Pope Francis' Actions May Speak Louder Than His Words on LGBT Issues

Yayo Grassi

The news that Pope Francis’ “only real audience’ (in the words of a Vatican press statement) in his United States visit was with a gay man and his partner has re-awakened the hopes of many in the Catholic LGBT community that the pontiff has not aligned himself with conservative political forces, but that he is still open to showing affirmation to the LGBT people.

While this news is positive, one of the people at the center of this story, Yayo Grassi, the pope’s gay ex-student, cautioned against reading too much into this encounter.

Grassi told The New York Times that his meeting with the pope was a personal encounter, not a political one:

“I don’t think he was trying to say anything in particular. He was just meeting with his ex-student and a very close friend of his.”

Similarly, Jesuit Father James Martin, noted author and Catholic commentator, told The Huffington Post that the pope’s meeting with Grassi, while significant, should not be seen as acceptance of same-gender relationships:

“Of course it does not betoken any sort of papal approval of same-sex marriage. But if the story is accurate, I’m glad to hear that the Pope keeps in touch with old friends, gay or straight.”

In the same article, Father Thomas Rosica, Vatican spokesperson highlighted the pastoral aspect of the visit:

“As noted in the past, the Pope, as pastor, has maintained many personal relationships with people in a spirit of kindness, welcome and dialogue.”

More details and analyses have emerged which offer some insights into why the Vatican was slow to responding to this brouhaha.

An Associated Press news story explained the difference between an “audience” and a “meeting” in Vatican-speak:

“An audience differs from a meeting in that it is a planned, somewhat formal affair. Popes have audiences with heads of state. They have meetings and greeting sessions with benefactors or Catholic VIPs. So the fact that Lombardi described Grassi’s encounter as the only ‘real audience’ in Washington made clear that Francis wanted to emphasize that encounter over Davis’ “brief meeting” with several dozen other people invited to the embassy at the same time.”

The same news story offered some background as to how the Vatican’s clarification on the Davis meeting came about:

“Initially the Vatican only reluctantly confirmed the meeting but offered no comment.

“On Friday, Lombardi met with Francis and issued a fuller statement to ‘contribute to an objective understanding of what transpired.’ Francis has made clear he dislikes being used for political ends, and Lombardi’s statement appeared intended to make clear that the encounter should in no way be exploited.”

New York Times article reported the response of Jesuit Father James Martin, who earlier this week had cautioned that the Kim Davis meeting was not an indication of the pope’s support of her cause.  He offered a theory as to why the Vatican did not speak quickly to explain the Davis meeting:

“I was very disappointed to see the pope having been used that way, and that his willingness to be friendly to someone was turned against him. What may originally have prevented them from issuing a statement was the desire not to give this story too much air. But what they eventually came to realize was that they needed to correct some gross misrepresentations of what had happened. It shows that Pope Francis met with many people on the trip, and that she was simply another person who he tried to be kind to.”

In the same article, an Italian Vatican observer also offered his view of the Kim Davis situation:

” ‘Nobody in the Catholic Church wants another Regensburg,’ said Massimo Faggioli, an associate professor of theology and director of the Institute for Catholicism and Citizenship at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. He was referring to the backlash after Pope Benedict XVI, Francis’ predecessor, gave a speech in Regensburg, Germany, that appeared to denigrate Islam.

” ‘This was not as serious as Regensburg, when Benedict read his own speech,’ Dr. Faggioli said about the meeting attended by Ms. Davis. ‘But the pope has to be able to rely on his own system, and in this case the system failed him. The question is, was it a mistake, or was it done with full knowledge of how toxic she was?’ ”

“The meeting with Ms. Davis was clearly a misstep, Dr. Faggioli said, ‘because the whole trip to the United States he very carefully didn’t want to give the impression that he was being politicized by any side.’

“He added, ‘And this thing is the most politicized thing that you can imagine.’ “

While Pope Francis’ meeting with Grassi was not the important pastoral step that needs to be done:  meeting with LGBT people because they are LGBT, it still serves as a great model for bishops and other pastoral leaders.  He showed them, as he has done in the past, that someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity should not mean they are excluded from conversations and relationships with church officials.

While Pope Francis’ words about LGBT people and relationships may not be clear, his warm and friendly gestures are very clear.  May his actions speak louder than his words!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

7 replies
  1. amagjuka
    amagjuka says:

    I am almost 60. The church I grew up in was like this: We lived in a neighborhood with lots of Catholic families. There were scads of kids in every family. Most of the moms stayed at home, but were involved in schools, parish activities, local politics, etc. The moms and the kids went to mass every Sunday and Holy Days. The dads basically went too, but “work” always came first. Sometimes “work” was golfing, meeting for drinks, and going to sporting events. Things happened. Someone’s dad was an alcoholic. The other moms made sure the kids had places to go, could spend the night, etc. Someone had an affair. Of course the moms whispered about it, but on the surface, nothing changed. All the kids played, the moms took care of all of us. We did group sports, school festivals, etc. Everyone still went to mass and took communion.
    I remember a time when my mom was overwhelmed with everything–five kids in five years, too much to do and no money. She called the priest. He came over, and offered her: NOTHING. He said it was her duty and obligation to stay with her husband and family. She graduated first in her high school class. Her family had no money for college. She got married, and had five kids in less than five years. Honestly, in the early 60’s, she was stuck. My dad was a typical 50’s dad–did no housework, etc. While all the moms doing all the home and childcare work, parish work, and volunteer work was great for many, it was not so great for the moms. What about this, Catholic church? The church policies do nothing to open up avenues for women. What about men? What changes do they have to make for our church??? This is the backdrop for my Catholicism.

    I was a middle school teacher and had three kids. I stayed home with them (true affluence) but missed teaching. I volunteered in schools almost every day. Still, I have not been a good role model for my girls. They are not married and cannot fathom how to care for a family and a career. What about this, Catholic church?

    The issue of LGBT people in our church is the most significant in my lifetime. Because in some places, LGBT people are being fired, marginalized, isolated, and mistreated BY THE CHURCH! This is being done in my name, and I am not OK with this. Most Catholics want this to stop immediately. It will become a question of morality–can we sit by while this abuse is happening? Can we only stay in the church if we turn a blind eye to it? My Catholic teaching requires me to stand up to discrimination, not participate in it!

    The church has to face these issues, or nothing will change. We must recapture the community spirit of the church in the 50’s-60’s with the awareness that women cannot be required to do all the at home and volunteer work. And the discrimination of LGBT people must stop immediately.

  2. robertsimonparis
    robertsimonparis says:

    I agree that action is as important than words but what is more important is to show a coherence between the words and the action. Regarding LGBT issues this is not the case :
    words : who am I to judge…
    action : refusal of a gay man as Embassador the the Vatican, refusal of any meeting with LGBT people (except an old friend), exclusion of a gay priest from his work in the Vatican. We will see what the pope says during the synod and after the synod about families issues.
    I understand his position is not easy between conservatives and liberals. I think that the only way for him is to allow each national Church to decide on situations that are not central for the transmission of the Gospel.

  3. vincent
    vincent says:

    This article does explain the difference between an audience with a pope and a meeting. Most of us were baffled by Ms Davis’ claim. She isn’t an important figure and she isn’t even Catholic. It’s still not clear what her motives were.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] But the synods did talk about pastoral outreach to lesbian and gay people and their families. I think there is a good chance that Pope Francis will be generous in regard to pastoral ministry for LGBT people.  Almost all of his previous statements on pastoral ministry indicate that he sees it as an important step for church leaders to take.  Moreover, his personal witness, such as meeting with his former student who is in a committed gay relationship, indicates that he could very much encourage church leaders to follow his example.  Pope Francis’ actions often speak louder than his words. […]

  2. […] for LGBT Catholics news, as reports surfaced about Pope Francis’ encounter with Kim Davis and a same-sex couple. Even with those items swirling, the gay priest’s announcement cut through and made […]

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