Finding Rainbows of Hope in Dark Times

For U.S. LGBT advocates, and for so many others around the globe, the incoming U.S. President has turned the usually celebratory Inauguration ceremonies in Washington, D.C. today into a time of mourning. In previous posts (here, here, and here), I have provided analyses of how LGBT Catholic issues may be affected by the political transition underway. Today, I offer a more personal reflection on sustaining hope and keeping focused on equality work for the long months ahead.

4a232b332546447c397e19d4da6044aeAlready, the impending harm to LGBT rights is becoming clearer. Many nominees for the presidential Cabinet are radically opposed to equal rights. Ben Carson, nominee for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, has questioned the settled science about homosexual orientation,  and he said LGBT people should not be afforded “extra rights.

Nearly all the opposition to equality comes from professed Christians, including some Catholics. Steve Bannon, senior counselor and chief strategist at the White House, was raised Catholic, and he once managed a white supremacist publication which published many viciously anti-gay stories. Catholic campaign advisors for the incoming President included: former Senator Rick Santorum, who in 2003 compared being gay to bestiality,  and who has long opposed LGBT equality issues; Joseph Cella, organizer of the right-wing National Catholic Prayer Breakfast where, last year, Vatican official Cardinal Robert Sarah said the push for transgender rights was “demonic.” It is clear, too, that the 2016 election has emboldened many national politicians and local officials who would curtail the rights of LGBT people and other vulnerable communities.

I am frightened by what this new presidential administration and its ripple effects will mean for people in this country, and I am frightened by what will happen globally when the U.S. government is no longer including LGBT equality as part of its work for human rights internationally. I am frightened, but I am hopeful. And I think hope must be our response if we are to find the resistance required of us now.

I began nurturing this hope while reading Pope Francis’ address to Vatican diplomats earlier this month. He did not speak directly to issues of gender and sexuality, but I find his words are readily applicable to our work:

“Sadly, we are conscious that even today, religious experience, rather than fostering openness to others, can be used at times as a pretext for rejection, marginalization and violence. . .Hence I appeal to all religious authorities to join in reaffirming unequivocally that one can never kill in God’s name.”

Pope Francis also enjoined religious and civil leaders to work together towards peace, saying that civil leaders are “charged with guaranteeing in the public forum the right to religious freedom, while acknowledging religion’s positive and constructive contribution to the building of a civil society.” He continued by highlighting, in the light of faith, the many issues present in our world like the plight of refugees, the arms trade and nuclear weapons, and ecological devastation.

I wish Pope Francis would offer an explicit and firm condemnation of unjust situations where LGBT people are criminalized and threatened. We have to ensure Catholics do not use his troubling silence to justify support for anti-LGBT initiatives. We have to apply the pope’s broader message of mercy and justice to our struggle for LGBT equality.

Today, I find myself like the prophet Habbukuk, crying, “How long, O God, must I. . .cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ and you do not intervene?” Have we labored and sacrificed for so many days and at such great cost only to see our achievements ripped away? Days like today can cause us to doubt whether our efforts are worth it, and even question our faith and firmest commitments.

To respond to this dark foeboding, we must find within ourselves the hope that comes from intimately knowing Jesus, the Incarnate Word who pitched a tent in our midst so that God could share in our human experience. We have a responsibility to stop those who, in Pope Francis’ words, use our religious traditions “as a pretext for rejection, marginalization and violence.” We must ensure, in the United States and globally, that our Christian faith is never invoked by those who harm LGBT people.

I close with words from Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, a prophetic witness for both peace and LGBT justice, who said in his homily last week:

“When all of us really come to understand that this is our call [to love as fully and as far as we can], like that servant in Isaiah, we will be carrying the message of God’s love to the very ends of the earth. As we do this faithfully, then God’s will for our world will be fulfilled. We will transform our world into the reign of God where there will be peace and fullness of life for every person.

“During this Ordinary Time of the year, every Sunday now, we will be listening to ways of how to follow Jesus to bring his message, that important message of love into our life and into our world. If we’re faithful to our call, God’s reign will be breaking forth in our midst and we will be able to rid our world of the violence and the hatred that seems to be so much a part of it. I hope we hear this call and are faithful to it, and each week during this year listen deeply to God’s Word and try to follow that message of Jesus.”

While our liturgical readings may be for Ordinary Time, we begin today an extraordinary time which demands even greater faithfulness. May we find the hope we need today and every day to help the rainbows that signify God’s love break forth and pierce the darkening skies before us.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 20, 2017

 

Might This Be Joy: LGBTQ People’s Witness to Audacious Love

For the four Sundays of Advent, Bondings 2.0 is featuring lectionary Scriptural reflections by LGBTQ theologians and pastoral ministers studying at Boston College.  The liturgical readings for the Second Sunday of Advent are Isaiah 35:1-6A, 10; Psalm 146:6-10; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11.  You can read the texts by clicking here.

alfred-pang
Alfred Pang

Today’s reflection is from Alfred Pang, a doctoral student in theology and education at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. To read Alfred’s previous posts on Bondings 2.0, click here.

I struggled to write this reflection. The central focus of Gaudete Sunday, this Third Sunday of Advent, is the joyful anticipation of Christ’s birth, but how to write convincingly about joy when it eludes me as I wrestle as a single, gay Catholic away from home with the pain of loneliness?

The long stretches of night and blistering winter cold now encroaching have only deepened my sense of isolation. Doctoral study is terribly long, and all that mental digging has left me craving for companionship. In these days of political anxiety that have left so many bruised, I am muted by and aghast at the bleakness of violence and division consuming our world. In such wearying circumstances when stupefied hearts do not feel free to rejoice, how do I–and how do we as people of faith– properly celebrate Gaudete Sunday?

At least, by God’s grace, there is something in today’s Gospel that could still speak to me. It is a small textual detail: John the Baptist is in prison. Despite being in prison, he hears of the works of Christ and sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Even imprisonment does not deter John from being prayerfully alive to the signs of life he senses in Jesus Christ.

It strikes me that part of being prayerfully alive means engaging our capacity for amazement. If this is so, John exemplifies a posture that challenges us this Gaudete Sunday: in the prisons that we find ourselves – of discouragement, despair, and depression – how might we remain attentive to and discerning of the signs of the times that herald God’s liberating love? How are we invited this Advent to pause and make room for radical amazement at God’s divine life, which is always at work in spite of and through the fragility of human love that can disappoint and has failed?

As the Gospel reminds us, Jesus must be the source of amazement that is reflected in Christian witness. “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.” What is proclaimed here is that in and through the Incarnation, God will and has come as audacious love that transgresses, subverts and heals.

thevisitationYet, Jesus who reveals God’s sovereignty does something else in this passage: he lifts up the witness of John the Baptist as “more than a prophet,” as the “messenger” that Isaiah prophesied. This mutual confirmation and affirmation between John and Jesus echoes the encounter between Elizabeth and Mary in Luke 1:39-45. John, as a baby in Elizabeth’s womb, leaps for joy upon the greeting of Mary who bears the good news, Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate. Echoing this encounter, joy is the subtext in today’s Gospel.

In these dramas of mutual recognition, I find consolation: that in the midst of my darkness that renders me invisible to myself, God sees and understands. There is also profound strength felt in knowing that God sees our giftedness as LGBTQ persons and calls us out to be fruitful witnesses of an audacious love as siblings, friends, lovers and neighbors. Might this be joy? Is joy the fruit of being fully alive in God who takes delights in us as beloved children, standing with and living within us?

I suspect the joy that we anticipate in Christmas is not based on our own striving to make room for Jesus at all. Rather, it is the joy that comes when we make room for amazement to see that God has chosen to meet us down below in the shoddiness and messiness of the manger. As theologian Karl Barth preached in a Christmas homily to prisoners:

“Down there Jesus Christ sets up his quarters. Even better, he has already done so! Yes, praise be to God for this dark place, for this manger, for this stable in our lives! There we need him, and there he can use each one of us … There he only waits that we see him, recognize him, believe in him, and love him.”[1]

God is nearer to us than we imagine, and for this we can rejoice. Should not we then rejoice?

Still, I find joy ungraspable. Maybe this absence allows me to clear a space in my heart to be attentive and amazed once again so that joy can then grasp me. I stare at the trees shedding their leaves. They stand barren in the blasting cold of winter. Yet, in the crisp sharp air, I stand amazed at the sturdiness of these trees. They do not shiver, but speak back to me the words of Isaiah – “Be strong, fear not!” They remain firm, deepening their roots. I wonder at life on the underside, beneath the ground and in the soil.

This, I suggest, is the call of Advent: to be astonished at and delight in the small signs of life found at the most unexpected places in the bleakness of time. Where there is life, there is God – with the possibility and reality of indefatigable joy, still elusive, but ever graced.

[1] Karl Barth, Deliverance to the Captives, trans. Marguerite Wieser (New York: Harper and Row, 1961), 142.

Alfred Pang, December 11, 2016

To read the Advent reflection for the First Sunday, click here, and for the Second Sunday, click here. For all of Bondings 2.0‘s Advent reflections from past years, click here.

Cardinal’s Friendship with Gay Man “Melted Away” Prejudices

Red Ribbon Celebration Concert
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, left, and Gery Keszler

A top cardinal’s words during an HIV/AIDS fundraiser reveals the power of personal encounter to break down barriers and grow in mutual understanding–a good lesson for many bishops when it comes to LGBT people.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna appeared last week at the “Red Ribbon Celebration,” a  Viennese charity concert which supports people living with HIV/AIDS. To the surprise of many, he appeared onstage alongside Gary Keszler, a gay man who founded “Life Ball,” Europe’s largest HIV/AIDS charity. Global Pulse reported that cardinal spoke about “our shared humanity”:

“[Schönborn] underlined how important it was to discard prejudices, avoid thinking in categories and dialogue with people as people. . .

” ‘I am not the Catholic Church and Gery Keszler is not the Life Ball. We are first and foremost human beings. . .I said on the stage that I was presumably the only person in the Burgtheater (that evening) who has prejudices. I do have prejudices but they have melted away.’ “

What melted Schönborn’s prejudices was his friendship with Keszler, who lives with HIV. The two met at an event hosted by mutual friends and found their personalities aligned well. Global Pulse continued:

“The cardinal described [Keszler] as someone who has an eye for people who are having a hard time and are in a bad way, something the Austrian church leader said he very much appreciated. . .Cardinal Schönborn later explained on Facebook that he had had several ‘very moving’ talks with Mr Keszler in recent months.”

These talks led Keszler to invite the cardinal to the Red Ribbon Celebration. According to GGGthe activist later said of their appearance together, “Today a great thing has happened. . .It will reach the Vatican and the world.”

Hopefully, their witness as friends transcending differences will reach the world. Too many church leaders have been unwilling to even meet with LGBT people and their families, never mind share a meal and keep conversations going over time. This posturing has led bishops to be deficient in even the most basic knowledge of LGBT people’s realities, as my colleague Francis DeBernardo noted in his commentary on the U.S. bishops’ failings after the massacre at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando last Sunday.

But the cardinal’s words on stage reveal the power that simple gestures and intentional encounters can have, melting away prejudice and building shared understandings. If only more church leaders would engage with the humility and the concern expressed by Schönborn, who knows where our church could move on LGBT acceptance?

This event is not the cardinal’s first supportive act towards the LGBT communities. Last September, in an interview, he called a close friend’s same-gender relationship “an improvement” as they share a life together, even if it is considered irregular by the church. Speaking at the Extraordinary Assembly of the Synod on the Family in 2014, Schönborn spoke about a same-gender couple that “was saintly” because of their love and care for one another. He has previously expressed support for civil unions, and in 2012 reinstated a gay man to a parish council after the local pastor had rejected him.

As we conclude a particularly challenging week which saw 49 LGBT people murdered in Orlando and church leaders’ failing to respond pastorally to the tragedy, the friendship of Christoph Schönborn and Gary Keszler is a sign of hope. One way to begin moving forward is for LGBT Catholics, families, and allies to contact our bishops and ask for meetings so the grace of encounter can do its work.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Where Do You Find Hope for the Church in 2015?

As many of you may know, I am currently pursuing graduate studies in theology at Boston College. Last semester, a professor framed an entire course as a way of answering 1 Peter 3:15 which says:

“Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.”

That question sticks with me as the new year begins. With 2015 underway, Bondings 2.0 wonders what sources of hope Catholic LGBT advocates look to for the coming year. What is the reason for our hope?

One possibility is the church’s bishops, whose corporate identity is shifting under Pope Francis. He recently announced twenty new cardinals to be incardinated in February, whose names you can find here. Of this Joshua McElwee writes at the National Catholic Reporter:

“Continuing to diversify global representation in the most select body of Catholic prelates, Pope Francis announced Sunday that he will be creating 20 new cardinals from 18 different countries — with several from places never before included in the elite group…

“While historically cardinals have come from certain larger cities known for their Catholic populations or global importance, Francis has sought to diversify representation in the group — choosing men from places long underrepresented or even not represented in the College of Cardinals.”

Beyond the global diversity, John Allen of Crux notes these cardinal-designates include “a couple of high-profile moderates but no one with a clear reputation as a doctrinal or political conservative.” None of those named have been featured on Bondings 2.0 since we began in 2011, which is to say their records on LGBT issues specifically may be sparse. Additionally, no Americans were named and only one was a Vatican official. Clearly, Pope Francis’ choices reinforce his preference for bishops who are foremost pastors rather than hardened cultural warriors on LGBT rights and other sexual issues.

As 2014 ended, several church leaders were sources of hope for LGBT advocates. For example:

Perhaps your source of hope does not depend on clerical leaders. You may feel like Heidi Schlumpf who says she has “stopped pinning my hopes on prelates.” Writing in the National Catholic Reporter about the transition in the Archdiocese of Chicago from Cardinal Francis George, who “inspired fear,” to Archbishop Blase Cupich, who is being celebrated in progressive circles, she explains:

“The reporter in me should have been more excited when the announcement came in September that Bishop Blase Cupich of Spokane, Wash., would be the next archbishop of Chicago. But I stopped pinning my hopes on prelates a long time ago…I’m not pessimistic, but neither am I hopeful. I have learned the hard way not to put my faith in church leaders. I prefer good ones to bad ones, but they are not the most important people in the church to me.”

Instead, Schlumpf would likely consider herself among the many Catholics whose hope for the church rests in the laity

Since December began, Catholics laity in the U.S. and other parts of the world have stirred our hopes by standing up for LGBT justice as a constitutive part of Christian faith. This witness includes:

  • An Indiana Knights of Columbus council’s decision to welcome a same-sex couple to their banquet facilities after pro-LGBT voices, including Knights, protested initial discrimination;
  • Gay Catholic Voice Ireland and others mounting a pro-equality campaign as that nation considers a referendum on marriage;
  • Students teaching adults about LGBT justice — from 6th grade through college, and being sure to include trans* rights in these efforts;
  • LGBT Catholics in New York who spearheaded efforts to save one parish amid that archdiocese’s massive closings.

So where are you placing your hope for 2015? Is it in Pope Francis and church leaders who are becoming more pastoral and merciful? Is it in the lay people who continue witnessing to an inclusive Gospel? Is it a combination of the two or something else entirely? Let us know in the ‘Comments’ section below!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

When Advent Hopes Collide with Christmas Surprises

We are on the brink of Christmas. Advent is coming to a close.  How has this season of expectation, preparation, and hope been for you? For me, it has been a bit of a roller-coaster.

After an autumn of lots of traveling for New Ways Ministry, I was preparing for a rare—nay, unprecedented—month-long vacation, visiting India and Bangladesh with a Franciscan friend of mine. He used to minister there educating Franciscan novices and leaders, and we were going to visit his friends.  Christmas would be spent in a contemplative Poor Clare convent in the hills of Bangladesh.  Just what I needed at the end of an extremely hectic year. Pure bliss.

So, my Advent was filled with travel preparations and expectations:  visa applications, immunizations, finding the right electrical adapters, worrying about wi-fi connections and cell phone service.

And then it ended.  A serious, unexpected health problem in the family of my traveling companion arose just two weeks before our scheduled departure.  We would have to postpone, perhaps until the spring, perhaps indefinitely.  Sadness and disappointment were mixed, I must admit, with a bit of selfish relief that I could stop the worried and frenzied travel preparations, and that I now had some unexpected “found time.”

Well, the “found time” evaporated very quickly.  I soon realized I now had to “shift gears” and start Christmas preparations.  Gifts that I had planned on buying in Asia, now had to be bought at the local mall. Christmas cards needed to be filled out and mailed.  Decorations had to come down from the attic. And what about baking the Christmas cookies?   What I usually rush to do in four weeks now was going to have to be done in two.

Needless to say, not everything got done.

But enough about my tale of woe.   The point is that I learned an Advent lesson from this experience which I think might be pertinent for those Catholics who work for LGBT equality and justice.

Advent is a time of expectation, preparation, and hope.  But what we expect, prepare, and hope for may not arrive as we have planned it.  And it may not arrive on our schedule. God works in mysterious ways, and, often, in more mysterious time frames.  I’ve learned that it is important to expect, prepare, and hope, but that we also need to be open to surprise.

That was my greatest lesson from all of 2014.  Many of us had great hopes for the October synod on marriage and family.  We spent months in anticipation, buoyed by Pope Francis’ positive messages signaling openness to change, by the Vatican’s call for greater discussion by the entire church, and by greater openness from bishops around the world to recognizing the positive gifts of lesbian and gay couples.

We prayed and prepared and hoped.  And as the synod opened, we started hearing positive messages from participants and observers.  And then came the mid-term report, with its strongly worded affirmations of lesbian and gay people.  Our hopes, it seemed, were being realized. I even toyed with the idea that the work of Catholic LGBT advocacy would soon be waning, that our hopes and dreams were now being realized at last.

Then the final report came out, and we found ourselves in the same position that we had always been in.  No positive message.  Was all the expectation, preparation, and hope for naught?

One of my favorite spiritual writers, José Antonio Pagola, in a homily on the fourth Sunday of Advent in his book, Following in the Footsteps of Jesus: Meditations on the Gospel, Year B, notes that the coming of Jesus was also seen as a disappointment for many.  Born in the backwater of Bethlehem, in a stable, in the midst of Roman occupation, to unknown, powerless parents, Jesus certainly did not have any of the earmarks of a Messiah that Israel expected.

But God works in mysterious ways.  And on a mysterious time schedule.  Our expectations, preparations, and hopes are never in vain.  They just may not receive their fruition in the way we expect them and in the time that we expect them.  We have another synod, a more definitive one coming up in November 2015.  And we need to work and pray with the hope that that one will be better than this past year’s.

More importantly, we must learn to be surprised by God.  Isn’t surprise what our secular tradition of Christmas gift-giving and even decorations are all about? Advent is about expectation, preparation, and hope, but Christmas is about surprise, about finding God, love, and joy in the most unexpected of places. Who knows what surprises God has in store for the 2015 synod?  I know that no one I know was prepared for the surprises that came at this past year’s meeting.

I won’t be in India and Bangladesh this Christmas season, and I don’t have all my decorations up, presents bought, or cookies baked.  But, nevertheless, I plan on being surprised, once again, as I always am, by the love of my family and friends, in ways that I never expect. I can’t wait to see what God has in store!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

On Spirit Day, Catholics Chart New Course for LGBT Youth

SpiritDay13_Graphic_FinalToday is Spirit Day. Millions across the nation will wear purple as a sign of their of their love and support for LGBT youth and for their opposition to bullying. We join GLAAD, the main sponsoring organization, in spreading this message of inclusion and well-being.

LGBT teens and young adults suffer greatly from bullying by peers in person and, increasingly, on the internet. Homo- and trans-phobic harassment against youth leads to vastly higher rates of substance abuse, self-harm, and suicide than the general population.

Rejection from their faith community and religious-based discrimination only compound these problems. For Catholics, Spirit Day is also prime moment for reflection on our Church’s progress and where we are now headed in ministering to younger people with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.

Last October, . Jesuit Fr. James Martin’s piece on Spirit Day was considered a bold statement, when he reminded Catholics of a prevalent negativity around Catholic LGBT issues from some quarters of the church:

“Many gay and lesbian Catholics have told me (in person, in emails, in notes and letters and in Facebook messages) how alienated they have felt from the church lately.  Perhaps as a result of some of the rhetoric that has been used recently, an increasing number of gay and lesbian Catholics, and gay and lesbian youth in particular, feel marginalized from the church in which they were baptized.”

Fear, hurt, and isolation persist for many LGBT Catholics who experienced decades of damaging language and actions.  Pope Francis, though, has prompted a spirit of renewal that blows through our communities which demands that we act against anti-gay discrimination, especially when it targets youth.

One bright initiative is called Anti-Bullying Learning and Teaching Resources (ALTER), sponsored by the Diocese of Wollongong, Australia. Responding to the rapid rise in bullying through cell phones and social media, the diocese’s Catholic Education Office produced a video (which you can view below) and a resource kit for adults in leadership.

Of note is the use of the word “gay” in the video, revealing an openness to the realities of the students it hopes to help. The Office explains:

“Fix You was deliberately designed to include significant contribution from Diocesan primary and secondary students. To maintain the integrity of this concept, when asked to list words commonly used to bully and to hurt, students were adamant the word ‘gay’ be included. In explanation, it was our students’ reality that this word was often used as a weapon and that verbal bullying was an experience known to most students. Consequently, this term has been included in the sequence of words depicting how bullying brands someone and how this can leave lifelong scars.”

The Office provides an improved commentary on homosexuality that focuses on respecting people’s dignity and ending injustice. They recommend that educators use the word “gay” in their classroom discussions.

This Spirit Day, Pope Francis’ handful of olive branches to the LGBT community has changed the tone by his comment “Who am I to judge?“, his America interview, or his handwritten note to gay Catholics in Italy. Leaders in the American hierarchy have been slow to follow his lead, but the Catholic laity  continue to advance into greater inclusion.

As Catholics, we at New Ways Ministry support Spirit Day, compelled by our faith to end bullying and sustain LGBT youth as they come to know themselves, their community, and God.  We’ve changed our profile picture on Facebook to purple in honor of Spirit Day, and we invite you to do the same as a sign of support.  If you use Twitter, consider using #SpiritDay in your tweets about support for LGBT youth today.

Why not share the graphic above with your friends on Facebook? You can copy and paste it from this post or you can find it on the New Ways Ministry Facebook page.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Pope Francis’ Welcome Signals a New Dawn of Hope for LGBT People and Allies

Pope Francis
Pope Francis

Pope Francis’ interview in America magazine signals a new dawn of hope and promise for LGBT Catholics and their supporters.  Pope Francis’ words and example have opened up new opportunities for the Catholic Church to welcome and dialogue with LGBT people.  His words will give courage and hope to thousands of pastoral ministers and Catholic faithful who have been doing this work for many decades, but who have often received penalties and discouragements from church leaders who did not share this pope’s broad vision.  His message initiates a new day for a Catholic Church that is welcoming  to all.

In the interview, Francis answers one of the most vexing questions since he was elected to the Catholic church’s highest office:  Has his positive attitude toward LGBT issues and his penchant for not mentioning them controversially been intentional or circumstantial?

In the interview, released today, he has let the world know that his approach has definitely been intentional, signaling a new direction in the way the papacy addresses these topics.

His direct response to that question was answered by him:

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.

““The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things. . . . We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”

This answer reflects not only good theology, but it reflects the pastoral wisdom that countless priests, nuns, deacons, and lay people have been practicing for decades in terms of their outreach to LGBT people.  In parishes, college campuses, and faith communities, outreach to LGBT people has always been done in noting the full context of their lives, not just the sexual arena.  Pastoral ministers have realized that focusing on the sexual arena was not only demeaning, but was spiritually deadening to both LGBT people and the entire faith community.

But the pope went further in his interview, too. The pope was asked how the Church can respond pastorally to marginalized groups, including same-sex couples.  What is remarkable about his answer is that it is the first time that a pope has offered direction on pastoral care of LGBT people that did not focus solely on sexual behavior. The pope said:

“We need to proclaim the Gospel on every street corner,” the pope says, “preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing, even with our preaching, every kind of disease and wound. In Buenos Aires I used to receive letters from homosexual persons who are ‘socially wounded’ because they tell me that they feel like the church has always condemned them. But the church does not want to do this. During the return flight from Rio de Janeiro I said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge. By saying this, I said what the catechism says. Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.

“A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing.”

The pope’s interview, which should be read in its entirety, did not focus on LGBT issues.  Instead it presents a beautiful picture of a humble, pastoral leader who seems willing to learn from all members of the Church.  In a discussion on the nature of the Church, he referred to it in the way that Vatican II did, as not just the hierarchy but the entire people of God:

“The image of the church I like is that of the holy, faithful people of God. This is the definition I often use, and then there is that image from the Second Vatican Council’s ‘Dogmatic Constitution on the Church’ (No. 12). Belonging to a people has a strong theological value. In the history of salvation, God has saved a people. There is no full identity without belonging to a people. No one is saved alone, as an isolated individual, but God attracts us looking at the complex web of relationships that take place in the human community. God enters into this dynamic, this participation in the web of human relationships.

“The people itself constitutes a subject. And the church is the people of God on the journey through history, with joys and sorrows. Thinking with the church, therefore, is my way of being a part of this people. . . . When the dialogue among the people and the bishops and the pope goes down this road and is genuine, then it is assisted by the Holy Spirit. So this thinking with the church does not concern theologians only.”

And he emphasized that the church is big enough to welcome ALL kinds of people.  This is directly opposite from Pope Benedict XVI’s approach when he said that he wanted to purify the church, even if that meant having a much smaller institution.  Pope Francis said:

“This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people. We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity. And the church is Mother; the church is fruitful.”

Millions of Catholics, and many others, are eager to be part of such a church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

New York Times: Pope Bluntly Faults Church’s Focus on Gays and Abortion

New Ways Ministry Says “#FollowFrancis”