Reactions have been mixed in the days since news broke that Pope Francis told a gay man who survived clergy sexual abuse, “God made you like this.” The following is a sample of opinions from Catholic and LGBTQ leaders.
Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, wrote in The Advocate that should the pope’s comments stand without further clarification or retraction, “the door for significant changes in Catholic teaching on homosexuality and gender identity may have been opened.” She continued:
“The pope saying that God created an individual as gay goes far beyond a pastoral statement of welcome, as many are characterizing the conversation. It sets a new foundation for Catholic teaching about sexual orientation that is very different than what has been traditionally stated. . .This calls for a profound reformation of current Catholic teaching on homosexuality, which is dehumanizing and degrading. Many find it a total contradiction of the teaching of Jesus. And as we have seen over and over, church leaders and ordinary Catholics also struggle with its implications once they take the time to get to know LGBTQI people and listen to our stories. The pope’s encounter with Juan Carlos Cruz appears to be another instance in which the experience of meeting one-on-one in an atmosphere of open-hearted listening and respect was transformative.”
(You can also read DignityUSA’s press statement on the pope’s comments by clicking here.)
But Reverend Irene Monroe, a lesbian theologian, challenged Duddy-Burke’s argument, writing in San Diego Gay & Lesbian News:
“However, I don’t interpret Francis’s pastoral moment with Cruz as having dogma-transforming ramifications, because he has flipped- flopped on us too many times, as he has with the church abuse scandal. . .Pope Francis is the consummate flip-flopper of our time. He doublespeaks on issues- first, he defends the abusive priest and now the survivor. He embraces the LGBTQAI community and then he doesn’t. His pastoral demeanor cloaks the iron-fisted church bureaucratic that he is. . .It’s not enough for Francis to say he embraces our community- privately or publicly. He must also do it.”
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, said in a statement:
“If the comments are true, this represents a remarkable shift in official Catholic discourse on LGBT issues. Instead of the more passive ‘Who am I to judge?’ the pope is expressing a much stronger affirmation of gay and lesbian people than he, or any previous pope or Vatican official, has ever done. . .Our hope, though, is that Pope Francis would say these words publicly, not just in the context of a private conversation. LGBT people need to hear this message proclaimed, not just whispered. Such a message stated publicly would do an immense amount of good towards effecting healing and reconciliation with so many people alienated from the church because of sexuality issues.”
DeBernardo also told Salon that even though good, the statement “doesn’t change the church’s teachings” but does show Pope Francis’ willingness to dialogue with and learn from LGBT people. He added that on transgender issues, the pope does not have “a good handle of the science.”
Some voices were far more critical of the pope. Nico Lang wrote in Into that “every step Pope Francis tentatively takes forward will just serve to obscure the two he already took back.”
Bobby Finger at Jezebel, who was raised Catholic, wrote:
“So to have the church’s current leader telling a gay man who was sexually abused by a priest when he was a child that, you know what, never mind what we told you your entire life, feels less commendable and woke than shamefully dismissive of a lifetime of torment. It’s a nice step, but not one that erases a history of systemic abuse. So, before we start praising this Pope once again for behaving at what should be an absolute baseline for human decency, let’s not forget where he works, and the unconscionable, often irreparable damage they have done to gay people for centuries—including this current one.”
Jay Michaelson, writing in The Daily Beast, offered a more positive appraisal.
“This wasn’t just a kind statement made to a gay person; it was encouragement to every gay victim of priestly abuse to come forward as Cruz has done. . .Pope Francis’ statement is yet another shot across the bow of Catholic traditionalists, already aghast at his earlier statement of ‘who am I to judge’ a gay person, and his many statements that unfettered capitalism is evil.
“Now, Pope Francis’ word is not law. Nothing has changed in Catholic teaching. Homosexuality is still ‘intrinsically disordered.’ There are to be no openly gay priests, no official gay Catholic organizations, certainly no gay marriage. Again, there’s a wide gap between what Pope Francis said and what LGBT advocates demand.
“But ‘God made you this way’ is more than ‘who am I to judge.’ It’s an affirmation, not a negation. And whatever its doctrinal impact, it has already moved many gay Catholics to tears. And answered their prayers.”
Finally, Tisha Ramirez at Preen said the pope’s latest statement on homosexuality was a small step, reminding readers of where change really comes from in the Catholic Church: “This also goes to show that we can’t always rely on institutions to make a change, we have to be part of it too.”
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 27, 2018