March 19, 2014 | by Michael K. Lavers
LGBT Catholics reflect on first year of Francis papacy
Pope Francis, Catholic Church, gay news, Washington Blade

Pope Francis (Photo by Agência Brasil; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

LGBT Catholics continue to welcome Pope Francis’ more moderate approach to gays in the church since his election as pontiff last March.

Dignity USA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke noted to the Washington Blade last week that Francis uses the word “gay” as opposed to “homosexual or same-sex attraction disorder or any of the sort of distancing and clinical kind of terms” his predecessors – Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II – used. She added the pontiff also raises LGBT-specific people “in conversation and in daily life.”

“There’s a tone of comfort and sort of acceptance of reality,” said Duddy-Burke. “It’s a small place, obviously, but it is a marked difference.”

Dignity Washington Treasurer Bob Miailovich told the Blade that Francis continues to focus more on the marginalized, even though official church doctrine has not changed.

“That’s kind of like we’re going to be more gentle,” said Miailovich. “The point is to remember we’re all included in God’s love, not walking around trying to find out what’s wrong with people.”

Francis last summer said during an interview with La Civiltà Cattolica, an Italian Jesuit magazine that the church has grown “obsessed” with same-sex marriage, abortion and contraception. The Argentine-born pontiff less than two months earlier told reporters who asked him about the reported homosexuality of the man whom he appointed to oversee the Vatican bank during a flight back to Rome after attending World Youth Day in Brazil that gay men and lesbians should not be judged or marginalized.

Francis has yet to meet with LGBT Catholic organizations since his election, but Duddy-Burke pointed out the pontiff reached out to a young gay man who wrote to him.

The pope, who is the former archbishop of Buenos Aires, in 2001 visited a hospice to kiss and wash the feet of 12 people with AIDS. Francis told La Civiltà Cattolica he used to receive letters from gay people who said they were “socially wounded” because they felt as though the church “has always condemned them.”

“The pope has really taken a giant step toward greater acceptance of LGBT people in the Catholic Church,” Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry in Mount Rainier, Md., told the Blade. “His non-judgmental example, his humble demeanor, his seeming willingness to listen – all these things have had a great influence on Catholic culture and sensibility.”

The College of Cardinals last March elected Francis to succeed Benedict who abruptly resigned in February 2013.

The LGBT Catholics with whom the Blade spoke all noted church teaching on homosexuality, marriage and other issues has not changed in spite of Francis’ more conciliatory tone.

Francis last July criticized what he described as the “gay lobby” during his press conference with reporters while returning to Rome from World Youth Day.

San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone on Feb. 19 wrote to U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage to indicate its support of his proposal that would amend the U.S. Constitution to ban gay nuptials. The Vatican later this year is scheduled to hold what Duddy-Burke described as “this extraordinary synod” on strengthening the family.

The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child last month sharply criticized the Vatican over its opposition to homosexuality and other declarations that “contribute to the social stigmatization of and violence against” LGBT adolescents and children raised by same-sex couples.” LGBT Federation of Argentina President Esteban Paulón in a March 13 statement that marked Francis’ first anniversary as pope noted he described the South American country’s same-sex marriage bill as a “demonic plan.”

Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who signed the measure into law in 2010, sharply criticized then-Buenos Aires Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio’s rhetoric that included calls for a “holy war” against it.

“A year after assuming the papacy, Bergoglio has demonstrated that, aside from the gestures and simulations, he continues maintaining a line of contempt and denial of rights toward lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans people,” said Paulón. “He has not moved a single step of his conception, as clearly expressed during the debate over Argentina’s same-sex marriage law.”

Paulón further criticized Francis over the Vatican’s “complicit silence” over laws in more than 70 countries that criminalize homosexuality with prison time or even death – Duddy-Burke expressed a similar opinion to the Blade. Paulón also blasted the pontiff over what he described as the Vatican’s continued cover-up of priests accused of pedophilia.

“The Vatican has demonstrated that in reality, nothing has changed in spite of some ‘friendly’ and ‘conciliatory’ declarations,” he said.

LGBT rights advocates with whom the Blade spoke earlier this month in the Dominican Republic largely echoed Paulón.

Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez of the Archdiocese of Santo Domingo last June referred to now-U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster as a “maricón” or “faggot” in Spanish during a press conference. Archbishop Jude Thaddeus Okolo, the Vatican’s envoy to the Caribbean country, earlier this year declined to invite Brewster’s husband to a diplomatic reception with Dominican President Danilo Medina because the country’s Constitution defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

The event was cancelled after a number of ambassadors said they would not attend because Okolo did not invite Brewster’s husband.

“It is unfortunately a personal posture,” Stephanía Hernández, a trans woman who is a member of Gente Activa y Participativa, a Dominican LGBT advocacy group, told the Blade as she discussed López. “The declarations of Francis, the pope, have been very diplomatic and very sensible.”

“The church has a political agenda,” added Deivis Ventura of the Amigos Siempre Amigos Network of Volunteers. “The church is the natural enemy of LGBT movements around the world and here. Francis saying that he treats gays with compassion is not going to change this posture.”

Francisco Rodríguez Cruz, a gay Cuban blogger who writes under the pen name Paquito el de Cuba, told the Blade that advocates in the Communist country have also closely followed Francis during the first year of his papacy.

Rodríguez said he personally feels there have not been “substantial changes” in the church’s position on LGBT-specific issues since the Argentine-born pontiff’s election. He added the Catholic hierarchy’s “evolution” towards “the understanding of diversity” could have a positive impact on LGBT Cubans and efforts to extend additional rights to them in the Caribbean country.

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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