A minor brouhaha erupted on Friday concerning Pope Francis and homosexuality. A French newspaper had reported that a young, gay Frenchman received a phone call from the pope, in response to a letter he had written to the Catholic leader. Later, however, the Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, absolutely denied that the Holy Father had made the phone call.
‘He said ‘Christopher? It’s Pope Francis’. I was unsettled, of course. I asked, ” Really? ” He replied : “Yes.”
“I know it’s hard to believe, but it really happened like that. From that moment on , I no longer doubted,” said the young Frenchman.
“I received the letter that you sent me. You need to remain courageous and continue to believe and pray and stay good,” the voice at the end of the phone told him during the nine-minute conversation in Spanish.
“Your homosexuality. It doesn’t matter. One way or another , we are all children of God. This is why we must continue to be good,” he continued.
But The Local also carried the denial by Fr. Lombardi:
“Father Lombardi, a spokesman for the Vatican ‘firmly denied’ claims by the young gay Catholic that the Pope had made a private telephone call to him last week.
” ‘After previously declining to deny or confirm the call, in which Christophe Trutino claimed the Pope told him ‘Your homosexuality doesn’t matter’ Lombardi told Le Figaro newspaper: ‘The Pope never called this person.’
“ ‘The only time the Pope has called France was to speak to Cardinal Barbarin. I absolutely deny this information,’ he said.
“ ‘There is always the risk that people pretend to be the pope over the phone,’ Lombardi added.”
I tend to believe the Vatican spokesperson, for two reasons: 1) I don’t think he would deny it so boldly without first checking with the pope; 2) I think if the pope had indeed made the call, he would not want it to be private.
This story, however, cannot be brushed aside quickly. The fact that the young man’s case seemed so plausible to many, including journalists, reveals two important lessons: 1) LGBT people are hungering for affirmation from the hierarchy; 2) people believe that the affirming message in the phone conversation could realistically come from Pope Francis.
For many years, the Catholic hierarchy, particularly in Rome and the U.S., have only had very negative things to say to and about LGBT people. Despite tons of evidence of the faithfulness, sincerity, and commitment of LGBT Catholics, the hierarchy continued for many years to ignore these realities. While the hierarchy often spoke about “the truth” of human sexuality (meaning maintaining the heterosexual norm), it did not acknowledge the truth of the real lives and experiences of LGBT people, particularly the goodness discovered in their relationships. This denial of reality and affirmation hurts not only LGBT people, but hurts the hierarchy themselves because it keeps them living in ignorance and fear.
Yet, since he was elected on March 13, 2013, Pope Francis has pointed to a different direction regarding LGBT issues. We’ve learned that he supported civil unions in Argentina, and we have seen him take the focus off marriage equality opposition by the Vatican. His comments on not judging gay priests have renewed the hope of many who work and pray for LGBT equality. He has provided a different voice from the hierarchy, and it is a voice that many people have longed to hear. So, the purported comments from the phone call could easily be recognized as coming from this affirming pope.
The third, and perhaps most important, lesson from this story is the lesson for the hierarchy. The poignancy of this tale shows how much people want to hear a “good word” from church leadership. They want “bread, not stones” and “fish, not snakes.” And they are looking towards the new pope to inspire those positive attributes into the whole church, both hierarchy and the people.
It may yet turn out that some further unknown evidence proves that there actually was a phone call from the pope with an affirming message. That would be wonderful and exciting. But even if this does not prove true, our church can still learn valuable lessons from this story which can help to bring about true justice and equality for LGBT people.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry