New Ways Ministry Marks the Passing of Benedict XVI

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




12 replies
  1. Paula Mattras
    Paula Mattras says:

    I am saddened that Pope Benedict avoided expanding his knowledge of LGBTQ persons and their issues. If only he had taken the time to get to know some of them I believe he would have come to realize their “intrinsic” goodness and their struggles to “overcome” the very that they are could have been avoided. We love “all our children” and trust that God created them in the vein that they exist equally in the love that we all were created. Sincere gratitude for continuing to educate. If we are to experience peace in this world many issues need to be brought out to the sunshine and fresh air. God bless EVERYone.

  2. Frances Kirschner
    Frances Kirschner says:

    Dear Frank,
    When hearing of Pope Benedict’s illness and now death, I was unable to think of any response let alone express my true feelings. In your commentary you have given me those words.
    Thank you,


    Thank you for all your efforts in bringing our Catholic Church to a more realistic view of secular life! At least the LGBTQI+ population is getting favorable affirmation from some church authorities which is a step in the right direction.
    God bless you!

  4. Duane Sherry
    Duane Sherry says:

    Benedict serves as a reminder of the importance of relying on conscience and reason when trying to discern church teaching, even statements from a Pope.

    I have a moral obligation to reject his brutal statements about LBGT people. They were the antithesis of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

    May his time in purgatory be painless. May he find peace. May those of us still here on earth find a more loving path.

  5. Claire Jenkins9
    Claire Jenkins9 says:

    In 2008 “Pope Benedict XVI suggested that the need to save mankind from a destructive blurring of gender roles is as important as saving the rainforests.” However, the church has subsequently failed to adequately understand the varity of trans people and listen to their lived reality.

  6. Dave Rask
    Dave Rask says:

    I somewhat disagree. Although I joined an Episcopal church for two years during his homophobic reign (and again later for two years due to his bad bishop appointment for the Twin Cities) I’ve come to view him as an excellent theologian and a good man. Yes he was shortsighted but so is most of the rest of the world. I developed sympathy for him partly owing to the film “The Two Popes.” He was great enough to be humble enough to resign when he realized he wasn’t up to the demands of the job. In any case I’m no longer a “yes, but” Catholic but a fully affirmative one.

  7. David G.
    David G. says:

    Thank you for the tone you set in this post. It gave me space to reflect on the impact of this man’s life without the heavy overlay of feigned appreciation so often expected at the time of death. Though I have never been Catholic, I have been deeply affected by the Catholic Church as a student at two Catholic universities and an admirer of many Catholic spiritual writers. The language of being intrinsically disordered was profoundly hurtful to me as a gay man. I pause to reflect on how my ideas too might be divorced from others’ lived experience. And I grieve again the wound of being treated as a mistaken idea rather than as a person.

  8. John R
    John R says:

    Very well said, Francis DeBernardo! I saw the film, “In Good Conscience” in which Sr. Jeannine tried to meet with the then Cardinal Ratzinger in Rome. An excellent film, too!

  9. Gary Stavella
    Gary Stavella says:

    Very well said. For one who at some point in their career would have been responsible for pastoral care of a diocese, or group of other religious men and women, etc for Benedict to respond to Sr Jeannine’s question by mentioning ‘a demonstration’ as his one contact with ‘homosexuals’ indicates a willful ignorance of people as individual human beings. This avoidance of his also seemed to have allow him label others ‘disordered’ without having to actually take the responsibility to understand them. Resulting in the pain, suffering and alienation of millions of LGBTQ+ people around the world. I am grateful though that he did eventually come to the personal realization that he was unfit to be Pope, and resign. May he rest in peace.

  10. Loras Michel
    Loras Michel says:

    Perhaps the greatest agony and perhaps the purgatory awareness in this life is to realize that ones whole life has been intrinsically disordered — a term which often can come back to bite one. Benedict did have that time to realize, now too late, that decisions made years prior have hurt so many people. We all share some of that. But even harder is the strength to admit this publicly — thus taking that to the grave. I believe there will be long conversations with God and the Saints (some of whom are LGBTQ) on this and eventually all will be welcomed home like the wayward son.

  11. Tyler-Mary
    Tyler-Mary says:

    It doesn’t surprise me that Benedict XVI had zero contact with our community, even though the Church has many gay and lesbian clergy, faculty and staff. It deeply saddens me, but I continue to believe and I continue to pray for our church leaders who desperately need our prayers. May their hearts be open to all of God’s children and families, not just those who fit the church’s ideal mold. ❤️ May God grant unto him eternal peace and rest to his reposed soul.


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