Father Timothy Radcliffe, OP, a British Dominican who has spoken very positively in the past about lesbian and gay people, has been appointed by Pope Francis as a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, a Vatican office.
The appointment of Radcliffe, who was once the Master of the Dominican Order (head of the world-wide community), was announced very briefly on Vatican Radio’s website, giving only a brief five-sentence description of his academic and ecclesial background.
Radcliffe, however, has had a long history of supporting lesbian and gay people in the Catholic Church and speaking for their rights in civil society. Just in the last few years, Bondings 2.0 has reported on some of his actions and statements:
- In September, 2013, Radcliffe penned an essay in America magazine in which he called for “A New Way of Being Church.” In that essay, he noted the possibilities opened up by Pope Francis in regards to lesbian and gay issues:
“[Pope Francis] also sees the Christian mission as offering that healing gaze to others. He is touched by seeing how individuals live. When he addresses the question of welcoming gay people in the church, he says, ‘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?’ If we dare to really see people, in their dignity and humanity, then we shall discover the right words to say. Who knows where this will take us?”
- In March 2014, we reported how Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) was boycotting a Divine Mercy conference in Ireland because Radcliffe was one of the featured speakers. EWTN condemned him because he celebrated Masses for the Diocese of Westminster (London) pastoral outreach to the LGBT community. An article in Ireland’s Independent newspaper at the time detailed the controversy. According to The Tablet, another aspect of the EWTN controversy was Radcliffe’s remarks on an Anglican report on sexual ethics. On the topic of same-sex love, he said:
“Certainly it can be generous, vulnerable, tender, mutual and non-violent. So in many ways, I would think that it can be expressive of Christ’s self-gift.”
- Though Radcliffe supports same-sex couples, he has not supported legal marriage. In a 2012 op-ed he wrote for The Tablet he stated:“Marriage is founded on the glorious fact of sexual difference and its potential fertility. Without this, there would be no life on this planet, no evolution, no human beings, no future. . . . [E]verywhere and always, it remains founded on the union in difference of male and female. . . .“This is not to denigrate committed love of people of the same sex. This too should be cherished and supported, which is why church leaders are slowly coming to support same-sex civil unions. The God of love can be present in every true love.”
In response to the 2005 instruction from the Vatican cautioning bishops from ordaining gay men to the priesthood, Radcliffe spoke out in support of gay priests. In a Tablet article, he wrote:
“Having worked with bishops and priests, diocesan and religious, all over the world, I have no doubt that God does call homosexuals to the priesthood, and they are among the most dedicated and impressive priests I have met. So no priest who is convinced of his vocation should feel that this document classifies him as a defective priest. And we may presume that God will continue to call both homosexuals and heterosexuals to the priesthood because the Church needs the gifts of both.”
In a 2006 address to the Los Angeles Religious Education conference, Radcliffe called on the church to “stand with” gay people, according to a National Catholic Reporter column. Radcliffe elaborated what he meant:
“We must accompany them as they discern what this means, letting our images be stretched open. This means watching ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ reading gay novels, living with our gay friends and listening with them as they listen to the Lord.”
Crux provided a bit more information concerning several of the other controversies in which he has been involved. According to the article, Radcliffe has also openly supported women’s ordination, communion for those divorced and remarried, and diversity in the church. They quoted Radcliffe from a 2013 interview:
“Jesus offered a wide hospitality, and ate and drank with all sorts of people. We need to embody his open heart rather than retreat into a Catholic ghetto.”
This brief resumé does not give a full picture of Radcliffe’s support for LGBT issues, which has been evident since at least the 1990’s.
“Too often, the issue of lgbt Catholics is approached purely from the perspective of sexual ethics, but it is equally important to see things from the perspective of justice. In his new position, Fr Radcliffe will surely remind his colleagues that the Catholic imperative of ‘justice’ must inevitably include the frequently overlooked question of justice inside the church, just as much as in the wider, secular world.”
Though Radcliffe may not support the full spectrum of LGBT equality, his past record indicates that he can be a force for the church institution to start taking the next steps toward a more just and humane approach to LGBT issues. I have hope for this appointment because I trust in the words he used in his 2013 America essay (see above):
“If we dare to really see people, in their dignity and humanity, then we shall discover the right words to say. Who knows where this will take us?”
Such openness to new possibilities is what is needed most deeply in church officials.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry