Pope Francis has appointed several new members to his Council of Cardinals, his top advisory group, who have LGBTQ-positive records.
The Vatican announced changes to the Council’s membership earlier this week, as the term for previous appointments had expired, reported UCA News. The Council’s role is to assist Pope Francis in governance matters. One of its major projects to date is the new apostolic constitution for the Roman Curia, Praedicate Evangelium, released last year which reorganized the Vatican’s departments. Other projects include the Synod, financial reforms, and dealing with sexual abuse in the church. Among the five new members are two with LGBTQ-positive records:
Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg: Hollerich, who also serves as Relator General for the Synod and holds leadership posts in European episcopal networks, condemned discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in strong terms during an interview with the Vatican’s official newspaper last October. He made similar comments earlier in 2022. Previously, he has supported church workers in Germany’s #OutInChurch initiative, offered an openness to same-gender church blessings, and defended gay priests scapegoated for the church’s sexual abuse scandal. At one point, he had called for a reconsideration of the church’s teachings on homosexuality, but later walked his comments back a bit. Importantly, Hollerich is only 64 years old, which leaves him more than decade before bishops reach the mandatory retirement age.
Cardinal Sérgio da Rocha of São Salvador da Bahia: In 2021, da Rocha celebrated a Mass in memory of the many LGBTQ+ people killed in Brazil the previous year, violence that was particularly intense in his region of the country. At the Mass, which was requested by two LGBTQ+ groups, the cardinal said such violence is a “sad signal” for society and that the church suffers alongside victims. Notably, the liturgy included a performance of “Ave Maria” from a drag performer. Advocates were particularly moved that Da Rocha, who is the Primate of Brazil and a former head of the Episcopal Conference of Brazil, used the full term “LGBTI+”. The cardinal is also young for a high-ranking prelate: 63 years old.
Other new members named to the Council are Cardinals Gérald C. Lacroix of Quebec; Juan José Omella Omella of Barcelona; and Fernando Vérgez Alzaga, president of the Vatican City State.
Three cardinals whose Council memberships were renewed have made several significant statements on LGBTQ+ issues. The first two have been mostly positive, and the third one is somewhat mixed.
Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai: Gracias has spoken positively about LGBTQ+ people as far back as 2013, saying just months after Pope Francis’ election that priests need to be more sensitive in their language sexual minorities. He advocated publicly for the decriminalization of homosexuality long before India’s Supreme Court struck down a colonial-era law banning same-gender relations. At that time, he was the only major religious leader in India who opposed an initiative to recriminalize LGBTQ+ people. Gracias, former head of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, spoke out for better pastoral care during the 2014 Synod on the Family. He said to LGBTQ+ Catholics in an interview with Bondings 2.0 that the church “embraces you, wants you, needs you.” In terms of pastoral care, the cardinal was instrumental in the launch of both Rainbow Catholics India and a hotline to help LGBTQ+ Catholics.
Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston: O’Malley, who is a longtime and close advisor to the pope, has a record that is only somewhat positive when it comes to LGBTQ+ issues. In a 2014 conversation with Bondings 2.0, the cardinal said the trend of LGBTQ+ church worker firings “needs to be rectified,” becoming the first U.S. bishop to condemn such discrimination. He also welcomed children of LGBTQ+ parents to Catholic schools. However, in 2021, after the Vatican issued its ban on same-gender blessings, O’Malley demurred when asked about it, stating only that the church needed to proclaim its teaching on marriage. He made a similarly non-committal statement about Pope Francis’ support for same-gender civil unions in 2020.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State for the Holy See: In 2021, Parolin, as the Vatican’s top diplomat, was involved in a controversy over the Vatican’s historic intervention in Italian politics against a proposal to enhance non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people. Parolin later defended the move, though also said such discrimination needed to be addressed. In 2019, Parolin met with fifty LGBTQ+ advocates to discuss ending the criminalization of homosexuality and conversion therapy. Previously, the cardinal described Irish voters’ passage of marriage equality in 2015 as a “defeat for humanity,” and has said it was “essential” that Italian law reflect a difference between same-gender unions and marriage. At 68 years old, there are rumors Parolin is a contender to succeed Francis at the next conclave.
The other previous member renewed is Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu of Kinshasa, who was appointed to the Council two years ago and is only 63 years old.
The outgoing members of the Council, all whom were members since 2013, are Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, who has made positive comments about LGBTQ+ people previously; Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga of Tegucigalpa; and Giuseppe Bertello, former president of the Vatican City State.
—Robert Shine (he/him), March 9, 2023