BY ANDY HUMM | Pope Francis’ US visit September 22-27 will not include a meeting much sought-after by LGBT Catholics, nor will Catholics who affirm gay love be given any voice in the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia that is the principal purpose of his trip. Despite this exclusion, no public protests are planned by LGBT groups as had occurred when Pope John Paul II visited New York in 1979 and 1995 and San Francisco in 1987, and when Pope Benedict XVI was in New York in 2008.
“We’re just doing media,” said Jeff Stone, a spokesperson for Dignity USA and secretary of the New York chapter of the LGBT Catholic group. “The crowds are going to be so enormous we’d be lost in them.”
“We really want the pope to talk with those of us who can let him know how Church teaching and practice harm millions of people around the globe,” said Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity USA. “We’re especially concerned about ways in which what Church officials say leads to problems for LGBT youth –– violence, homelessness.”
Dignity, other gay groups excluded from World Meeting of Families during papal visit
A parent herself, Duddy-Burke is also concerned about “the way they interfere with gay and lesbian parenting. It’s dehumanizing. They’d rather kids linger in foster care” than have LGBT parents.
But appeals from Dignity and other LGBT groups including GLAAD for a meeting with the pope and inclusion in the World Meeting of Families have received no response, though Duddy-Burke continues to press the case with the US ambassador to the Vatican.
The White House has made it a point to invite some out gay representatives to its reception for the pope, but this gathering of a thousand people on the lawn is not an opportunity for dialogue and Duddy-Burke, who is invited, has not yet decided if it would be worth the trip.
In addition to these rejections, the arch-conservative archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles J. Chaput, ordered that the Equally Blessed Coalition, of which Dignity is a part, be evicted from its planned meeting at a Catholic church during the families’ conference, objecting to a planned New Ways Ministry workshop on gender identity there. The Coalition has been denied the opportunity to host a table at the conference, though some individuals from the Coalition will attend. The Equally Blessed gathering had to be relocated to a nearby Methodist church.
Ross Murray, GLAAD’s director of programs focused on religion and LGBT people, is going to President Barack Obama’s reception, he said, “to make sure there are LGBT people that are there and because it is good that the White House recognizes that. I don’t have higher expectations beyond that.”
Murray, who is Lutheran, is focused on the Philadelphia meeting, even though the only openly gay person being allowed to speak is a member of Courage, the Catholic group for homosexual people who agree with Church teaching that it is wrong to act on their desires.
“It’s an opportunity to interact with other Catholic families,” Murray said. “The Church is not just the pope.”
GLAAD has prepared a lengthy media guide for the pope’s visit, including discussion of Catholic bishops continuing to fire gay employees from Church-run schools, often because the employee got married. Only one Catholic high school, St. Mary’s in Portland, Oregon, has repented of such a firing and adopted a policy of not discriminating against LGBT students, staff, and parents –– a recent move that prompted the local diocese to threaten the parish’s Catholic affiliation.
Francis has a penchant for feinting left on issues of LGBT and women’s rights, only to have a Vatican spokesperson follow up by saying that nothing in Church doctrine has changed: homosexual activity, divorce, birth control including condoms, and abortion are still condemned; women are still excluded from the priesthood.
In the run-up to this trip, the Vatican tried to soften up its image by making it easier to obtain an annulment of a marriage. But an annulment is a finding that the marriage was not valid. Another marriage is forbidden without such a finding. The pope also announced that, for the next year, women could be forgiven for abortions by a local priest, rather than requiring the intervention of a bishop (though priests already enjoy such latitude in the American Church). But the women must confess that the abortion was a grievous sin to get her excommunication lifted.
These recent announcements have been portrayed in the mainstream media as indications that Francis is open to change, just as when he made his famous cryptic pronouncement about gays, “Who am I to judge?” Official church teaching, however, remains that homosexual activity is “disordered” and “evil.”
Francis has been more upfront about his contempt for transgender people, despite making time to meet with one. The Vatican just ruled that it is “impossible” for a transgender person to be a godparent at a baptism, announcing in response to a Spanish transgender applicant that he has an “attitude opposite to the moral imperative of solving the problem of sexual identity according to the truth of one’s own sexuality.” He also used a “nuclear weapons” analogy in attacking what he sees as the evil of “gender theory.”
Father Bernárd Lynch, an openly gay priest and leader on LGBT Catholic issues for more than four decades, said, “I don’t expect anything will change in our regard in our lifetimes because they would have to make the ‘natural law’ unnatural, which is the foundation stone of all their teaching on human sexuality. They should base sexual moral teaching on justice rather their power.”
Lynch, who has done groundbreaking work in LGBT and AIDS ministries since the 1970s in New York and –– in recent years –– in London, spoke at a public rally protesting Pope Benedict’s visit to Britain in 2010, calling on him “to apologize for the hurt and harm and soul destruction that the Church teaching caused to young men dying of AIDS. The one thing they had was hope in their faith and the Church stole that from them.”
For this, Lynch lost his membership in his Irish religious order at the age of 65, denying him a pension.
Lynch sees some rays of hope, however. Retired Bishop Willie Walsh in the west of Ireland, he said, countered the Vatican view that the Irish referendum for same-sex marriage “was a defeat for humanity by saying it was a triumph of love. But he’s the only bishop in the world who has apologized for what the Church has done to us.” The others, he said, “preach a dialectic of fear instead of love.”
Veteran gay activist Allen Roskoff, president of the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, said he is “offended” that the de Blasio administration is treating the pope’s visit as a civic event, including the distribution of tickets via lottery to the papal pass through Central Park. Citing Francis’ “personal” rejection of the French ambassador to the Vatican because he is an out gay man and his opposition to LGBT and women’s rights, Roskoff said, “If the mayor doesn’t take these offenses seriously enough not to personally welcome the pope’s visit then we have a serious difference with him on the importance of these issues.”
De Blasio said that being in a meeting on climate change with the pope this summer was “one of the great moments, certainly in my professional life, in my life as a political actor, but humanly, as well.”
Out gay Councilmember Daniel Dromm of Jackson Heights appealed to New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan for a papal meeting with “devout Catholics and others who want to work with him in the spirit of mercy and compassion to heal the pain of the past” around LGBT issues. “It is my hope that young people can be presented with the truth of God’s unconditional love in a way that I was not as a young Catholic.”
Dromm received a polite rejection from Dolan, citing the shortness of the visit, but promised to forward his letter to “those at the Holy See” responsible for the visit.
Hundreds of thousands will likely throng to greet the pope, but it is questionable how much they will heed him. Stone said the “mood of the Dignity membership,” however, “was not that we want to rush out and see the pope.”
The pope does sound “liberal” on issues like the environment and wealth inequality. But there does not seem to be much evidence that he has truly inspired Catholic business people to share their wealth with their employees or adopt greener policies –– any more than his continued opposition to same-sex marriage is dissuading a majority of American Catholics from supporting it nor gay Catholics from getting married –– somewhere other than in his churches, of course.
GLAAD’s Murray said, “I don’t expect dramatic changes in policy. The Church moves very slowly. The best we can hope for is a change in tone.”
He said that “all of our churches have been exclusionary. Even Unitarians at one point in time went through a process of recognizing how valuable their LGBT members are.”
Murray conceded that there were democratic processes in most denominations to make those changes, but not in the Catholic Church, which is holding a Vatican synod of bishops on family issues in October that gays are also excluded from.
Stone will be in Rome around the time of the synod for a meeting of the new Global Network of Rainbow Catholics, comprised of LGBT Catholic groups from the US, Britain, Spain, Germany, Italy, Poland, Malta, Chile, and Zambia — an attempt to “have a unified voice in the world” on LGBT Catholic issues, he said.
One group concerned about gay issues that said it will be protesting the pope every step of the way during his US visit is the intrepid God Hates Fags Ministries out of the Topeka-based Westboro Baptist Church, starting with the pope’s White House reception. Westboro doesn’t mince words about Francis: “When you make an occupation of lying about God, He will curse you. Turn away from that sodomitical monstrosity known as the Catholic Church.”
Many have turned away from the Catholic Church (including this reporter) for reasons very different than those cited by Westboro, but others are sticking it out.
“There has been a fundamental shift in position by most American Catholics and in the Western World that we can be part of an institution and radically disagree with the teaching of the leaders while showing him respect as a leader,” said Lynch. “The leadership of the Church –– pope and bishops –– no longer warrants or gets the yes vote to what they teach.”
Should Francis have a last-minute change of heart about meeting with gay representatives during the families’ conference in Philadelphia, he’s invited to the LGBT Family Picnic on September 26 at 1:30 p.m. at the John C. Anderson Apartments, the city’s housing for LGBT older people and allies. The picnic is hosted by veteran gay activist Mark Segal, president of the Magnus Hirschfeld Fund and publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News, Jim Kenney, that city’s Democratic nominee for mayor, and Margie Winters, who was fired from her job at the Catholic Waldron Mercy Academy for marrying her wife. Representatives from the Equally Blessed Coalition are also participating.