Archbishop's Comments About Sexual Orientation Show the 'Francis Effect'

While LGBT issues have not been a major focus of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) meeting in Baltimore this week, one small introduction to these topics may be an indicator that the “Francis effect”–the idea that Pope Francis is influencing Catholic leaders–is having an impact on the American hierarchy.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski

At a press conference on Tuesday, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, Florida, and a member of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration, compared the situation of LGBT people in nations with repressive laws to the plight of undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

Buzzfeed reported on Wenski’s comments:

“ ‘We have to help people to realize that they should not demonize the undocumented; Nobody should be demonized because of their sexual orientation, etc,’ said Wenski, who is part of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration. Immigration reform is one of the American church’s top policy priorities.

“Wenski was responding to a question from BuzzFeed News about whether the global church had been clear in transmitting the message of  ‘love the sinner/hate the sin’ in its teachings on homosexuality. Wenski, a member of the Bishops’ Working Group on the Life and Dignity of the Human Persons, said that a public opinion study commissioned by the church found many American church members simply interpreted ‘love the sinner but hate the sin’ as ‘hate the sinner.’”

Wenski’s comments are certainly a step in the right direction.  It seems very likely, too, that his remarks have been very influenced by Pope Francis’ new approach to issues like homosexuality, which emphasizes that the Church needs to view such issues through the lens of its social justice tradition, rather than its sexual ethics tradtion.

Why does it seem that Wenski’s attitude is a result of the “Francis effect”?  Because until recently, he has not made supportive of comments for LGBT people, and in fact, some of his comments and actions have been quite negative.  In August of this year, he spoke out against a Florida court’s ruling that same-gender marriage could be approved in that state.  Wenski called the ruling “another salvo in the ‘culture wars’ that ultimately seek to redefine the institution of marriage as solely for adult gratification.”

As chair of the USCCB’s domestic policy committee,  Wenski joined with other bishops to state  great reluctance to accept President Obama’s executive order on non-discrimination, which when it was passed, the USCCB ultimately criticized.

In 2013, he authored a letter to Florida Catholics, instructing them to oppose marriage equality, and he suggested that adoption of same-gender marriage could lead to legalized polygamy.

Before becoming archbishop of Miami, Wenski was the bishop of Orlando, Florida, where he shut down a very successful diocesan outreach to LGBT people.

So, to see him now speak in such compassionate tones forces one to ask, “Why did he change?”  Since the change is very much in line with the pope’s approach, it seems reasonable to infer that Wenski has been influenced by the pontiff.

Rather than condemning him for his earlier comments, I think we should rejoice that his rhetoric is changing.  Regardless of what motivated him to change, it is very beneficial to not only LGBT people, but to the entire Catholic Church that he did. Though he probably still opposes marriage equality, he is still taking a step in the right direction, and that step will help to influence many other Catholics to at least begin to think more positively about LGBT people.

Solid change always happens by little and by little.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry







7 replies
  1. Larry
    Larry says:

    This is not the Francis effect. It is the Dolan effect. Prelates putting their finger to the wind and dropping a “nice” comment here or there to seem to be moving in a new direction. I strongly disagree that we should rejoice that his rhetoric is changing and forget what he has said and done before. Again, please reread the list of hateful comments and actions this Archbishop put out publicly. When he publicly apologizes for his past actions and statements and takes concrete steps to undo his villainy then I will rejoice. Lets not be the patsies that these guys want us to be.

    • newwaysministryblog
      newwaysministryblog says:

      Thanks, Larry. I appreciate your comment and perspective. I just want to point out that I did not say that we should forget what he has said or done in the past. I put them in the blog post because I think we need to remember them. I do think it is important, though, to encourage and support good behavior in bishops. If Archbishop Wenski makes another public anti-LGBT comment or gesture, I will be ready to analyze it and criticize it as it deserves.

      Thanks for your comment!
      Francis DeBernardo

  2. Friends
    Friends says:

    I do tend to agree with Larry’s comments, but I’d approach the issue from a slightly different angle. With the exception of the extreme right wing faction among Catholic laity — the “William Donohue / Catholic League” clique — I’d be hard pressed to find ANYBODY who takes ANYTHING that these red-beanie characters say very seriously! Rank-and-file Catholics know that these guys are extreme-fringe ideological and theological conservatives — and so the absurd (and sometimes insulting) stuff that they say is immediately discounted or ignored, for that very reason. If people remain Catholic, it’s really because they love their local parish, and they’re nourished by its warm community of worship and charitable works. Of course we shouldn’t have bishops and cardinals blithering away, hatefully and harmfully — but I also think they’re regarded more and more as the “crazy old uncle in the attic” who needs to be treated with some mixture of humor and pity! It’s absolutely “fair game” to bust them for the stupid and/or insulting things they say. But we only devalue ourselves, and our innate spiritual intelligence, and our faith in the path of kindness that Jesus Himself showed us, if we let them rattle us or get under our skin. I think Sr. Jeannine herself is a living model of this approach: “Do good works, and just let the hierarchical lunatics rave on — because they’re only talking to themselves, not to us!”

    • Larry
      Larry says:

      Your comment does expose the dichotomy that I struggle with on how to react to the hierarchy’s hurtful or blind statements. Just do the real work of Christ [and thus the real Church] and hope that that light shines up into the hierarchy or call these guys out for the un Christ -like folks that they are. I also know many, many people who understand what is happening and ignore the red hats’ blathers but I and perhaps you [??] may be in a sort of bubble of like minded folk.

      I worry more about the Catholics and others who see a “respected” Bishop or Cardinal making these pronouncements and putting their religious and political might behind oppression and denial of gay civil rights and take that as what Christ would do. I note in New Ways’ recent post where a Bishop said that the church “may not have been as welcoming” to gays at it should have been. I can see that as a huge understatement bordering on a lie where as some others may see that as a prelate being reasonable.

      So, I have decided to come down on the side of always calling these hierarchical dunderheads out and not accepting each little wimpy “positive” statement they make as a cause for rejoicing. As I said in my original post, when one of these guys publicly apologizes and takes concrete steps to correct the evil they have done and agrees to sin no more, will I be rejoicing. After all, isn’t that what you are supposed to do when you have truly repented?

      • Friends
        Friends says:

        Thanks for the nice response, Larry! We are broadly “batting for the same team” here. And I suspect that Francis himself — (our moderator, if not our Pope..LOL!) — probably agrees with us in most aspects. But both of them are constrained by practical politics to tread a cautious and rather circumspect line.The rest of us, however, are completely free to speak our minds and hearts and consciences, in this quite extraordinary open forum. Something useful to remember is that the ONLY authority any priest or prelate has over you, is the authority to deny you Eucharistic Communion. Other than that, if you are a fully-initiated and politely-behaved Catholic — polite at least while you’re on Church premises! — no priest or bishop could undertake to personally bar you from attending Mass, or presume to “excommunicate” you at his whim. Such an action is WAY beyond his pay grade — however minimal his pay might be. Speaking personally, although I’m an active Mass-attending member of a splendid university Newman Community, and although I’m a fully-initiated “cradle Catholic”, I decline (as a matter of conscience) to participate in the Eucharistic Communion — until and unless ALL of my fellow GLBT brothers and sisters are allowed to participate, universally, across the board, with no questions asked. This is my own “vote of conscience” on the issue. Others need to make their own authentic decisions about the matter. But I just wanted to let you know that I genuinely “hear you” and your grievance, and I’m really happy to share this conversation with you.


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  1. […] attack on LGBT rights and evidence he is not affected by the ‘Francis Effect’ as some had hoped for last November. Wenski, as chair of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ […]

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