Fr. James Martin Says Pope Francis’ LGBTQ Efforts Are “Nothing Short of Revolutionary”

Fr. James Martin meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican

Fr. James Martin, S.J., has called the space that Pope Francis is carving out for LGBTQ people “nothing short of revolutionary.”

“As I see it, the pope is carving out a much-needed space for L.G.B.T. people in the Catholic Church, with some clear boundaries. But even with those boundaries, it is a space much larger than any of his predecessors would have countenanced,” Martin writes in America.

Martin’s commentary is a response to papal remarks made by Francis during his recent visit to Slovakia, in-flight press conferences, and a letter to Martin. In each, the pope has consistently encouraged a pastoral outlook that centers compassion toward LGBTQ people in ministry.

Martin considers two aspects of the space that Francis is creating for LGBTQ people to be particularly notable:

“First, the pope’s consistently encouraging words for same-sex couples in civil unions and his desire not only to support legal protections but to accompany them pastorally is nothing short of revolutionary. Contrast that approach with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s recent description of same-sex marriage as a ‘distortion of conscience’ and Benedict’s comment in 2012 that it ‘threatens the future of humanity itself.

“Pope Francis’ support of legal protections for same-sex marriages also poses a challenge for the church in countries whose laws and customs violently oppose any sort of acceptance of L.G.B.T. people. A recent book by Mark Gevisser called The Pink Line provides a comprehensive and often shocking look at the barriers to L.G.B.T. people living peacefully as individuals, let alone as couples, in many parts of the world. Gevisser’s book details the beatings, harassment and violence faced by L.G.B.T. people—especially couples—that force some to flee their countries as refugees. So the pope’s words, which may seem tepid in the West, may be received as white-hot in other locales.”

But even if perceived as tepid for our U.S. culture, Martin notes that Francis’ “encouragement to reach out pastorally not simply to L.G.B.T. individuals but, as he said to the Slovakian Jesuits, ‘homosexual couples,’ also stands in contrast to the practice of many institutions in the United States, often with the encouragement of local bishops, to fire employees who are in same-sex marriages.”

Martin does note the limitations to Francis’ support, referencing the pope’s critique of “gender ideology” and reinforcement of teachings that limit the sacrament of marriage to between a man and a woman. Pushing back against the pope’s critiques, Martin writes:

“The reality of people’s lived experiences, as reported by L.G.B.T. people, seems more complex. The vast majority of  L.G.B.T. people, especially transgender people, say that they are not responding to any philosophical or political  ‘ideology,’ as much as living out who they believe themselves to be, often in the face of the severest persecution.”

Martin concludes his piece with the following:

“Pope Francis’ pastoral approach, then, can be seen as one that seeks to offer care, welcome and accompaniment, within certain limits. But the space that he has carved out is far larger than the limited space allowed by his predecessors. Francis’ approach, as I see it, far better expresses and resembles the ‘closeness, compassion and tenderness’ of God to a community of people who are our brothers, sisters and siblings.

“The church still has far to go, but Francis is inviting us to walk in the right direction.”

Martin paints a promising picture of the space that Pope Francis is creating for LGBTQ people in the Catholic Church. In a church that moves forward cautiously and accepts change at glacial paces, I agree with Martin that these remarks are significant and provide opportunities for LGBTQ Catholics to push the conversation forward.

Barbara Anne Kozee, New Ways Ministry, October 21, 2021

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