Around the world, it seems that Pope Francis’ call for the church to apologize to LGBT people is meeting with mixed reactions from the LGBT community itself. While some find the pope’s statement to be lip-service at best, others find a great deal of hope in it.
Critics have questioned what credibility apologies might possess without action, or even admission of underlying problems. Jamie Manson, books editor for the National Catholic Reporter, commented on Facebook:
“The pope wants the church to apologize to gay people for marginalizing them, while also upholding the Catechism’s teaching on homosexuality. You can’t apologize to people and simultaneously reassert the doctrine that harms them. That’s just dysfunctional, if not downright abusive.”
Dindi Tan, an LGBT advocate in the Philippines, said “the wound is just too deep to be assuaged by words as comforting” as Pope Francis’ remarks, and LGBT people await a “formal shift of policy by the church when it comes to LGBT people, our rights and our welfare.”
” ‘Every time and since he became pope, all he says is yes, but there is no follow up. . .All we see are empty headlines.’ “
Other Catholics responded more positively, welcoming Pope Francis’ call, but request actions to back his words. Quest, a group for LGBT Catholics in the U.K., released a statement calling the pope’s remarks “a major turning point” in how the church treats lesbian and gay people. The statement continued:
“Words of apology however, are not enough. Pope Francis has acknowledged the harm that has been done by the Church in the past. As Fr James Martin SJ has observed in a [Facebook] post, this harm is real and deep, and for many LGBT Catholics, it is not just a matter of the past, but continues, even today. Hurt and wounds require healing. A closing resolution of the 2015 Family Synod resolved that special pastoral attention needs to be given to families with lesbian or gay people. Such families certainly include those headed by lesbian and gay people themselves.”
Quest called on the British bishops to “expand and improve” existing pastoral care for LGBT people, and offered its help in so doing. It is worth noting that Quest said it was regrettable Pope Francis did not apologize specifically to transgender Catholics, too.
Michael Sean Winters, columnist for the National Catholic Reporter, said Pope Francis had “done it again,” meaning that he did “nothing more than express a decent and honest sentiment, one that in no way contradicts the teaching of the church.” Noting that such sentiments should not be remarkable, Winters offered three points for why they are. He wrote, in part:
“Pope Francis’ comments stand in stark contrast with those who place all sorts of qualifications on their affirmation of the dignity, even the humanity, of gay people. Few clergy, at least Catholic clergy in this country, are willing to affirm the dignity of gay people, full stop. Later, there is time to discuss the church’s teaching on the ends proper to the sexual act. Usually, even those who understand that the church needs to develop it thoroughly inadequate theology on homosexuality, and even those who steer clear of the culture wars, tie themselves in knots with ‘buts’ and ‘on the other hands’ and ‘nonethelesses.’ Pope Francis almost never utters such words.
“Second, the pope’s comments stand in contrast with the reluctance of many bishops, again even of some good bishops, to even utter the words ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’. . .It is almost impossible to overstate the degree to which the Jansenistic obsession with sexual matters has distorted the preaching of the Gospel, especially here in the U.S. You can exploit workers, you can degrade the environment, and you can climb into an ideological bed with the Koch Brothers, but so long as you oppose ‘those who experience same-sex attraction,’ you are tagged as orthodox.
“Third, of course, the pope’s comments distinguish him from those who really are hateful when speaking about gays and lesbians. “
Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese, recently appointed chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, highlighted the connection between Pope Francis’ call and the ongoing violence LGBT face. He said to The New York Times:
“There are a lot of people at the Vatican who don’t like the church ever admitting we ever did anything wrong. . .With gays, it is especially important because they are still subject to persecution and discrimination all over the world, and even in the United States.”
Seattle’s Mayor Ed Murray, who is a gay Catholic, said to SeattlePi that after weeks which left him stunned, Pope Francis’ call was “truly sustaining and deeply moving” and despite the problems in the world, perhaps “there is a path to healing.”
Fortunate Families, a network of Catholic parents of LGBT children, released a statement thanking the pope for his comment, but also calling for reform:
“Yes, Catholics and other Christian churches have marginalized our children, and they deserve an apology, but even more so they deserve outreach that makes them feel welcome in our churches. The words ‘objectively disordered’ and ‘intrinsically evil’ have given ammunition to those who would harm our children, and when internalized, often produce unhealthy self-loathing. A significant part of this apology should be to stop using this language. Being sorry should result in a change in church policy. The bishops and clergy reaching out to listen to the experiences of LGBT+ persons, educating themselves about the issues of the LGBT+ community, and welcoming LGBT+ support groups into parish spaces would be an excellent start to repairing the damage that years of condemnation have wrought.”
Deb Word, former president of Fortunate Families, was hopeful about Pope Francis’ remarks. Hearing the news of the pope’s apology after attending an Episcopal service celebrating marriage equality last Sunday, Word wrote the following on the Fortunate Families blog:
“My church may be slowly changing…I believe the people in the pews for the most part have made peace with the fact that our children in loving relationships pose no threat or harm. But the language the hierarchy uses is still stinging- still painful to hear or use, and, I believe untrue.
“I am excited that this Pope, Francis seems to get it. I sat in church today and wondered would it ever happen- to come home and see this… Well it makes me smile!”
Bondings 2.0 will update readers if more reactions and responses become available in the coming days. To read previous reactions, please click here. To read New Ways Ministry’s statement in response to the Pope’s message, please click here.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry
International Business Times: “Pope Francis: Catholic Church must apologise to gay people and others”
Windy City Times: “Pope says Catholic Church must apologize to gay people”