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.
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.”
When Carol Baltosiewich was a Catholic nun, she spent 10 years caring for young men dying from AIDS. Even so, the first time I spoke to her, in 2016, I was terrified to tell her I’m gay.
As a reporter who covers the church, I had started interviewing Catholics who worked and fought during the height of the H.I.V. crisis in the United States, roughly 1982 to 1996. People like Ms. Baltosiewich persisted amid frequent hostility from church leaders toward gay people and the broader stigmas of the time. A poll in 1987 found that 43 percent of Americans agreed with the statement, “AIDS might be God’s punishment for immoral sexual behavior.”
A Catholic myself, I’d long internalized that being honest about my sexual orientation could be dangerous. L.G.B.T. people have been fired from their jobs at Catholic organizations. Some groups supporting L.G.B.T. Catholics have been barred from parishes. So even someone like Ms. Baltosiewich, who has loved and served countless gay men, could feel risky.
But my conversations with Ms. Baltosiewich and others like her — the fellowship, gratitude and moments of revelation we exchanged — had a profound effect on my own faith. So much so that recently, I wrote a letter to Pope Francis to share the book I wrote based on those conversations, and even to tell him a little about myself as a gay Catholic. To my surprise, he wrote back. His words offer me encouragement that dialogue is possible between L.G.B.T. Catholics and church leaders, even at the highest levels.
When I first learned about Ms. Baltosiewich’s work, I was tempted to describe her as a hero nurse-nun who showed compassion to gay men with AIDS at a time when so many other people refused to help. And she was. But what gets lost in that framing of her story is the reality of how the individuals she met through this ministry broadened her understanding of God’s love and ultimately made her a better Christian.
Ms. Baltosiewich can trace this change to a particular moment. She had moved to Manhattan from her home in Belleville, Ill., to learn about AIDS ministry. She was sitting on the stoop of the convent in Hell’s Kitchen where she was staying when she noticed a young man, Robert, walking toward her. He was visibly upset. Ms. Baltosiewich recognized him from the hospital where she volunteered and asked what happened.
His partner was dying from AIDS and there was nothing he could do to help. Robert broke down in tears. Ms. Baltosiewich held him.
She knew what her church taught about homosexuality. She remembered her own initial discomfort at the thought of romantic love between two men. But in that moment, as she held Robert, she thought about the love and concern he showed his partner and, she remembers thinking, “You couldn’t say it was wrong.”
I’ve felt isolated and alone at times as a gay Catholic trying to find a place in the church. I stay partly for cultural reasons, taking comfort in practicing the faith of my ancestors. I also find order and meaning in Catholicism, especially when life feels unpredictable. With U.S. bishops meeting in Baltimore this week, following months of debate about the worthiness of some Catholics to receive Communion, I’ve realized that personally, I stay in the church mostly for the Eucharist, that ritual during Mass when I believe the divine transcends our ordinary lives and God is present. I haven’t found that elsewhere.
Still, there have been moments when I felt that I had no choice but to leave, that the hypocrisy and judgment were too great. I once went so far as to begin the process of being received into the Episcopal Church but didn’t follow through. I sometimes wonder if I should have, like the time I sat at a dinner in Rome and listened to another Catholic criticize Pope Francis and suggest that despite the pope’s “Who am I to judge?” attitude, gays would, in fact, burn in hell.
But my encounters with people like Ms. Baltosiewich have been transformative, so much so that when I decided this past summer to write a letter to Pope Francis about my book, the fear I had once felt with Ms. Baltosiewich was gone. I told him that I am a gay Catholic journalist and that these stories of encounter have the power to change lives. I told him about the many L.G.B.T. Catholics I’ve interviewed, who are barely hanging on to their faith.
Later, when I saw the white envelope with the return address of the Vatican Embassy in Washington, I froze. Pope Francis had written back.
“Querido hermano,” began the letter. The letter was in Spanish, Pope Francis’ native tongue, but it’s been translated into English for this article. “Dear brother. I thank you for the letter and the book, which you wrote.”
“As I finished reading your letter,” the pope continued, invoking the Gospel of Matthew, “I was spontaneously struck by that through which we will one day be judged: ‘For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to me.’”
I read on.
“Thank you for shining a light on the lives and bearing witness to the many priests, religious sisters and lay people, who opted to accompany, support and help their brothers and sisters who were sick from H.I.V. and AIDS at great risk to their profession and reputation.”
Then he offered a decades-delayed papal blessing on the work undertaken by people like Ms. Baltosiewich.
“Instead of indifference, alienation and even condemnation,” Pope Francis continued, “these people let themselves be moved by the mercy of the Father and allowed that to become their own life’s work; a discreet mercy, silent and hidden, but still capable of sustaining and restoring the life and history of each one of us.”
“Again, I thank you and ask that the Father bless you and the Virgin Mary care for you, and please, don’t forget to pray for me,” he concluded, signing off, “Fraternally, Francis.”
I’m not under any illusions that a letter, even one signed by the pope, will heal the wounds some Catholics imparted decades ago. Or that this might finally be the moment when Francis changes church teaching on homosexuality. In fact, under his leadership, the Vatican has doubled down, releasing what many read as a reiteration of the ban on gay priests. More recently, the Vatican stated that while the church should welcome gay people “with respect and sensitivity,” God “does not and cannot bless sin” and thus declared priests cannot bless gay couples.
But Christians are called to have hope, and so for now, I still do.
Ms. Baltosiewich’s world was altered through her encounters with gay men more than 30 years ago. She has since left the order of nuns she was part of during her years of AIDS ministry and joined the Sisters for Christian Community, a non-canonical group, but remains a Catholic. When I called to read her the letter, she told me her eyes filled with tears.
My faith has been edified through my interactions with Ms. Baltosiewich. And now, with a papal blessing on this kind of work, perhaps church leaders — maybe even the pope — will be transformed in how they see L.G.B.T. people and others whose faith is lived on the margins. If they don’t, imagine what the church will have lost.
Pope Francis has paid tribute to Catholic priests, nuns and laypeople who helped care for people with HIV and AIDS during the early period of the epidemic in the U.S. “at great risk to their profession and reputation.”
Francis offered the words of praise in a letter to Michael O’Loughlin, national correspondent for the Jesuit magazine America, who wrote the book “Hidden Mercy: AIDS, Catholics, and the Untold Stories of Compassion in the Face of Fear,” out this month.
“Instead of indifference, alienation and even condemnation these people let themselves be moved by the mercy of the Father and allowed that to become their own life’s work; a discreet mercy, silent and hidden, but still capable of sustaining and restoring the life and history of each one of us,” Francis wrote.
O’Loughlin provided the text of Francis’ Aug. 17 letter in an essay published Monday in the New York Times, recounting his experience as a gay Catholic reporting the project and the tensions in the 1980s among the Catholic hierarchy, the gay community and AIDS activists to confront the epidemic.
In the letter, Francis thanked O’Loughlin “for shining a light on the lives and bearing witness to the many priests, religious sisters and lay people, who opted to accompany, support and help their brothers and sisters who were sick from HIV and AIDS at great risk to their profession and reputation.”
Francis’ letter was praised by the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit and editor at large of America who has advocated for the Catholic Church to build bridges with the LGBT community. In an email, Martin said Francis’ letter “is another significant step in the pope’s continual outreach to LGBTQ people.”
The Vatican holds that gay people must be treated with dignity and respect, but that gay sex is “intrinsically disordered.”
The decline of the Catholic Church in Ireland has included a steep drop in vocations to the priesthood. While Ireland once exported its surplus of priests across the world just 13 men began training for the priesthood here last year. Added to that, the average age of priests is 70. Many parishes are staffed by elderly men who would be enjoying retirement in other professions.
Priestly vocations have often been described as a ‘calling’. Is there something about this secularising island, including the impact of clerical abuse scandals, that makes God’s voice hard to hear? Research points to a counter-narrative, one in which some people believe that God still speaks. Anne Francis’s study of women in ministry in Ireland was simply titled Called to emphasize women’s deep conviction that they were responding to a supernatural prompting to serve.
It is a conviction shared by Soline Humbert, who has felt called to the priesthood since she was a student at Trinity College Dublin in the 1970s. While she quietly stifled her call for decades, she celebrated her first public Eucharist 25 years ago – without, of course, the blessing of the Catholic Church. Humbert’s decision to defy official Church teaching was in part stimulated by a 1994 apostolic letter from Pope John Paul II which condemned even discussing women’s ordination. Hopes that Pope Francis would be more open to women’s ordination have not materialized. “It was a big relief when I could be open about [my vocation]”, said Humber. “Before, it was like being in a tomb – gradually you end up dead inside.’
John Paul II later said that those who continued to discuss women’s ordination ‘were effectively excommunicating themselves’. But women around the world have continued to hear a call, with growing numbers organising their own ordinations, celebrating Eucharist and taking responsibilities for parishes, building thriving ministries despite their excommunication.
Across the island, there are around 400 women ‘ministering as their main life choice’, including Protestant clergy, Catholic Religious and laity with formal roles in church structures. While these women reported feeling fulfilled by their calling, 70% across all Christian traditions believed gender issues had negatively impacted their life or work.
Almost all Catholic women thought that a patriarchal Church culture prevented women’s ordination and felt their contributions to ministry were not valued by authorities. Similarly, some Presbyterian clergy believed the validity of female ordination was under attack by conservative elements in their church. Between 2013 and 2020, Rev Dr Stafford Carson, who opposes women’s ordination, was principal of Union Theological College, where ministers for the Presbyterian Church are trained.
Female clergy in the Church of Ireland and Methodist churches were most likely to feel valued. But women remain under-represented among their clergy and in positions of leadership. Pat Storey, Bishop of Meath and Kildare, is the only female bishop in the Church of Ireland; while Rev Dr Heather Morris, a former President of the Methodist Church, serves as the church’s General Secretary. A study found that while 20% of clergy in the Church of Ireland are women, they are less likely than their male counterparts to be employed as rectors of a parish and more likely to be serving in part-time or non-stipendiary posts.
Honouring the contribution of women?
In March 2021, the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference announced a ‘synodal pathway’, which will lead to a National Synodal Assembly in the next five years. Pope Francis has enthusiastically promoted synods as mechanisms for the Church to discern the will of the Holy Spirit, including contributions from lay and ordained.
As part of the process, the Bishops Conference has identified seven areas for ‘listening to what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church in Ireland’, one of which is ‘honouring the contribution of women’. Dr Nicola Brady, a lay Catholic who as General Secretary of the Irish Council of Churches is responsible for administering the island’s national-level ecumenical structures, has been named chair of the synodal steering committee. Her appointment reflects her expertise – and raises expectations that the synod will take women’s perspectives seriously.
Women’s inclusion is an urgent issue. While women are more likely to be regular churchgoers and pray more often than men, they feel undervalued by the Catholic Church. A study found that a stunning 74% of Irish Catholic women believed that the Church did not treat them with ‘a lot of respect’, compared to just 6% of Protestant women. It also found that 84% of Catholic and 95% of Protestant women were in favour of female clergy.
Former President Mary McAleese has captured the mood, describing the Catholic Church as ‘a primary global carrier of the virus of misogyny’. A 2018 poll found that 55% agreed with McAleese that the Church does not treat women equally and 62% agreed with her support for the ordination of women.
But dreams that the synod’s pledge to ‘honour’ women might extend to consideration of women’s ordination are likely to be misplaced. Pope Francis has been very clear that synods are not instruments to change church teaching, but rather to apply teaching more pastorally. It is not yet clear how conversations about women will be framed by the synod. Regardless, the women who feel ‘called’ will continue to bear witness to what they regard as the voice of God.