LGBTQ Agenda: Queer Catholics have mixed feelings about late pope's legacy

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday January 10, 2023
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LGBTQ Roman Catholics are conflicted about the legacy of Pope Emeritus Benedict, who died December 31. Photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
LGBTQ Roman Catholics are conflicted about the legacy of Pope Emeritus Benedict, who died December 31. Photo: CNS/Paul Haring)

LGBTQ Roman Catholics had mixed emotions about the legacy of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who died in Rome on December 31.

"He failed to listen to the lived experiences of real people," Francis DeBernardo, the executive director of the LGBTQ Catholic group New Ways Ministries, stated. "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."

Benedict retired as pope in 2013. He had been in poor health in recent years and was 95.

Official Catholic teaching is that while homosexuality isn't sinful per se, it is a sin to have sex with someone of the same sex. As prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith from 1982 to his election as pope in 2005, Benedict was such a hardline defender of the church's teachings that he was nicknamed "God's Rottweiler."

It was in this position in the 1980s that Benedict, then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, introduced in a letter the term "objective disorder" to describe a gay sexual orientation: a term that made it into the Catechism of the Catholic Church, an official compendium of doctrine commissioned by then-Pope John Paul II.

"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," DeBernardo's statement continued. "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."

Gino Ramos, a gay man who is co-chair of Dignity SF, a group for LGBTQ Catholics, said that the "objective disorder" label was "a slap in the face."

"I remember when he was elected pope, I was co-chair and my statement was 'my heart sank,'" Ramos told the Bay Area Reporter. "I hope he's at peace and I hope he has found the truth about LGBT people now that he is with the God of the way, the truth and the life."

Ramos said that then-San Francisco Archbishop John Quinn asked the LGBTQ Catholic group Dignity to leave church property in 1988 because it would not be neutral toward the "objective disorder" letter.

"At the time Archbishop Quinn met with Dignity SF's leadership and asked them to do a statement of neutrality," Ramos said. "However, Dignity SF at the time felt like how can we be neutral?"

Dignity, which had been meeting at St. Boniface in the Tenderloin, held a candlelight walk from there to St. Mary's Cathedral of the Assumption, the seat of the archdiocese, to protest the decision. Since then it has been meeting in Protestant churches.

The current San Francisco archbishop, Salvatore Cordileone, could not attend Benedict's requiem mass, said by Pope Francis, in Rome on January 5, the archdiocese told the B.A.R.

Cordileone, also a staunch member of the church's conservative wing, stated that "the passing of Pope Benedict XVI marks the loss of one of the world's greatest theologians and pastors of souls of the 20th and early 21st centuries."

The late pope was a key theologian at the Second Vatican Council, which from 1962 to 1965 heralded a modernization of the church. The mass, the central ritual of Catholicism, was translated into local languages. Interfaith dialogue was encouraged, and religious freedom was embraced.

The victorious party at the council would split in the latter 1960s and 1970s over whether the church had modernized enough. Pope Francis, who was not at the council unlike his recent predecessors, is more liberal, though the official stance of the Vatican on homosexuality has not changed.

House Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), who Cordileone barred from the sacrament of Holy Communion in the archdiocese, also praised the late pope's scholarship. His book series "Jesus of Nazareth" became a best-seller.

"Paul and I join our fellow Catholics in mourning the passing of Pope Benedict XVI: a leader whose devotion, scholarship and message stirred the hearts of people of all faiths," Pelosi said, referring to her husband.

Pelosi welcomed Benedict to Washington, D.C. in 2008.

"It was my privilege to visit His Holiness in the Vatican and to welcome him to our nation's capital," she said. "I am always moved by Pope Benedict's encyclical 'God is Love,' where he quotes St. Augustine highlighting our duty as public servants to fight for justice. May it be comfort to Pope Francis and the Vatican community that so many pray for Pope Benedict during this sad time."

President Joe Biden, also a Catholic, said in a statement that he didn't attend the funeral because "we would just get in the way."

"I had an opportunity to spend some time with Pope Benedict, a couple hours," Biden said. "It reminded me of going back to theology class. We spoke about [St. Thomas] Aquinas and about 'Summa Theologica' and the whole litany. I found him to be relaxing and very rational.

"He was a more conservative view in the Catholic realm than I have and pope — the present pope — in terms of his philosophy, his view," Biden continued. "But I admired him. I thought he was a fine man."

The day of the funeral, Biden wrote a note in the Apostolic Nunciature of the Holy See, which functions like an embassy, in Washington, D.C.

LGBTQ Agenda is an online column that appears weekly. Got a tip on queer news? Contact John Ferrannini at [email protected]

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