialogue with lesbian and gay Catholics, in the non-judgmental manner advocated by Pope Francis.  Palmer-Buckle’s interview contains one passage which, if he takes it seriously, could open up his approach somewhat.  In talking about the Extraordinary Synod on Marriage and the Family in October 2014, Palmer-Buckle said:

“The Holy Father himself put together a very beautiful synthesis. The long and short of it is: nobody should stop anybody from saying what he or she thinks about the current state of marriage, family, etc. Nobody should suffocate anybody. We should listen to one another and we should reflect on it and try to see what the Holy Spirit will tell us about how to accompany towards Christ people who find themselves in any form of marriage. That is [Pope Francis’] main concern: how do we bring them, whoever they are, in whatever context they find themselves, to Christ. I think that was a beautiful message.”

Yes, we need to listen and reflect.  Not just bishops with other bishops, but bishops with laity and clergy and theologians and those in the scientific community.   No one should be excluded from the dialogue.  To hear the Spirit, we need to hear all the voices.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


U.K. Catholic LGBT Leaders Meet With Cardinal Turkson While on Pilgrimage

March 4, 2015

As we mentioned before, when New Ways Ministry was on pilgrimage in Italy last month, another group of LGBT Catholics were also there.  The second group was from the United Kingdom, hailing from London’s Farm Street Jesuit Church (Immaculate Conception parish), where the Diocese of Westminster houses their official outreach ministry to LGBT people, known as “LGBT Catholics Westminster.”

Cardinal Peter Turkson

Cardinal Peter Turkson

Two of the members of this U.K. group also had the opportunity to meet with Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and his, Fr. Michael Czerny S.J., Secretary of the same Council.  The British representatives asked for the meeting on behalf of the Catholic members of the European Forum of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Christian Groups.  A press statement summarized the meeting:

“The discussion on 21 February 2015 included an exchange of views about the global impact of criminalisation on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. Cardinal Turkson reaffirmed his opposition to the criminalisation of homosexuals for who they are, while also urging that neither people nor states be penalized for not embracing such behaviour.

“The Lineamenta for the 2015 Synod on Marriage and Family, with particular reference to its paragraphs (55 & 56) dealing with same-sex relationships, also came up, with the hope that the pastoral needs of LGBT Catholics, their parents and families, including those of children in same-sex families, would meet with informed discussion during next October’s Ordinary Synod of Bishops.”

New Ways Ministry pilgrims with LGBT Catholic pilgrim group from UK

New Ways Ministry pilgrims with LGBT Catholic pilgrim group from UK

The U.K. pilgrims met with New Ways Ministry’s pilgrims for Eucharistic liturgies at St. Albert’s International Carmelite Center and Santa Maria Maggiore (St. Mary Major) Basilica.

The U.K group also held Evening Prayer in Rome’s ancient San Bartolomeo Church, now dedicated to the memory of modern martyrs. The moving liturgy remembered the lives of victims of homophobic and transphobic violence, as well as those who had given their lives in witness to LGBT concerns.

While attending the papal audience on Ash Wednesday, the U.K. pilgrimage group was the first of the English language groups announced

LGBT Catholics Westminster  Pilgrims in St. Peter's Square

LGBT Catholics Westminster Pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square

at the event, identified as a pilgrimage group from Immaculate Conception parish, London.

They also celebrated Mass at San Alfonso Church, the titular church of Cardinal Vincent Nichols, who heads London’s Diocese of Westminster.  Nichols also sent the pilgrims off with a special prayer and blessing:

You are at the threshold of Lent. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. What an excellent time to be on pilgrimage in Rome! You are at the thresholds of the Apostles. What an excellent place to be on pilgrimage at the beginning of Lent.
May Saints Peter and Paul, and indeed all the Apostles, be your constant teachers, guides and companions throughout your stay in Rome – and when you return. Their heroic witness to the life, death and resurrection of the Lord is an inspiring example for us all. May their prayers again turn your gaze to the merciful face of Jesus, who calls out to you in unfailing love. He will give you grace to be his faithful missionary disciples. May you bring others into the family of the Church, founded on the Apostles, teaching us how to follow the pathways of faithfulness to Jesus in all the different aspects of our lives.
In this way may your lives be a true witness to all who are striving to find God’s love. Only Jesus can truly bring us the joy and fulfilment for which we all yearn. Let us be close to him. Be assured of my prayers for each and every one of you.Please pray for me at the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul, and at all the holy places you visit.
Have a wonderful pilgrimage. God bless you all. 
+ Cardinal Vincent Nichols.”
The U.K. and U.S. pilgrimages also met for an evening of discussion and interchange with members of Nuova Proposta, a Christian LGBT organization in Rome.  They shared ideas and models of LGBT pastoral ministry with one another.
I can speak for New Ways Ministry when I say that the encounter and collaboration with the U.K. pilgrims made our journey to Rome so much the richer.  Meeting with Nuova Proposta, the Roman group, and Kairos, an LGBT Christian group in Florence, also provided us with deeper understanding of the joys and challenges that our peers encounter in Italy.
New Ways Ministry is also very happy and excited that the meeting with Cardinal Turkson occurred.   May the conversation with this Vatican official bear fruit in terms of greater justice for LGBT people around the world!
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Irish Arguments About Marriage Equality Go From the Ridiculous to the Sublime

March 3, 2015

Marriage equality demonstrators in Dublin, Ireland.

For those of us in countries where the marriage equality debate has been ongoing for several years, it may seem that we have already heard the most outrageous comments opposing such measures.  And, sadly, those comments often come from Catholic officials.   We may have also thought we have heard some of the most insightful pro-marriage arguments, but it seems there are still more to be made.

The debate in Ireland over marriage equality, which is to be put to a national referendum on May 19th,  has recently fostered a bishop’s comment which bewilders logic.  At the same time, a Catholic lay spokesperson has argued eloquently in favor of the measure.

Bishop Kevin Doran of the Diocese of Elphin recently offered that gay and lesbian people are already allowed to legally marry–just not each other.  In a talk at a parish, Doran went through a list of rhetorical questions about lesbian/gay people and marriage, ending with:

“Can people of homosexual orientation marry?

“This is quite interesting, because most people would probably say that they cannot legally do so. But, of course there is no legal obstacle to a person of homosexual orientation getting married, just as a heterosexual person can.

“To that extent the question of marriage equality simply doesn’t arise. (Whether it is good or just or wise for a homosexual person to enter marriage is another question.)”

Doran’s point is a silly one, which reflects poorly on him, and does not substantially add to the discussion.  The sad part of his statements is that their silliness overshadows a number of positive things that he said leading up to those remarks.  Discussing Catholic approaches to lesbian and gay people, he said:

“A. Can we recognise the fundamental goodness of people who are of homosexual orientation? Yes.

“B. Do we believe that they are loved by God? Yes.

“C. And that they are equal in dignity to every other person? Yes.

“D. Can they be actively involved in the life of the Church? Yes.

“E. Can friendships between people of the same sex be good, even if they are sexually attracted to one another? Yes, of course.

“While marriage is the ‘primary and most unique friendship’, there are many other kinds of friendship which are blessed by God. Friendship is an aspect of love, and love is the path to holiness.

“This of course applies equally to those who are homosexual in orientation as it does to those who are heterosexual.

“F. Can people of homosexual orientation receive the Eucharist? Yes, on exactly the same basis as heterosexual people, who are likewise called to the virtue of chastity.

“G. Can we engage with them in pastoral care for the family? Yes, of course.”

While the Irish bishops oppose marriage equality,  other Irish church leaders and the Irish Catholic lay people are very much in support of it.  The Irish Times reported on a recent statement from a coalition of religious organizations, including two Catholic lay groups, We Are Church Ireland and Gay Catholic Voice Ireland.  One leader was quoted in the story:

“Brendan Butler, of We Are Church Ireland, said the Catholic Church’s opposition to marriage equality was the view of ‘the hierarchical church. We are representing a huge squad of ordinary Catholics. We have people in our group who are gay people as well as mothers and grandmothers of gay people. They are appalled at the attitude of the church.’ “

Butler recently penned an op-ed for The Irish Times in support of marriage equality, and he argued:

“Jesus of Nazareth challenged the skewed values and injustices of the religious and political elites of his day and their exploitation and marginalisation of their people.

“We as followers of Jesus must also challenge the injustices of our Church and society.

“This Kingdom of God is not confined to the Church but to the creation of a more just society in which all people are valued as equals.

“This is a vision which We are Church Ireland proclaims. We wish and work for a society where a person’s sexual orientation is not a cause of discrimination or prejudice.

“When it comes to marriage, Christians do not have the ownership of the institution and should invite gay, lesbian and transgender people to share in the joys of marriage if they so wish.

“As a result of a yes vote in the referendum we will have a more just and inclusive society befitting the dignity of all people.”

PinkNews.co.uk recently reported that polls show strong support for marriage equality among the Irish population:

It recently emerged that one in five voters are still undecided about how they will vote in the referendum in May. The poll found that while 62 percent were in favour with 16 percent opposed, 22 percent of voters are still unsure/didn’t know how they would vote on the issue.

In such a heavily and traditionally Catholic nation, the results of this referendum will be significant for Catholic politics.  Una Mullaly, writing in The Guardiannoted:

“To get this far is nothing short of a phenomenal achievement. Homosexuality was only decriminalised in 1993; the Civil Partnership Act passed in 2010. The dedication of LGBT rights groups has changed hearts and minds. And now, Ireland is staging a referendum that enjoys support from all major political parties and the majority of the public, something unimaginable just a decade ago. . . .

The world will be watching Ireland in the lead-up to May’s referendum. If the Irish electorate seizes this opportunity, it won’t just be a local victory, it could be the watershed moment the global movement for marriage equality has been waiting for.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


New Ways Ministry’s LGBT Catholic Pilgrims Get VIP Seats at Papal Audience

February 19, 2015
NWM Rome 2015

New Ways Ministry pilgrims pose in St. Peter’s Square following the papal audience with Pope Francis.

In what is surely the most official welcome from Church officials that New Ways Ministry has received in its 38-year history, a pilgrimage group of 48 LGBT Catholics and supporters led by our co-founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, received VIP seating at the papal audience in St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City, on Ash Wednesday, February 18, 2015.

Sister Jeannine had written to Pope Francis in December 2014, asking him to meet personally with the group when they visited Rome as part of their ten-day pilgrimage to Florence, Assisi, and the Eternal City.

Two weeks before departure on February 12th, she received a letter from Archbishop Georg Ganswein, Prefect of the Papal Household, letting her know that he had reserved tickets for the group for the Ash Wednesday audience.  She assumed that these were the general seating tickets. On the night of February 17th, when the group picked up the tickets at St. Peter’s, they learned that they were VIP seating.

When the group arrived at St. Peter’s Square in the morning, we were guided by papal ushers to the level of the Square where the pope sits.  All were astonished!    While we were not able to shake the pope’s hand personally, it is very significant that the Vatican responded so positively to an LGBT group by giving us such a prominent place at the audience.
When the pope passed by our group, we all sang “All Are Welcome,” a popular hymn which calls for an inclusive church.  We also called out several times that “We are LGBT Catholics!”
Pope Francis greets pilgrims at the Ash Wednesday audience.

Pope Francis greets pilgrims at the Ash Wednesday audience.

Although Sister Jeannine Gramick has led two other pilgrimages to Rome under the two previous popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, their presence was ignored at the papal audiences.

A Religion News Service story in The Washington Post noted that it was not just Vatican recognition that was significant, but that several other Church leaders helped the process along the way:

“. . . Archbishop Georg Ganswein, head of the papal household and the top aide to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, responded to New Ways’ request for a papal meet-and-greet by reserving tickets for the group at Francis’ weekly public audience in St. Peter’s Square. It’s not a private meeting — which is tough for anyone to get — but it’s not nothing.

“The pope’s ambassador to Washington forwarded a similar request to Rome. Even San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone — point man for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ battle against gay marriage — had written a letter to the Vatican on their behalf.

“Last December, Cordileone had a constructive meeting with Frank DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, a co-founder of New Ways and a longtime advocate for LGBT inclusion in the church. But they were still surprised by the archbishop’s willingness to write a letter for them.”

Sister Jeannine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo in St. Peter's Square following the Ash Wednesday audience.

Sister Jeannine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo in St. Peter’s Square following the Ash Wednesday audience.

Gibson also noted that a British cardinal has given similar prestigious recognition to an LGBT Catholic pilgrimage which is also in Rome this week:

” . . . British Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster sent a warm blessing to a group of LGBT Catholics from London who are joining up with New Ways in Rome. ‘Be assured of my prayers for each and every one of you,’ Nichols wrote. ‘Have a wonderful pilgrimage. God bless you all.’ “

Reuters story published on Huffington Post captured the response of New Ways Ministry’s leaders just after they left the papal audience:

” ‘What this says is that there is movement in our Church, movement to welcome people from the outside closer to the inside,’ Gramick said in St. Peter’s Square. . . . “DeBernardo said Catholic gay and lesbian couples and other non-traditional families should be invited to the meeting, known as a synod, to speak to the bishops about their faith and their sexuality.”

An Associated Press video also reported their reactions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xhM3UMRl830 Several of the LGBT pilgrims were visibly moved by the welcome they received and by the experience of seeing the pope in person.  Several noted that they felt this was one more step in the progress–albeit, slow–that LGBT Catholics have been making in the Church for several decades.  All agreed that this day will never be forgotten.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

Associated Press: “Gay Catholics Get Vatican Welcome, but No Papal Shout-Out”

New York Daily News:  “American gay Catholic group welcomed to Vatican”


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