Recent polling indicating American Catholic support for LGBT right echoes previous numbers, reported on here and here by Bondings 2.0. However, Quinnipiac University Polling Institute’s latest numbers on this topic are noteworthy for two developments: reactions to Pope Francis’ major interview and shifts in views based on Mass attendance.
Religion News Service reports that the pope received high marks as 89% of US Catholics reported either favorable or very favorable views on Pope Francis. Those viewing him negatively were in the low single digits.
The poll was conducted in the last week of September, just days after the release of America Magazine‘s groundbreaking interview with the pope. Regarding his condemnation of the Church’s focus on social issues, including marriage equality, 68% of adult Catholics agreed with Pope Francis and only 23% disagreed. These results were mirrored when broken down by age groups and Mass attendance.
Religion News Service also reported that American Catholic support for marriage equality still outpaces support by the general American population:
“The survey also found that Catholic support for same-sex marriage continues to be strong, as other surveys have found, with six-in-10 Catholics approving of gay marriage and 31 percent opposed. That’s slightly above the national 56 percent approval rating.
“But the latest research also indicates that support for same-sex marriage only drops slightly among weekly churchgoers, to 53 percent, with 40 percent opposed. That finding could cause consternation among social conservatives who argue that the most devout Catholics tend to support the hierarchy’s position against gay marriage.”
Just weeks ago, Pope Francis shook up the Catholic Church with a wide-ranging and welcome interview that included positive words about gay and lesbian people. Now, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is making waves in an interview with New York Magazine where he speaks about his Catholic faith and homosexuality.
Justice Scalia is normally an outspoken Catholic, but he offered little when asked about Pope Francis. The interviewer pressed him on the issue of homosexuality, asking (New York Magazine’s questions are in bold):
“I was wondering what kind of personal exposure you might have had to this sea change [of LGBT rights].
“I have friends that I know, or very much suspect, are homosexual. Everybody does.
“Have any of them come out to you?
“No. No. Not that I know of.”
He is asked in the interview whether his views on homosexuality have “softened” given the pope’s new welcome of gay and lesbian people, but Scalia is unable to understand how they could soften because in his mind the issue is set Catholic doctrine. The interviewer asks how these personal views affect his role on the Supreme Court, and Scalia answers:
“I still think it’s Catholic teaching that [homosexuality is] wrong. Okay? But I don’t hate the people that engage in it. In my legal opinions, all I’ve said is that I don’t think the Constitution requires the people to adopt one view or the other…
“Maybe the world is spinning toward a wider acceptance of homosexual rights, and here’s Scalia, standing athwart it. At least standing athwart it as a constitutional entitlement. But I have never been custodian of my legacy. When I’m dead and gone, I’ll either be sublimely happy or terribly unhappy.”
He pivots from here into a lengthy discussion of heaven and hell, the Devil, and atheism, all of which you can find here.
Yet, as a justice on the US’ top court and a prominent Catholic, Scalia’s record on LGBT issues is less “standing athwart” on legal grounds and more a clearly defined legacy of anti-gay bias rooted in his understanding of the Catholic faith.
Right Wing Watch offers a rundown of Scalia’s harshest moments against the LGBT community, as when he previously compared homosexuality to murder and cruelty against animals or when he wrote a scathing opinion in Lawrence v. Texas that would justify discrimination against gay people. Then there is the unusual step the justice took in reading aloud from the bench his blistering dissent when the Supreme Court struck down DOMA this past June.
It appears Pope Francis’ effect on Justice Scalia is minimal given the New York Magazine interview, and it is doubtful the justice would act like other Catholics on the court in endorsing the rights of all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. It is also clear in his language that Scalia continues to view homosexuality in terms of sexual acts, instead of as an integral part of a person’s identity. It is telling that someone as well-connected as the justice claims to know no gay people personally, and does little to show compassion, sensitivity, or respect for them as the Church asks of him.
With LGBT rights expanding in the US and Pope Francis preaching words of welcome, the moment is prime for the justice to reconsider how he speaks about and interacts with gay people. Perhaps acknowledging those he knows who are LGBT identified is a start. Perhaps he could consider aspects of his Catholic faith, like the dignity of each person and the common good pf all, when it comes to homosexuality. Perhaps he could simply start by echoing Pope Francis’ words in interviews and say, “Who am I to judge?”
Pope Francis makes headline after headline for personally reaching out through letters and phone calls to people who have written to him, and speaking pastorally with them. The Italian newspaper La Repubblicanow reports that the pope sent a handwritten reply to a group of gay and lesbian Catholics in Italy, and the original letter may have prompted the pope’s recent warm remarks on LGBT people.
Based on a Google translation (and Bondings 2.0 will update with a more reliable translation when that becomes availabe), La Repubblica writes:
“Pen and paper. Among the many revolutions made by Pope Bergoglio, in addition to phone calls home to ordinary people…there is also the ‘post effect,’ the mountain of letters delivered every day at his residence in Santa Marta, and sent directly to him…
“Some people think it may have been one of these ‘messages in a bottle’ that inspired the breakthrough of Bergoglio about gays. A letter sent in June to the Pope by various Italian gay Catholics…where gays and lesbians asked Francis to be recognized as people and not as a ‘category’ and called for openness and dialogue on the part of the Church, recalling that the closure ‘always feeds homophobia.’ “
Further information comes from America Magazine, which only weeks ago carried a groundbreaking interview with Pope Francis where his remarks on homosexuality were positive and welcoming, which reports:
“A leader of the impromptu committee said as gay Catholics they had in the past written to other members of the church leadership in Italy and had always before been rewarded with silence…
“The Kairos group said they also received a letter from the Vatican Secretariat of State, which informed them that Pope Francis ‘really enjoyed’ their letter to him and the way it was written, calling it an act of ‘spontaneous confidence.’
“One Kairos leader said Pope Francis had also assured the group of his blessing, something they could not before have imagined happening. The members of Kairos have decided to keep the rest of the message of both letters private.”
When New Ways Ministry led a pilgrimage to Italy in 2011, the Kairos group met with our American travelers to share stories and perspectives. Francis DeBernardo, our executive director, is contacting them currently to learn more about this papal letter. If we receive more information from them about the correspondence, we will update you.
While the contents of the pope’s letter remain private, truly as if between a pastor and the people he serves, there are broader lessons for the LGBT and ally Catholic community in this experience.
First, the wisdom that relational encounters with people are the most effective form of advocacy is relevant even for the pope. If La Repubblica‘s conjecture is correct that the personal letter from Kairos of Florence led to Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” and other comments that have greatly shifted the Church’s tone on LGBT issues, then everyone should be writing letters to Rome. New Ways Ministry wrote a letter to Pope Francis, telling him about the goodness and holiness of Catholic LGBT people and pastoral outreach to them here in the U.S. Would you consider writing your own thoughts to him?
Second, if reaching out to the pope is effective, perhaps it is time for Catholics to reach out to their local Church leaders, namely priests and bishops. Sharing personal stories to replace philosophical constructs with human faces and relationships might lead to further conversions.
The pen and paper revolution underway with Pope Francis offers each person an opportunity to write their own message in the model of the Kairos of Florence authors. If you do write to Pope Francis or a local church leader, please consider sharing your message in the ‘Comments’ section for this post.
Kate Childs Graham, the co-president of Call to Action, spoke with MSNBC about Pope Francis’ recent interview. She echoed many of the commentators in welcoming his remarks, but added a new trend she is witnessing: people of all walks returning to the Church. Childs Graham told the television host:
“I experienced the interview through the Holy Trinity of the New York Times, Facebook, and Twitter…More inspiring than the Pope’s words as progressive as they were was the people on Facebook and Twitter, Catholics, non-Catholics, people who have felt marginalized by the Church, who have left the Church saying: ‘Yes, this is what we have been saying for years and it is finally being reflected by our leaders.’…
That said, Childs Graham ended by asking the question many Catholics have about the bishops in America:
“The question is now we’ve got this CEO talking the talk, we’ve the worker bees, people in the pews, who’ve been saying this for years. The question really lies in middle management, the bishops. What are they going to do with this information?…Are they going to find this new balance with me, Pope Francis, and progressive Catholics like us?”
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.