Pope Francis leaves at the end of a Mass after he presented palliums to archbishops in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on June 29, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Tony Gentile

What Pope Francis can teach US bishops about reaching out to LGBT community

(RNS) Pope Francis again made an international news splash earlier this week when he said that Catholic leaders should apologize to gay people and seek forgiveness for the way the church has harmed them.

The pope’s welcoming words of healing should not only prompt sober reflection, but tangible action in Catholic dioceses across the country. Words are not enough to heal the wounds many LGBT Catholics have suffered in the face of indifference and exclusion.

His honesty offers a unique opportunity for Catholic clergy in the United States to hit the reset button.

While research shows most Catholics support same-sex marriage, the church does not have to change its teachings on marriage to take immediate steps that would demonstrate a commitment to building bridges with the LGBT community. Some Catholic parishes in San Francisco, Boston and New York have long been welcoming places for gays and lesbians. Still, in many parishes, gays and lesbians are tolerated but not embraced, talked to but not heard.

Catholic clergy can institutionalize the pope’s words of solidarity by creating real opportunities for what Francis calls “accompaniment” and “encounter.”

Pastors in the 195 Catholic dioceses across the country could take a first step by hosting listening sessions with gay Catholics and LGBT leaders. There would be disagreement and room for civil debate, but this posture of humility and respect would send a powerful signal that the nation’s largest church wants to learn from the varied experiences of gay, lesbian and transgendered people.

An outstretched hand is usually received better than a wagging finger. Catholic leaders could also be doing more to speak out against discrimination on the job and in housing. Gays and lesbians can now marry legally, but in more than half the states it’s legal to discriminate against a gay person in the workplace or in housing. A patchwork of laws across the country leaves millions of LGBT citizens with second-class status.

Catholics should be at the forefront of fighting these injustices. When the U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan Employee Nondiscrimination Act in 2013, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said that it wanted to “work with leaders and all people of good will to end all forms of unjust discrimination” but then opposed the legislation on the grounds that it undermined marriage and threatened religious liberty.

Catholic leaders in the U.S. can and must do better.

There are legitimate disagreements between Catholic institutions and the government over how to most appropriately balance religious conscience rights with LGBT equality. But these are often policy debates that arise from the complications of seeking to honor two goods, not fundamental clashes of good and evil.

The U.S. bishops’ conference should lower the rhetorical temperature, and act more like pastors than lawyers. Whether it’s decrying President Obama’s 2014 executive order that prohibited federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity as “extreme," or blasting the U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding the right to a same-sex civil marriage as a “tragic error,” the bishops’ approach has done little to persuade most people to their side and only pours salt on old wounds.

Francis doesn’t want to uproot the church’s traditional teachings on marriage or sexuality, but he does want to humanize the conversation. And he’s not afraid to shake things up.

“Pope Francis is speaking about gays and lesbians in ways that would have gotten anyone else disciplined, censured or silenced ten years ago,” tweeted the Rev. James Martin, a prominent Jesuit priest who is editor at large at America magazine.

The late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, pained by the divisions inside the U.S. church, set up a common ground project in the 1990s with the goal of spurring dialogue between Catholic conservatives and progressives on a range of contentious issues. The effort limped along without much success in the years after his death. As new battles rage that pit religious liberty against LGBT rights, a reinvigorated commitment to common ground and the common good is needed now more than ever.

In his headline-grabbing comments, Francis quoted the catechism of the Catholic Church, which teaches that gays and lesbians “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity,” and that “every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” Those are unambiguous words. But they are only words on a page unless the church puts them into practice.

(John Gehring is Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life and author of  “The Francis Effect: A Radical Pope’s Challenge to the American Catholic Church”)


  1. “Pope Francis again made an international news splash earlier this week when he said that Catholic leaders should apologize to gay people and seek forgiveness for the way the church has harmed them.” The church has not harmed them any worse than practicing homosexuals harm themselves by rejecting Jesus.
    Secondly: “A patchwork of laws across the country leaves millions of LGBT citizens with second-class status.
    Catholics should be at the forefront of fighting these injustices.” No. Nothing should be done to intimate that there should be acceptance of a sin that leads people to death. Homosexuality is a sin and it hurts people.

  2. Catholic writer John-Henry Westen spelled it out recently:

    “The Catechism’s teaching on homosexuality is given in three paragraphs comprising just over 220 words. The Pope’s response references only 20 words from the middle of the second paragraph, ignoring the numerous passages warning against the harmful sexual behavior.”

    (Lifesite News, “Pope Francis misrepresents the Catechism on homosexuality”, 6-27-2016)

  3. All well and good, but the fact is that the majority of Roman catholics in the US who are affected by LGBT-related issues or who care about their neighbors, regardless of sexual orientation, don’t give a flying f**k about what their bishops have to say about the matter – just as, in 1967, they showed that they don’t care what the Vatican has to say about birth control. Roman catholics in this country are done with being infantilized by their leadership.

  4. I hope so. With how the pope is going, they need to start following Jesus. He’s the way, the truth, and the life

  5. What did Jesus say about birth control?

  6. The pope can change the catechism which describes homosexuality as “objectively disordered,” but he won’t. The pope can reinstate the Polish priest, Krzysztof Charamsa, who was fired by the Vatican after coming out. The pope can apologize for describing same-sex marriage as “an anthropological regressing” in 2014 and comparing transgender persons to nuclear weapons, state both “do not recognize the order of creation” in 2015. He can apologize for his life-long opposition to same-sex marriage and order his bishops to support these measures.

  7. The Pope cannot change the Wiord and teachings of God. One who makes this suggestion does not understand the Catholic faith. My Church might very well have fewer members, but those remaining will be loyal to the Commandments and the Magisterium.

  8. This does nothing to change the cause of the oppression of gay people by the Roman Catholic Church which is its doctrine and the fundamental attitude taught by the last two popes that we are “morally defective”! If I owned slaves and then said “oh I am so sorry that I have oppressed you now get back to the fields” my apology is an insult!

  9. Of course, only your version of truth, is the right way. Because ummm…bible. When someone says cite proof. That is all you got. I guess that works for 6000 year old sheep herders and Sandi……..

  10. and, anyone looking for truth. Blessings Anna

  11. And I think it is perfectly fine for you to be delusional, as long as you don’t force your delusion down someone else’s throat.

  12. In short, she has never talked to an invisible God either.

  13. The man is a hand pope-et of the Curia, and they are some nasty old men! The church will have to lose some serious cash before they will change.

  14. How much more could one reject Jesus, than to send him to die, as his father did in the stories?

  15. The admonitions against homosexuality we find in the bible, are very likely directed at the fertility cults of the region. These cults offered male and female prostitutes, in the performance of their religious rituals, which drew many a Jew and christian alike to their temples and groves. The bible is rife with the people returning to these cults all the way back to Moses and Aaron, with the love feast at the bottom of the mountain, and the worship of Ba’al. There are probably a dozen or more references in the bible to the people and kings of Israel returning to their Asherah, and her groves and poles in the high places. Asherah was even considered to be the wife of Yahweh at one time.

  16. The Hebrews quite frequently used the male and female prostitutes in their worship. Genesis 38:21-22. Deuteronomy 23:17-18, 1 Kings 14:24, 15:12, and 22:46. See 23 Kings 23:7, Ezekiel 16:16 and Hosea 4:14.

  17. The cult of Aphrodite, the Dionysian Mysteries, the christian Nicolaitans are all thought to have had male and female prostitutes in their worship.

  18. As the story is told, Nicolas was ordained a deacon by the apostles in 33 CE. Nicolas felt people were freed from Mosaic law by Jesus, and so he felt free to incorporate male and female prostitutes into christian ritual. He is called out for it in the Apocalypse of John (Revelation), and also by church father, Irenaeus. Nicolas is ordained in Acts 6:5.

  19. Jesus died of his own volition, Found. God is just and because justice must be done, people would have needed to die for their sins. Jesus took that penalty for the people, should they accept Him as their Lord and Saviour. He did that freely because God created us to have fellowship with Him and our sins separate us from Him. What Jesus endured was an act of love on His part.

  20. I dunno Anna. I don’t think men are women.

  21. Just because you were taught to have a closed mind doesn’t mean the rest of the world is going to hang out with your narrow mindedness. As we leave you far behind in the first century. Take care a lion doesn’t eat you.

  22. For god so loved the world, he gave his only ?begotten? son… So god is a just murderer? Maybe god could have been like a christian or priest, and just forgiven the people he had made to act up. How are we separated when Jesus was a sinner? He disobeyed his parents on their trip to Jerusalem, and he broke the law when he whipped the priests in the temple. Romans 13:1 is where god commands us to obey the law of our government.

  23. God can’t give his son and have him volunteer too!

  24. Jesus never sinned Found. That’s why He was the acceptable sacrifice for all sins.

  25. Once again. Disobedience to parents was a very grave sin in Judaism. The bible says you can stone teens to death for it. Jesus hung back when his parents left Jerusalem, without telling them what he was doing. Jesus did not die. He took 3 days off.

  26. In Romans 13:1 Paul, speaking on the direct authority of god (sic) said that we must follow the government’s law, because god placed the people in power. If you believe that god’s word is unchanging and forever, then you must admit that he held this position even before Paul’s warning. Jesus whipped the priests in the temple, in direct violation of Roman law, (riot, insurrection) which is why Pilate had come from Caesarea Maritima to monitor the situation over the Passover, a time of frequent crime. These are sins, they are disregarding the law of his father.

  27. Think about what christianity says, Sandi. You are talking about a human being, being an acceptable sacrifice!

  28. no. Jesus is God. He makes the laws. He is the creator.

  29. Even before his baptism? Before his exclamations on the cross? Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani sounds like he thought he was abandoned. When did he become a son of god?

  30. Is Jesus mentioned in Genesis? The gospel attributed to John is the only place we hear that Jesus was around in the beginning. How would a Gnostic Christian such as John know that ? Faith alone or divine inspiration? A vision? Or maybe just zealousness.

  31. Actually, yes, Jesus is mentioned in Genesis.

  32. He was God when He came to the Earth. He was always God, and always will be. God came in the flesh to redeem mankind

  33. Pishon? My verse is about disobedience to parents. Why tell me about a river when we were discussing the sins committed by Jesus?

  34. He came as Jesus in the flesh, but it says god so loved the world he GAVE his son. How does the father give the son who volunteered, when the son is the father?

  35. The mystery of the Trinity, Found. The Trinity is comprised of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three in one. Each – individually is God. The three collectively are God

  36. That’s quite a mystery! Irenaeus must be so proud of himself!

  37. Did you get that from Wikipedia?

  38. No, that came from a christian source, though I do not recall which. The church seems to downplay the role of Irenaeus in coming up with the trinity idea, probably because he got it from the Valentinian christians. Valentinus originated the idea, Irenaeus borrowed it, and Valentinus was declared a heretic. Now the church seems to just want to say that the church fathers determined the idea through their hermeneutics. Except for Valentinus and Irenaeus working on the trinity concept, this is just my own opinion as to motives.

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