Sr. Jeannine Gramick “Extremely Disappointed” by Pope Francis’ Exhortation

April 14, 2016
Sister Jeannine Gramick

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, or The Joy of Love, continues to instigate commentaries and analysis from all over. Bondings 2.0 provides our third round-up of reactions.

You can read previous reaction posts here and here. You can read New Ways Ministry’s response by clicking here.

Sr. Jeannine Gramick, SL, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, said she was “extremely disappointed in these bland remarks” offered by Pope Francis in the document. Gramick continued, in a statement to the National Catholic Reporter:

“[Francis] repeats previous calls for non-discrimination without giving examples of what that discrimination entails. LGBT people are shunned, fired from their jobs, bullied, jailed, executed and assassinated.”

Speaking of Pope Francis’ comment that the Church at times can uphold an “artificial theological ideal of marriage,” Gramick asked if the church has “an artificial theological ideal that all marriages should be heterosexual?” She also commented on Amoris Laetitia as it relates to transgender issues, saying:

“The document shows no understanding of gender identity, and of the pain parents feel when their child says they want to die because they are in the wrong body. Society once thought that homosexuality was a choice; now we know that the orientation is not a choice, but a discovery that one makes about oneself. So too with gender identity. The person comes to discover that their body does not match who they really are inside. The person must follow the inner promptings of the heart.”

But Gramick noted that, as church history shows time and gain, teachings do change, and she said the pope is “laying the groundwork for this change.”

fortunate_famliliesFortunate Families (FF), a national network for Catholic parents of LGBT children, said Pope Francis’ exhortation offered “glimmers of hope,” but ultimately,  it fell short. The FF statement said:

“We feel that this document would have been even more powerful if only the Pope would specifically connect this primary teaching of conscience formation to our LGBT children, who often feel called by God to full participation, including sexual intimacy, in a committed relationship. . . Positive statements on the issues of gender expression and language based on solid scientific evidence are also lacking.”

In a related commentary, Patricia Vasilj, the Catholic mother of a gay son, wrote on the DignityUSA website:

“Our GLBTQ children are not just inconveniences. . .Our GLBTQ children deserve more than a few paragraphs in a 264 page report. You, the Church, have left many of them shattered. The Church and Faith are intertwined. When the Church turns away, they believe God has gone with it. Their Father in heaven has not left them, but one certainly can’t tell that from the tone of this treatise. I am saddened and angry that once again our children have been hurt by those who should know better.”

logo-galc-copia1The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics released a comprehensive statement, saying Amoris Laetitia “opens up new perspectives,” though these perspectives are not fully applied to LGBT issues. It concluded:

“While we appreciate this understanding of dialogue, we also invite the Church to embrace this type of dialogue herself and adopt such attitudes towards the several LGBTQI persons within the Catholic Church who also want to share with the Church their own lived faith in their sexual and gender diversity.”

we-are-church-ireland-logoIrish reform organization We Are Church Ireland said in a statement, reported by the National Catholic Reporter, that they welcomed Amoris Laetitia, but noted its recommendations were inadequate because they “did not reflect the voices of Catholic families who had no deliberative voice throughout the course of both Synods.” The statement said further:

“The one area where Pope Francis has failed to recognize is the giftedness and grace of Gay and Lesbian people both as single people and in their relationships.”

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Gina Messina-Dysert

Feminism and Religion’s Gina Messina-Dysert, a religion professor at Urusline College, Pepper Pike, Ohio, said it seemed Pope Francis “has finally read Margaret Farley’s Just Love,” but needed time to process it. Messina-Dysert added:

“Francis has called for us to begin to change our attitudes towards ‘the other’ but is still unwilling to change the man made rules of the Vatican.  He refuses to acknowledge that LGBTQ relationships are in fact just. . .it continues a highly negative tone for the LGBTQ community and does not acknowledge women’s value outside of marriage.”

HRCThe Human Rights Campaign, through a statement by Senior Vice President Mary Beth Maxwell, said it had “hoped that Pope Francis’ more open and loving message about LGBT people would translate into fuller inclusion during the Church’s Year of Mercy.”

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John Gehring

John Gehring of Faith in Public Life explained to the Gaston Gazette that this document should refocus the church’s concern for families on the real threats against them, rather than false threats like marriage equality, which church leaders so heartily attack. Gehring wrote:

“While some view family values as only a battlefield in the culture wars, the pope understands that poverty, the refugee crisis and an economy of exclusion are grave threats to families. He widens the frame in a way that should expand the debate beyond a few hot button sexual issues.”

You can read more about the content of Amoris Laetitia from Joshua McElwee of the National Catholic Reporter by clicking here.   You can read document excerpts related to LGBT issues by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

The Chicago Tribune, LGBT faith community voices disappointment over ‘Joy of Love’

The New York Times, “Francis’ Message Calls on Church to be Inclusive

Religion Dispatches, “Pope Francis’ Love Letter is a Lost Opportunity” by Mary Hunt


Fr. James Martin, LGBT Groups, Others React to Pope Francis’ “The Joy of Love”

April 9, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 5.29.58 PM.pngYesterday’s release of Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the family whose title translates as The Joy of Love, has provoked a tremendous amount of news reports and commentaries that will surely continue as this more than two-hundred page text is digested further.

Today, Bondings 2.0 provides an initial round-up of reactions as they relate to LGBT issues. You can read LGBT-related excerpts from Amoris Laetitia by clicking here.  You can read New Ways Ministry’s response by clicking here.

Fr. James Martin, S.J. tweeted that Amoris Laetitia offered a welcome to LGBT people and set issues around sexuality and gender within a global context, saying, in two separate tweets:

“To LGBT friends: Pope says ‘before all else’ you are respected, and inveighs against violence against you–a huge challenge to Africa, e.g.”

“Good to remember that #AmorisLaetitia is addressed to the whole world. So his comments on LGBT people are challenging to many cultures.”

Martin also highlighted the renewed emphasis on conscience present in the document. You can read Martin’s “10 Takeaways from Amoris Laetitia” in America.

Equally Blessed LogoEqually Blessed, a coalition of Call to Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, and New Ways Ministry, expressed disappointment in its statement:

“While the Pope acknowledges the complicated issues facing Catholics on the margins. . .[he] ultimately reinforces existing harmful church teaching that characterizes LGBTQI people as unable to reflect the fullness of God’s plan for humanity. Specifically, the Pope continues to condemn same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex parents, and he refuses to acknowledge the complexities of gender identity.”

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Marianne Duddy-Burke

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, said many had “hoped for much more” and continued in a statement:

“While the Pope acknowledges the Church has been too rigid in other areas, there is no repentance when it comes to LGBT people. We need to see changes in teaching and practice before we can move forward. . .Clearly, Church officials, up to and including Pope Francis, still have little idea of the reality of LGBT people’s faith, lives, and family situations.”

Call to Action said in a statement that, despite the pope’s call for clergy to “see Grace at work in all life’s complicated and complex forms,” the organization was:

“. . .deeply concerned this document results in an institutional and ecclesial status quo that does not make real substantive changes in Catholic structures and practices (e.g., an end to the unjust firings of LGBT Church Workers and discrimination against women, to name only a few examples).”

Terence Weldon

Terence Weldon

Terence Weldon of Queering the Church was similarly dissatisfied with the document’s approach to LGBT issues, but saw hopeful elements as it “created the conditions for change”:

“Closer examination however, reveals some cause for optimism, certainly in the longer term. What is not said may be more important than what is explicitly stated. Most notably, there is no reference at all to the offensive term ‘objectively disordered’, or any hint of opposition to same-sex relationships (as long as they do not claim to be “marriage”).  Although there is a forthright objection to same-sex marriage, this is not listed among the many problems and dangers that are said to threaten actual families, or even the institution of marriage itself.”

Commenting on Pope Francis’ renewed emphasis on the “internal forum,” Weldon added:

“Drawing on a passage from the great theologian Thomas Aquinas, the conclusion we may reach is that even though those who remarry after divorce, or who live openly in same-sex relationships, may appear to be living in conditions of objective sin, their particular circumstances may negate that conclusion.”

Michael Sean Winters

Michael Sean Winters

Michael Sean Winters, columnist at the National Catholic Reporter, commented on several aspects including the following point relevant for LGBT Catholics and their families:

“[T]he Holy Father does not believe the pastor, still less the magisterium, should tell people what to do, but that a pastor should accompany people so that they can discern God’s activity and calling in their own lives. The pastor encourages spiritual maturity, not memorization of a hodgepodge of canonical requirements.”

Father Thomas Reese, SJ

Father Thomas Reese, SJ

Fr. Thomas Reese, S.J., also writing for the National Catholic Reporter, defined success for Amoris Laetitia differently than other commentators. Though he critically engaged the text’s content, he concluded:

“This is a papal document well worth the time to read and reflect on. Parts are dull; parts inspire and delight; parts will give hope; and parts will infuriate. If it brings the conversation about families out of the synodal hall and down to the parish and families themselves, then it will be a success.”

In the days to come, there will surely be many conversations at all levels of the church about how to understand Amoris Laetitia and what it means concretely in Catholics’ lives. Bondings 2.0 will be engaging these conversations and keeping our readers updated.

In the meantime, what are your first reactions to this exhortation? You can leave them in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


New Apostolic Nuncio to U.S. May Strike Different Tone on LGBT Issues than Predecessor

March 17, 2016
Carlo Maria Vigano

Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano

The Holy See will appoint a new Apostolic Nuncio to the U.S., replacing Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò whose controversial tenure did not help LGBT efforts in the church. But his replacement may have wide-ranging implications for implementing Pope Francis’ reform agenda, including on LGBT issues, in the U.S.

Viganò made headlines last fall after he arranged an encounter between Pope Francis and Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk whose refusal to grant marriage licenses to same-gender couples gained her infamy. That meeting quickly became LGBT opponents’ rallying cry, but suggestions the pope supported Davis were disproven. It turned out that Pope Francis’ only meeting while in D.C. was  with a gay former student and his partner.

The Kim Davis debacle was not Archbishop Viganò’s  first intervention against LGBT rights since taking the U.S. post in 2011. For the last two years, he appeared at the March for Marriage, a conservative anti-marriage equality rally, despite Catholics’ appeals for church leaders to skip the events which featured harshly anti-gay speakers. He used his final address to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops last fall to keep up his culture warrior attacks. Viganò’s resignation was not a direct result of any of these incidents, but rather because of the church regulation that a bishop submit a resignation letter on his 75th birthday, reported The Advocate. Viganò’s milestone was in January. It is not surprising, however, that Pope Francis quickly accepted the archbishop’s letter of resignation, instead of letting him continue to serve, as sometimes happens.

It appears that the new nuncio to the U.S. will be Archbishop Christophe Pierre, though the Vatican has not confirmed this since they are waiting for approval from President Barack Obama.

Norberto Rivera, Pope Francis, Christophe Pierre

Archbishop Christophe Pierre, right, with Pope Francis during his visit to Mexico

Pierre is currently Apostolic Nuncio to Mexico and has served in several diplomatic postings, including Uganda and Haiti, according to the Jesuit-weekly America. His time in Mexico caused The Washington Post to speculate that Pierre will emphasize immigration justice rather than engaging social issues such as LGBT rights. This political shift would be notable and heighten the contrast between Pope Francis and the American bishops.

Apart from acting as the Vatican’s ambassador, the Apostolic Nuncio has tremendous bearing on a nation’s episcopal ranks, as Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter explained:

“When a diocese becomes vacant, the nuncio is charged with investigating the needs of the diocese and then proposing the names of three candidates who could meet those needs. That list of candidates, a terna, is sent to the Congregation for Bishops, which can pass it along to the pope as is, change the rankings of the three names on the list, or even reject the list and ask for a new one.”

Winters noted that, under Pierre’s watch, all new bishops in Mexico under Francis have been pastors. Nearly a dozen dioceses in the U.S. currently lack a bishop, meaning more Pope Francis-style bishops–similar to Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich–could be forthcoming. A historical note may be worth remembering, too. The last French nuncio was Archbishop Jean Jadot who promoted a generation of progressive Vatican II bishops who helped advance LGBT inclusion, such as Seattle’s Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen and Milwaukee’s Archbishop Rembert Weakland.

Confirmation of Archbishop Pierre’s appointment to the U.S. is expected before Easter. How he will act as nuncio and how this may affect LGBT issues in the church remains to be seen, but it seems likely to be an improvement over Archbishop Viganò’s tenure these last five years.  Pierre may bring about a shift towards more pastoral and merciful ways of leading the church, exemplified by Pope Francis.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


For LGBT Rights, Is Pope Francis a Partisan or Not?

February 25, 2016
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Pope Francis

Should the pope be political and/or partisan or not? Pope Francis’ trip to Mexico raised these questions after he challenged whether Donald Trump could be considered Christian. The question also bears on LGBT issues, particularly in Italy where legislators are debating the legalization of civil unions.

Pope Francis gave an in-flight interview returning from Mexico, as he regularly does when apostolic journeys conclude. When asked about the civil unions issue in Italy by Il Sole 24’s Carlo Marroni, the pope responded:

“First of all, I don’t know how things stand in the thinking of the Italian parliament. The Pope doesn’t get mixed up in Italian politics. At the first meeting I had with the (Italian) bishops in May 2013, one of the three things I said was: with the Italian government you’re on your own. Because the pope is for everybody and he can’t insert himself in the specific internal politics of a country. This is not the role of the pope, right? And what I think is what the Church thinks and has said so often – because this is not the first country to have this experience, there are so many – I think what the Church has always said about this.”

From this answer, one would believe the pope refrains from partisan engagement over specific policy questions, and this would include legal recognition of same-gender couples in Italy. But Francis’ record is not so clear. Here are a few relevant facts to consider.

First, in Italy, he has refrained from explicitly condemning civil unions or using the church’s influence to lean on Catholic politicians. This approach directly refutes some Italian bishops’ highly partisan campaigning and is notably different from his predecessors, said theologian Massimo Faggioli. But speaking to the Roman Rota in January, Pope Francis offered his strongest criticism yet of marriage equality saying “there can be no confusion between the family as willed by God, and every other type of union.” This was seen by some observers as a comment on Italy’s civil union debate.

Second, Pope Francis has commented on the “specific internal politics of a country” at least twice before when it comes to LGBT rights. In Slovenia in December 2015, during the week of a national referendum which eventually banned marriage equality and adoption rights by same-gender couples, Pope Francis encouraged all Slovenians, especially those in public life, “to preserve the family” .  A similar moment happened in February 2015 when the pontiff exhorted pilgrims from Slovakia to “continue their efforts in defense of the family,”  just days before an unsuccessful referendum in that nation against equal marriage and adoption rights.

Third, Pope Francis often speaks through gestures, actions, or the statements of his surrogates. For instance, this week, in the midst of the Italian civil unions debate, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said it was “essential” that Italian law differentiate between civil unions for same-gender couples and marriage for heterosexual couples.

It helps to remember, too, that Pope Francis is a solitary person shepherding 1.3 billion people, and that his voice can be used and misused, making it hard to know at times what comes from Francis and what comes from contrary parties.

Fourth, and finally, when called upon to be a voice for marginalized LGBT people, Pope Francis has remained silent. Advocates pleaded with him to speak against laws criminalizing homosexuality during his apostolic voyage to Kenya, Nigeria, and the Central African Republic last fall. Advocates have asked him to intervene in the Dominican Republic, where a cardinal has repeatedly used anti-gay slurs against U.S. Ambassador James Brewster. Last week, this blog commented that the case of Cameroon bishops calling for “zero tolerance” of homosexuality was a perfect case for papal intervention.

From my perspective, these facts suggest, despite the pope’s latest claim, the lack of a consistent position for Pope Francis when it comes to partisan involvement in a given nation’s politics. Pope Francis is, rightly I believe, a politically engaged pontiff and affirmed that to be human is to be political. But he has been partisan where it may be imprudent and even inappropriate for him to be so engaged. The damage U.S. bishops have done to the church in their country. because of their hyper-partisan agenda in recent years, is a cautionary tale. I speculate on two possibilities for why Pope Francis lacks a consistent position.

More negatively, it could be that he claims distance when convenient, and becoming more involved when similarly convenient. He chooses whether to speak about LGBT issues depending on whether he will obtain a positive reception from the audience. Could it be that Pope Francis changes not just the style, but the substance of his messaging depending on who is listening? That would be troubling.

More positively, maybe the humble Pope Francis is learning “on the job” as he navigates unprecedented reforms in a church that is now truly global and truly hurting. His inconsistencies arise because he admits to not having the answers and to shifting course when a better way forward appears apparent. Francis’ actions could reveal a leader who is willing to listen to others’ voices and to encounter those from different perspectives. That would be refreshing.

What do you think? Should the pope be involved in partisan national politics? If so, when? Should the pope be political, raising up issues without endorsing specific policy positions? Should the pope be neither? Leave your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Italian Prime Minister Rebukes Cardinal Over Civil Unions Involvement

February 24, 2016
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Prime Minister Matteo Renzi

Italy’s prime minister rebuked a Catholic cardinal for his involvement in the nation’s debate over civil unions, and suggested his government would call a confidence vote to advance the stalled bill.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi criticized Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco’s interference after the cardinal, who heads the Italian Episcopal Conference, said the Italian Senate should employ a secret ballot when voting on the civil unions bill. Renzi told state radio RAI:

” ‘Parliament decides whether or not to allow secret votes … not the head of the bishops’ conference. . .What is there to fear from two people who love each other? Why not give these rights to two people who love each other? The majority of the country is clearly in favor of it.’ “

Despite Bagnasco’s claim that a secret ballot would allow legislators a conscience vote, Business Insider reported that a secret ballot “could sabotage the legislation” if legislators vote against their party’s platform.

Prime Minister Renzi is correct that 70% of Italians endorse legal protections for those in same-gender partnerships, but the civil unions bill has been stalled due to disputes over adoption rights. Only 24% of Italians support allowing same-gender partners to adopt each other’s biological children, and even in Renzi’s own center-left Democratic Party there is resistance to legalize adoptions.

Renzi dropped the adoption provision from the civil unions bill. LGBT advocates criticized this action, saying it guts the bill and leaves children unprotected. They are expected to demonstrate in Rome today.

Renzi, who is Catholic, said he would call a confidence vote to jumpstart the bill in the Senate, where opposition legislators have drowned it in amendments. The confidence vote is risky because, if lost, Renzi and his party would face elections after only two years in office. But the prime minister is clear that LGBT rights are an essential part of his reform platform and the “debating game being played in the Senate” must end, reported The Telegraph. Addressing his party, Renzi reiterated:

” ‘The issue of civil rights is the biggest challenge currently for us. . .we have two alternatives. . .My proposal. . .is for governing parties to try to reach an accord and put forward an amendment on which I believe we must be ready to call a confidence vote.’ “

Matteo Renzi is a high-profile lay Catholic advancing LGBT justice in Italy, but as Bondings 2.0 noted a few weeks ago, unlike Catholics in other European nations like Ireland, the laity in Italy are split on the matter of civil unions.  Nearly 300,000 Italians rallied in Rome earlier this month during the church-supported Family Day protests.

Italy remains the only Western European nation to not grant legal protections to same-gender partners, a status criticized formally by both the Italian courts and the European Court of Human Rights. To read Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of LGBT rights in Italy, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Lay Catholics in Italy Split on Civil Unions Question

January 31, 2016
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Outside the Pantheon in Rome, equality supporters, including Catholics, call for civil unions to be legalized.

YesterdayBondings 2.0 explored how Pope Francis and the Italian hierarchy have engaged that nation’s present debate about civil unions for same-sex couples. One theologian’s analysis was that, for Pope Francis, this was an issue best left to the laity. Today’s post explores just how the laity have been involved and what their involvements could mean.

Italian Catholics on both sides of the civil unions question have participated in major demonstrations. Nearly a million LGBT supporters rallied on January 23 in public squares across Italy, bringing clocks with them to call on legislators to “wake up” about the necessity of recognizing same-gender partners in law. Rome’s Gay Center spokesperson Fabrizio Marrazzo said the 100+ demonstrations signal Italy’s “crisis point. . .about civil rights,” reported the National Catholic Reporter.

Among those experiencing this crisis is Andrea Rubera, a married gay Catholic in Rome, whose story, told in The New York Times ,reveals the urgent necessity of legal protections. Rubera married his partner, Dario De Gregorio, in Canada, and they became parents to three children. The Times article explained:

“But when they returned to their native Italy, a transformation occurred. Mr. Rubera suddenly became a single man, and his legally recognized husband in Canada became his single male roommate in Italy. Italian law also divided custody of their children.”

Of this, Rubera commented:

” ‘There are major injustices coming from this, all toward the kids. . .We are dreaming to be recognized as we are — as a family.’ “

Despite this reality, support for civil unions is declining, if the polls are accurate. Latest numbers have support below 50% whereas it peaked at 67% or higher last May, a decline tied to a clause supporting stepchild adoption for same-gender couples, according to some pundits. Attempting to assuage critics, the civil unions bill was watered down, reported Crux, when sponsors added “language clearly distinguishing the relationships from marriage” and other amendments.

Yesterday, groups and individuals against civil unions took part in “Family Day” protests, which received support from some church leaders, including Italian Episcopal Conference President, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco. According to Crux’s John Allen, lay support for conservative church leaders is one reason that the Catholic Church “still has significant social capital and packs a political punch” in Italy. He wrote:

“That doesn’t mean the Italian Church wins all the time; famously, it lost referenda in 1974 over divorce and in 1981 over abortion, and prevailed in 2005 over stem cell research only by persuading Italians not to vote in order to invalidate the ballot.

“Yet Mass-going Catholics remain a sizable chunk of the national population and are well represented in both major political parties, and their sentiments have to be at least considered.”

Yet, simply citing that Catholics are politically involved is not sufficient evidence that LGBT rights will fail. It may actually be evidence for the contrary, as Out Magazine noted:

“At one time, the power of the conservative Roman Catholic Church seemed an almost insurmountable obstacle to the progress of LGBT rights. In 2003, Belgium became the first Catholic-majority country to adopt marriage equality, soon to be followed by Canada, Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, France, and, most recently—and in a popular referendum—Ireland, revealing a trend that shatters such a pessimistic illusion. In fact, countries with a Catholic majority make up nearly half of those with marriage equality, and Catholics are overwhelmingly inclined to support same-sex marriages, or at least civil unions. So long as the false narrative of mainstream Catholicism’s lack of acceptance prevailed, LGBT progress for Italy looked bleak. Now, the country of 60 million looks poised to legalize same-sex civil unions. “

Ireland’s referendum and the marriage victories in many historically Catholic countries and states, aided in most cases by lay Catholics’ fervent efforts for equality, are true. But this is Italy, where the church’s political hold remains stronger due to the Vatican’s influence. With lay Catholics active both for and against civil unions, with Pope Francis advancing a more nuanced response, and with Italy’s bishops not united in strong opposition, it seems unclear just what influence Italian Catholics will have on Tuesday’s expected vote.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Vatican Marks David Bowie’s Passing By Praising Him

January 12, 2016
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David Bowie

Even the Vatican has marked singer David Bowie’s passing, praising the artist whose life and career perpetually challenged sexual and gender norms, and who, at varying points in his life, identified as gay and bisexual..

Among the first to honor Bowie was Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi of the Pontifical Council for Culture who tweeted lyrics from the musicians 1969 song “Space Oddity”:

“Ground Control to Major Tom/Commencing countdown, engines on/Check ignition and may God’s love be with you (David Bowie)”

L’Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper, published an obituary complimenting Bowie. The New York Times reported:

“The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano has eulogized David Bowie as a singular musician, ‘never banal,’ who grew artistically over five decades thanks to his interest in art, film and theater.

“The paper, which frequently weighs in on pop culture, noted the ‘ambiguous image’ Bowie cultivated early on in his career and blamed it on his aim to attract media attention.

“But it said that aside from such ‘excesses,’ Bowie’s legacy ‘is one of a sort of personal sobriety, expressed even in his dry, almost thread-like body.’ “

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Tweet by Cardinal Ravasi

This is kind, if unexpected, praise from the Vatican for Bowie, who challenged gender norms. Zack Ford of Think Progress explained:

“This confusion was apparent in his own sexuality, which never seemed to fit neatly into any particular label. First he was gay. Then he was bisexual. Then coming out as bisexual was the ‘biggest mistake I ever made,’ because he didn’t ever feel that he was a ‘real bisexual.’ He admitted to having same-sex sexual interactions, ‘but frankly, it wasn’t enjoyable.’ In terms of sex and relationships, his own description of himself as ‘promiscuous’ may have been the most accurate of them all, but it reflected, as in the other aspects of his life and career, defiance of convention.”

Commenting further on Bowie’s significance for LGBT communities, a columnist with The Daily Beast wrote:

“In his refusal to label himself, there didn’t appear to be a cowardice, but rather an honesty and maturity around how unfixed, at least for him, the notion of sexuality was. That proved to be its own liberation, or at least freeing, moment for so many of every kind of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

The Vatican’s praise for David Bowie has generated global headlines, fueled by the dissonance created in bringing together rigid Catholic officials and the unconfined seeker that was David Bowie. That the Vatican’s newspaper was so affirming is a positive sign for LGBT issues in the church, likely another outcome from Pope Francis’ improved engagement with the world and demand for all people to be respected and valued.

I think Cardinal Ravasi and those behind the L’Osservatore Romano article are touching a deeper truth that connects Pope Francis, David Bowie, and all of us in between: the path to holiness is the journey towards authenticity. To paraphrase the Trappist monk Thomas Merton, “To be a saint is to be yourself.”

The world benefited from Bowie’s art, just as Catholics benefits from the many LGBT people who, in their own journeys to authenticity, help break down harmful gender and sexual norms in the church. We are all richer for the carefully tended fruits which then emerge.

David Gibson of Religion News Service headlined a column, “Saint David Bowie?” Perhaps we can just remove the question mark and simply say, “Saint David Bowie.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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