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.”
“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