The Vatican has accepted the resignation of a cardinal in the Dominican Republic whose anti-gay record has sparked repeated controversies on the island nation and beyond.
Like every bishop, Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez of Santo Domingo submitted his letter of resignation on his 75th birthday five years ago. Pope Francis has just accepted it and named his successor. Catholics and LGBT advocates alike have made repeated calls for the cardinal to retire since he began his high-profile anti gay remarks in 2013.
López has attacked LGBT communities, and specifically gay U.S. Ambassador James “Wally” Brewster and his husband, Bob Satawake, on multiple occasions. He used an anti-gay slur to refer to the ambassador in 2013 and said Brewster should “take his gay pride elsewhere.” Last December the cardinal said that Brewster was “wife to a man” and should stick to housework. The Washington Blade reported that López once described LGBT tourists as “social trash” and “degenerates.”
López’s visibility has diminished since late 2015, referenced in Dominican media as “the cardinal’s lone silence.” His resignation now comes a day after Santo Domingo Pride celebrations concluded, and many LGBT advocates expressed relief. Cristian King of Trans Siempre Amigos told the Washington Blade, “I feel a great piece of mind.”
López will be succeeded by Archbishop-elect Francisco Ozoria Acosta of San Pedro de Macorís. Austin Ivereigh of Crux noted that, with this move, Pope Francis has appointed a “low-profile pastor from a small diocese” into the symbolically powerful position of Primate of the Americas.
Ozoria is not well known, even in the Dominican Republic. He acknowledged this fact to the media, saying “I’m sure this has been a surprise to you all. . .most surprised of all was me.” But he is above all a pastor, reported Ivereigh. He studied and then taught pastoral theology before becoming a parish priest and, later, a pastorally-oriented bishop. Ozoria identified himself as a “passionate follower of the Second Vatican Council, above all of the ecclesiology of communion” and invoked the Council’s affirmation of the universal call to holiness to stress how all baptized Catholics should participate in the life of the church. Leslie Torres, director of Televida, a Catholic television channel in the Dominican Republic, offered this description:
” ‘He’s a pastor who’s approachable, humble and straightforward, with a great capacity for listening and dialogue. . .[he is] able to look at his people with a big heart.’ “
LGBT advocate and politician Deivis Ventura also praised Ozoria. He called the archbishop-elect “a man who is known for his moderation and prudence in the management of religious and social issues,” reported the Washington Blade. Ozoria reflects the mixed-race identities of most Dominicans, and has controversially championed migrants’ rights. Ventura was certain the archbishop-elect “will show a distinct vision of the church.”
This shift in pastoral priorities is significant in at least three ways for LGBT Catholics in the Dominican Republic and abroad.
First, in accepting his resignation, the Vatican did not acknowledge the harm that Cardinal López has caused. There is no evidence this move is linked to his anti-LGBT behavior, a notable omission given its pattern and severity. It is especially disappointing given Pope Francis’ expressed desire for the church to apologize to lesbian, bisexual, and gay people it has harmed.
Second, Pope Francis’ appointment of Archbishop-elect Ozoria emphasizes the pope’s commitment to church leaders who are foremost pastors serving God’s people, with love through dialogue. That Ozoria has a reputation for listening and dialogue, and was even welcomed by a prominent LGBT advocate are hopeful signs. We hope this is another sign that the pope is intent on replacing hard-line conservatives with pastoral listeners.
Third, López’s resignation and Ozoria’s succession are positive steps, but they do not eliminate a Dominican hierarchy whose alienation of LGBT people, and specifically Ambassador Brewster, has been deeply problematic. Bishop Victor Masalles, an auxiliary of Santo Domingo, recently led protests against the Organization of American States’ meeting for its alleged promotion of “ideological colonization.” He said previously that Ambassador Brewster was “abusing power,” sentiments echoed in the Dominican Episcopal Conference’s letter against the diplomat. A Catholic school in the capital posted three signs just before Holy Week this year announcing it had banned Brewster and his husband from campus.
These incidents reveal the deep wound that López’s lengthy tenure has afflicted on LGBT people and on the Dominican church. Thankfully, he has been removed from leadership, even though it could have been done sooner. Archbishop-elect Ozoria should begin a reconciliation process after being installed in September. He might start by listening to Pope Francis’ recommendation and offer an apology to those people the church under Cardinal López had hurt.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry