In Wake of Vatican Ban, Reckoning with the Two Faces of Pope Francis on LGBTQ Issues

At the center of the dispute over the Vatican’s recent ban on blessing same-gender couples has been Pope Francis’ role. Earlier this week, Bondings 2.0 presented reports that the pope seeme to distance himself from the ban in his Sunday Angelus address, but many people still blame the pope. When it comes to Francis, it seems there is no resolution yet on what some observers consider his two faces on LGBTQ issues.

Paul Elie of Georgetown University took up the question of Pope Francis’ mixed messages in relation to the ban in The New Yorkerwriting, “The responsum was no great surprise, but its absolutizing language was, because it runs counter to Pope Francis’s emphasis on the Church as an agent less of judgment than of mercy.” On the question of why the pope allowed such a document to be published, Elie writes:

“Why, then, did he let it come out? [Sources] cited various extenuating circumstances: Francis is the head of a global Church, not just of the Church in progressive Europe. He is practicing realpolitik—throwing traditionalists a bone so as to keep their support on other issues. He was outfoxed by the clerical bureaucrats of the C.D.F., who met surreptitiously to draft the document and then pushed it through while he was busy preparing for his long-anticipated trip to Iraq. . .

“Circumstances don’t diminish either the sting of the document or the Pope’s responsibility for it, however.”

Elie is unconvinced that Francis was too busy to read a document, to which he assented, according to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s document.  Elie contends that arguments about same-gender unions should be downplayed in a global church fall flat. He concludes:

“The new responsum, in effect, leaves L.G.B.T.Q. Catholics in limbo, trying to make sense of a Church that will not deign to bless their lives. And it suggests that, on matters of marriage and sexuality, Pope Francis’s pontificate, too, is in a kind of limbo—unable to accompany people on the margins, because the Church itself is doing the marginalizing, and stymied by juridical formulas so heartless that the Pope winds up trying to distance himself from them.”

(Worth noting, too, is Elie’s highlighting of comments by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York in which the cardinal downplayed the responsum‘s impact while also failing to mention LGBTQ people entirely. For Elie’s full piece, click here.)

In The Daily Beast, several people interviewed also spoke to the pope’s role in this controversy. Jobert Abueva, who is gay and left the church, commented, “I have lost all hope. . .It’s as if his progressive thinking has been squelched by more powerful forces with the church and he has since had to retreat.”

Dawn Ennis, a transgender former Catholic, added, “As Pope Francis’s health fails and he is under greater control from conservative forces within the Vatican, I have zero hope and just as much interest. . .People who once believed he would bring change need to say their goodbyes and walk away.”

But not all of those interviewed in The Daily Beast were so condemnatory of Francis. Michelle Fitzhugh-Craig, a Black lesbian journalist, said of the pope, “I believe in him, as a man, as a human being. . .even though I still question much of the papacy’s leadership.”

In a final note, news broke on Wednesday that Pope Francis had appointed a gay man, Juan Carlos Cruz, as a member of the Pontifical Council for the Protection of Minors. Cruz, who is a survivor of clergy abuse himself, has publicly criticized Francis in the past. Most recently, he sharply criticized the Vatican’s blessings ban, comparing it to the Inquisition.

All of this adds up to further confusion about where Pope Francis truly lands on LGBTQ issues. Unfortunately, Paul Elie is spot on that, as of now, both LGBTQ Catholics and the Francis pontificate are further in limbo after last week.

On Sunday, March 28, 2020, Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, will be addressing Boston’s LGBTQ Catholics Unite group on “Pope Francis’ Two Faces on LGBTQ+ Issues.” The program begins at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time. If you are interested in attending this Zoom event, please email for more information.

New Ways Ministry has documented both Pope Francis’ positive and negative words and actions over the last eight years of his pontificate in a chronology available here

Thousands of Catholics worldwide are pledging to bless same-gender couples. If you have not already added your name to New Ways Ministry’s pledge, you can do so here

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 25, 2021

Other Resources

For all the previous posts concerning the Vatican’s ban on blessing same-gender couples, click here.

For a listing of Catholic leaders who have spoken positively about same-gender relationships and unions, click here.

For information about a Catholic blessing for a same-gender couple, click here.

For more information on how to be welcoming to married same-gender couples, click here.



4 replies
  1. Thomas Ellison
    Thomas Ellison says:

    Mr.Elie’s assertion that the Pope assented to a document he had not fully read seems astonishing. But I would rather think that than believe Francis would throw so many hopeful Catholics , regardless of orientation, under the Popemobile. I am glad to see bishops and others , in Europe as well as the U.S. , push back against this unhelpful stance. Now, I await papal clarification. Should I hold my breath ? Or not ?

  2. Joseph B Sankovich
    Joseph B Sankovich says:

    Having been following the CDF statement on not blessing LGBTQ marriages, it would appear that some good oldfashioned Catholic theology is in order. First, in the traditional celebration of a Catholic marriage, the priest stands as a witness and the couple confer the sacrament upon one another. With this thought in mind, what would be the problem of recognizing the community gathered to witness or honor a same-sex union, one that in its very nature is love-affirming, for the couple to stand before the gathered community or congregation, and that congregation raise both hands and recite their blessing over the couple? It is the responsibility of the community to assert its role in both acceptance and support of its members. This is just one more way of pulling back power from the institutional church, from hierarchs who have throughout the centuries abused that power. To paraphrase Richard Rohr, “God has created man in His image, and man (the institutional structure and hierarchs) has returned the favor.”

    DON SIEGAL says:

    Reckoning with the Two Faces of Pope Francis on LGBTQ Issues

    I’d like all of the contributors to Bondings 2.0 to respond to my thoughts on the topic of this blog, “Reckoning with the Two Faces of Pope Francis on LGBTQ Issues.”

    All of Pope Francis’ favorable remarks for the queer Catholic community have been made in an informal venue. At the same time, in all official circumstances, he has always held close to traditional Church teachings. Why do we believe he does that?

    Is he truly hypocritical, or is he trying to avoid a confrontation (and perhaps even a Church dividing issue) with the minority but very vociferous alt-right members of our Catholic community? Although, there is no process that they could use to remove Francis from his office as pope; this right-wing faction of our Church could make life exceedingly difficult for him as they have already done in the past with the four dubia of several years ago.

    So, let’s put on our theological caps and find out what all of you think about this topic.

  4. Greg Saville
    Greg Saville says:

    There is no greater devout Catholic than President Biden. The conference of Bishops starting the rebuking process is an Abomination and a sin. They need to stay in their Lane. I’m a believer of separation of church and state! In the 1960s it was a different time and era when the Supreme Court legalized abortion. I believe in a woman’s right to choose. I am Catholic! In the 1960s they were worried the pope would have an influence in the Oval Office because JFK was Catholic. This was not the case. People that live in Glass Houses should not throw stones, IE the Catholic Church crisis. I was abused when I was younger and the local Franciscans tried but did not succeed. If a Catholic did not make it to the holy days, did not practice, and was on his deathbed and the family called in a priest to give him the holy sacrament of last rites, would he be denied? I would think not. Funerals are for the living not the Dead. Pope Francis himself said “Who am I to judge?” in reference to homosexuality. You have another crisis to worry about without the Bishops trying to gain brownie points for rebuking President Biden. I’m proud to say that I helped vote that big fat orange tabby pussycat out of the White House. That is what most bullies usually are great big Pussycats! There is not a more devout Catholic than President Biden. You need to stay the hell in your lane and if you live in a glass house do not throw stones. The pope said quote who am I to judge when asked about homosexuality when returning from Brazil. I believe in separation of church and state. I also believe that you can express your opinion oh, freedom of speech. The Supreme Court Justices vow to enforce the laws of the land and not let their opinion interfere. It was a different time and error when abortion was legalized. I believe in a woman’s right to choose even though I identify as Catholic. That is my opinion. I believe the Supreme Court got the Hobby Lobby birth control issue wrong. The owner of Hobby Lobby is free to go about in practice religion as he chooses. Denying a woman birth control and trying to overrule the woman’s personal doctor is wrong. Pope Francis please have the rebuking process stopped dead in its tracks and reversed. Please pray for me!!!

    Peace of Christ,

    Greg Saville

    p.s. What would Jesus do?
    p.p.s Who are the bishops to judge?


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