Benedict’s Embattled Legacy on LGBT Issues

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Gay protesters kiss at a demonstration as popemobile carrying Benedict XVI passes.

Pope Benedict XVI’s legacy will be fiercely debated in the weeks leading up to his resignation on February 28. Already commentators are reflecting on the pervasive legacy that this Pope leaves regarding LGBT relations within the Catholic Church. Needless to say, not many are positive.

Michael O’Loughlin writing at Religion News Service labels Benedict’s views as “wrong and hurtful” with a lineage of destructive policies aimed at limiting LGBT individuals’ acceptance in the Church. O’Loughlin’s view is that Benedict is an elderly man who has lived sequestered in the Vatican for too long, thus preventing him from a realistic understanding of LGBT people. He writes:

“Benedict seemed unable to grasp that gay women and men long for the same things as their heterosexual peers: loving relationships, lives of dignity, and respect from their fellow human beings. He seemed particularly fixated on the bizarre notion that same-sex marriage would somehow herald the downfall of civilization and he said things that no pastor should ever preach, much less the pope…Benedict’s failure to act pastorally and kindly on these issues remains a great failing of his papacy.”

An article by Lila Shapiro at The Huffington Post recalls the persecution of Sr. Jeannine Gramick and New Ways Ministry faced under the Pope. As Cardinal Ratzinger who headed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he oversaw persistent investigations into the public ministry of Sr. Jeannine and New Ways Ministry. Serendipitously, the cardinal and the nun found themselves in conversation on the same airplane at one point, about which Shapiro writes:

“When she boarded the plane, she saw Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who later became pope, sitting with two empty seats beside him. She mustered her courage and sat next to him. ‘When he found out who I was, he just smiled and said “Oh, I’ve known about you for 20 years,”’ she said.”

“…he asked her questions about her work, and then she asked him one. ‘I said, “have you ever met any lesbian or gay people?”’ she recalled. He said that he had — at a ‘demonstration of homosexuals’ in Berlin. ‘So that was his idea of meeting gay people,’ she said.”

Shapiro also interviewed acclaimed Jesuit author, Fr. James Martin,  who also identifies this interpersonal aspect as a key factor in predicting whether Benedict’s legacy of anti-LGBT policies will continue in the next papacy:

“‘There could be a change of tone if you get a cardinal who has had experience with gays and lesbians’…By ‘coincidence or providence,’ Martin said, the cardinals may chose someone with a gay family member, or someone who worked at a diocese that had gay outreach.

“‘So much of it is based on experience, in terms of how you even speak about gays and lesbians,’ Martin said. Pope Benedict, he added, ‘did not come to the papacy with a great deal of experience in that kind of ministry.'”

Many reflections will be produced about this anti-LGBT papacy and prospects for the future, but assuredly Benedict will not be remembered for his pastoral nature towards the gay and lesbian community. Shapiro elucidates just how heavily Benedict focused his anti-gay efforts after assuming the papacy:

“In his years as pope, his opposition to gay rights has not faltered. Benedict, a staunch conservative, has said since his appointment that saving human kind from homosexual behavior was as important as saving the rainforest from destruction. He has called same-sex marriage a “dangerous and insidious” challenge to society. In recent months, he sought alliances to oppose efforts to legalize same-sex marriages around the world.”

However, even suffering greatly under Benedict for decades, New Ways Ministry remains hopeful in this time of transition. Shapiro quotes Francis DeBernardo, the ministry’s executive director, on the potential legacy Benedict will have in resigning:

“’Whenever there’s an opportunity for a change, there’s always the hope that the change will be for the better…We need a pope who’s going to listen to the faith of Catholics, whose faith has told them that they should be supporting LGBT people, that they should be respecting the dignity and the human rights that these people have.’

“DeBernardo said he has seen glimmers of such a change from bishops and cardinals in Europe, who have stopped short of supporting same-sex marriage, but have made positive statements about same-sex relationships and civil unions. And while the Vatican remains one of the most powerful opponents to same-sex marriage and other gay rights causes, recent polls have shown that Catholics in the pews mostly support gay rights, with more than two-thirds of Catholic voters supporting legal recognition of same-sex relationships.”

Readers can view New Ways Ministry’s full statement regarding the resignation here and be assured that as commentaries develop and news breaks, Bondings 2.0 will continue to update on this important period in the Catholic Church.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

5 replies
  1. jono113
    jono113 says:

    Let me gently roll the grenade into the room. All the talk about Benedict not knowing any GLBTs aside, the ugly truth is he is a homophobe. There’s an old saying, often true, that if you scratch a homophobe, you get….

  2. Christine
    Christine says:

    When have I read various books and essays by Pope Benedict XVI, I have been very impressed by his intellect, and I have been particularly struck (and touched) by his concern for the marginalized and the oppressed (particularly women). For example, here is one quote from Pope Benedict XVI that I particularly like:

    “An authentic feminism working for the advancement of woman in her integral truth and for the liberation of all women, would also work for the advancement of the whole person and for the liberation of all human beings. This feminism would, in fact, struggle for the recognition of the human person in the dignity that is due to him or her from the sole fact of existence, of being willed and created by God, and not for his or her usefulness, power, beauty, intelligence, wealth or health” (p. 389 in The Essential Pope Benedict XVI by John F. Thorton and Susan B. Varenne)

    The article’s quotes from Michael O’Loughlin could not be further from the truth.

    I truly hope that Lent may be a time for soul-searching, study, and growth for all Catholics.

    God bless…

    • jono113
      jono113 says:

      If you look underneath his concern for “the advancement of women,” you find Ratzinger proposing that feminism would work equally for the advancement of all humanity, men and women. By framing it this way, he is able to step around the historical disparity in treatment of women in and by the hierarchy and sidetracks discussion of the role of women in the Church today including, but not limited to, women in ordained ministries which his stated vision of equality of dignity of women and men would require.

      • tomfluce
        tomfluce says:

        Right on, Jono. This nod to “the advancement of women” by no means counteracts the ongoing disparity against women. Thanks! In today’s news I notice some more confirmation of my view of Brother Ratzinger’s “early” retirement. He pinpoints the aberrations following Vat II as the cause for all the “internal rivalries” that have “defiled the face of the church”. Clearly he is using his remaining energies to alert his supporters–not just clerical, but the multitudes of the “faithful” to continue fighting for unity–not via reconciliation among conscientious believers, but via continuing the medieval silencing/excommunicating/alienation method.

  3. tomfluce
    tomfluce says:

    Thanks Bob, for keeping us updated and for giving out some food for thought.

    Here is where I, a 75yr old, am on the subject of Brother Ratzinger’s retirement and the future of LGBT. He is doing what will ensure that his legacy and that of his predecessor, Brother Wojtala, will endure. If he waited until he was totally senile and others might sneak into the conclave mix, then his legacy would be more vulnerable.

    To give some context, I was ordained a priest in 1963 in Rome. I’m a graduate of the North American College in Rome, Licentiate in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University (1964). Present for the opening and several years of Vat. II. I was a faithful celibate for 13+ years, then married a woman in 1970 (faithfully still married for 43 yrs), and “out” since 2000, yet still living by the solemn marriage covenant everyone, including LGBT’s, has a right to swear to (yes, G not B!). So if there ever were any value to taking time to gain wisdom, becoming an “elder”, I think I must qualify for having a say in today’s affairs. My formation gave me some insight into the politics of the Vatican. We LGBT’s need a lot more than “hoping” for a change in the papacy. We need at least a recovery of Vatican II collegiality and the inclusion of all baptized.

    Here are my words to the wise: “Be ye as wise as the serpent, and guileless as the dove.” In modern English that would be, be “clever” and “honest”. My analysis of this highly unusual move by Brother Ratzinger is that it is now long overdue to create a “Galileo Reconciliation Commission”, to forge a 21st century formula, a Jesus formula, to deal with dissent. No more medieval-like tactics to suppress legitimate challenges to orthodoxy. No more threats of loss of jobs for church employees. No more total silencing in the pastoral ministries that should be dealing with the people suffering from doctrinal pronouncements such as LGBT people have suffered all over the world right until today. This “Galileo Reconciliation Commission” will not be another reform group that will be tossed into the “not” Catholic column, but will be within the official church. It would use scholars in theology and diplomacy as well as canon law to build a protocol that protects the consciences of those opposing one another and ensures Christian love and respect rather than descending into calling each other names let alone excommunicating one another from the one communio of Jesus. We’ve had a silent schism mainly around sex since Vat. II–birth control, women’s roles, etc. etc. It might be less destructive than out and out schism and religious wars, but the suffering of this silent schism is a cost we cannot go along with any longer.

    The “Galileo Reconciliation Commission” will have to figure into the dissenting formula ways of giving the weight of conscience a legitimate pressure to achieve a minimum of respect as a precursor to change. I notice that ACC now has a discussion group on non-violent direct action, civil disobedience. How do I as a conscientious believer in the naturalness of same-gender sexual orientation influence someone like Brother Ratzinger to show compassion toward me and all LGBT’s by refraining from such riotous proclamations as he has made as recently this New Year day? I guess that if the percentage of pew Catholics is as reported, 60-70% in support of us, then just the sheer weight of these collective consciences will have to have some effect. But we have to be “clever” and “honest”. We have to be public and in the pews. Just hoping for another Brother Roncalli to miraculously get the white smoke signal to reform the church won’t be sufficient. Besides one man (especially a man) cannot be in control! The communio of the faithful has to be brought up to speed and there has to be something like a “Galileo Reconciliation Commission”. Sure, If all of us dissenters had stayed active in the church, engendered enough children to populate the seminaries with celibate candidates for the hierarchy, we could have been in a stronger position now 50 years after Vat. II. Let’s face it, we’re dealing with power politics. Now just think if we had been doing the “Galileo Reconciliation Commission” thing in the last 50 years. I bet we could have been much further ahead.

    Yesterday in the Future Church phone conference with Sr. Kate I asked her advice as a canon lawyer about exercising pressures like ecclesiastical disobedience, non-violent direct action. She said to avoid “bullying in return for being bullied”. Yeah, continuing the same kind of interaction of calling the other side names won’t work. Of course we will have to exercise the most forbearance since even with “All Our Children” and recent warming up to us, it will be a while before “depraved” and “intrinsically disordered” will disappear from the catechism. And then there are the hordes of loyal Catholics who beat us up on the blogs and Wanderer type newspapers…But “clever and honest” is something we can do to beat the rap of heretics.

    And, sorry, we have to accept that LGBT is a real drag for our allies in the other reform movements, married priests, women priests, etc. Their points are not doctrinal whereas we pose at least a Galileo-like challenge in the doctrinal realm. So for example I’ve noticed in movements such as ACC, CTA, Future Church, the LGBT goal is becoming fairly invisible. Oh, of course, we will still be loved and supported by them but at the official level–without the “Galileo Reconciliation Commission”– we will have to wait much longer. We’ll have to wait for many more of our brothers and sisters to meet us personally and come to understand us as Bob and Francis talk about above. I believe we can get much further toward getting an honest tolerance and then get recognition for equality that will bring the Galileo moment to us. If our allies could support the “Galileo Reconciliation Commission” and carry us along with them in their struggles, that would work even better.

    For those who might be interested in working on designing a “Galileo Reconciliation Commission”, join me at my blogsite,, finding ways to dissent in love.


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