Pope Benedict’s Resignation Inspires Hope for an LGBT-Positive Catholicism

As Pope Benedict XVI resigns today, intensified analysis of his tenure at the Vatican continues while speculation over the next pope heats up. Undeniably, the outgoing pope’s record on LGBT issues is extremely negative. Looking to the Church’s recent history to help formulate the future is an essential task as we transition, and many Catholic commentators approach Benedict’s tenure within the larger context of a Church still uneasy with sexual orientation and gender identity.

Writing in National Catholic Reporter, Thomas Fox details the intricate relationship the institutional Church has had with LGBT matters, placing Pope Benedict XVI as a central figure in creating a hostile environment:

“For at least the last five decades, Catholic pronouncements on gay Catholic issues have been at least ambivalent and even sometimes contradictory. They have included exhortations on pastoral care and inclusivity and at the same time admonitions against gay lifestyles and warnings to gay Catholic organizations…

“Much of the current theological and social environment in which the church ministers — or does not minister — to gay Catholics was formed during the papacy of Pope John Paul II when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued statements on homosexuality.

“Repeatedly, Ratzinger placed doctrinal enforcement over pastoral considerations. In the process, he built the reputation of being ‘God’s Rottweiler.’”

Fox elucidates on the main documents and moments since Vatican II that have created a pendulum-like engagement by the bishops, heavily emphasizing that Cardinal Ratzinger, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, led the charge against pro-gay Catholic organizations and figures. Now, as a new papacy is to begin, some of Pope Benedict’s victims speak optimistically of moving forward:

“New Ways Ministry’s executive director, Francis DeBernardo, said he is cautiously hopeful looking into the future. He said he hopes the next pope will be listener.

“[New Ways Ministry co-founder Sr. Jeannine] Gramick said she wants the papal war on gay people to end.

“‘The church,’ she said, ‘requires a future pope with a pastoral heart who is willing to listen and engage in dialogue.’”

At least in this sede vacante [“empty seat”] period, hopes for a positive papacy arriving in March persist. Theologian Hans Kung, speaking to the German magazine Der Spiegel, expressed the following desires for a new pope that would move Catholicism forward:

“A pope who is not intellectually stuck in the Middle Ages, one who does not represent mediaeval theology, liturgy and religious order. I would like to see a pope who is open first to suggestions for reform and secondly, to the modern age. We need a pope who not only preaches freedom of the Church around the world but also supports, with his words and deeds, freedom and human rights within the Church — of theologians, women and all Catholics who want to speak the truth about the state of the Church and are calling for change.”

In an interview, Terry Weldon of Queering the Church expresses a much longer-term desire:

“One day we will have a gay pope, as we’ve had before and that would be terrific…It’s probably too early now, but I would certainly expect that there will be a time when there will be a pope who is openly gay and willing to admit it. That would be a sign of health in the Church.”

Whether a openly gay pope emerges from the Conclave or not, LGBT advocates must now enter into a prayerful period that an accepting and welcoming Spirit will come upon whichever cardinal assumes the papacy.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


LGBT Injustices Central at Loretto Community 200th Jubilee Celebration in DC

Loretto Sisters, Co-members and Friends at the USCCB

LGBT issues were front and center when 40 people gathered in Washington, D.C. to celebrate the Loretto Community’s 200th Jubilee.

Planned on the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, the DC gathering included visits to seven sights of injustice where the group prayed and sang a litany of saints and heroes. Sites visited were the US Supreme Court, the US Capitol, the DC Jail, the Vietnam War Memorial, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, the Vatican Embassy, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) headquarters.

Sr. Jeannine Gramick, a Sister of Loretto and co-founder of New Ways Ministry, and Matthew Myers, a co-member of Loretto who currently chairs New Ways Ministry’s Board of Directors, joined Sr. Maureen Fiedler of the Sisters of Loretto and Eileen Harrington, a co-member, in leading the afternoon’s celebrations.

Amongst the injustices called to mind were those committed against the LGBT community. These included the exclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons from equal protections under the law at the Supreme Court and the campaign against marriage equality launched by Catholic bishops that makes LGBT persons objects of discrimination.

Sr. Jeannine Gramick of New Ways Ministry and Sr. Maureen Fiedler

In the Loretto tradition of  ‘working for justice and acting for peace,’ the saints and heroes who struggle for equality and conscience were called to mind as well.

In the political and legal realm, those gathered sang the names of John Lawrence, plaintiff in the case that decriminalized same-gender consensual sex, as well as President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, who have refused to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act.

In the ecclesiastical realm, theologians Hans Kung, Charles Curran, and Margaret Farley were sung at the Vatican Embassy for their progressive views on human sexuality and the Vatican censures that followed. Bishop Thomas Gumbleton was intoned at the USCCB for his outspoken voice for LGBT rights within the Catholic Church.

Fittingly, Sr. Jeannine was included in the litany, along with several other women religious. The program described Sr. Jeannine in the following way:

“Loretto Sister who advocates for LGBT persons in the face of continual Vatican opposition.”

In 1992, after the Vatican had directed U.S. bishops to pull back from their support of civil rights’ legislation for lesbian and gay people, the Loretto General Assembly issued a statement in support of lesbian and gay civil rights which included the following:

“. . . as U.S. citizens, we believe that our constitutional tradition–properly understood and interpreted–ought to guarantee basic civil rights and equal protection of our laws to all citizens regardless of sexual orientation. It saddens us that the Vatican would enter the U.S. political arena by encouraging a departure from the finest ideals of our political tradition, ideals which promote equality and basic civil rights for everyone.
“Consequently, we call upon our political leaders to guarantee the civil rights of lesbian and gay persons in the law of our land. We call upon the U.S. Catholic Bishops to support such legislation as an authentic expression of the gospel call to respect the intrinsic human rights and dignity of all persons.”

New Ways Ministry applauds Loretto for 200 years of powerful witness to working for justice and acting for peace because of the Gospel’s urgent call.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry