Pope Francis' Homily to New Cardinals Echoes Themes Dear to LGBT People

Pope Francis delivering homily to cardinals

While Pope Francis may not have spoken about LGBT themes in his Sunday homily to the Cardinals gathered in Rome for a consistory this past weekend, his message certainly can be easily applied to this community which has too often been ignored or ostracized by Church leaders.  His talk is filled with echoes of how LGBT people have too often been mistreated in church and society. (You can read the full text by clicking here.)

Speaking about Sunday’s Gospel where Jesus heals a leper (Mark 1:40-45), the pope exhorted the new cardinals to conduct a ministry of outreach to the marginalized.  He began by noting:

“Compassion leads Jesus to concrete action: he reinstates the marginalized!”

While Pope Francis did not mention LGBT people by name, the details of his description of marginalization will surely ring true to many of these people who have experienced suffering and oppression during their lifetimes:

“Imagine how much suffering and shame lepers must have felt: physically, socially, psychologically and spiritually! They are not only victims of disease, but they feel guilty about it, punished for their sins! Theirs is a living death; they are like someone whose father has spit in his face (cf. Num 12:14).

“In addition, lepers inspire fear, contempt and loathing, and so they are abandoned by their families, shunned by other persons, cast out by society. Indeed, society rejects them and forces them to live apart from the healthy. It excludes them. So much so that if a healthy person approached a leper, he would be punished severely, and often be treated as a leper himself.”

The allusion to LGBT people is particularly strong, since so much of the oppression and marginalization that they experience is due to church institutions, structures, and leaders.  Pope Francis criticizes such ritualistically pure actions:

“Jesus, the new Moses, wanted to heal the leper. He wanted to touch him and restore him to the community without being “hemmed in” by prejudice, conformity to the prevailing mindset or worry about becoming infected. Jesus responds immediately to the leper’s plea, without waiting to study the situation and all its possible consequences! For Jesus, what matters above all is reaching out to save those far off, healing the wounds of the sick, restoring everyone to God’s family! And this is scandalous to some people!

“Jesus is not afraid of this kind of scandal! He does not think of the closed-minded who are scandalized even by a work of healing, scandalized before any kind of openness, by any action outside of their mental and spiritual boxes, by any caress or sign of tenderness which does not fit into their usual thinking and their ritual purity. He wanted to reinstate the outcast, to save those outside the camp (cf. Jn 10).”

Church leaders, he adds, must make it their priority to go beyond their comfort zones and approach people they might not otherwise be inclined to associate with:

“The Church’s way, from the time of the Council of Jerusalem, has always always been the way of Jesus, the way of mercy and reinstatement. . . . The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone for eternity; to pour out the balm of God’s mercy on all those who ask for it with a sincere heart. The way of the Church is precisely to leave her four walls behind and to go out in search of those who are distant, those essentially on the ‘outskirts’ of life. . . .

“Dear new Cardinals, this is the ‘logic,’ the mind of Jesus, and this is the way of the Church. Not only to welcome and reinstate with evangelical courage all those who knock at our door, but to go out and seek, fearlessly and without prejudice, those who are distant, freely sharing what we ourselves freely received. ‘Whoever says: “I abide in [Christ],” ought to walk just as he walked’ (1 Jn 2:6). Total openness to serving others is our hallmark, it alone is our title of honour!”

While in other talks,  Pope Francis has revealed that he does not support marriage equality, there was one section from his homily today, which could easily be applied to an argument in support of marriage equality.  Too often, we hear from marriage equality opponents the false threat that extending marriage to gay and lesbian couples will harm heterosexual couples. Pope Francis’ logic in the following section shows that such thinking is inconsistent with Gospel values:

“In healing the leper, Jesus does not harm the healthy. Rather, he frees them from fear. He does not endanger them, but gives them a brother. He does not devalue the law but instead values those for whom God gave the law. Indeed, Jesus frees the healthy from the temptation of the ‘older brother’ (cf. Lk 15:11-32), the burden of envy and the grumbling of the labourers who bore “the burden of the day and the heat” (cf. Mt 20:1-16).”

Let me be clear that I do not think that Pope Francis is criticizing the gay-marriage-threatens-straight-marriage argument.  What I am saying is that the logic and Gospel values he extols in this homily contradict the type of thinking that such an argument carries.

And, as I mentioned, I don’t think that the pope was necessarily speaking of LGBT people in this homily. The descriptions he offers, however,  very much apply to the LGBT experience.  I believe that Pope Francis was discussing all sorts of marginalization experienced by a wide variety of human groups.

Pope Francis has not been as forthright about supporting lesbian and gay relationships as was once thought by many.   But his call to new cardinals to reach out to the marginalized can be thought of as making it possible for church leaders to initiate much greater outreach to LGBT people than they have been doing.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

National Catholic Reporter: Francis tells cardinals not to be ‘closed caste,’ seek contact with marginalized”

14 replies
  1. Bishop Carlos Florido, osf
    Bishop Carlos Florido, osf says:

    As much as I like Pope Francis, I beg to disagree! I don’t that having lepers as an example of LGBT persons is not an ideal and perhaps a non Christian comparison.

      • Jason
        Jason says:

        I disagree that the parable Fracis draws is only as shallow as the marginalization. A large portion of that homily contained strong language which characterized the marginalized as being diseased, in comparison to the majority as “the healthy”….

        “They are not only victims of disease…”, “society rejects them and forces them to live apart from the healthy”, “So much so that if a healthy person approached a leper”, etc.

        In the end, Fracis reverts to language about “healing”. He speaks of “turning evil into good, condemnation into salvation and exclusion into proclamation,” and of bringing people to “the truth”.

        I do agree Francis was not specifically addressing LGBT persons and issues. My concern, rather, is in how the language he used in this homily which I have noted will be interpreted by others; it can conveniently be used, especially in light of the language of intrinsically disordered, to justify advocating for conversion or conformity for inclusion (à la Courage or Eve Tushnet).

  2. Peter
    Peter says:

    LGBT people are not suffering a disease. They are not sick. They do not need to be healed. They should bear no shame. They do not sin by expressing who they are.

    The LGBT community is marginalized only because the “teachings” of the Catholic Church and its Protestant offshoots exclude and condemn them. The LGBT community does not need to ask for God’s mercy. The Church can indeed free non-LGBT people from fear by recanting its bias against same sex identifications and by recanting its bias against women.

      • Peter
        Peter says:

        One cannot take just part of a comparison. The disease of leprosy is a given in the example. For the Church same-sex attraction is a given and a disease.

        Same-sex attraction is not a disease. If the Church is really interested in healing the responses of the majority it should stop inciting those response. The church should change its views on LGBT people and change the catechism to bring it in line with the discoveries of science, medicine and psychiatry by deleting references to intrinsic disorder and deep-seating tendencies; stopping labelling same-sex unions as offences against chastity; and jettisoning the notion of gender complementarity which also condemns women to a subservient role both within the church and outside of it.

  3. Kat
    Kat says:

    Isn’t it time that Pope Francis says what he means and means what he says. It seems to me he remains cloaked in ambiquities. Love as Jesus loves got it. Judge not got it. Great start. But now what about equal rights for lgbt in the universal catholic church? Are parishes still allowed to fire people who are gay? Does the Catholic church remain silent in countries where homosexuals are treated as criminals? Are Catholic heterosexuals allowed to carry on exclusionary catholic teachings and block community building for lgbt families and friends. My parish has nothing and wants nothing to do with lgbt awareness and alliance building outside of Courage. Courage is not an affirming group because it is based on half truths. Love the homosexual, teach about the sinfulness of his/her intimacies. Love the sinner, hate the sin judgement. Good grief. I’m sick of it. The Catholic church is sooo behind the curve here in evolving to where we as Gods people need to evolve to in understanding and enlightenment.

    I need help. I may never go back to church.

    • Peter
      Peter says:

      Francis caught everyone’s attention and gave hope to the LGBT community with his comment, “Who am I to judge?” But his recent comments in the Philippines suggested he is doctrinaire in his prejudice. Now he wants to heal those who judge from fear.

      The best interpretation that can be place on this latest homily to Cardinals is that Francis is preparing people for the time when the Church does recant its homophobia and misogyny. He is telling them that everything will be alright and in keeping with Christ’s views.

      On the other hand, Francis may be just reaffirming that the LGBT community are diseased like the leper but that the rest of the population should be kinder to them and interact with them.

      Time will tell which of these scenarios Francis is following. I hope he has the strength to follow the former and rewrite the catechism to eliminate all prejudice and mistaken views against women and the LGBT community.


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  1. […] his call for bishops to consult the laity on these matters.  He has called for church leaders to seek out the marginalized and to provide a welcome to all, especially those the Church has traditionally […]

  2. […] in a blog post noted while Francis “did not mention LGBT people by name” in his homily, “the details of his […]

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