“The way of the church is not to condemn anyone for eternity,” Francis told hundreds of new cardinals and bishops on Sunday during a Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, recounting the story of how Jesus healed a leper as the Huffington Post reported. “The way of the church is precisely to leave her four walls behind and to go out in search of those who are distant, those essentially on the ‘outskirts’ of life.”
Francis during his homily also stressed Jesus “revolutionizes and upsets that fearful, narrow and prejudiced mentality.”
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry in Mount Rainier, Md., is currently in Rome with Sister Jeannine Gramick, a Catholic nun who co-founded the group, and dozens of LGBT Catholics.
DeBernardo in a blog post noted while Francis “did not mention LGBT people by name” in his homily, “the details of his description of marginalization will surely ring true to many of these people who have experienced suffering and oppression during their lifetimes.”
“The pope’s message is easily applicable to reaching out pastorally to the LGBT community,” DeBernardo told the Washington Blade in an e-mail. “If the cardinals interpret this message in this way, it will be very good news for LGBT people.”
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Francis’ homily comes against the backdrop of what many LGBT Catholics have described as the Vatican’s more moderate tone on marriage rights for same-sex couples and other issues since his papacy began nearly two years ago.
Francis — who is the former archbishop of Buenos Aires — in July 2013 told reporters who asked him about the reported homosexuality of a man he appointed to oversee the Vatican bank that gay men and lesbians should not be judged or marginalized. An Italian Jesuit magazine a few months later published an interview with the Argentine-born pontiff during which he said the church has grown “obsessed” with gay marriage, abortion and contraception.
Francis last November demoted an American cardinal who is an outspoken critic of nuptials for gays and lesbians and abortion. The pontiff on Jan. 24 had a private audience with a transgender man from Spain.
“After hearing him on many occasions, I felt that he would listen to me,” Diego Neria Lejárraga told a newspaper in the Extremadura region of Spain, noting Francis called him last Christmas Eve after receiving his letter in which he said fellow parishioners at his church rejected him after undergoing sex-reassignment surgery.
Many LGBT rights advocates and Catholics nevertheless remain skeptical of Francis in spite of the church’s more moderate tone towards marriage, abortion and other issues.
Francis earlier this month urged Slovak voters to support proposed amendments to their country’s constitution that would have defined marriage as between a man and a woman and banned gays and lesbians from adopting children. The Feb. 7 referendum failed because of insufficient voter turnout.
The Argentine-born pontiff last month suggested during his trip to the Philippines that gay nuptials threaten the family. Francis in 2010 described Argentina’s same-sex marriage bill as “the work of the devil” before President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner signed it into law.
Catholic bishops who attended a meeting on the family at the Vatican last October released a document that said gay unions are not “remotely analogous” to “God’s plan for marriage and the family.”
“If the pope is really committed to showing the church’s concern for our community; he needs to speak out against the increasing global anti-gay, anti-transgender violence and criminalization,” Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity USA, a group for LGBT Catholics, told the Blade on Monday. “He needs to direct every bishop in the world to work to end these literally life-threatening forms of discrimination. He needs to stop repeating tired, untrue mantras against our community and apologize for the damage church officials have done to so many individuals and families.”
Duddy-Burke added she hopes Francis will meet with LGBT Catholics during his trip to the U.S. in September.
“Pope Francis should listen to the many families in our church who fully embrace their LGBTQ members, knowing this is consistent with the core values of our faith,” she said.
Lisbeth Meléndez Rivera, director of Latino and Catholic initiatives for the Human Rights Campaign, told the Blade her organization welcomes “once more, the inclusive tone of Pope Francis homily.” She nevertheless echoed Duddy-Burke’s hope the church under his pontificate will become less hostile towards LGBT Catholics.
“More than anything we hope he, and the church, accepts us whole, for we need no cure or change,” Meléndez told the Blade.