Lessons Learned from Pope’s “Gay Lobby” Remark

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

A CNN news report yesterday said that Pope Francis stated that he believes there is a a “gay lobby” working inside the Vatican.  According to the report:

“ ‘In the Curia,’ Francis said, referring to Catholicism’s central bureaucracy, ‘there are holy people. But there is also a stream of corruption.’

“ ‘The “gay lobby” is mentioned, and it is true, it is there,’ Francis continued. ‘We need to see what we can do.’ ”

His remark was made during a meeting with the Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of Religious Men and Women, the head Catholic communities of men and women religious.

The announcement was all the more intriguing because at the time of Benedict XVI’s resignation, there were reports based on rumors that a “gay lobby” may have played some role in his decision to leave the papal office.

Such an announcement by the pope is both puzzling and a bit irresponsible.  As Rocco Palmo, who blogs at whispersintheloggia.blogspot.com, stated in the CNN report:

“We don’t have any explanation of what ‘gay lobby’ means.”

Because the term is so undefined and because the pope did not expand on the claim, he has left a great deal of opportunity for people to speculate and imagine all sorts of plots, intrigue, and machinations.

Of course, I certainly believe that gay men and lesbian women work in the Vatican, as they do at all levels of the church, and in all segments of society.  Are they plotting together in some way to harm the church?  I doubt it.  That sort of idea works only in Dan Brown novels.  Are there some gay men there who may not have the best motivations for church work?  Certainly, just as there are plenty of heterosexual men in the church who are similarly impaired.  We’re human.  All of us: gay and straight.

There are several lessons that can be learned from the pope’s statement:

1) Most importantly, no such rumors would have any affect if the leaders at the Vatican would have a more open view toward homosexuality.  As long as church leaders continue to deny LGBT people their equal dignity, they will continue to manufacture them as “bogey-men” who lurk in the shadows.  The fact that a 2005 Vatican document strongly discouraged gay men from being ordained guaranteed that gay men who wanted to be ordained would have to deny their sexuality, thus leading to unhealthy personalities.

2) The pope needs to learn more about homosexuality and the reality of gay and lesbian lives.  Let’s suppose for a moment that indeed there is a group of gay men in the Vatican who have formed a “lobby” together to advance an agenda.   Are there no other such “lobbies” in the Vatican?  Of course, there are.  So, then, why does Pope Francis label this “gay lobby” as “a stream of corruption?”  Such a statement reveals a homophobic attitude that is not worthy of such a world leader, let alone a religious figure.

3) While Pope Francis has endeared himself to the world by speaking frankly and off the cuff many times, an example such as this shows the downside of such a style.  The fact that he made an allusion to the existence of such a group without providing any details or evidence is a very harmful thing to do.  It allows speculation, and worse, vilification of gay people.  It portrays them as duplicitous, deceptive, conniving–all vicious stereotypes.  The power and attention that any statement of the pope receives means that he needs to be careful about promoting such harmful untruths.

4)  Finally,  this incident reminds us all how much the Catholic Church needs a full and open dialogue about LGBT people.  As long as our leaders continue to operate with blinders about LGBT issues, they will continue to harm not only LGBT people, but the entire church, by their ignorance of an important part of human reality.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

19 replies
  1. Bill Welch
    Bill Welch says:

    Most of what I have heard and read over the years out of The Vatican and Catholic Church hierarchy on matters touching on homosexuality, homosexual orientation and LGBT issues suggests the presence of an “anti-gay lobby or conspiracy.”

    Reply
    • Harold Ullenberg
      Harold Ullenberg says:

      I think Bill Welch makes an important point. In common usage, “gay lobby” would mean people advocating for the acceptance, understanding, and respecting of gay people. There are clearly few if any such people in the Vatican today. I think the term “gay lobby” is being here misapplied to a group of sadly closeted and perhaps not-very-self-aware homosexual ordained men in the Vatican who fawn over handsome clerics, or who have taken all the lacey vesture and courtly gestures of submission to higher-ups out of mothballs, or who are excited by half-naked muscular Italian acrobats in private performance (remember that episode?!). Compounding the sadness is that some of these men are the same who go out of their way to denounce other people who are homosexual. My guess is that Pope Francis has little patience for this kind of immaturity. It is extremely unfortunate that he chose the term “gay lobby.” In English, this plays into the right-wing homophobia of some Catholics who think that all progress in the Church is evil and that gay priests are behind it–especially the healthy, self-identifying gay priests who have struggled for tolerance and inclusion. The irony is that right-wing Catholics are often very supportive of the ecclesial agenda of some of the very men whom I think the Pope is referencing–the agenda of bringing back the lacey vesture, gloves and rings, intricate and obscure liturgical gestures, denying women their rightful place and so on. They do not for a minute think that these men whose agenda they support are gay, and will be shocked if these men are sent to other assignments or ignored in the future. I expect good things to happen.

      Reply
      • Harold Ullenberg
        Harold Ullenberg says:

        From the right-wing Father Longnecker–tolerance for ordained men who are gay when they fit your ideological mold:

        “It is possible that there are active homosexuals in the Vatican, but that the ‘gay lobby’ being referred to is a group of men who are celibate homosexuals–men who operate within a network of other men who share the same proclivities not only sexually, but also in matters of liturgical taste, church politics and theological views.

        “We think of homosexual activists as radical liberals, but this other category of Catholic homosexually-oriented clergy are conservative theologically and liturgically, and strictly celibate. If these conservative priests are the ‘gay lobby’ being referred to, then the situation is even more complex. They cannot be weeded out because they are doing nothing wrong; furthermore their enemies may be the radical liberals who don’t like their conservative stance, nor the fact that (in their view) these men are hypocritical ‘suppressed homosexuals’. So in an attempt to undermine their conservative stance and perceived hypocrisy the liberals may be aiming at this group as the secretive “gay lobby” that needs to be outed and routed.”

        The whole article is here:

        http://www.aleteia.org/en/religion/documents/pope-francis-vs-the-secret-vatican-gay-lobby-1943001

        Reply
      • Chris Nunez
        Chris Nunez says:

        Why would you assume that the pope is using the term ‘gay lobby’ as in ‘common usage’? This assumes an intimate dialogue with openly lesbian and gay Catholics, and there seems to be no such dialogue that I have seen, other than in some of our local parishes and dioceses. Maybe you’re right to assume, and maybe not. I’m being patient.

        Reply
  2. duckman44625
    duckman44625 says:

    I doubt any organization exists without LGBT members or at least supporters “closeted” amongst the ranks. It is inevitable that homophobia…while it will always exist…will eventually fade into powerlessness just like all mindless hate groups (e.g. KKK, Skinheads, Nazi Party, etc.)

    Reply
  3. Larry Quirk
    Larry Quirk says:

    I have approached the new Pope with guarded optimism but items like this and his earlier agreement to allow the investigation of American Catholic nuns to go forward were warning signs. Perhaps his smiles and “Father Francis” approach mask the same tone deafness the last guy had or maybe worse. I will still be giving him the benefit of the doubt but watching carefully for these signs.

    Reply
      • Larry Quirk
        Larry Quirk says:

        I will. I have already decided that at least a year must pass before we know which way this pontiff will go . I truly hope his actions will match his rhetoric but in the next year we should know as he will come down strongly one way or the other on a GLBT issue. I was just pointing out that the winds were blowing a little ill at the moment.

        Reply
      • Bill Welch
        Bill Welch says:

        Chris. the problem here is how many Catholics, of all stripes and personal conscience, must suffer and perhaps abandon the Catholic Church and/or Catholic faith if we patiently wait to understand what Pope Francis means in what is conveyed to audiences or to the church and public at large and quickly becomes part of the public domain. A click of a button gets things onto the Internet in an instant.

        The reference to the term “gay lobby” is but an example. We still don’t clearly understand what is behind it or what he intended. Meanwhile the absence of clarity festers in the minds and hearts of the faithful.

        John Allen, a noteworthy, respected, fair-minded columnist for the National Catholic Reporter, with no ax to grind, has twice attempted to shed light on the matter at hand. We get some insight but have yet to get a full explanation of what Pope Francis intended.

        It is evident to me that there needs to be a more rigorous attention to public relations, especially when the pope resorts to off the cuff comments and expressions. I am not suggesting he be stifled or controlled by others. However, he might benefit from a trusted individual to proofread what he wants to convey. And if it becomes a matter of concern after the fact and already in the public domain, then Pope Francis needs to address any misunderstanding and bring clarity to his communication. The “gay lobby” comment is a prime example as reflected in the blog article and the comments by readers. .

        Reply
  4. ermadurk
    ermadurk says:

    Thank you, Frank, for posting your thoughts on the Pope’s comments. I found them very helpful when trying to organize my own thoughts after reading the headlines.

    Reply
  5. Chris Nunez
    Chris Nunez says:

    There is ‘gay’ and there is ‘gay’. There are those folks who feel perfectly comfortable in their skin (our skin), and are prepared to engage in dialogue (if we haven’t already been doing so for decades).

    And there are those who know what they are, but are not ‘comfortable’ with themselves, and they may not reveal themselves, but seem to speak the loudest on the subject (…the lady doth protest too much…), and if in fact it is the latter of whom the pope is speaking, maybe he really doesn’t know us, and we really do need to find out who this lobby is, and what they are lobbying for or against.

    Damned closets. But I’m certain those closets are large enough to hold those ‘capes’ that drag 20 feet behind the wearer thereof… Have you seen any of these? Relax, truth will ‘out.’

    And what do you call those things with the long trains that match cardinal red?

    Reply
    • Bill Welch
      Bill Welch says:

      Chris, in response to your question about the capes with the long trains.
      THE CAPPA MAGNA

      The cappa magna (literally, “great cape”) is a voluminous ecclesiastical garment with a long train, proper to cardinals, bishops, and certain other honorary prelates. No longer mandatory (and therefore rare), the cappa magna was never abolished and still appears in the Ceremonial of Bishops. Ordinarily scarlet for cardinals and purple for bishops, the garment dates to the first millennium and its train has varied in length over the ages. (Ref: “The Catholic Doors Ministry: Roman Catholic Vestments.”.

      Reply
  6. Robert
    Robert says:

    Alas, Franciscus just might turn out to be worse for gay people and gay priests than his neo-conservative minded predecessor (Johannnes Paulus II) and his more traditional-minded Predecessor (Benedictus). There is a lesson here for all of us now: the Pope who is liturgically-indifferent and informal in style is not per se a friend of humanity and of gay people, just as the more traditonal-minded clergy and believers are not necessarily anti-gay. A less superficial look is needed by all.

    Reply
  7. Joe Sacerdos
    Joe Sacerdos says:

    Thank you for saying you don’t know what a “gay lobby” is. All I can think of is a totally FABULOUS main entrance to a totally fabulous hotel. I don’t think that’s what the pope meant though.

    Reply
  8. Joe O'Brien
    Joe O'Brien says:

    One of the things I hate about translations (and I have suffered many) is that you loose meaning in the translation. It is decidedly possibly without more information and a better contextual background he could have meant something totally different. It therefore makes sense to wait and see what was really meant and not make assumptions that could be totally wrong.

    Reply

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