Headlines celebrated Pope Francis’ recommendation that the church apologize to lesbian and gay people, as well as other communities it had marginalized and harmed. But we can’t forget that the pope did not actually apologize and, as of yet, has not done so. So how can the church move forward?
Many people have welcomed the pope’s recommendation for apology as progress, including the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics. Their statement called the comments an “historical milestone” and read, in part:
“His first personal statement to the LGBTQI community, since the Orlando shooting, brings light and hope not only for us but also to our families. . .Even if Pope Francis` words were brief, their content is powerful. After three years, the Pope amplifies his famous sentence “Who am I to judge?” (2013) to “Who are we to judge?”, extending his original message from a personal reflection to an open call for the whole Church. This is a statement that cannot be underestimated. It shows his vision for the Catholic community.”
Other responses have been more negative towards the pope’s statement. Mac McCann editorialized about the pontiff’s remarks in the The Dallas Morning News, writing:
“In the mean time, let’s stop praising Pope Francis as if he’s done anything for gay rights. Instead, let’s start praying that Pope Francis actually does something, anything, for the LGBT community. Because, in the end, politely supporting homophobia is still supporting homophobia.”
What many agree upon is that any apology must be backed by action. Dignity/Boston president Peggy Hayes told The Boston Globe:
” ‘I was taught by nuns that it’s not enough to say ‘I’m sorry,’ we had to make amends, and firmly commit to try as hard as we could not to make that mistake again. . .I need to see that change of heart.’ “
Thankfully, many voices are offering suggestions about how the pope and others in the church could apologize and make it meaningful. Michelangelo Signorile of The Huffington Post suggested the pope could apologize “for his own harsh and, yes, violence inciting words about gays” as cardinal-archbishop in Argentina. As Cardinal Bergoglio, he “was quietly lobbying for civil unions” when the country considered marriage equality in 2010. But, Signorile wrote:
“When that didn’t work, and the government made it clear it was moving forward on marriage, Bergoglio did what the Vatican expected of him and which, like a politician, he knew he likely had to do if he were ever to have a shot at becoming pope in Benedict’s Vatican: He issued an ugly, earth-scorching attack against gays, equating gay marriage and adoption by gay couples with the work of the Devil, and declared that gay marriage was a ‘destructive attack on God’s plan.’
“Those kinds of words are the kind that killers of gay people take solace in. Those are the words that empower those who bash gays, and those who fire gays from their jobs. And those are the kinds of words that Francis clearly is saying the church must apologize for. If it’s not those words, after all, then what exactly is Francis referring to?”
Instead of waiting for “the church” to apologize, Signorile opined, the pope could begin by saying “I apologize” right now.
Taking a different perspective was Melinda Selmys of Catholic Authenticity who wrote about an obligation the Catholic faithful have, where appropriate, to apologize for the church’s anti-LGBT actions. She wrote:
“If, as Christians, we want to proclaim a Gospel that is based on repentance for sin, we need to demonstrate that repentance. If our priests are frustrated that the lines for the Confessional are increasingly non-existent, perhaps it’s time to examine what kind of confession and contrition the hierarchy is modeling. When Catholics have corporately sinned, Catholics must offer apologies. . .
“The Pope has now made the first step towards apologizing for the Church’s homophobia, for Christian contributions to discrimination, bullying and hatred shown towards gay people. . .I hope, sincerely, that the rest of the Catholic community will join him in seeking to repent, and to make amends for the harm that Christians have done to their LGBTQ siblings. May this be the first of many apologies; a first, and necessary step on the road to reconciliation.”
Similarly, the GNRC quoted above called on Catholics to become involved in building on the pope’s words with a concrete action:
“For the GNRC, the Pope’s call to the Church to ‘apologize’ to LGBTQI Catholics is a great opportunity for all of us to become part of the solution. Following this spirit, we propose as a concrete step, to establish and develop an official commission at the Vatican to formalize that discussion.”
Whether a personal apology or a Vatican commission or something in between, Pope Francis’ recommendation, insufficient though it may be, is a cornerstone upon which more progress can be built. This pope does not wish to perpetuate a church where top-down authority dictates how Catholics think and act.
Pope Francis’ call to apologize may be an invitation for real change to emerge from the grassroots. If this is true, then every Catholic must examine their conscience for ways they might have contributed to anti-LGBT prejudices and every Catholic must also consider the ways by which they can contribute to the healing and reconciliation of divided LGBT and religious communities in our world. Such a universal call includes church leaders, especially bishops, to participate in this apology process, too. But, as has been the case many times in the past regarding LGBT issues, it is more likely that lay people will have to lead the way.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, which will offer a very simple and practical step that Pope Francis can make his call for apology a tangible reality.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry