“There Is No Place for Homophobia,” Pope Francis Told Gay Former Student

Pope Francis explicitly rejected homophobia in his pastoral ministry, according to the pope’s former student and friend Yayo Grassi.



Yayo Grassi

In impromptu remarks during New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award Ceremony on Sunday, Grassi, who made headlines in 2015 because of his personal meeting with Pope Francis in Washington, DC,  shared about his relationship with the pope and Francis’ approach to homosexuality, saying:


“I have known Pope Francis since he was my teacher, my professor in high school when I was seventeen years old. I know that he knew then that I was gay, and we have been friends ever since. I visited him in Rome and then we visited when he came to Washington. He met who was at the time my boyfriend both times, and he’s always asking about him.”

Grassi and his partner met with Francis in Washington, D.C. during the 2015 papal visit to the United States last fall. This private meeting was made public after it was alleged the pope had met with and blessed Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who had denied marriage licenses to same-gender couples. Grassi told reporters at the time he felt he needed to defend his friend, the pope, from unfair criticism.


Fr. James Martin, SJ, and Yayo Grassi

Grassi also told attendees at the New Ways Ministry event (which honored Jesuit Fr. James Martin for promoting dialogue in the church on LGBT issues) about an exchange he had with the pope, when Francis was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina:

“When the gay marriage law was being discussed in the Senate in Argentina, I read on the internet that then-Cardinal Bergoglio was very much against it and that he had said really painful and hateful things about the approval of the law. I was very surprised. I was very surprised more than anything else because knowing him, and knowing how much love there is in his heart, it was difficult for me to understand that he would do such a hateful thing. . .

“So I wrote him a quite extensive letter. I sent him an email telling him how much I admire him, how important he was in my life, and how much he did for me. How he had brought forward through his education the most open and progressive thought in my life. And then I went on saying, I will never be able to thank you, so you might think its a very strange way to thank you if I tell you I’m very disappointed by the way you treated the gay [marriage] law.”

Cardinal Bergoglio replied to Grassi’s letter in two days. He first asked forgiveness because of the hurt his former student felt and continued, as paraphrased by Grassi:

“Believe me I never said any of those things. The press picked up from two letters that I sent to the nuns asking them not to give any kind of opinion on this, and they were distorted and they were put as my words.”

Concluding his brief remarks, Grassi offered what he considered to be “the most beautiful thing. . .the most amazing thing” about Pope Francis, which came at the end of that reply letter:

“[Bergoglio in 2008] ends his letter, besides asking me to pray for him as he always does, saying, ‘Yayo, believe me, in my pastoral work, there is no place for homophobia.’ And that is the first time that I realized what an amazing person he was. He not only said, ‘Who am I to judge?’, there is something very important that he said later, he said ‘Who are we to judge?’. . .The we was the whole church, and the whole humankind.”


Yayo Grassi offering his thoughts at the Bridge Building Award ceremony

Fr. Martin’s address was about bridge building, an invitation to a two-way bridge on which LGBT communities and the institutional church can dialogue. You can read a report on the address here. What Grassi’s experiences with Pope Francis reveal is a model for just how the institutional church can be changed by encounter and by friendship.

Equally important, however, is the necessity for church leaders to explicitly and unequivocally reject homophobia in the church and in society. It would be a wonderful step towards building bridges if the supreme pontiff in the church, Pope Francis, were to publicly declare what he told Grassi privately, that “in my pastoral work, there is no place for homophobia.”

Watch Yayo Grassi’s full remarks below or by clicking here.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 1, 2016

14 replies
  1. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    Yes. He needs to say such things publicly, and in no uncertain terms. And he needs to stop supporting laws and amendments that discriminate against LGBT people, and that make relationships illegal, or that prevent the legalization of such relationships. And he needs to speak out against laws which discriminate against LGBT people, especially when he visits countries where RC bishops are in support of such laws. He also needs to clearly condemn violence against LGBT people, and to speak out against firing LGBT employees. And he needs to learn something about who transgender people really are. Such words and actions would go a long way toward building bridges, and many LGBT people would be very forgiving if he were to meet us in the middle of the bridge.

    • Larry
      Larry says:

      The Pope continues to say good things about the LGBT community but he does little on a practical level. His silence [= death] during his Africa tour, his silence while the Cardinal in the Dominican Republic bashed gays publicly, his silence while our own American bishops work against gay civil rights etc etc. The Pope needs to get off the sidelines and ACT forcefully. While it is nice that a gay friend of the Pope when he was a Cardinal got a nice letter from him, the now Pope needs to take a forceful public stand. Fr. James Martin and a lot of times New Ways Ministry seem to accept this committee-like bridge building mode while the hierarchy will, mostly, never give in. They will use this type of approach to delay, delay, delay so we still end in the last pew of the Church.

  2. Peter Beacham
    Peter Beacham says:

    The article clearly states that it was Cardinal Bergoglio not Pope Francis who wrote, ”there is no place for homophobia”.

    One wonders why Robert Shine is trying to make Pope Francis look better to the LGBT community.

    Equally suspect is Fr. James Martin, S.J. who is quite willing to continue to view LGBT people as intrinsically disordered but who nevertheless wants to treat “them” with respect instead of calling for a change in the catechism to eliminate such wrong and hateful labeling.

  3. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    I am tired of the Church saying I should be treated with respect; as the popular advertising slogan says – just do it. And don’t do it for a comfortable white male who lives in a welcoming gay neighborhood, but for an impoverished lesbian who lives in sub-Saharan Africa whose life is one observed kiss to the wrong friend from being imprisoned and worse by a homophobic government.

  4. Wilhelm Wonka
    Wilhelm Wonka says:

    ‘It would be a wonderful step towards building bridges if the supreme pontiff in the church, Pope Francis, were to publicly declare what he told Grassi privately, that “in my pastoral work, there is no place for homophobia”. ‘

    To make public this remark might indeed help to build such bridges, but I wouldn’t go so far as describing it as “wonderful”. There is more than a faint suggestion of Stockholm Syndrome in that appraisal.

    Homophobia is gravely sinful; this goes without saying. It should never have had any place in a church which dares to call itself Christian. For a Christian not to sin (to repent) is not “wonderful”: it is the least one can reasonably expect of him or her.

    As a commentor said yesterday: the Church “owes” LGBT people, not the other way round.

  5. Pat D
    Pat D says:

    Pat D says:

    This is a Response to Oct 30, 2016 Bondings 2.0 post “Catholic LGBT History – Ratzinger Letter,” as well as several following posts.

    As long as the Catholic Magisterium, “the Hierarchy”, teaches that the World is wrong and is evil, and that one can’t truly follow Jesus Christ in a Pluralistic society, and as long as Pope Francis advocates general principles of forgiveness and mercy and not harsh judgement, the fate of an LGBT Catholic will depend on his diocese or individual pastor.

    To a cradle Catholic, 81 years old, this means as long as Pope Francis chooses to remain on the sidelines regarding LGBT issues and controversies, nothing will change the Church’s teaching regarding same gender relationships in my lifetime.
    The vast majority of Catholics younger than I are receptive to a change in Church doctrine while the majority of those of my generation are not. The hierarchy, Bishops, etc., fall into this category and the Pope is unwilling “to create a mess” by advocating a change.
    But change is inevitable! The pity is that the Catholic church hierarchy, rather than promoting, participating in and leading the change, will eventually be forced to accept the change or Catholicism will become extinct in another century or two. None of us will be around to witness this but it will evolve and it will most likely occur.

    But Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, will continue to be the centerfold of spiritual liberty and religious freedom and His commandments of Love will prevail and Christianity will endure forever. As a Catholic who treasures receiving the Eucharist as often as possible, having the sacraments to enable enjoying the graces God provides, and using the Saints as role models of discipleship, I would like to see the Catholic church promote a truly inclusive approach and effect the appropriate ecclesiastical reforms. Love must be the focus and not sexuality! What Jesus taught in the Gospels must be the most essential Church teachings and the framework for Doctrine. Jesus Christ, and therefore Love, will endure forever! Future generations will continue to be created in His image and likeness, but our diversities will increase. What the Hierarchy of the Catholic Church may deem as impossible, must be done! For nothing is impossible with God.

    Ratzinger’s letter of Oct 31, 1986, entitled “Homosexualitatis Problema,” translates to “the problems of homosexuality” and which, 2 decades after Vatican II, still viewed homosexuality as a “condition.” There are obvious nuances in the letter of the pre-Vatican II mindset of the Church, despite the growing acceptance of homosexuality both within society and among practicing and faithful Catholics.Ratzinger’s letter was intended to reinforce the hierarchy’s 1975 “Declaration on certain questions concerning sexual ethics,” which implied that inherent in the homosexual condition was the tendency or inclination to engage in homosexual action, and asserted that the tendency was “intrinsically disordered,” and consequently the inclination itself was an “intrinsic moral evil.”

    Thirty years ago probably more than 90% of the Bishops believed the homosexual tendency was an “objective disorder” and “intrinsically immoral.” While the 2015 Synod of Bishops deplored the use the use of such terms, the majority of Bishops still contend that same-gender relationships are evil and same gender couples or partners cannot be accepted as practicing Catholics. And while the majority of younger Catholics feel otherwise and are open to change, the majority of my generation still agree with the ”kiss my ring: your holiness” Bishops.

    In defense of the my – generation – Catholics, I have to acknowledge(confess) that I also was of the attitude “what Mother Church teaches is good enough for me!” I was obedient(complacent) in following Church Doctrine. But then in mid-life I was compelled to show empathy, to listen and learn, and eventually “take my head out of the sand.” Since then I have come to know and love many gay and lesbian children of God and have learned so much about them. I will summarize my learning experience with the belief that Jesus is as pleased with them as He is with me and with most of the righteous people I know.

    So Pope Francis has a difficult task. And while it is still uncertain if He would accept a change in doctrine, He undeniably has done so much for the LGBT community by justly addressing the issue with sensitivity, compassion and wisdom and strongly encouraging dialogue. He has become a champion bridge builder between the LGBT community and the Catholic church. I was pleased to see His recent remarks including “Rigid Theology Makes the Holy Spirit Sad” when those (of my generation) focus solely on the strict observance of doctrine, which can “reduce the Spirit and the Son to a law.” I pray for His Holiness’s Health and Directness.

    • Peter Beacham
      Peter Beacham says:

      Why are you a fan of Fr Martin? He is just repeating the Catechism without advocating changing it.

      There would not be a need for a “two-way bridge” if the Church had not first artificially created the chasm between the LGBT community and doctrinaire Catholics which runs against scientific findings. First the Church created the chasm and then it started to fill it up with the tortured and burned bodies of LGBT people during the Inquisitions and hasn’t stopped abusing LGBT people to this day. The bridge could disappear if the Church admitted its mistake, eliminated homophobic ideas from the Catechism, and apologized unreservedly to the LGBT community.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] said at a New Ways Ministry event last fall that Francis has said to him explicitly, “There is no place for homophobia” in ministry. These are building blocks from which greater inclusion and justice can […]

  2. […] Yayo Grassi, a former student of the pope’s who remains close with Francis, shared a positive appraisal during New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award Ceremony in October. Following an address by Jesuit Fr. James Martin, Grassi, whose meeting with Pope Francis during his visit to the United States made headlines, said that in Argentina, as Cardinal Bergoglio, the pope disavowed harsh comments against marriage equality attributed to him as misrepresentations by the media. He had actually been writing to nuns in private correspondence to ask them not to use harsh rhetoric. Grassi also said the pope stated:,”In my pastoral work, there is no place for homophobia.” […]

  3. […] so-called “conversion therapy” and try to take away their equal human rights because of their own homophobia and call it the will of God, who would fight to get rid of groups like Planned Parenthood and all […]

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