Pope Francis Opens His U.S. Visit With Message of Mercy and Encounter

With Pope Francis now in the United States, keeping up with news can be a challenge. Below, Bondings 2.0 provides a “Papal Digest” of sorts on Catholic LGBT-related events and analyses, along with notes on the World Meeting of Families (WMF) in Philadelphia. You can read more on a particular story by clicking the provided links.

From Washington, DC 


Francis DeBernardo and Sister Jeannine Gramick at the White House’s welcome event for Pope Francis.

LGBT Catholics and allies joined President Barack Obama in welcoming Pope Francis to the White House yesterday.  Among those attending the welcome event were New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick and  Francis DeBernardo.  On Tuesday, Bondings 2.0 listed other prominent LGBT supporters–Catholic and otherwise–who attended the event.  In addition to those on yesterday’s list were former directors of NETWORK: Sister Carol Coston, OP, and Sister Nancy Sylvester, IHM. Other Dignity/Washington members also attended:  Lauren Carpenter, Robert Miailovich, and Ray Panas.

The presence of LGBT supporters drew criticism from Catholic conservatives in the U.S., though the Vatican denied being upset or even reviewing the guest list. Mateo Williamson, a trans Catholic, drew particularly brutal attacks, but Nathan Schneiders rightly writes at America: “So what if Pope Francis meets a transgender Catholic at the White House?”

Buzzfeed’s news report of the White House event included links to the transcripts of President Obama’s and Pope Francis’ speeches on Wednesday morning.

Many others are commenting about Pope Francis’ message and the broader speculations on what his U.S. visit will mean. James Carroll wrote for The New Yorker:

“. . . [A]s Francis demonstrated earlier this month. . .his starting point is affirmation, not condemnation. A large-hearted feel for moral complexity trumps the narrow-minded moral rigidity that has mostly been the mark of Church responses.”

In his commentary for AmericaGerard O’Connell makes a similar point about mercy overcoming legalism:
“. . . [S]ince every papal visit is first and foremost a visit to the local church, one can expect him to challenge the American church to be more missionary, to be a church that includes, not excludes people, to be a church that puts the poor at the center of its attention and knows how to show mercy, to be a church in which faith trumps ideology.”

Pope Francis greeting crowds in Washington, D.c.

So far, during his time in Washington, D.C., Pope Francis has spoken of many timely issues.  At the White House, he called for defense of religious freedom, a cause dear to the heart of the U.S. bishops.  He used the phrase “unjust discrimination,” which The Wall Street Journal described as “a veiled reference to the fact that the church regards sexuality as legitimate grounds for discrimination.”  The WSJ’s report also noted, though, that at the next stop on the pope’s Wednesday itinerary was a prayer service for U.S. bishops at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, where he warned them to avoid the

“temptation to give in to fear, to lick one’s wounds, to think back on bygone times and to devise harsh responses to fierce opposition. . . .

“Harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor, it has no place in his heart.Although it may momentarily seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remains truly convincing.”

The National Catholic Reporter noted that Francis encouraged the bishops to promote “encounter” with those with whom they disagree:

“. . . [W]e are promoters of the culture of encounter. We are living sacraments of the embrace between God’s riches and our poverty. We are witnesses of the abasement and the condescension of God who anticipates in love our every response.

“Dialogue is our method, not as a shrewd strategy but out of fidelity to the One who never wearies of visiting the marketplace, even at the eleventh hour, to propose his offer of love.”

While he briefly mentioned family issues,  his most prominent statements on family will likely come in Philadelphia this weekend.

From Philadelphia

The family of Rosa Manriquez was featured in a Los Angeles Daily News report on LGBT families’ hopes for the papal visit. Rosa is one of  Equally Blessed’s pilgrims who is attending the World Meeting of Families (WMF) this week to witness to the holiness of LGBT families.

One of Manriquez’s daughters, Cecilia Arvizu, recalled one priest’s rejection when he found out Arvizu was partnered to a woman. They have since found welcome at another Catholic parish, but Manriquez’s other daughter, Rocio Contreras, who is also a lesbian Catholic, reiterates just how much work remains:

“As gay Catholics. . .They know we’re part of the church, but they don’t want to recognize us. Now, it’s clear that we are people. We are part of the church. We have families. We’re not intrinsically evil. We’re just like everyone else.”

That message of humanizing LGBT people is central to why Manriquez is attending the WMF:

“I have two daughters who are lesbian and I have two daughters-in-law and three grandchildren who are their children. . .I want to be able to show that their families are just as blessed as any other family in the Roman Catholic Church.”

In the same article,  Jesuit Fr. Allan Figueroa Deck of Loyola Marymount University commented on the pope’s “rather dramatic way” of shifting how ministers respond to lesbian and gay people:

“It really is reminding us or encouraging us to take on the attitude that we think Jesus Christ would have, an attitude that reflects the Gospel that we teach. . .We don’t start condemning. We don’t start judging. We start respecting and loving because in the Gospel, we are called to love all people.”
Other Equally Blessed pilgrims,, as well as fired lesbian educator Margie Winters and her wife, spoke at a press conference on Tuesday, sharing their stories, reported GLAAD. Winters stated:
“My firing, and too many others like it, has touched at the core of who we are as Church. Some bishops question the Catholic identity of institutions who have LGBT members serving them. We ask the Church to reflect on its own identity: an identity now associated with the discriminatory treatment of the LGBT community.”
Let us hope he speaks about inclusion and mercy, themes which have won him the warmth of crowds worldwide, rather than the condemn story and restrictive message of the U.S bishops.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry
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2 replies
  1. Gilles M
    Gilles M says:

    I am amazed at how we speak of “they”, referring to the institutional ministers, from priests to pope, as if they were all straight, as if there were no gays in the midst. We know of statistics, some considered reliable, that speak of at least 50% of clergy being gay. This is “their” reality as well and we need to include this in our understandings and opinions, and as we challenges the institutional church on the true place of LGBT in our church.


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