Shock waves were felt among the one billion members of the Roman Catholic Church when Pope Benedict XVI announced his plans to resign at the end of February.
But news of the first Papal resignation in almost 600 years took back seat to new allegations of scandals, Vatican bureaucratic in-fighting, calls to bar Los Angeles’ emeritus Archbishop, Cardinal Roger Mahoney, from participating in the next Papal conclave and the blockbuster resignation of Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the United Kingdom’s highest-ranking Roman Catholic cleric, after several priests accused O’Brien of forcing sexual relations with them.
February was a disaster for the image of the Roman Catholic Church and may clearly expose the true reason of Benedict’s decision to call it quits as Pontiff. Even for non-Catholics and non-believers, all of these stories are over the edge. But what does the prospect of a new stakeholder in the Chair of St. Peter portend for LGBT Catholics? For many LGBT Catholics that have felt abandoned by their church, the current events only point to the hurt inflicted by the hypocrisy of actions that reflect “do as I say but not as I do.” Yet there are large numbers of LGBT Catholics who defiantly remain in the church and both pray and work for changes that they believe are necessary for the church to remain true to its mission.
Many of the world’s Cardinals departed for Rome the last week of February, in part to bid farewell to the resigning Pope, but mainly to begin the delicate process of selecting his successor. Yet for Catholics, there is a belief that the Holy Spirit can break through all of the Vatican politics and the sinful components from which even the leadership is not immune. Many yearn for the likes of a Pope John XXIII, who surprised the world by opening the windows of the church by convening the Second Vatican Council. Many of the teaching documents from that Council formed great pastoral leaders, like Chicago’s late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who promoted the “seamless garment” model of moral behavior promoting the total good of the individual and Brooklyn’s Bishop Francis Mugavero, whose letter on sexuality was a breath of fresh air for gay Catholics. The Holy Spirit’s work is cut out but here are some qualities that the LGBT community can pray that will be found in the new Pontiff.
Transparency needs to be embraced; the intrigue behind the walls of the Vatican can no longer be shielded from the eyes of the media nor the church’s one billion members. The allegations of fiscal impropriety within the Vatican Bank, silencing Vatican-whistle-blowers and a culture of bureaucrats-run-wild can no longer be excused. Integrity is a moral and ethical imperative that the new Pope must impart into every Vatican bureaucrat if the church is to regain its moral standing in the world. Humility is sorely lacking among many of the Bishops who utilize their office to promote clerical ambitions to the detriment of their flock. Ego-trips, self-promotion and clericalism serve to alienate the faithful in the pews and distort the teachings of Jesus. The work of the bishop is to serve and not be served. Intellectual honesty fully recognizes the robust tradition of the church over the centuries while embracing the fact that knowledge is evolving across many anthropological disciplines and the sciences. Beliefs that have been held, especially around sexuality and human development, need to be re-evaluated, nuanced and updated.
The hope expressed by many LGBT Catholics, for the new leader that will be chosen by the College of Cardinals, may not have the best odds in their favor this time around. But Catholics do know that the Holy Spirit can pull some surprises, and perhaps, this Papal Conclave may result in just a few.
John E. Lazar is former treasurer of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club. He has a master’s of divinity degree and served 13 years as a priest in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y., and administered a Vatican Agency under Pope John Paul II.