Pope changes tone in remarks on gays

  • by Chuck Colbert
  • Wednesday July 31, 2013
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Francis has not been pontiff that long, but the pope has certainly stirred Catholic waters. For the first time ever �" and in purely positive language �" the spiritual leader of one billion Roman Catholics worldwide said good things about gay people. He even used the g-word.

Speaking with reporters for more than an hour aboard the papal airplane, flying back to Rome from World Youth Day in Brazil, Francis said, "There's a lot of talk about the gay lobby, but I've never seen it on the Vatican ID card."

"When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby. If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them? They shouldn't be marginalized. The tendency (to homosexuality) is not the problem ... they're our brothers."

The problem, he continued, is lobbies that work against the interest of the church, according to multiple print and broadcast outlets, including CNN's Belief blog.

The "gay lobby" idea surfaced a year ago, in a series of embarrassing leaks to Italian reporters, and refers to an alleged network of gay clergy operating inside the Vatican.

Meanwhile, reactions locally and nationwide to the pope's kinder words has been measured and balanced �" laudatory for his new tone and tenor, yet realistic in that any major shift in doctrine is not likely anytime soon.

"As far as tone goes, he is coming off as positive," said Ernest L. Camisa, secretary of Dignity San Francisco, during a brief telephone interview. "I do like, 'Who am I to judge them?'"

"But," Camisa added, "I take exception to the idea there is a gay lobby. I mean there are gay prelates in the Vatican." That is different, he explained from "openly gay people fighting for gay rights. They are not in the Vatican."

Other Catholic leaders in ministry with LGBT among the faithful offered their assessments.

While voicing praise for the improved tone, Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity USA, said, "Pope Francis has demonstrated a remarkable willingness to be present with those most marginalized in society. That is where the church should be, and it's right that he reminds us of this."

"Can he see LGBT people as among the marginalized, and walk alongside us? Will he enter into a dialogue, where he listens to our stories and learns about our lives, our relationships, our struggles to remain part of our church? Over time, could this lead to substantive changes in church teaching or to where and how Catholic leaders become involved in LGBT rights issues?" said Duddy-Burke.

For his part, Francis DeBernardo, the executive director of New Ways Ministry, said, "Pope Francis's statement on accepting and respecting gay priests is a clear sign that this pope will be taking a more conciliatory approach to LGBT issues than his immediate predecessors have done."

Added DeBernardo in a statement, "Unlike John Paul II and Benedict XVI, who approached LGBT topics through the lens of sexuality and sin, Pope Francis is signaling a new direction which is based on the Catholic principles of human dignity, respect, and social integration."

"Some will say that Francis's statement is not enough, that he still refers to sins of homosexuals, but I think the important thing is the question of emphasis," DeBernardo explained. "Even if he doesn't drop the sin language, this is still a major step forward, and one that can pave the way for further advancements down the road. Change in the church is evolutionary, not revolutionary."

The pope's comments prompted San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone to issue a statement late Monday where he said the church must be a place of welcome for people "who experience same-sex attraction."

"The church must be a safe place where they can feel secure and loved in revealing their orientation to others," Cordileone stated. "No one has ever denied this, but we need to do a better job at making this known and following through on it."

Cordileone has taken a dim view of same-sex marriage, and he alluded to so-called traditional marriage in his statement.

"With regard to sexual acts, the church has always faithfully taught, and always will, the teaching she has received from her Lord, namely, that they find their proper order and purpose within the marital union of husband and wife, and outside of the bond of marriage they are sinful."

In its assessment, Equally Blessed, a coalition group of four LGBT-positive organizations, took aim at U.S. bishops, who have been relentless in their harsh language and opposition to LGBT rights.

"Catholic leaders who continue to belittle gays and lesbians can no longer claim that their inflammatory remarks represent the sentiments of the pope," the group said in a statement. "Bishops who oppose the expansion of basic civil rights �" such as an end to discrimination in the workplace �" can no longer claim that the pope approves of their discriminatory agenda."

As recently as July 9, however, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops voiced opposition to proposed federal legislation �" the Employment Non-Discrimination Act �" that would ban sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in the workplace.

"The USCCB continues to oppose 'unjust discrimination' against people with a homosexual inclination, but we cannot support a bill, like ENDA, that would legally affirm and specially protect any sexual conduct outside of marriage," reads a letter addressed to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

One of the letter's three signatories is Cordileone, who serves on the bishops' Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.