On Divine Mercy Sunday, How Have LGBT Catholics Been Experiencing the Year of Mercy?


“Image of Divine Mercy” by Stephen Whatley

Nearly four months ago, Pope Francis inaugurated, to much excitement and anticipation, the Jubilee Year of Mercy now underway. He has called for this to be a time to remind ourselves that the church to be a “home for all,” a place “where everyone is loved, welcomed, and forgiven.” Catholics worldwide are participating in many ways and Malta’s Bishop Mario Grech even expressed his hope that the year would “start a new era for the Church.”

On this Divine Mercy Sunday, it is worth inquiring about what impact the Year of Mercy is actually having for LGBT Catholics, their loved ones, and their allies.

Positive moments of expanding mercy and inclusion have occurred. In several instances, bishops have used the Year of Mercy to extend special welcomes to LGBT communities.

For instance, Bishop Terry Steib, SVD of Memphis, in his letter titled A Compassionate Response, called on Catholics to tightly link mercy with humility and to be open to encounter and dialogue in ways which can move LGBT issues forward. Two bishops even apologized for the church’s mistreatment of marginalized people. In his Lenten message on mercy, Bishop Mitchell Rozanski of Springfield, Massachusetts, sought forgiveness from those whom the church had hurt, including LGBT people. In New Orleans, Archbishop Gregory Aymond is hosting a Mass for Divine Mercy Sunday that includes a ritual of forgiveness and resurrection which acknowledges:

“[That] we as individuals, as members of the archdiocese and society as a whole have let people down. . .This rite seeks forgiveness and reconciliation with those who have been hurt or alienated by the church either through institutional or individual offenses.”

While no communities were specified, LGBT people are clearly included among those hurt by the church and Aymond has spoken in more positive terms about issues of sexuality in the past.

Lay Catholics are participating in the Year of Mercy, too. Many call for a more just and inclusive church and society. As a way to mark this special year, Kentucky Catholics marched through downtown Louisville and rallied outside the cathedral to foster support for LGBT non-discrimination protections. U.S. Catholics elsewhere, including at least two governors, are actively resisting “license to discriminate” bills now under consideration in state legislatures across the country. And two transgender Catholics shared their stories during a workshop at L.A. Religious Education Congress, the largest Catholic gathering in North America.

Despite these items of good news, negative moments have also occurred.Too many church officials are either avoiding the Year of Mercy or it seems they do not quite understand mercy. Malawi’s bishops used a pastoral letter on mercy to call for the government to jail LGBT people. A pastor disrupted a funeral because of his opposition to LGBT issues. Another pastor closed a parish LGBT ministry. The Vatican has thus far refused to intervene to stop Dominican Republic church leaders’ increasing attacks on gay U.S. Ambassador James Brewster. For church leaders whose hearts remained hardened to LGBT people, we can pray these words taken from Pope Francis’ prayer for the Year of Mercy:

“You willed that your ministers would also be clothed in weakness in order that they may feel compassion for those in ignorance and error: let everyone who approaches them feel sought after, loved, and forgiven by God.”

When it comes to LGBT concerns, Pope Francis’ own involvement in the Year of Mercy is ambiguous. The million-dollar question right now is what impact his upcoming apostolic exhortation on the family, Amoris Laetitia, will have for LGBT Catholics. The pope consistently preaches mercy during his Wednesday audiences, his foreign travels, and everything else in between. But he lodged his harshest criticism of marriage equality yet in January, and his involvement in Italy’s debate over civil unions has been unclear.

The jury is still out on whether the Year of Mercy, viewed as a whole, will be good or not good for LGBT people and other Catholics who support equality. There are signs of hope among the people of God but plenty of intransigence in ecclesial institutions too.

What do you think? Has the Year of Mercy benefited LGBT Catholics? If not yet, do you think it still might? What would be ways of showing greater mercy to those the church excludes and harms? You can leave your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry



0 replies
  1. Larry
    Larry says:

    The rubber meets the road on April 8th. If this document is too theological and less pastoral and makes no practical changes (like repealing intrinsically disordered) that directly effect the LGBT community, then the Year of Mercy is just PR.


    The proof is in the pudding, so to say. Some small puddings have been served in some places. In others, the pudding has been thrown to the pigs. I see leaders of other churches routinely standing up to support and defend the rights of LGBT people. In the RC Church, it is a rare and unusual thing for leaders to say something positive, and then the servings are still small and there is still a bitterness of the shadow of sin in the dish.

    However, the real developments are among ordinary Catholics, and some Catholic politicians. There the servings are much bigger, sweeter, and given to all – in the same way families set big festival tables laden with food for all in the family – and many guests as well – to eat to their stomachs’ desire.

  3. Thomas
    Thomas says:

    A year of mercy, and then what? Back to business as usual? The church, especially the USCCB ,is a bit like a certain political party. It portrays itself as one thing and does the opposite. Mercy tied to humility. Great concept. I would love to see it in practice.

    • newwaysministryblog
      newwaysministryblog says:

      Sorry about that. WordPress seems to have eliminated the end of the sentence. We made the correction. It now reads as it should: “But he lodged his harshest criticism of marriage equality yet in January, and his involvement in Italy’s debate over civil unions has been unclear.”

  4. Thomas Bower
    Thomas Bower says:

    Sadly the few ambiguous attempts at mercy deny any concept of justice for centuries of abuse. The Church can’t even come up with a strong statement opposing bullying in their own schools, why should we expect it to be understanding of the general status of LGBT Catholics. Year of Mercy is a lost opportunity.

    • Claretian Vocations
      Claretian Vocations says:

      If you look at the Church without historical or world context, you are correct but to judge the Church as if the whole world is ready for LGBT inclusion is naive. To look at the prophetic stance the Church has had on the idea of mercy over the centuries means to look deeper: the Church is the reason the West has education for girls centuries before other parts of the world, slavery was abolished in Christian countries (though unevenly due to individual greed) before other places. While other cultures would have killed all the invading hords that destroyed Europe, the Church worked to convert them….The fact we are focusing on Mercy has to be a good thing, and mercy will come (albeit imperfectly) more into our world because of it.

      • Larry
        Larry says:

        Perhaps I have read too much into your comment and I apologize if I have but if you mean to suggest that we should stand back and just let the Church become progressive then I must disagree. It takes way too long to do so and causes real damage and pain while we wait. The push for real mercy on LGBT and other issues must come in large part from below or the hierarchy will simply drag its feet as it always does. I am sure there are Bishops and Cardinals counting the days till Pope Francis’ reign is over and they can elect another conservative terror like Benedict 16.

  5. Phillip Clark
    Phillip Clark says:

    This is a great synopsis of Pope Francis’ Jubilee Year of Mercy and how it relates to the lives of LGBT Catholics, Bob. Personally, I believe the Year of Mercy will only impact LGBT Catholics when the Holy Father speaks out, or conducts some other type of direct action that demonstrates he believes in the human rights of LGBT persons, and, views them as children of God — not “intrinsically disordered.”

    Encouraging bishops conferences who are opposed to marriage equality to focus instead on the lives of LGBT people could be a wonderful opportunity for the Catholic Church to confront the signs of the times and enter the right side of history on this issue. While, its stance on marriage as only being between a man and a woman could be maintained in a theological sense; Pope Francis could begin to be more forceful in his episcopal appointments; ensuring that prelates will not turn the legislation of marriage equality into a political fight, but rather seek common ground on the human dignity of LGBT citizens.


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