The following is a statement from Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director, regarding the passing of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
New Ways Ministry offers prayers for the repose of the soul of the Benedict XVI, the Pope Emeritus, who passed away on December 31, 2022.
Before becoming pope in 2005, Benedict, known then as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, had an outsized influence on the Church’s approach to gay and lesbian people and issues. As the principal author of the 1986 “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons,” he introduced the term “objective disorder” into the Church’s vocabulary to describe a homosexual orientation. He also oversaw the production of the 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church, which described sexual activity between two people of the same gender as “acts of grave depravity.”
These documents caused—and still cause—grave pastoral harm to many LGBTQ+ people and to Catholics who see the goodness, holiness, and God-given love in the relationships of queer couples. While Cardinal Ratzinger’s statements were intended to settle the debate on homosexuality in the church, they merely widened the debate. Many Catholic theologians, leaders, and people in the pews question this teaching and seek doctrinal renewal on LGBTQ+ issues. Sadly, Cardinal Ratzinger’s words caused many Catholics to leave the church, some going to other Christian denominations or other faiths, and some rejecting any kind of institutional religion.
In 1998, Sister Jeannine Gramick, a co-founder of New Ways Ministry, encountered Cardinal Ratzinger on a flight from Rome to Munich. Sister Jeannine and her ministry colleague, Father Robert Nugent, were being investigated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which was directed by Cardinal Ratzinger. The following year, the pair were barred from ministry with the LGBTQ+ community. While Father Nugent complied with the order, Sister Jeannine objected.
Sister Jeannine described her airplane conversation as experiencing the Cardinal’s humanity: warm and friendly, gentle, humorous, and personable. While disagreeing with his views on homosexuality, she sensed he was of a man of deep faith and deeply committed to the Church in the service of God’s people.
At one point in the conversation, she asked him if he ever met lesbian and gay people. He answered, “When Pope John Paul II and I were in Berlin, there was a demonstration of homosexuals.” She was saddened because his response indicated that he had not had a personal relationship with lesbian and gay people; his image of them was as protestors, not as the full, loving, and faith-filled human beings whom she had come to know.
Benedict’s approach to gay and lesbian issues was clearly hindered by the fact that he did not understand the human dimension of love and relationship that characterizes same-gender couples and individuals. He relied on centuries-old, abstract philosophical and theological ideas instead of learning about more recent understandings of sexuality. Most importantly, he failed to listen to the lived experiences of real people.
While clearly a man of faith seeking to act with good intentions, his resistance to engaging the lives, love, and faith of actual human beings means he will be remembered as a church leader who did not listen pastorally to those the Church serves. In contrast, Pope Francis, his successor, has called for pastoral leaders to be listeners and learners, particularly in ministry with those on the margins of church and society, such as LGBTQ+ people.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, December 31, 2022