Pope Francis told international LGBTQ+ advocates yesterday to “go forward,” the latest in the pontiff’s many positive gestures to queer Catholics during his weekly audiences.
As the Synod assembly met nearby, Francis spoke for several minutes with Global Network of Rainbow Catholics (GNRC) leaders in St. Peter’s Square. The leaders present were co-chairs Christopher Vella and Marianne Duddy-Burke, as well as media officer Ruby Almeida and supporter Alessandro Previti. According to a GNRC statement:
“The delegation presented a letter to the Holy Father, highlighting the experiences of LGBTIQ+ Catholics. . .Chris [Vella] poignantly expressed, ‘Just like the church needs to ground its message in local cultures, the LGBT+ Catholics need to ground their faith in their own lives’. Ruby urged for heightened attention towards marginalised communities, saying, ‘we ask the pope to pray and bless the work we are doing with the Church.’; the pope welcomed Ruby’s hug.”
“Christopher Vella acknowledged Pope Francis’s commitment to decriminalising LGBT+ individuals globally and emphasised the need for continuous efforts in this direction. The Pope’s response, ‘andate avanti’ (move forward), reflects a sentiment deeply rooted in the Church’s evolving stance on inclusivity, especially considering the significant discussions surrounding the LGBT community in the ongoing synod.”
GNRC includes nearly 50 member groups from around the world, including founding member New Ways Ministry, which are invested in Catholic LGBTQ+ equality. Duddy-Burke, who is also the executive director of DignityUSA, added in a statement, “I believe it is another step on the path to greater inclusion, respect and just treatment of LGBTQIA+ people in our church.” The delegation greeted by Pope Francis gifted him video testimonies from LGBTQ+ Catholics, member groups’ reports for the Synod, and other items.
Joshua McElwee, news editor for the National Catholic Reporter, commented in his report on the encounter:
” ‘[Pope] Francis has focused on LGBTQ Catholics in an uncommon way over the past few weeks.’ McElwee noted that last week, the pope ‘held an historic, 50-minute meeting‘ with Sister Jeannine Gramick and New Ways Ministry staff. He also met with Fr. James Martin, S.J., who is in Rome as a delegate at the Synod assembly, and wrote a short note to Stan “JR” Zerkowski, executive director of Fortunate Families, saying, ‘Thank you for your ministry.’
Pope Francis repeatedly has used his weekly audiences, at which thousands gather to hear him give a brief catechesis, as an opportunity to welcome LGBTQ+ people and their families.
Yesterday’s encounter was the latest of several encounters Pope Francis has had with LGBTQ+ Catholics at the audiences in St. Peter’s Square. In 2015, a group of New Ways Ministry pilgrims were granted V.I. P. seating at such an audience on Ash Wednesday. Likewise in 2019, the pope greeted pilgrims with the LGBT+ Westminster Pastoral Council from England. In 2020, Francis received a group of Italian parents with LGBTQ+ children, who presented him with a new book of their stories, to which he replied, “The church loves your children as they are.” (An English edition of the book, Blessed Parents, was later released by New Ways Ministry.) At a 2022 audience, the pope told members of the Italian LGBTQ+ group La Tenda di Gionata that he seeks a church that “that excludes no one.” Francis regularly welcomes a community of transgender women in Rome to the weekly audiences, as well as having held a private meeting with them this past June.
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, October 26, 2023