Archbishop Giacomo Morandi, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was widely seen as being behind the March 2021 document that outraged the gay community, which Francis has made pains to welcome into the church fold.
Pope Francis took the first step Monday to reorganize the Vatican’s powerful doctrine office, removing the No. 2 official widely believed responsible for a controversial document barring blessings for same-sex couples because God “cannot bless sin.”
Francis named Archbishop Giacomo Morandi, currently the secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, bishop of the Italian diocese of Reggio Emilia-Guastalla. The move amounts to a demotion since Morandi currently has the title of archbishop, yet is heading to a small diocese, not an archdiocese.
The Vatican said Morandi would nevertheless retain the title of archbishop “ad personam.”
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, or CDF, is one of the most important Vatican offices, interpreting doctrine for the universal Catholic Church, sanctioning dissenters and handling cases of clergy sexual abuse of minors. Morandi joined the CDF as an under-secretary in 2015 and was promoted to secretary, or the No. 2, in 2017.
He was widely seen as being behind the March 2021 document that outraged the gay community, which Francis has made pains to welcome into the church fold.
The document declared that the Catholic Church won’t bless same-sex unions because God “cannot bless sin.” The document said Francis had been informed of the document and “gave his assent” to its publication, but Francis was apparently taken by surprise by its impact.
Francis has since made several gestures of outreach to the gay Catholic community and their advocates, including a recent letter congratulating an American nun once sanctioned by the CDF, Sister Jeannine Gramick, on her 50 years of LGBTQ ministry.
The CDF is currently headed by the Jesuit Cardinal Luis Ladaria, but he is expected to retire relatively soon since he turns 78 in April, three years beyond the normal retirement age for bishops.
Aside from Morandi, there are two “additional secretaries” in the CDF, including the American Archbishop Joseph Di Noia, who also is due to retire soon since he turns 79 in July. The other is Archbishop Charles Scicluna, but he has a full-time job as archbishop of Malta.
The impending retirements and transfer of Morandi thus suggests some management changes at the office, though they probably won’t be announced until Francis releases the blueprint of his reform of the Vatican’s overall bureaucracy, expected sometime this year.
Is the Church beginning to decisively shift its approach on LGBTQ matters?
Pope Francis has not formally “changed” any official teaching but he’s opened the way to a more inclusive and pastoral approach to gay and lesbian people, and his letters encouraging those ministering to them are highly significant. It is the opening of a more “synodal” approach to this issue, where the Church listens, learns and opens up new pastoral avenues. Personnel changes at the Vatican’s doctrine office, announced on 10 January, also suggest movements are afoot.
The latest letter to emerge from Francis was sent to Sister Jeanine Gramick, one of the founders of New Ways Ministry, a US-based support group for LGBTQ Catholics, in which he praises her work. It comes despite a 1999 ruling by the Holy See’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) which ordered her and Fr Robert Nugent to be “permanently prohibited” from pastoral work with gay people.
By endorsing the 50-year ministry of Sr Jeanine, Francis has effectively overturned this earlier censure, while his support for same-sex civil unions also supersedes the CDF’s 2003 document which declared that the “state could not grant legal standing to such unions”. In short, the Francis pontificate has made decisive steps in removing the “anti-gay” perception of the Church.
Fr James Martin, a Jesuit priest and writer who ministers to gay Catholics, says that while the Pope has not changed teaching he has “certainly changed the tone, the approach and the conversation around the issue.” Fr Martin has received his own letter from the Pope, which was the first written papal endorsement of a priest’s ministry to LGBTQ Catholics.
“Remember that the Holy Father has just praised a Catholic sister who had been under Vatican censure. This could be the beginning of what church historians call a ‘rehabilitation’. You could also argue that a change in tone is a kind of change in teaching. And the new teaching could be said to be, LGBTQ Catholics are worth listening to and ministering to,” the Jesuit priest explained.
It could be argued the Pope’s letters and comments have little weight unless they are backed up with official rulings, and point out that last year he gave his approval to a CDF document blocking the possibility of the Church blessing same-sex couples.
Yet the Pope is demonstrating that official rulings alone are not enough to settle a contested issue. Time, as Francis says, is greater than space, and reality is more important than ideas. The critical test for any doctrine is how it is received by the Church community, and the Pope’s response opens up a space for the conversation to continue.
The winds of change are now blowing through the Vatican’s doctrine department, for so long the office which produced harsh rulings on the gay issue.
The Vatican has announced the Pope had decided to move the CDF official widely believed to be responsible for the document banning same-sex blessings out of his position. Archbishop Giacomo Morandi will now become the leader of the Diocese of Reggio Emilia-Guastalla, in Northern Italy.
While Francis approved the ruling on blessing same-sex unions, he later distanced himself from the language in the document and it was reported he would return to the issue at a later date.
Meanwhile, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, who leads the Archdiocese of Malta alongside working as a high ranking CDF official, has recently issued a formal warning to a priest for making homophobic comments. It appears to be the first time someone from the doctrine office has formally condemned homophobia.
At a broader level, the synod is also starting to have an impact and by throwing open the process to a broad range of voices it has already allowed small, yet historic, shifts to take place.
One of these came with the decision of the Synod of Bishops’ office in Rome to include both New Ways Ministry and Discerning Deacons, an English-language forum for discussion about the restoration of the female diaconate, on its resources page.
But this almost didn’t happen. A New Ways Ministry video, “From the Margins to the Center: a Webinar on LGBTQ Catholics and Synodality”, was removed from the synod office’s website after it had been made aware that New Ways Ministry had been censured by the US bishops’ conference a decade ago for its support of civil marriage for same-sex couples. The synod office then reversed its decision and apologised “for the pain caused” in what is the first time a Vatican official had apologised to LGBT Catholics.
The apology came after details of other letters that the Pope had sent to New Ways praising the group’s work and described their co-founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick, as a “valiant woman”. Francis also thanked Francis DeBernardo, the executive director of New Ways, for telling him the “full story” of the group as “sometimes we receive partial information about people and organisations.”
The rehabilitation of New Ways Ministry may seem like a small thing. Yet the apology and the Pope’s letters show a Church willing to listen and to learn from marginalised voices.
Sr Jeanine’s response to Francis’ letter and the 11-year investigation she faced also offers a model for what a synodal Church with different viewpoints looks like. She toldAmerica that when she received the correspondence from the Pope, she thought of the scripture from John’s Gospel: “I do not call you servants, I call you friends.”
Sr Jeanine added: “That’s how I felt, like I was getting a letter from a friend…I think that’s how Pope Francis wants us to live. And it’s what I hope we would be as a people of God: a community of friends.”
Even though she disagreed with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who oversaw the investigation into New Ways as prefect of the Vatican doctrine office, Sr Jeanine said she respected him as a “holy man” who believed he was doing the right thing.
“Cardinal Ratzinger is way out there on one branch, and I am way out there on a branch probably 180 degrees around that tree,” she said. “We couldn’t have been farther apart in our theological thinking. But we are rooted in that one tree. We have a common faith in Christ, and that’s what draws us together. We’re all around that tree somewhere.”
When it comes to LGBT Catholics, the tree is slowly being pruned and starting to bear new fruit.
Pope Francis has sent an encouraging letter to an American nun thanking her for her 50 years of ministry to LGBTQ Catholics, more than two decades after she was investigated and censured by the Vatican for her work.
In his letter dated Dec. 10, Francis wrote that Sister Jeannine Gramick has not been afraid of “closeness” and without condemning anyone had the “tenderness” of a sister and a mother. “Thank you, Sister Jeannine, for all your closeness, compassion and tenderness,” he wrote.
He also noted her “suffering … without condemning anyone.”
Gramick, who lives just outside of Washington, D.C., in Mount Rainier, Md., said that the letter felt like it was “from a friend.”
“Of course, I was overjoyed,” she said. “It felt like a turning point in the church, because for so long, this ministry has been maligned and in the shadows.”<
For decades, Gramick and her New Ways Ministry co-founder, the late Rev. Robert Nugent, were considered controversial by some church leaders for the workshops they did about the science and theology around LGBTQ topics. Gramick said she would not provide her opinion, but she would present the Catholic Church’s teaching, as well as doctrinal positions from more moderate and liberal theologians.
Gramick said she was under scrutiny from the Vatican for about 20 years before officials issued a declaration that she would be barred from ministry.
“The ambiguities and errors of the approach of Father Nugent and Sister Gramick have caused confusion among the Catholic people and have harmed the community of the Church,” the 1999 statement from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith said.
Gramick later transferred to another religious order to keep doing her work.
A spokesman for the Vatican did not respond immediately Friday to a message seeking to confirm the authenticity of the pope’s letter to Gramick. The letter, first published on Friday in the Catholic publication America magazine, is the latest in a series of several letters the pontiff has written this year to gay Catholics and others who are serving and advocating for LGBTQ people.
The pope’s letter follows actions by the Vatican on gay rights that have frustrated Francis’s more liberal supporters. Early in his papacy, he famously declared: “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?” But he has upheld church doctrine that calls LGBTQ acts “disordered.” Last year, the Vatican’s doctrinal body said that Catholic priests cannot bless same-sex unions.
In December, a Vatican official apologized to New Ways Ministry for having pulled a reference to it on the Vatican website, drawing praise from the group as a rare and “historic” apology and for restoring the reference. New Ways revealed that Pope Francis had written them two letters earlier in 2021 praising their ministry. In those letters, Francis noted Gramick’s work, that he knew “how much she has suffered,” describing her as “a valiant woman who makes her decisions in prayer.”
The Rev. James Martin, a New York City-based priest known for his ministry affirming LGBTQ Catholics, said he has received a few letters from Pope Francis but made one of them public in July 2021. Gramick’s letter, he said, is significant because she has been censured by the Vatican.
“For most LGBTQ Catholics, Sister Jeannine is a real hero, so they’ll be delighted. They’ll rightly see this as one of Pope Francis’s steps forward,” Martin said. “He doesn’t change church teaching on this but take steps … added up, all the steps, we’ve come a long way.”
Gramick said official investigations came after the late Cardinal James Hickey, the former archbishop of Washington, wrote to the Vatican asking officials to pressure Gramick and Nugent to stop their ministry. An investigation was launched in 1988 and in 1999, the Vatican issued its censure.
“It was devastating,” she said. “What can I say? It didn’t feel good.”
A spokeswoman for the archdiocese of Washington did not immediately return a request for comment on the letter.
Gramick said she and others from New Ways Ministries met with Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, in October and told them about the letters Pope Francis had sent the ministry. “Sounds like you’re pen pals,” Gregory told them, according to Gramick.
Gramick said she started her ministry when she was 29 while studying in graduate school and befriended a gay man who had left the Catholic Church for the Episcopal Church. In his apartment, she organized Mass for gay and lesbian people who had left the Catholic Church.
“When the liturgy was over, they had tears in their eyes because they felt they were being welcomed home again,” she said.
Gramick said she hopes the church will eventually change its position on sexual ethics and listen to the growing number of parishioners who have become more LGBTQ affirming.
“What would I say to LGBT Catholics is, ‘Hold on, it will change,’ ” she said. “We have to make our views known so that the officials of the church can properly express that change.’ ”
Francis also wrote to America magazine national correspondent Michael O’Loughlin, who is a gay Catholic, commending him for reporting on Catholic responses to the HIV/AIDS crisis.
From the earliest days of his papacy, O’Loughlin said, the pope has reached out to individuals in a personal way by calling people on the phone and writing the string of LGBTQ-related letters.
“There’s a lot of hurt and pain in the LGBT community and a single letter or group of letters is not going to fix that,” O’Loughlin said. “He’s interested in highlighting Catholics living out their faith even in areas that have been historically difficult for the church.”
Archbishop Charles Scicluna has pledged to take action against a priest who drew widespread condemnation after comparing being possessed by demons or having schizophrenia to being gay.
“To all those who felt offended by those words, to the mothers, fathers and siblings of gay people who felt hurt and betrayed by the Church they love so much, I hereby ask for your forgiveness,” Scicluna said when delivering mass this morning.
“I’ll take action to ensure these things don’t repeat themselves.”
Scicluna didn’t specify what kind of action he will be taking.
Father David Muscat, a priest known for his often anger-filled rhetoric aimed at minorities like the LGBT+ community, said yesterday on Facebook that being gay was worse than being possessed.
His comment was widely criticised, with Inclusion Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli personally reporting Muscat to police commissioner Angelo Gafa’ for hate speech and Equality Minister Owen Bonnici warning the priest “had crossed a line”.
The Malta Gay Rights Movement also called on the Archbishop to wake up and pay attention to what members of his own church are preaching.
Most Catholics usually spend the weeks before Christmas preparing to open church doors to anyone looking to mark the birth of Jesus. But this year, with news that a Catholic diocese in Michigan may bar gay and transgender people from participating in sacraments, LGBTQ Catholics everywhere are wondering, yet again, whether we are welcome.
The Diocese of Marquette says that the policy, which could deny parishioners rites such as baptism and Communion, is simply meant to reinforce existing church teaching, and that queer people should still be treated with “dignity and respect.” But what it risks reinforcing is the decision of LGBTQ people, and their families, who choose to leave. As a gay Catholic, it’s heartbreaking to think of what both the church, and all who benefit from Catholic ministries, will lose.
When I read the diocese’s policy, my mind raced to one of the accounts in my book, which profiles dozens of Catholics who took on stigma and shame to fight for people living with HIV at the height of the crisis. The transformation of Most Holy Redeemer Church, situated in the heart of San Francisco’s gay village, from a mausoleum into a partner in the fight against AIDS was due to the tenacity of LGBTQ Catholics and allies who saw in Scripture a commandment to extend mercy to all.
In the 1950s and ’60s, the parish was full of young families. But by the 1980s, the neighborhood had become a vibrant destination for young gay men — a remaking that had hollowed out Most Holy Redeemer.
Cliff Morrison, a gay parishioner and nurse who would eventually help establish 5B, the famed AIDS ward at San Francisco General Hospital, met with the pastor, Father Tony McGuire. He laid out a proposal: The neighborhood was bursting with the new arrivals, the majority of whom weren’t affiliated with any house of worship. “Most of these guys, they moved here from the Midwest and the South, and a lot of them are Catholic,” he said. “Why don’t we invite them back?”
So a team of parishioners created the “Come Home for Christmas” campaign. Young gay men who sought to add a dose of spirituality to the Christmas season worshiped alongside the remaining older parishioners — the “gays and the grays,” as Father Tony put it.
Thomas Ellerby, who was diagnosed with HIV in 1989, was part of Most Holy Redeemer’s holiday crew. He signed up for the parish’s “buddy program” when he became too sick to cook or do laundry. He attended the parish’s Christmas parties — elaborate affairs with ice sculptures, piles of decadent canapes and, given neighborhood demographics, a fair share of drag queens.
“That was the most fantastic escape from what was going on around us,” Ellerby said in an interview. For him, a gay Black man living with HIV in the Castro, the Catholic Church was a break from the barrage of discrimination, prejudice and heartbreak he faced each day.
The Vaticanpromulgated policies hostile toward LGBTQ people in the 1980s — ones similar to the Marquette proposal. But local church leaders in San Francisco tried to soften those messages so all Catholics would feel welcome. Had they not, ministries that touched countless lives in San Francisco would never have borne fruit.
And it wasn’t a one-way street, with only the LGBTQ community benefiting. Most Holy Redeemer itself was reinvigorated by LGBTQ Catholics, and its longtime parishioners — mostly older and straight — understood in new ways what it meant to follow Jesus’ command to love one another.
Today’s church, with LGBTQ people routinely fired from affiliated institutions and the Vatican still employing harsh language toward same-sex relationships, can feel far from Most Holy Redeemer’s uncommon example. It’s true that Pope Francis has reached out to LGBTQ Catholics and those who minister to them, but sadly he’s the exception, not the rule. Overemphasizing parts of church teaching that condemn homosexuality at the expense of parts that call for love and respect is too common.
That’s why such small, unexpected kindnesses from the church can go such a long way — and why actions such as the Marquette diocese’sfeel extra alienating. And each decision affects not only the relatively small percentage of LGBTQ Catholics but also their families and friends, coworkers and neighbors — anyone who loves them.
To Ellerby, Most Holy Redeemer was simply living out the Gospel. “They served the community,” he said. “It just so happened to be a gay community that was ground zero for HIV and AIDS. The parish was in the business of saving souls and saving lives.”