Pope Francis moved to solidify his reforms in real ways this week by shaking up the Congregation for Bishops, which oversees episcopal appointments worldwide. The pope’s addition of Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, DC stood in contrast to his removal of Cardinal Raymond Burke, who has led highly conservative factions in the Church through his position at the Vatican. Given the significance of these events, it is worth asking: what could this mean for LGBT issues in the Church?
On Wednesday, Sr. Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, spoke with MSNBC’s Tamron Hall about the new appointments and prospects for greater justice within the Church itself. When asked about LGBT people and Pope Francis, Sr. Jeannine said:
“I’ve been working in ministry on behalf of LGBT people within the Catholic Church and outside the Catholic Church since the 1970s. I never would have imagined that same-sex marriage would be on the agenda of our country, or of the world, or even of our Church.
“It is heartwarming that Francis is returning to the Gospel and saying do not be obsessed with issues like same-sex marriage or abortion or contraception. He’s telling the Congregation for Bishops that when you look for bishops, appoint bishops who smell like the sheep. In other words, he wants men, priests now, who are in the trenches with the people, who are pastoral and not people who are obsessed with cultural issues.”
You can watch the entire interview by clicking here.
In the National Catholic Reporter , John Allen explained why the Congregation for Bishops matters, and specifically what impact new American leadership could have. Allen writes:
“Under the Vatican’s process for picking bishops, the papal ambassador, or nuncio, in each country is responsible for compiling a list of names of candidates, called a terna, for openings as they arise. That terna is then submitted to the Congregation for Bishops, whose members vote on the final list to be submitted to the pope.
“Although all members vote on every nomination, observers say there’s a natural tendency within the congregation to defer to the members who come from a particular part of the world when a vacancy arises in their region. The American members, therefore, tend to be especially influential in shaping picks for the United States.
“Although in theory the pope is free to ignore the recommendations, in most cases the pope simply takes the top pick submitted by the Congregation for Bishops.”
In a separate piece, John Allen comments more specifically to analyze how the pope is setting up a new generation of “Francis Bishops.” He offers commentary on individual appointments in the piece, which are worth reading and writes:
“Putting in the moderate Wuerl and taking the strongly conservative Burke off couldn’t help but seem a signal of the kind of bishop Francis intends to elevate in the United States…
“There’s equally no doubt, however, that as of Monday, Francis shifted the center of the gravity inside the body responsible for selecting bishops towards the middle — not just with the American members, as it turns out, but across the board.”
As for LGBT issues, it seems Pope Francis wants bishops with a more pastoral and less political tone. While Wuerl has not been a strong ally for the LGBT community, he is notable for what he has not done as much as for what he has. He has not denied Communion to politicians based upon their voting records, and he has hardly been as aggressive in speech against LGBT people as his fellow American bishops. Moreover, it was Wuerl who, in a nationally renowned news story, removed the priest who denied communion to a Catholic lesbian woman at her mother’s funeral.
When Pope Francis was selected as Person of the Year in both Time and The Advocate, critics have claimed his actions of welcome and outreach to the LGBT community were only words. This shake-up at the Vatican seems to indicate that the pope is trying to solidify words into actions.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry