As Pope Francis Blesses Priest’s Ministry, Vatican Seeks Changes to Non-Discrimination Bill

Fr. James Martin at a previous audience with Pope Francis

The contrast between Pope Francis and the Vatican when it comes to LGBTQ issues was again on display this past week with Francis sending a positive note to Fr. James Martin while the Curia is mired in a diplomatic dispute.

Jesuit Priest with LGBTQ Ministry Receives Papal Note

Fr. James Martin, SJ, received Pope Francis’ handwritten note ahead of last Saturday’s “Outreach 2021” conference on LGBTQ pastoral ministry (more on that meeting in a future post later this week). Martin posted a photo of the note, which was written in Spanish, along with an English translation on social media. The letter (full text available here) reads, in part:

“Regarding your PS [about the Outreach LGBT Ministry Conference] I want to thank you for your pastoral zeal and your ability to be close to people, with the closeness that Jesus had, and which reflects the closeness of God. . .God’s ‘style’ has three elements: closeness, compassion and tenderness. This is how he comes closer to each one of us.”

“Thinking about your pastoral work, I see that you are continually seeking to imitate this style of God. You are a priest for all men and women, just s God is a Father for all men and women. I pray for you to continue in this way, being close, compassionate, and with great tenderness.

“And I pray for your faithful, your ‘flock,’ and all those whom the Lord places in your care, so that you protect them, and make them grow in the love of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”

According to The Tablet, the pope’s note is “the first-ever written papal endorsement of a priest’s ministry to LGBT Catholics.” It is notable as well given the opposition Martin has faced since publishing Building a Bridgea book he wrote based on an address given after receiving New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award in 2016.

Martin posted on Facebook about his reaction to the letter, which he described as a “beautiful message,” adding:

“[It] is an encouragement and inspiration for all those who minister to LGBTQ Catholics in our church. Moreover, it is a reminder to LGBTQ people themselves that God loves them with, in the Pope’s words, ‘closeness, compassion and tenderness.’ Pope Francis also understands how important it is to reach out to all those on the margins–just as Jesus did during his public ministry.”

Vatican Muddles Response to Italian LGBTQ Bill

In contrast to the pope’s note, Vatican officials have prompted a dispute over Italy’s so-called “Zan bill” to enhance non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. Previously, Bondings 2.0 reported that for the first time the Holy See exercised a right under the Lateran Treaty with Italy to raise its concerns about the bill.

Now, Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin has responded. Crux reported:

“In his interview with [Vatican News editorial director Andrea] Tornielli, Parolin stressed that in the Holy See’s complaint, ‘in no way has it been asked to block the law.’

“‘We are against any attitude or gesture of intolerance of hatred towards people because of their sexual orientation, as well as their ethnicity or their beliefs,’ he said, insisting that for the Vatican, the issue involves ‘problems that could arise if a test with vague and uncertain contents were adopted, which would end up shifting the definition of what is a crime and what is not at the judicial stage, but without giving the judge the necessary parameters to distinguish.’ . . .

“Parolin referred to the negative blowback the Vatican has received for intervening in the approval process of a civil law which has yet to be passed, saying the decision to make a preventative move was to highlight potential problems ‘before it is too late.'”

Italian Premier Mario Draghi has rejected the Vatican’s interference, affirming to legislators that Italy was “a secular state, not a confessional state.” While concurring with Draghi about Italy’s secular nature, the cardinal said the Holy See’s communication was entirely appropriate and in a spirit of open dialogue. Parolin did, however, express frustration the communication had been leaked.

According to the National Catholic Reporter, celebrations of Pride planned in Rome and other Italian cities are being transformed into protests against the Vatican’s attempt to distort the non-discrimination bill, which still faces an uncertain future in the Italian parliament’s upper house. All of this could have been avoided, or at least mitigated, writes Crux’s John Allen, if the Vatican had just been public about its concerns with the bill in the first place.

With these two items, Catholics are left once again to make sense for themselves of the dissonance between the pastoral overtures of their pope and the bureaucratic workings of the curia. The inconsistencies are at times frustrating, maddening even. But the space between these two impulses–one looking to a future now being realized, the other to a past being eclipsed–is precisely where our work as LGBTQ people and allies is to be done, with closeness, compassion, and tenderness.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 29, 2021

Related Articles

The New York Times, “Pope Sends More Mixed Messages on L.G.B.T.Q. Rights

The Washington Post, “Pope Francis compares work of U.S. priest whose ministry affirms LGBTQ people to the work of God

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