Earlier this week, Pope Francis gave a surprise TED Talk on “Why the Only Future Worth Building Includes Everyone.” The pope covered many topics in the seventeen-minute address, including appeals for inclusion and love. Francis said “we can only build the future by standing together, including everyone,” and continued:
“How wonderful would it beif the growth of scientific and technological innovationwould come along with more equality and social inclusion.How wonderful would it be, while we discover faraway planets,to rediscover the needs of the brothers and sisters orbiting around us.How wonderful would it be if solidarity,this beautiful and, at times, inconvenient word,were not simply reduced to social work,and became, instead, the default attitudein political, economic and scientific choices,as well as in the relationships among individuals, peoples and countries.”
Pope Francis also called for a “revolution of tenderness,” which is “the love that comes close and becomes real.” He explained what this revolution will require of people:
“In order to do good,we need memory, we need courage and we need creativity. . .Yes, love does require a creative, concreteand ingenious attitude.Good intentions and conventional formulas,so often used to appease our conscience, are not enough.Let us help each other, all together, to rememberthat the other is not a statistic or a number.The other has a face.The ‘you’ is always a real presence,a person to take care of.”
LGBT Catholics, their loved ones, and allies may experience a dissonance reading these words. Pope Francis’ mixed record on issues of gender and sexuality may weaken his strong call for inclusion. But this address could also be the foundation from which Catholics can build greater inclusion of LGBT people. Catholics, especially church leaders should apply the pope’s principles to the ways they approach LGBT people and topics.
Is Pope Francis’ call for inclusion and equality harmful or helpful? What would you like to see from him on LGBT issues? Leave your reactions in the “Comments” section below.
Attending Mass on Sundays, and listening to the priest’s homily, are primary ways by which Catholics practice their faith. These experiences can, therefore, impact the faithful’s lives and the lives of loved ones quite deeply, even determining whether Catholics join or remain in a parish.
Therefore, good homilies matter–especially when they touch on LGBT issues.
This is the argument of Brian Harper of the National Catholic Reporter, who takes up this question in his recent column, “What we say and how we say it.” Harper opens by describing an experience he and a gay loved one had at Mass, which they attended on the Feast of the Holy Family, which is the Sunday after Christmas. He wrote:
“[T]he priest saw fit to treat the congregation to a litany of what he perceived to be the most serious threats to the family unit. Homosexuality and bestiality topped the list.
“Even Catholics with orthodox views on sexuality should have found the homily brash and insensitive in its delivery. I was embarrassed, angry, and, perhaps most of all, disappointed by the missed opportunity. A great deal of modern society sees the Catholic church as judgmental and repressive, a reputation that moments like these make hard to refute.”
Harper said his gay loved one was unsurprised by the priest’s words, as this prejudiced homily was “what he had come to expect from the church.” This experience returned to Harper after the mass shooting at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando this past June. Prejudice was so openly displayed as in both instances.
The incidents provoked deeper reflection for Harper, reflection that he suggested would be good for the church as it grapples, slowly, to be more inclusive:
“But how many of us know how LGBTQIA Catholics and non-Catholics alike feel? Not just about hot button issues, but how they feel as they go about their days, enduring slights at work, during their free time, or, God forbid, at church? . . .
“I think all Catholics would do well to accept the notion that unflattering assumptions about our religion are not solely the result of others misunderstanding or rebelling against it. The fact that Catholicism has been a source of comfort for many does not mean it has been for all. We ought to consider the implications of this realization.”
Harper’s column, which you can find by clicking here, ended by suggesting that Catholics should respond to the LGBT question by listening, as it is “one of those instances that calls not for others’ conversion so much as our own.”
This ecclesial conversion may be particularly important given a new study from the Pew Research Center, reported on by Fr. Thomas Reese, SJ, in the National Catholic Reporter. The study surveyed U.S. Christians on what matters when they look to join a new congregation. Reese commented on the survey findings:
“[W]hat matters to people looking for a new congregation is good preaching, feeling welcomed, and the style of worship of the congregation.”
While Protestants generally rated these factors higher, 71% of Catholics said feeling welcomed by religious leaders was important and 67% said preaching was important. Reese wrote that “these are numbers pastors can ignore only at their peril,” and these factors will likely rise as generational demographics progress.
Too many LGBT Catholics and their families have experienced damaging homilies and insensitive pastoral care, like the homily described by Brian Harper. It is sad to consider just many Catholics have been excluded by condemnatory language or uneducated clerics. If church leaders are really interested in evangelization, ensuring that parishes are welcoming and safe spaces for every person is a necessary step. They could begin by simply ending bad homilies against LGBT people and their loving relationships.
And for those church ministers who might be preaching during next year’s Feast of the Holy Family, or just anyone interested in reading moving words about LGBT families, check out Deacon Ray Dever’s reflection on the Holy Family by clicking here, or Joseanne and Joseph Peregin’s reflection on the feast by clicking here.
The ALL ARE WELCOME series is an occasional feature which examines how Catholic faith communities can become more inclusive of LGBT people and issues.
Parishes that want to welcome LGBT people into their communities often think of their work as “outreach.” They consider that to bring LGBT people to their communities, they need to go outside their doors and offer a welcoming hand to the unchurched or alienated.
That’s a good strategy, but it shouldn’t be a parish’s only strategy. In addition to looking outside their community, a parish that wants to welcome LGBT people should also look inside itself for LGBT members.
The assumption that LGBT people are always outside the church is not totally accurate. While it is true that many LGBT folks have experienced some sort of alienation from insitutional religion, many others have not left the Catholic community and are still active members of parishes. Parish leaders and pastoral ministers may not be aware that these parishioners are LGBT because the parishioners have decided not to make their identities known, some times out of fear that they will be ostracized.
That’s why in addition to outreach, parishes can also benefit from doing some “in-reach.” In addition to welcoming outsiders, basically evangelical work, parishes can benefit from looking inwards to see why the LGBT people in their communities may not feel comfortable revealing their identities.
More and more LGBT people are finding it easier to be “out” in their families, neighborhoods, and workplaces, but some times, unfortunately, they do not feel comfortable being open about their identities in their faith communities. They may feel they will be rejected outright or be denied leadership and ministry roles in the parish.
There are many ways that parishes that want to welcome LGBT people can send messages to those members of their communities that do not yet feel comfortable “coming out” :
1) Include lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people and their concerns in the prayers of the faithful.
2) Mention examples of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people in homilies to illustrate Gospel lessons, values, and virtues.
3) Make sure your parish mission or welcome statement includes a specific mention of lesbian,gay,bisexual, transgender people.
4) Host events specifically for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people, their family members, and supporters.
5) Choose a special Sunday to celebrate the gifts that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people bring to the faith community.
7) Make sure that visibly out lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people have leadership roles in the community.
What has your parish done to let LGBT folks in your parish know that it would be safe and comfortable for them to “come out” in your community. Post your suggestions and experiences in the “Comments” section of this post.
Today 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.
Many have embraced Pope Francis for his welcoming remarks and actions towards gay and lesbian people, but what about transgender people? Two commentaries reveal both the positive effect the pope is having on issues of gender identity and the tremendous work remaining to make Catholic communities more inclusive for all.
Hilary Howes writes from the perspective of a trans Catholic woman in a post titled, “Oh What a Difference a Pope Makes…” She recalls comments by former Pope Benedict XVI who once condemned sex reassignment and shifting gender identities, contrasting this with Pope Francis in the America magazineinterview:
“The pope comments: ‘St. Vincent of Lerins makes a comparison between the biological development of man and the transmission from one era to another of the deposit of faith, which grows and is strengthened with time. Here, human self-understanding changes with time and so also human consciousness deepens. Let us think of when slavery was accepted or the death penalty was allowed without any problem. So we grow in the understanding of the truth…The view of the church’s teaching as a monolith to defend without nuance or different understandings is wrong.’ “
In light of the pope’s dynamic viewpoint on Catholic teaching, Hilary asks what this could mean for transgender people if the Church can change:
“Could our new pope be speaking to transgender people (among others)? He sites slavery and the death penalty that were once supported by the church to show that the church can be wrong and can change. It’s a reading that looks for the loving embrace of god to deepen with the maturity that comes with science and social development. Not the retreat from science and social development that is fundamentalism. The mistreatment of transgender people by the church comes from out of date science and the most fundamental interpretation of church dogma, not even theology. This can end now, with this Pope’s leadership and given the overwhelming support of socially conscious American Catholics.”
Too many Catholics feel excluded from local churches because of their gender identity. With this exclusion in mind, Pope Francis’ interview spurred even conservative blogger Elizabeth Scalia to ask whether the Catholic Church has room for transgender people.
Writing in First Things, Scalia speaks about a friend, Sarah, who was a trans woman attracted to the Catholic faith, but who declared “she could never convert because ‘the church wouldn’t have me, as I am.’ ” Of this Scalia writes:
“It broke my heart that Sarah believed this. I urged inquiry with a priest, but this child of God was convinced that there was no room for transgendered persons in the Catholic church. I thought there might be, and made a few discreet inquiries of my own; what I encountered was a general sense of dis-ease among the clerics and theologians I asked. None of them said ‘No, there is no room’ but none of them would definitively say ‘yes’ either…
“May Sarah be admitted into this field hospital for sinners? I considered my job, and the job of the church, as being first of all to love the person before me; to see Sarah, as Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Deus Caritas Est, ‘not simply with my eyes and feelings, but from the perspective of Jesus Christ’; to respect the dignity of this human person seeking a relationship with Christ and then offer an arm of support for the journey. This might mean challenges down the road, certainly, but first and foremost it would require an unambiguous welcome.”
Scalia’s full post is flawed in its welcome because it perpetuates a negative belief that transgender people are in some way sinful or should be counseled out of their true identity. Yet, this questioning by even defenders of the hierarchy’s strict sexual ethics suggests that Pope Francis is having a positive effect on LGBT issues. In past years, such questions would have been dead on arrival, if they ever emerged at all.
Hilary’s faith comes through at the end of her post, and is a call for all Catholics:
“My god is the Creator. I believe our highest calling is to create. Our humble attempts at art, engineering, commerce, and social inventions honor our creator…Understanding creation as opposed to procreation as a central theme of faith helps us to appreciate the spectacular diversity of nature and humans and gender expression.”
By educating themselves, Catholics can overcome existing prejudices and misinformation about transgender people and participate in creating parishes, dioceses, and eventually a broader Church that is, in the words of Pope Francis, a “home for all.”
One start could be attending New Ways Ministry’s upcoming workshop, “Trans-forming Love.” You can find more information about the event here.
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.
Bondings 2.0 reported yesterday on the question of why Catholic bishops did not respond more positively to Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” remarks in July. Recent comments by Poland’s leading Catholic figure are an example of how more positive speech about LGBT people in the papacy’s wake can and is inspiring hope for a new tone among LGBT Catholics.
Polskie Radioreports that Archbishop Jozef Kowalczyk, archbishop of Gniezno and primate of Poland, said the Church “will not turn its back on homosexuals” when asked about Pope Francis’ July statement on gay priests. Further, the radio station reports:
“Asked by Poland’s Rzeczpospolita daily whether the pope’s words had ‘started a revolution in the Church,’ Archbishop Kowalczyk said there was ‘nothing new’ in the pope’s comments.
“ ‘Homosexuality is a known phenomenon throughout history, both in the world and in the Church,’ he said.“
” ‘The Church will not turn its back on homosexuals. They are its members, as human beings, just like everyone else.’ “
The archbishop affirmed that one’s sexual orientation is no reason for exclusion from the Catholic community and he knows of “very worthy people” who had ‘homosexual tendencies.’ While the language of ‘tendency’ and reiteration of the hierarchy’s condemnation of same-sex acts is included, Archbishop Kowalczyk’s tone is pastorally inclined, even in a densely Catholic and conservative nation where many idolize the highly traditionalist Pope John Paul II. It seems Pope Francis’ new style of compassion and welcome for LGBT is slowly catching on. This is true even when it comes to legal recognition of same-gender couples, as Polskie Radio reports:
“When asked what the Church’s stance would be if the government – which is currently divided on the issue – legalised civil partnerships, Archbishop Kowalczyk said that such a union would not be recognised by the Church as ‘a marriage.’
“However, he added that ‘it is the state’s job to regulate all that relates to matters of property and inheritance for people living together of the same sex.’ “
It is not an endorsement of marriage equality, but is equally far from the sometimes vitriolic language used by bishops when opposing LGBT equality in civil matters. One could even interpret the second part as favorable to civil unions, similar to Pope Francis’ position when he was archbishop in Argentina.
Meanwhile, a Catholic LGBT group in Poland called Faith and Rainbow released a letter to Pope Francis to thank him for encouraging acceptance of all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. It says in part:
“We assure you, dear Holy Father, that within the Church, but also in front of its gates, there are many persons who have been waiting a long time for such words. Those persons often suffer fear, oppression, loneliness and rejection – and far too often, unfortunately, it is their own Church community that largely contributes to raising such feelings. The example of your gentle and clement attitude will surely help us to overcome the painful distrust or even clear hostility which we experience almost every day from our brothers and sisters in faith…
“We have been waiting a long time for some words of comfort and encouragement. Today we thank God for having heard them. These words give us confidence in the future. From now on, we will be waiting with new hope, until the hard times are over, like the biblical Flood. After a flood of intolerance, we look out for a rainbow of reconciliation, and we expect recognition of our rights in the future, when we no longer have to live in isolation and in fear of our neighbours. We hope that the days are coming when, equally with all other people, we can enjoy access to the great gift and sign of the God’s presence in the world – the unbelievable mystery of love.”
Earlier this year, Polish legislators voted down a marriage equality bill, even as some questioned the influence of the Polish Catholic Church on politics when the nation’s first transgender politician was elected. Echoing the hope expressed by Faith and Rainbow, perhaps it is time for the Polish Church to follow Pope Francis even further and, at the least, refrain from opposing LGBT equality in law.