The following is a statement of Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director, released on June 26, 2016, in response to Pope Francis’ call for the Church to apologize to groups it has harmed.
No pope has said more welcoming words to LGBT people than Pope Francis’ recommendation today that the Church–indeed all Christians–should apologize for the harm religious traditions have caused to LGBT people. The pope’s statement was simple, yet powerful, and it fell from his lips so easily. The simplicity of his language will provide an immense blessing of healing and reconciliation to LGBT people and Catholics who support them, who have been waiting decades to hear such a simple, honest statement from the Vatican.
[You can read the pope’s statement by clicking here.]
This step by Pope Francis shows that Church leaders can and should admit when they have been wrong, especially when their wrongs cause people tremendous and unnecessary harm. His message signals a major change in attitude for an institution that has a terrible history of ever admitting that it has done something wrong. Admitting an error is healing not just for the harmed people to whom an apology is issued, but to the apologizer, too. Great healing can come from this statement not just for LGBT people, but also for Church leaders who will follow the Pope’s example.
Indeed, some Catholic leaders have already acknowledged the pain that the Church has caused sexual and gender minorities. When the person in charge sets the tone for such apologies, more leaders and people will be moved to follow suit.
In calling for an apology, Pope Francis said that he affirmed the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church about gay and lesbian people, but, significantly, he emphasized the social justice teaching about condemning prejudice and discrimination against them. Few church leaders ever think of emphasizing the teaching against harming LGBT people, ignoring it to amplify the teaching against sexually engaged homosexual relationships.
We hope and pray that the pope and other church leaders issue formal statements of apology, and, more importantly, offer gestures of reconciliation for LGBT people. In the aftermath of the mass shooting in Orlando, only a handful of Catholic bishops even acknowledge that there was an LGBT dimension to the incident. A few, like Bishop Robert Lynch, not only expressed sympathy for the LGBT victims, but also acknowledged that the Church’s teaching and language too often fostered anti-LGBT sentiments. Pope Francis’ statement shows support for Bishop Lynch’s approach.
Most welcome, too, was the fact that his call for apologies to gay people, also included a call to apologize to others that the Church has harmed: women, the poor, the divorced, and children forced to work.
Pope Francis’ comments did not come out of a vacuum, but out of the decades of work that Catholics have been doing to remind Church leaders that the Church was too often complicit in the social prejudice and physical harm that LGBT people experience. The prayers, witness, work, and ministry of so many dedicated Catholics has finally risen to the top of the hierarchy and is starting to be heard and enacted.
For some LGBT people who have been so wounded and bruised by Catholic leaders’ negative messages, the pope’s statement may seem like too little, too late. While indeed we have waited a long time for an opening like this, I think it is important to rejoice at this step forward. We must work and pray to make sure that the next steps take place much quicker. Among those next steps are more dialogue between Church leaders and LGBT people. Equally needed is a serious re-evaluation of the hierarchy’s disapproval of committed sexual relationships of lesbian, bisexual, and gay couples, as well as re-thinking the denigrating language Church leaders often use to describe transgender identities.
New Ways Ministry thanks Pope Francis for his example of Christian humility, and we encourage him to continue to pave the way for even greater changes for LGBT people and the Catholic Church.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry