Pope Francis’ calls to save migrants’ lives and his visits to prisons are well-known; indeed, they have become almost routine two years into his papacy. Yet for all his positive remarks on LGBT issues, Francis has not yet made the connection that sexual and gender diverse persons are also an “imprisoned” group in need of liberation.
In a post on his personal blog, Eric Fought, a Catholic pastoral minister and organizer in Minnesota, has called on the pope to correct this oversight.
Writing in response to Pope Francis’ lunch with 90 inmates, some of whom were LGBT person and those with HIV/AIDS, Fought notes how this outreach is not typical of others in the worldwide church. He continues:
“Rather, the Church openly and aggressively persecutes gay lesbian, bisexual and transgender Catholics in its midst. We’re all prisoners in the Catholic Church of today, and most of us have done absolutely nothing wrong.
“Thus, those of us who are attempting to live authentic lives as openly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Catholics—in other words, living the lives the Creator intended for us—are stuck in a prison of fear, doubt, repression and direct marginalization.”
Fought adds that though bishops and other church leaders publicly state they respect LGBT people’s dignity, the hierarchy’s message is more clearly stated as “but, we will continue to discriminate whenever and wherever we please.” This discrimination comes in many forms, though he highlights the church worker and volunteer firings which have been on the rise. Of the more than 50 church workers who lost their jobs over LGBT issues, Fought writes:
“. . . [W]e are regularly forced to resign from positions we are highly qualified to perform in ministry and service to the broader community. We are fired for refusing to remain in the closets of our sacristies and schools, let go for being part of relationships that give us life and honor God’s love for us. And when we dare to question these actions, our integrity and faith are regularly called into question.”
Yet, Fought sees hope because “God has heard our cries and we will soon be liberated.” This liberation will be the fruit of the faithful, LGBT and allies, joining together to take responsibility for the church’s future. He ends with an additional call to Pope Francis, asking the pontiff to include those LGBT people imprisoned by the church among the communities for which he prays and on behalf of whom he advocates. Fought writes:
“Pope Francis…we ask for your direct intervention. Know that we are in deep pain and stand ready to experience the freedom promised in the Gospel we all are called to preach and live out…As you rightly chastise the greed and corruption of politicians, economies and governments, continue your work to clean up our own house. And as you highlight the dangers of slavery’s many present forms, free your LGBT brothers and sisters from the prisons of your own Church.”
Pope Francis continues to capture the world’s attention, experiencing extremely high approval ratings among Catholics and those of other religious traditions. A recent Pew survey, reported on by the National Catholic Reporter, reports 95% of U.S. Catholics who regularly attend Mass give a “favorable” appraisal of Francis. That is even somewhat higher than Pope John Paul II’s approval ratings during his 1996 visit to the United States.
I am reminded of an important truism which comes from a seemingly innocuous source of my childhood: the Spiderman comics. The character Uncle Ben was fond of saying: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Pope Francis’ high approval numbers and media dominance mean his failure to act weighs as heavily as when he does act. It is time for the pope, in conjunction with the People of God, to responsibly use the power God has given us on behalf of those the church itself imprisons within its walls.
To read Eric Fought’s post in full, which I recommend, click here.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry.