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Faith Leaders Respond to Pope Francis’s Comments on LGBT People

Pope Francis in focus with crowd in background

Members of the National Religious Leadership Roundtable, convened by the National LGBTQ Task Force, responded today to comments made by Pope Francis on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people.

In an extensive interview released today, Pope Francis said that the Roman Catholic church had grown “obsessed” with preaching against marriage for same-sex couples, abortion and contraception. He also said that despite recriminations from some critics, he has chosen not to speak of those issues.

Pope Francis said the church has the right to express its opinions but not to “interfere spiritually” in the lives of LGBT people, expanding on comments he made in July about not judging LGBT people.

“It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time. The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently,” said Pope Francis.

He further added: “Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person? We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”

Responses from National Religious Leadership Roundtable Members

Reflections by Pope Francis on reordering Catholic moral and theological priorities are welcome. Decades of focus by institutional church officials on what Catholic theologian Daniel C. Maguire baptized ‘the pelvic zone issues’ have rendered the Roman Catholic Church outdated and unhelpful when it comes to dealing with today’s moral dilemmas: war, ecological crisis, poverty, racism, healthcare, and the wellbeing of women and dependent children. Progressive Catholics, especially women, have been working on these issues for a long time. It is good to see some members of the hierarchy begin to join the struggle.

What needs to happen next is for Francis’ words about the church as ‘the holy, faithful people of God’ to become the basis of new ecclesial structures, new forms of shared ministry, leadership, and authority. Then, rather than applauding a pope for saying obvious and necessary things that bring Catholicism into the twentieth, if not twenty-first century, the world can take seriously the voices of all Catholics who engage in the sacred work of doing justice.

Mary E. Hunt, Ph.D., Co-Director, Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER)

We find much to be hopeful about, particularly in the Pope’s firm desire that the Church be a ’home for all people,’ and his belief that God looks on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people with love rather than condemnation.

LGBT Catholics and allies will rejoice in the Pope’s call for Church leaders to focus on being pastors rather than rule enforcers. We hope that the bishops will heed this call and immediately end their anti-LGBT campaigns, the firings of church workers for who they are, the attacks on people who challenge or question official teachings, and the exclusive and judgmental rhetoric that comes too often from our pulpits.

The Pope is unambiguous. Leave the bully pulpit, and accompany your people. We appreciate the Pope’s commitment to consultation, and his clear statement that the Church is all the people of God. We look forward to engaging members and leaders of the Church at all levels in ongoing dialogue about the issues of concern to LGBT Catholics and our families.

This could be a moment of deep renewal for our Church, and for its LGBT members. We hope, pray, and work to ensure this is so.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, Executive Director, DignityUSA

Pope Francis’ interview in an American magazine signals a new dawn of hope and promise for LGBT Catholics and their supporters. Pope Francis’ words and example have opened up new opportunities for the Catholic Church to welcome and dialogue with LGBT people. His words will give courage and hope to thousands of pastoral ministers and Catholic faithful who have been doing this work for many decades, but who have often received penalties and discouragements from church leaders who did not share this pope’s broad vision. His message signals a new day for a Catholic Church that is welcoming to all.

In the interview, Francis answers one of the most vexing questions since he was elected to the Catholic church’s highest office: Has his positive attitude toward LGBT issues and his penchant for not mentioning them controversially been intentional or circumstantial? In the interview, released today, he has let the world know that his approach has definitely been intentional, signaling a new direction in the way the papacy addresses these topics.

His answer — “I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context” — reflects not only good theology, but it reflects the pastoral wisdom that countless priests, nuns, deacons, and lay people have been practicing for decades in terms of their outreach to LGBT people. In parishes, college campuses, and faith communities, outreach to LGBT people has always been done in noting the full context of their lives, not just the sexual arena. Pastoral ministers have realized that focusing on the sexual arena was not only demeaning, but was spiritually deadening to both LGBT people and the entire faith community.

But the pope went further in his interview, too. The pope was asked how the Church can respond pastorally to marginalized groups, including same-sex couples. What is remarkable about his answer is that it is the first time that a pope has offered direction on pastoral care of LGBT people that did not focus solely on sexual behavior.

The pope said: “A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing.”

The pope’s interview, which should be read in its entirety, did not focus on LGBT issues. Instead it presents a beautiful picture of a humble, pastoral leader who seems willing to learn from all members of the Church.  In a discussion on the nature of the Church, he referred to it in the way that Vatican II did, as not just the hierarchy but the entire people of God

And he emphasized that the church is big enough to welcome ALL kinds of people.  This is directly opposite from Pope Benedict XVI’s approach when he said that he wanted to purify the church, even if that meant having a much smaller institution.

Millions of Catholics, millions of LGBT people, and many others, are eager to be part of such a church.

Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry

As a Christian pastor who understands the heart of the gospel to be justice and love for ALL God’s children, it is with gratitude that I receive the news of Pope Francis’ remarks. They mark a dramatic shift in tone whose impact is both welcome and needed. For too long, the Catholic Church’s ability to work on important justice issues has been marred because of the demeaning and abusive statements and actions toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and toward women who grapple with reproductive choices. As LGBT people die from violence around the world and women die from lack of access to reproductive services, Pope Francis’ statements may lead to life-saving changes.

Rev. Dr. Rebecca Voelkel, Faith Work Director, National LGBTQ Task Force

I am glad to hear the Pope’s comments and I am prayerful the Islamic faith will also adjust its focus as well.

Imam Daayiee, Light of Reform Mosque and Muslims for Progressive Values

Every crack in the door, or window, every generous, even if ambiguous, hint of openness from Pope Francis is encouraging — and we know will make many in the Vatican and the hierarchy nervous! More cause for rejoicing! That the Pope would take even a nuanced position in opposition to the slammed door policy of the last decades, is welcome, welcome, welcome. We love surprises like this, and we hear you, Pope Francis, we are listening. We would love to have a conversation, because the world is hungry for justice and compassion.

Rev. Dr. Nancy Wilson, Moderator, Metropolitan Community Churches

Pope Francis’ statement is part of a growing trend among religious leaders in the most historically conservative denominations.We’re seeing similar efforts among Evangelical leaders and among leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) to rein in institutional homophobia and make LGBT members feel more welcome. Hopefully as the climate in churches changes, LGBT and heterosexual coreligionists will increasingly be able to work together more effectively to advance the core Christian values of justice, community and love.

John Gustav-Wrathall, Senior Vice President, Affirmation: LGBT Mormons, Families & Friends

I am sure than many will be very excited by the interview and the ‘progressive’ nature of the Pope’s comments. For me, I pray that the Pope’s courage in speaking to the inclusivity of God’s love will inspire the practice of such love.  Love is not a feeling; it is a way of life in the Gospel. To proclaim a closed door with regard to women’s ordination weakens any hint of openness to LGBT people overall. Where misogyny lingers, there, too, does homophobia reside.

Rev. Pat Bumgardner, Senior Pastor, Metropolitan Community Church of New York

I am thrilled that the new Pope is taking this opportunity to speak about his vision for and of the church, particularly as it relates to the more recent hyper-focus on issues of sexuality and reproduction.   I believe that there are many within the progressive Baptist community around the world who will welcome the leadership that Pope Francis is offering on being the church for all and not a chapel for a few.

Rev. Robin R. Lunn, Executive Director, Association of Welcoming & Affirming Baptists

The recent comments by Pope Frances is proof positive that the church best serves God’s people when she is able to seek ways to build and not tear down, welcome and not alienate, grow in understanding and not walk bound by fear.

Bishop Tonyia M. Rawls, Prelate, Southern Jurisdiction, Unity Fellowship Church Movement

Pope Francis today opened the door for LGBT people like me, who grow up in the Catholic Church, to be embraced, rather than condemned from afar. Though a growing number of Catholics already support gay and lesbian individuals, this is the first time that a Pope has recognized the harm that the Roman Catholic hierarchy’s campaigns against LGBT people and families have caused. We urge Bishops, Cardinals and Church leadership to listen to today’s message from Pope Francis and join him in putting an end to the rejection and pain that too many LGBT Catholics and our families face.

Wilson Cruz, spokesperson, GLAAD