Earlier this week, Pope Francis gave a surprise TED Talk on “Why the Only Future Worth Building Includes Everyone.” The pope covered many topics in the seventeen-minute address, including appeals for inclusion and love. Francis said “we can only build the future by standing together, including everyone,” and continued:
“How wonderful would it beif the growth of scientific and technological innovationwould come along with more equality and social inclusion.How wonderful would it be, while we discover faraway planets,to rediscover the needs of the brothers and sisters orbiting around us.How wonderful would it be if solidarity,this beautiful and, at times, inconvenient word,were not simply reduced to social work,and became, instead, the default attitudein political, economic and scientific choices,as well as in the relationships among individuals, peoples and countries.”
Pope Francis also called for a “revolution of tenderness,” which is “the love that comes close and becomes real.” He explained what this revolution will require of people:
“In order to do good,we need memory, we need courage and we need creativity. . .Yes, love does require a creative, concreteand ingenious attitude.Good intentions and conventional formulas,so often used to appease our conscience, are not enough.Let us help each other, all together, to rememberthat the other is not a statistic or a number.The other has a face.The ‘you’ is always a real presence,a person to take care of.”
LGBT Catholics, their loved ones, and allies may experience a dissonance reading these words. Pope Francis’ mixed record on issues of gender and sexuality may weaken his strong call for inclusion. But this address could also be the foundation from which Catholics can build greater inclusion of LGBT people. Catholics, especially church leaders should apply the pope’s principles to the ways they approach LGBT people and topics.
Is Pope Francis’ call for inclusion and equality harmful or helpful? What would you like to see from him on LGBT issues? Leave your reactions in the “Comments” section below.
TODAY IS MARCH 27th: LAST DAY TO REGISTER TO AVOID A LATE FEE!
New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers: Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders: Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv. Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader: Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS. For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org. REGISTER BY MARCH 27th to avoid a late fee.
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Pope Francis exhorted youth to avoid bullying others last week, saying they must “promise Jesus to never bully.” But given the pope’s mixed record, does his message mean not to bully LGBTQ youth, too?
Francis made the remarks at a youth rally in a Milan stadium filled with nearly 80,00 mostly young people. He was answering a catechist’s question about how educators, students, and families could communicate better. Crux reported that he told adults to be on the lookout for bullying, and then he addressed the youth:
“‘I ask you, in silence: in your schools, in your neighborhoods, is there someone that you mock? That you make fun of because they look a little funny, because they are a little fat? That you like to embarrass and hit because of this?
“‘Think about this. This is called bullying. . .Understood? Promise me: never, never make fun of, never mock a friend, a neighbor, etc. Do you promise this?'”
It is good that the pope, a former teacher, is concerned about the bullying which afflicts many youth worldwide. Francis might consider a call to end bullying against particularly vulnerable demographics, including LGBTQ youth. But if he is really serious about helping to end bullying, he should examine the ways the Catholic Church can and has perpetuated it.
Though it is not universally true that Catholic officials have ignored or allowed bullying, a quick survey of incidents reveals how much harm church leaders have caused:
In England, a transgender student was shot with a BB gun by another student after the transgender student faced months of bullying at his Catholic school;
Parents have accused schools of ignoring the bullying against their children, including the parents of transgender student who was shot with a BB gun and the parents of New York teenager who died by suicide.
Bishops in Colombia thanked the government for dropping a resource aimed at helping educators know how to combat bullying against LGBT people;
An anti-bullying workshop was cancelled in Ireland after school officials said it did not present the unspecified “other side” of the issue;
The parents of a gay teenager who died by suicide in Colombia claimed it resulted after the school’s principal outed their son in front of others at the Catholic school;
Updated policies in the Diocese of Little Rock threatened students with expulsion if they come out as LGBTQ.
Catholic schools have also banned a gay student from a dance, expelled a lesbian student from prom for not wearing a dress, and refused to accommodate a trans student who was transitioning. Supportive Catholic educators have been fired in New Jersey, including Warren Hall who was fired for posting about the NOH8 campaign. [Note: Hall will be presenting a workshop on gay priests and religious at New Ways Ministry’s 8th National Symposium this April. Click here for more information.]
In some of these incidents, educators and church officials acknowledged a mistake or worked to rectify the situation. These, however, are not the only courses of action. There are concrete examples of how Catholic education can work against bullying and promote the flourishing of every student:
Teacher in Ontario’s Catholic schools marched in Pride in show of solidarity with their LGBTQ students;
A priest in New York even declared 2014 the “Year of Lady Gaga,” (she attended Catholic schools) showing students how to have courage in their lives.
Students and their families are increasingly looking for not only welcome, but support for LGBTQ youth. Michael Maher, who authored the 2001 book Being Gay and Lesbian in a Catholic High School, has commented that since he began studying this issue, such expectations have increased dramatically. [Note: Maher will be offering a workshop on youth and young adults at New Ways Ministry’s 8th National Symposium this April. Click here for more information.]
The problem of bullying is a question of life and death. Bullying leads to self-harm and death by suicide, and the presence of so many LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness attests to the impact bullying by family and friends can have.
These realities of suffering should move Pope Francis to amplify and specify his call to stop bullying. 2017’s diocesan- level World Youth Day programs, as well as the preparations for the 2018 synod on youth offer prime opportunities for him to do so. Before these steps, Francis should sit with his own directive to the youth in Milan, and see how it relates to LGBTQ youth and the church:
“‘Think in silence if you [bully], and if you are able to promise this to Jesus: Promise Jesus to never bully.'”
If there is one word that best describes the reactions of LGBT and ally Catholics towards Pope Francis, I think it is “controversial.” I use this word in its traditional usage meaning that there are two sides to the issue. For some LGBT Catholics and supporters, he has been a savior and messiah, opening a new era in the church’s approach to issues of sexuality and gender. For others, Pope Francis is simply, “more of the same,” not changing anything, and, in some cases, because his appearance is “kinder and gentler,” he may actually be making things worse.
And, of course, between these two poles, there are a variety of middle positions. Some are happy with the pope’s calls for mercy towards LGBT people. Others want him to also call for justice for LGBT people.
If you are a regular reader (or even a casual one) of Bondings 2.0, then you know that Pope Francis raises more questions than provides answers in regard to LGBT issues. The symposium will be an event where participants can gain information and perspectives to begin to form some of those answers for themselves.
Are you interested in how Pope Francis is affecting the Church’s social ethics in regard to LGBT issues? Come to the symposium to hear Fr. Bryan Massingale, Fordham University theologian.
Will Pope Francis make a change to Catholic sexual ethics? Listen to the ideas of Lisa Fullam, Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley theologian. The question of religious liberty, especially in regard to LGBT employees of Catholic institutions, has a lot of people wondering.
The question of religious liberty, especially in regard to LGBT employees of Catholic institutions, has a lot of people wondering. Leslie Griffin, University of Nevada at Las Vega legal scholar, will provide some insight into these dilemmas.
Why hasn’t Pope Francis spoken out on the terrible scourge of laws which criminalize LGBT people around the globe? You’ll get a first-hand answer to that from Frank Mugisha, the executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, who is at the center of this struggle.
Transgender and Intersex Identities and the Family
LGBT Parish Ministry
Lesbian Nuns: A Gift to the Church
Challenges of LGBT Church Workers
The symposium experience is not all about the intellect. Unique prayer opportunities will also be available:
Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, the “Nun on the Bus,” will lead a pre-symposium retreat day on Friday, April 28th, on the theme of the spirituality of justice and mercy.
Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv, diocesan bishop of Lexington, Kentucky, will offer scriptural reflections during two of the symposium’s prayer services.
Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, retired auxiliary bishop of Detroit, will lead a special Saturday afternoon prayer service.
Perhaps the most valuable experience of the symposium is the opportunity to network with other Catholics who are working for a church and society that are more inclusive of LGBT people. In addition to meeting people informally, the symposium also provides the opportunity for “Open Space,” where participants can suggest and plan a gathering time/space for particular topics. Let’s have an Open Space session as a meet-up for Bondings 2.0 readers! For more information, click here.
Who should attend?
Everybody! Well, as long as you have an interest in Catholic LGBT discussions, you will find the symposium to be a rewarding event. New Ways Ministry has designed it to be accessible and relevant particularly to pastoral ministers, LGBT persons, leaders of men’s and women’s religious communities, families and other allies, and others involved in church ministry either as a volunteer or a professional.
Can I afford it?
Yes! Though the time for early-bird registration is over, you can still get the discounted early-bird rate if you put four registrations in one envelope and mail them, with payment, to New Ways Ministry by March 27, 2017. Additionally, discounted hotel rooms and airfares are available.
What will I gain from the experience?
Over the years, we’ve learned that everyone’s symposium experience is unique. For some, it is a starting point on a new direction in ministry or advocacy. For others, it is an opportunity to affirm their sexuality and gender identity in a Catholic context. Many people have developed lifelong friendships at symposiums. Many others have experienced the event as a further step on their spiritual and intellectual journeys.
What if I don’t know anyone else who will be going?
No worries! Symposiums are friendly, communal events. Those who have taken part in past symposiums are quick to welcome “first-timers” and those who are attending on their own. You will not be alone at the symposium!
Where can I get more information like rates, deadlines, schedule? How can I register?
The symposium website, www.Symposium2017.org, has all the information that you will need. You can even register there online, as well as click through to reserve a hotel room and make a plane reservation. If you have any further questions, feel free to call New Ways Ministry, phone:201-277-5674, or email us, info@NewWays Ministry.org.
How can I help spread the word about the symposium?
Share the website link with your friends on email and social network sites! Or share the link to this blog post with them! Contact New Ways Ministry if you would like to receive paper copies or a PDF copy of the symposium brochure.
See you in April at the Symposium! You won’t want to miss it!
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 15, 2017
“Taking a few steps is something most people take for granted. It is a fairly easy process at first thought, just one leg in front of the other. But the physical mechanics of beginning a journey are far more complex. Dozens of muscles must expand as others simultaneously contract, creating various tensions in the body that propel us forward. Though often viewed as something to be massaged away, tension is in fact a sign that we are alive.
“If the church functions like a human body, as St. Paul claims, then it follows that within it there must be tensions.”
It’s good to keep that in mind when the going gets rough.
During his annual pre-Christmas greeting to the Roman Curia last week, Pope Francis sharply criticized Vatican officials for opposing his efforts at ecclesial reform. Some prelates, he said, possessed a “malevolent resistance. . .[that] sprouts from twisted minds and presents itself when the devil inspires bad intentions.”
The National Catholic Reporterreported that Francis said such resistance “finds refuge in tradition, in appearances, in formality, in the known, or in the desire to make everything personal without distinguishing between act, actor, and action.”
These remarks are, perhaps, the pope’s most strident acknowledgment that his efforts at reform and renewal are extremely unwelcome by some church leaders. And Francis continued, “It is necessary to reiterate with force that the reform is not an end in itself but is a process of growth and most of all, conversion.”
But what has reform and renewal meant for Pope Francis when it comes to LGBT issues? Are the pope and the entire church experiencing growth and conversion? Or is Pope Francis himself part of a resistance to greater gender and sexual inclusion? Today’s post reviews what the pope has and has not done on LGBT issues in 2016.
The year began with the release of a book-length interview with the pope entitled The Name of God is Mercy. In it, Francis expanded on his now famous 2013 “Who am I to judge” remark. He said lesbian and gay people are, before all else, people with wholeness and dignity who must be welcomed. He importantly offered no condemnation or moral evaluation in regard to sexual ethics, which would have almost certainly been included by John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
Later in January, in a speech to the Roman Rota, Pope Francis said “there can be no confusion between the family as willed by God, and every other type of union.” Some observers understood these remarks as an intervention to the debate over civil unions going on in Italy at the time. Other observers said the remarks were more about divorced Catholics and annulments, and noted that Francis did not directly intervene in Italian politics about “non-negotiable values” as his predecessors had done.
In February, Pope Francis issued a statement with Russian Patriarch Kirill, after their historic meeting, that strongly condemned marriage equality. The leaders said they “regret that other forms of cohabitation have been placed on the same level as [marriage]” and that marriage was “being banished from the public conscience.”
In April, Pope Francis released his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) following the two-year process of the Synods on the Family. The exhortation offered some hope, but not much joy for LGBT people and their families, who were largely left out of the document. To read Bondings 2.0’s ongoing coverage about the exhortation, including many reactions and analyses, click here.
In June, Pope Francis called for the church to apologize to lesbian and gay people. He said “the Church must not only ask forgiveness from the gay person who is offended, but she must also ask for forgiveness from the poor too, from women who are exploited, from children who are exploited for labour.” A parish in Australia held a precedent-setting liturgy of forgiveness in response to the pope’s remarks.
In July, in a private meeting with Poland’s bishops during his Apostolic Visit there, Pope Francis claimed, that children were being taught in schools they could choose a gender. He also endorsed remarks by Benedict XVI who said the present era was an “epoch of sin against God the creator.” LGBT advocates pushed back strongly against these comments when they became public a few weeks after the meeting.
In September, the pope weighed in on Mexico’s highly contentious debate over marriage equality, saying during the Angelus one Sunday that he joined the country’s bishops in their efforts “in favor of the family and of life, which at this time require special pastoral and cultural attention worldwide.” Bishops in Mexico have claimed persecution by the state (though these comments must be interpreted in the context of the actual and quite violent persecution against the church in the early 20th century)” and have supported “ex-gay” therapy.
In October, Pope Francis spoke about LGBT issues during one of his in-flight interviews, comments which received mixed reactions from LGBT advocates. First, the pope responded to a question about how he would care pastorally for a person who is gender dysphoric. Francis shared that he had “accompanied people with homosexual tendencies,” even since being elected pope. He also spoke about meeting a transgender man, Diego Neria Lejárraga, in 2015. In his response, the pope used the man’s correct pronouns and said at one point, “He that was her but is he.”
But these more positive remarks also included Francis’ joke that the press should not report “the Pope blesses transgenders.” He criticized as well undefined concepts of gender theory and ideological colonization, and told the strange anecdote of a father who found out his child was being told in school that gender could be chosen. The day before these comments while speaking to clergy in Georgia, Pope Francis had decried the “world war to destroy marriage.”
As much as Pope Francis himself has weighed in on LGBT issues himself, his name has been invoked by other Catholics in their own comments.
In October, Providence’s Bishop Thomas Tobin said Francis would support the firing of gay music director Michael Templeton. And a Vatican official tweeted that the pope was saddened to find out two former nuns had entered a civil union in Italy, an unconfirmed judgment based solely on the pope’s facial expressions.
Most recently, in December, it was reported that Pope Francis had approved a document on priesthood that reaffirmed a 2005 ban on gay men entering the priesthood.
In a larger trend this year, bishops appear to have been encouraged by Pope Francis’ criticism of “gender theory” and “ideological colonization” in the context of LGBT issues. You can read several examples of such statements by bishops by clicking here.
But Pope Francis has also been invoked by many LGBT Catholics and allies in work to build a more inclusive church and seek equal rights.
Yayo Grassi, a former student of the pope’s who remains close with Francis, shared a positive appraisal during New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award Ceremony in October. Following an address by Jesuit Fr. James Martin, Grassi, whose meeting with Pope Francis during his visit to the United States made headlines, said that in Argentina, as Cardinal Bergoglio, the pope disavowed harsh comments against marriage equality attributed to him as misrepresentations by the media. He had actually been writing to nuns in private correspondence to ask them not to use harsh rhetoric. Grassi also said the pope stated:,”In my pastoral work, there is no place for homophobia.”
But as much as Pope Francis has said and as much as others have invoked him, there are glaring silences for which any analysis must account. When Pope Francis visited Poland for World Youth Day this summer, a group of Catholic parents with LGBT children asked him to speak against widespread homophobia still present in their society, including violence targeting gay people. He did not. And the pope has still remained silent about criminalization laws targeting LGBT people, even when church leaders like Malawi’s bishops strongly support such policies.
As you reflect on Pope Francis and LGBT issues, here are a few posts from the past year to read which discuss general papal trends:
Finally, I offer a concluding note from my own consideration of Pope Francis. More and more, I read his treatment of LGBT issues within the wider context of his papacy and his vision. Pope Francis is clearly limited in his understandings of gender and sexuality, likely stemming from both his own lack of knowledge, and by relying on advisors at the Vatican with a more conservative agenda.
As many have observed, Pope Francis’ actions often speak far louder than his words. These movements to return to Jesus, in their firm commitment to more fully and fervently living out Christian discipleship, can only help the cause of LGBT equality in the long term. None of these positives, however, excuses or lessens the harmful impact of his LGBT negative comments in which he does real damage to people’s lives.
Most importantly for me, Francis has been far more faithful than his immediate predecessors to the teachings of Vatican II. He prioritizes a church of mercy and welcome, a church foremost committed to justice for marginalized and vulnerable people, and a church where honest conversation is practiced to strengthen the faithful’s unity amid tremendous diversity. This vision was present in his Christmas homily, in which he speaks about the honored place of people on the margins:
“The mystery of Christmas, which is light and joy, questions and unsettles us, because it is at once both a mystery of hope and of sadness. It bears within itself the taste of sadness, inasmuch as love is not received, and life discarded. This happened to Joseph and Mary, who found the doors closed, and placed Jesus in a manger, “because there was no place for them in the inn” (v. 7). Jesus was born rejected by some and regarded by many others with indifference. . .
“The shepherds grasped this in that night. They were among the marginalized of those times. But no one is marginalized in the sight of God and it was precisely they who were invited to the Nativity.”
So, what are your thoughts about Pope Francis? Do you evaluate him more positively or more negatively as 2016 concludes? What are your hopes for the pope and the church for 2017? Let us know in the “Comments” section below.
Be sure to vote for the Best and Worst Catholic LGBT News of 2016. You can vote by clicking here. Voting closes at 5:00 p.m. Eastern U.S. Time on Thursday, December 29th.
–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 27, 2016
Following initial reactions last week to the Vatican’s new document reaffirming a 2005 ban on gay men entering the priesthood, several Catholics have offered more extended reflections. You can find initial reactions here and New Ways Ministry’s response here.
Theologian Lisa Fullam called for gay priests to have a “Stonewall Moment.” She disagreed with Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese’s recommendation that a “reputable survey” be undertaken to determine how many gay men are in the priesthood. (You can read Bondings 2.0’s coverage of Reese’s piece by clicking here, and you can read Fullam’s piece at Commonweal by clicking here.)
Fullam acknowledged that there are a significant number of gay priests, but challenged Reese’s idea for a survey:
“. . . [T]he central issue should not be how many such men serve as priests. The issue should be that what is said about them is not true. And a survey won’t correct a lie. What is needed is for gay priests to have a Stonewall moment. They need to speak up for themselves. Their colleagues, ordained and otherwise, need to stand with them. They need to come out of the closet, or nothing will change.”
Fullam provided five reasons why gay priests should have their “Stonewall Moment,” beginning with the recognition that “what is said about them is a slander.” About the document’s suggestion that gay men are inhibited from correctly relating to people and their presence may cause “negative consequences,” Fullam wrote:
“And what are the ‘negative consequences’ we are warned of? Thinking that gay people are decent, hard-working, loving children of God like the rest of us? And that some are called to service in the Church, like the rest of us? . . . It is an act of thuggery to out people against their will; gay priests need to stand up for their own vocations and those of other gay priests.”
Fullam said that gay priests are currently invisible, yet it is because of out and visible LGBTQ people that society’s perceptions and opinions have changed. Unless gay priests begin coming out in greater numbers, they will “still be regarded as a question about a shadowy minority we think we do not know.” Fullam acknowledges that, for many, there is a fear that if a gay priest comes out there will be sanctions. But she remarked:
“It is also the case that there is a drastic shortage of priests in the Church at present, so this seems unlikely, at least if lots of gay priests come out. With any luck, their straight brothers would stand with them. If they do not, were they really their brothers in the first place? Myself, I have little sympathy for those who fear defrocking as a dire punishment–what does that say about all the other non-ordained ministers in the Church? Yes–coming out makes gay priests vulnerable. Aren’t we about to celebrate the birth of God into the human community in the most vulnerable possible form? So, like the angel said, “Fear not.” And gay priests should know: your friends, your allies, your colleagues, your parishioners, your families, we’ve all got your backs.”
Fullam also pushed back against priests who claim that their religious communities are open, even if they are publicly closeted. Fullam’s final reason for a “Stonewall Moment” about gay priests looked outward beyond the clergy:
“It’s not only about you. . .there are also queer kids in the Church who hear how important the Church leadership thinks it is to keep folks like them out of leadership. They might even buy that line about ‘objectively disordered,’ and, unless they’ve read a fair amount of Thomas Aquinas, might think it means they’re broken and unloveable, doomed to loneliness and despair. Even in these times of increased acceptance of gay people in our society, queer kids have an increased risk of being bullied, beaten up, thrown out of their homes, and even of attempting and completing suicide. Is that enough?”
Acknowledging the discomfort or risks involved in openly discussing one’s sexuality, Fullam said that until gay priests come out in greater numbers:
“Church leaders–some of them closeted, sometimes self-loathing, homosexually-oriented men themselves–will continue to utter the slander that affects not just ordained gay men and seminarians, but every LGBTQ person in the Church.”
Worth noting in Fullam’s piece are the two positive developments in “The Gift of the Priestly Vocation” that she identified. The document “bears the stamp of Francis in a good way” as it speaks of priests as “missionary disciples. . .’with the smell of the sheep'” bringing mercy to God’s people. Priests in this model are “constantly needing an integrated formation.” And the document, she points out, moderates “the clerical triumphalism of John Paul II.” Both of these developments, if taken seriously, could have positive effects for LGBT ministry.
Another perspective on the Vatican statement controversy comes from Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, who wrote an essay for Advocate.com. She opined:
“The pope’s endorsement of this document sends a clear signal to those of us in the LGBTQI and ally community who follow church politics. Despite the pope’s tendency to say reasonable things about us in unscripted moments, when he is acting for the institution of the church, he shows no willingness to disrupt the status quo. This means that those who saw the Franciscan papacy as a time when official Catholic teaching on gender identity and sexual orientation might be changed are likely to be deeply disappointed.”
Duddy-Burke also identified church leaders’ failure to “accept the wide variety of human expression and relationships has far-reaching implications,” which affect matters like education and healthcare,” and which put “countless people at risk of violence, imprisonment, mental and physical health problems, social isolation, and increased poverty.”
Finally, Jamie Manson of the National Catholic Reporter used the Vatican’s document on priesthood as a springboard to discuss some broader ideas about Pope Francis and LGBT issues. But of the document, Manson wrote:
“Though the Vatican leaves to the imagination what precisely the “so-called ‘gay culture’ [sic]might be, the guidelines suggest that gay seminarians who act like straight guys, conceal their sexualities, repress their sexual desires, and oppose any campaign for LGBT rights might be given a small window of clerical opportunity. . .If the church does have ‘profound respect’ for these men, it has a twisted way of showing it.”
Manson said that Pope Francis, who reportedly approved the document actually signed by another Vatican official, may have “intended to use his message to critique ‘worldly and rigid priests,'” but instead he amplified the homophobia and misogyny present in the church.
The call for gay priests to have their “Stonewall Moment” is similar to former Vatican official Krzysztof Charamsa’s call for the Catholic Church to have its own Stonewall. Charamsa, who had been a priest and theologian at the Vatican, came out just days before the Synod on the Family began in 2015.
If you would like to show your support for gay priests, you can sign New Ways Ministry’ statement “The Gift of Gay Priests’ Vocations” by clicking here. This statement is a wonderful way to let Catholic leaders know that Catholic lay people welcome and support the gay priests in their midst.
–Robert Shine, December 19, 2016, New Ways Ministry
Recently, a panel discussion on LGBT issues and Catholicism was held at the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana. The event, sponsored by Campus Ministry, the Gender Relations Center, and PrismND (the LGBT and allies student organization), was covered by the campus student newspaper, The Observer. The article ended with a quotation from one of the participants, Dana Dillon, a theology professor at Providence College, Rhode Island. Dillon said:
“I want to suggest that however you identify — gay, Catholic, both, neither — try to find ways to actively give people permission to be your friend and ally without agreeing on everything.”
This idea struck me as eminently helpful advice, especially when LGBT and religion issues can cause so much division among people from differing opinions. I thought it was a good new year’s resolution to adopt.
Dillon’s advice struck me in another way, too. Using different language, she seems to be expressing the teaching that Pope Francis has been promoting for the church. The pope, especially this past year, has been so hard to pin down on LGBT issues. He’s said some good things and some bad things. But one idea has come through in even his most ambiguous statements: we need to treat each other with respect, even if–maybe especially if–we disagree with each other.
That’s a hard thing to do. Many of us here in the United States are trying to learn that lesson in the past month, following the results of what was probably our most divisive presidential election in history.
Politics, religion, sex. Three of the most explosive topics for any group to discuss. And LGBT issues always involve all three. It seems that in each of those three areas, it takes a tremendous effort to see an issue from an alternative perspective. It just seems impossible to imagine that someone could possibly think differently than we do.
But, I think that is the key to Pope Francis’ strategy. He wants Catholic people to put themselves in other people’s shoes, and maybe walk a mile or two in them. Granted, Pope Francis does not always do this himself. Despite questioning himself about his authority to judge, in fact, judge he often does. To me, that’s a human quality. Pope Francis himself is a work in progress, as are we all.
His message of accompaniment and encounter with people we disagree with seems to be a simplistic and unsubstantial way to deal with complex issues. But, I think there is revolutionary power in such actions. Allowing oneself to enter into a dialogic encounter with someone opens a person up to the possibility of change. And when people change, institutions change.
The Notre Dame panel also included Dr. Patrick Beeman, an Air Force gynecologist and obstetrician, who underwent a personal transformation because of an important event in his life.The Observer articlestated:
“. . . Beeman talked about how his initial ‘knee-jerk reactions’ against gay marriage and other LGBT issues changed when he went through a divorce, another act formally condemned by the Catholic Church.
” ‘I ran in circles that were uber-Catholic and I thought, “What am I going to do?” ‘ Beeman said. ‘Then I realized that it doesn’t matter; I’m still called to be a Catholic.’
“Beeman said he was able to apply this same logic to those in the LGBT community, who he said could still seek Christ despite the Church’s official opposition to their actions. He said he moved more toward becoming an ally of LGBT people as a result of this experience.”
Beeman went to say that supporting LGBT individuals (and, really, all individuals) means supporting them even if we disagree with them. The Observer article reported:
“Beeman said he thought Catholics ought to be better in helping gay or lesbian couples when they choose to start a family.
” ‘Yes, we don’t think that artificially produced pregnancies are a good idea for lesbian couples or for anyone, but couples who are going through pregnancy … we must be supportive of their health,’ he said.”
That kind of support can be difficult to express, but I think our challenge as Catholics is to work at it in the best way we can. Of course, many readers of this blog find it easy to support LGBT people. How willing are we to support people whose actions disagree with, though?
I admit I’m not great at that last challenge. Maybe in the new year, I can work at it a bit more. Imagine if we, as a church, became a community of friends and allies who don’t always agree on things. That would be a revolutionary community. And I think it is the vision that Pope Francis has for the church.