September 20, 2013 at 1:11 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
LGBT Catholics welcome Francis’ comments on marriage
Pope Francis I, Catholic Church, gay news, Washington Blade

Pope Francis

LGBT Catholics have welcomed Pope Francis’ comments that the church has grown “obsessed” with same-sex marriage, abortion and contraception.

“We find much to be hopeful about, particularly in the Pope’s firm desire that the church be a ‘home for all people,’ and his belief that God looks on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people with love rather than condemnation,” Dignity USA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke said in a statement on Thursday after America, a Jesuit magazine, published the pontiff’s extensive interview with with Rev. Antonio Spadaro, editor-in-chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, an Italian Jesuit magazine, that took place during three separate meetings last month in Rome.

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry in Mount Rainier, Md., said Francis’ comments amount to a “new dawn” for the Catholic Church.

“Pope Francis’ words and example have opened up new opportunities for the Catholic Church to welcome and dialogue with LGBT people,” DeBernardo said. “His words will give courage and hope to thousands of pastoral ministers and Catholic faithful who have been doing this work for many decades, but who have often received penalties and discouragements from church leaders who did not share this pope’s broad vision.”

Francis’ comments come less than two months after he told reporters who asked him about the reported homosexuality of the man whom he appointed to oversee the Vatican bank on his flight back to Rome after a week-long trip to Brazil for World Youth Day that gay men and lesbians should not be judged or marginalized. The Argentine-born pontiff reiterated this statement during his interview with Spadaro.

“In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation,” Francis said. “It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing.”

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Washington told the Washington Blade that Cardinal Donald Wuerl was traveling on Thursday and did not have any comment on Francis’ statements.

“He is a man who profoundly believes in the mercy of a loving God, and who wants to bring that message of mercy to the entire world, including those who feel that they have been wounded by the church,” New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan said in a statement. “As a priest and a bishop, I particularly welcome his reminder that the clergy are primarily to serve as shepherds, to be with our people, to talk with them, to be pastors, not bureaucrats.”

Dolan, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, further discussed the pontiff’s comments on “CBS This Morning” on Friday.

“If we keep [a] kind of a negative, finger-wagging tone, it’s counterproductive,” Dolan said.

LGBT Catholics greeted Francis’ election in March to succeed Pope Benedict XVI, who vehemently opposed same-sex marriage and condom use to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS and enforced the Vatican’s moral doctrine before ascending the papacy, with cautious optimism.

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

“The church does not want to do this,” Francis told Spadero.

The pontiff was among those who led the opposition to Argentina’s same-sex marriage law that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner signed in 2010. Francis described the measure as a “machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God” before Argentine lawmakers approved it.

Fernández herself criticized then-Buenos Aires Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio’s comments against the measure that included references to it as a “demonic plan.” Francis also called for a “holy war” against the gay marriage bill.

“He says not to interfere with the lives of gays, but in the countries where lawmakers are debating laws of equality, the Catholic hierarchy lobbies ferociously to ensure that these laws don’t advance (the same pope played a part of this in Argentina,)” Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans Federation of Argentina President Esteban Paulón told the Blade on Friday. “This leads us to ask ourselves who is the Pope? Is he the same Bergoglio of the holy war and demonic plan (about marriage equality) or the ‘compassionate’ Francis toward gays.”

Even though it appears Francis’ comments will have no impact on Catholic teachings on same-sex marriage and other social issues, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin on Thursday wrote to Dolan as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Knights of Columbus CEO Carl Anderson. He urged them to end their public opposition to pro-LGBT measures.

“Doing anything less will put you in direct conflict with Pope Francis’ message of welcome and mercy — and create an even greater gulf between you and the broad majority of the American Catholic laity, who support their LGBT neighbors’ freedom to marry the person they love in a civil ceremony,” Griffin wrote.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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