The meaning behind Pope Francis’ meeting with transgender people

By: Newsy

Father James Martin has taken his message of prayer and inclusivity everywhere, from “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” to the halls of the Vatican. In May, he wrote to Pope Francis with a few questions.

“I just wanted to give him a time to briefly talk to LGBTQ Catholics,” Martin said.

Francis has extended apologies to the abused and a welcome to the historically rejected. According to the Vatican News, he recently met with transgender people near Rome, Italy.

So Martin’s questions aren’t so random.

“I asked him, ‘What would you most like them to know about the church?'” Martin said. “He said, ‘Read Acts of the Apostles,’ which was really interesting because there’s a church that’s kind of mixing it up. Then also, ‘What would you say to an LGBTQ Catholic who felt rejected by the church?’ And he said very interestingly to remember that it’s not the church that rejects you, the church loves you, but it might be individual people in the church.”

It isn’t the first time Francis has corresponded directly with Martin on LGBTQ relations or the first time he has spoken up about their place within the Catholic church.

In 2016, Francis agreed the church should apologize to not only gay people but other marginalized groups, like the poor. He’s also called for parents to accept their LGBTQ children.

Francis’ gestures are one thing; changing church doctrine, which teaches that the act of homosexuality is sinful, is another.

“What would have happened really, in a sense, is for theologians working together, along with church officials, to come to some newer understanding of how they can accommodate for older church teaching on these issues, to show that the church evolves rather than dramatically changing,” said Michele Dillon, professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire. “Because the church is not going to say, ‘Oh, we were wrong.’ It’s very rare.”

“If he were to do that, which I don’t think Pope Francis will, but if he were to do that, he would not want to do it without support from the Curia and the College of Cardinals,” said Cristina Traina, professor of Catholic theology at Fordham University. “He would not want to do it without tracing a pathway theologically.”

Instead, Francis has gone another direction: one met with both criticism and praise, uplifting LGBTQ Catholics while simultaneously reiterating church doctrine.

NEWSY’S AMBER STRONG: Is he sort of riding the line between saying that this is doctrine and doctrines not going to change? But, we also still need to love and affirm people as well.

FATHER JAMES MARTIN: I think that’s a good question, and I think he is kind of trying to straddle that line. But I think one thing to remember is that what seems very bland and tepid in the United States — overseas is a big deal. In the U.S., we might say, ‘Oh, big deal. Of course, you should welcome your kids.’ If you’re in Eastern Europe or sub-Saharan Africa or Latin America or India, that’s a big deal. So, we have to remember that he’s speaking to the whole church.”

According to Pew Research, 76% of U.S. Catholics say society should be accepting of homosexuality. That’s below the rate of Catholic support in countries like Spain and the Netherlands but far higher than places like Lebanon and Nigeria.

Some theologians argue that Francis’ support could have a trickle-down impact on individual Catholics and parishes.

“These things can do a lot to encourage Catholics to embrace LGBTQ people with love and compassion and mercy and not to see them as the Antichrist, the anathema, the enemy of salvation,” Traina said.

In 2021, a group of Catholic leaders, including a cardinal and archbishop, signed a statement calling for widespread support of at-risk LGBTQ youth. According to an NCR analysis of recent listening sessions among U.S. Catholics, there was a growing call for LGBTQ inclusion and more opportunities for women.

“To me, there’s no such thing as an empty gesture because, yes, many times people want to see more clear-cut evidence of change and of their acceptance within the church, but sometimes it’s in small steps,” Dillon said.

In 2021, Martin, a Vatican appointee under Francis, launched Outreach: a website that provides resources to LGBTQ Catholics and leaders. It’s an effort Pope Francis has encouraged.

“He hasn’t changed any church teaching,” Martin said. “I’m not advocating for any church teaching, but he’s advocated a more pastoral response, listening to them, welcoming them, treating them with respect.

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Catholic clergy’s unquestioned — and uneducated — power spurs abuse

The report, ‘Beyond Bad Apples,’ looks at systemic causes behind the clergy sex abuse scandal of past decades.

Catherine Coleman Murphy, center, and Jack Wintermyer, right, protest along with others outside Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul before an Ash Wednesday Mass in Philadelphia on March 9, 2011.

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A new report based on interviews with some 300 Catholic priests, nuns and laypeople concludes that clergy aren’t adequately prepared to wield the power they exercise and need more education on questions of sex and gender.

The report, “Beyond Bad Apples: Understanding Clericalism as a Structural Problem & Cultivating Strategies for Change,” released Monday (Aug. 15), explores the links between clericalism — clergy’s focus on its authority — and clergy-perpetrated sexual abuse.

The study’s authors, Julie Hanlon Rubio and Paul J. Schutz, both professors at Santa Clara University, a Jesuit institution in Northern California, initially intended to survey 600 respondents, drawn proportionally from lay, religious (those who take vows but are not ordained to the priesthood) and priests, but were turned away by five of the six dioceses and diocesan seminaries they approached.

The authors admit that this “likely means that our respondents are biased towards agreement with our theory of clericalism” and that “our data leans in one direction.”

Nearly half (48.4%) of the 300 who participated were lay Catholics, 22% were nuns, 16% were priests and 6% were men in formation for the priesthood. More than two-thirds of their responses from priests came from those educated in Jesuit institutions.

The report was funded by a grant from Fordham University as part of a project dubbed, “Taking Responsibility: Jesuit Educational Institutions Confront the Causes and Legacy of Sexual Abuse.”

Rubio and Schutz wanted to move away from asking, “Is he a good priest or a bad priest?” and ask instead, “What are the underlying reasons that this priest is acting in this way?”

Existing studies, said the authors, “have focused on individuals who engage in abuse due to personal weakness, psychosexual vulnerabilities, the influence of broader historical movements, or poor theology and training.”

Schutz told Religion News Service that their aim was to understand how “structural clericalism operates in the church,” comparing clericalism to the way structural racism shapes the lives of people of color.

Rubio said, “When you blame ‘bad apples,’ then everybody else is sort of innocent, as long as we go after the bad apples. But when you say there’s a problem with the structure, that’s a much bigger problem, and we’re all implicated.”

The authors said their data shows that sex, gender and power are all components of structural clericalism, which in turn keeps priests above and apart from the rest of the church and potentially enables abuse.

“Beyond Bad Apples: Understanding Clericalism as a Structural Problem & Cultivating Strategies for Change" Courtesy image
“Beyond Bad Apples: Understanding Clericalism as a Structural Problem & Cultivating Strategies for Change”

Nearly half (49%) of priest respondents and 73% of those in formation said that they were told repression or sublimation were strategies for dealing with their sexuality (how one lives as a sexual person), according to the report. This number increases to 83% among non-Jesuit-educated priests.

The report also noted that 70% of those in formation and 51% of priests said it was difficult to talk about their sexuality. More than 75% of all respondents said the church would be a healthier institution if priests spoke openly about their own sexuality.

Half of priests and those in formation said their formation program gave them the tools they needed for living a celibate life without denying their sexuality. Of this 50%, all were Jesuit-educated; none were diocesan priests or students in diocesan seminaries.

Large majorities in the study rejected “simple correlations between homosexuality or celibacy and (clergy perpetrated sex abuse).” Only 11 respondents named homosexuality and only four named celibacy as a factor in clergy-perpetrated sex abuse, according to the report.

Among the survey’s participants, 40% of priests and men in formation for priesthood identified as homosexual or bisexual, the report found. Officially, the priesthood is limited to heterosexual men.

“The concentration of gay men in the priesthood cannot be overlooked because most priests are not able to be open about their sexual orientation, and some may consciously or unconsciously seek out priesthood as a way of avoiding or repressing their sexuality, making healthy celibacy extraordinarily difficult,” the report read.

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‘Too harsh’ and ‘out of step’

— Survey finds NJ Catholics want a more inclusive church

By Deena Yellin

Thousands of New Jersey Catholics gathered over the past year in an unprecedented series of meetings designed to help steer the future of the church.

The consensus, officials say, was clear: The Catholic Church needs to open its arms more to women, immigrants, LGBTQ individuals and others who feel marginalized by the faith.

The desire for more inclusivity was a major theme in discussions with 16,000 parishioners in four of New Jersey’s Catholic dioceses, according to summaries released recently by each diocese. While responses varied widely, many at the listening sessions said they too often feel unwelcome. Participants also cited distress at the church’s handling of the clergy abuse scandal.

“The challenge remains,” Trenton Bishop David O’Connell said in a statement, for the church “to determine ways to address and minimize the hurts felt by people.”

The surveys conducted by the Trenton, Camden, Paterson and Metuchen dioceses — representing almost 2.5 million Catholics — were part of a synod, or assembly, launched by Pope Francis last year and aimed at taking the pulse of the world’s Catholics. Such efforts have been convened throughout the centuries, generally with church leaders. But Francis upped the ante by asking every diocese on the planet to survey its parishioners, churchgoing or not.

The Newark Archdiocese, the state’s largest, with nearly 1.5 million worshippers in Bergen, Essex, Union and Hudson counties, is still working on its report, and its completion date is uncertain, spokesperson Sean Quinn said.

Other key themes from the New Jersey sessions included women’s role in the church, a desire for greater involvement in decision-making by the laity and the need to better engage young people, who have been fleeing religion in general. The call for a more welcoming church was echoed in recent reports from Catholic leaders in Seattle, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.

Findings from the U.S. and assemblies around the world will be sent to participants of the synod in Rome, due to gather in October 2023.

Francis’ synod is the “widest in scope” that’s ever been attempted, said Tim Gabrielli, an expert in Catholic theology at the University of Dayton in Ohio, “Whether there will be a change in church doctrine as a result of the reports remains to be seen.s

“The process itself — which involves speaking with frankness, accompanying one another and carefully listening to each other — is transformational,” he said. “I don’t think anyone knows what will come of it. Pope Francis has never suggested a change to church teaching but has been consistent in emphasizing the importance of a more complete welcome and ministry to LGBTQ persons.”

Here’s a look at what local Catholics had to say, based on the four dioceses’ reports:

Paterson Diocese

Bishop-elect Kevin Sweeney, named the new leader of the Paterson Diocese, seen during ordinations of priests in Brooklyn.

The Diocese of Paterson, with 577,000 members in Passaic, Morris and Sussex counties, said many of the 5,000 participants in its synod sessions expressed a sense that the church is not loving. The church’s report said people cited “the absence of inclusion and sensitivity to women, Hispanic/Latino community, LGBTQ people, families with young children, people with special needs, people victimized by abuse, the elderly and other people who, for whatever reason, feel that they do not conform to the prevalent social or moral norms.”

English-speaking participants most commonly cited gender as a fault line and Hispanic churchgoers’ ethnicity, the diocese said. “Although not all participants called for a change in the Church’s teaching on these matters, they did call for a change in approach and attitude,” its summary added.

Some said the church should adapt to modern times, while others were content with the status quo. Some said priests should be allowed to marry and women to serve as deacons and priests; others affirmed their support for an all-male, celibate priesthood.

Parents and relatives “expressed that their LGBTQ children did not feel welcome and included by the church,” said the Rev. Paul Manning, the Paterson diocese’s vicar for evangelization. “People were on both ends when it came to the morality of the issue, but certainly felt that ministry to and inclusion of the LGBTQ community was lacking.”

Not all the feedback was negative, he noted in summarizing the synod results. “Most Catholics long for Jesus and care for the Church,” Manning said. “That is the key message of the report.”

Trenton Diocese

Bishop David O'Connell of the Trenton Diocese is shown during a Confirmation mass at the Church of St. Martha in Point Pleasant Borough on October 26, 2018.

The Diocese of Trenton, which encompasses Burlington, Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean counties, has a Catholic population of 774,000. Among the 4,500 participants’ most prominent concerns was that their children and grandchildren don’t practice their Catholic faith. “There is a dismay that the church doesn’t know what to do to attract and keep young people,” said the report.

The clergy abuse scandal and the crisis of credibility it generated was anther major theme. It “continues to be a source of pain for many, not only for victims and their families, but also for average lay Catholics and priests,” the diocese said. Some said they lost confidence in the church leadership because of the way the abuse crisis was handled.

Among the conclusions of the Trenton synod was that the church should consider married priests and reopen discussion about women serving as deacons and priests, along with other leadership roles.

“We need to continue to increase respect for women and their role in the Universal Church,” the diocese concluded. “The church must also do more to engage young people and offer them opportunities to be included. And finally, the church needs to be more welcoming to all, not only in words but in action.”

O’Connell, the Trenton bishop, said he wasn’t surprised by the criticism but also noted people’s “love for the Holy Eucharist and willingness to serve in various ministries.” The diocese must look to “build upon the strengths and good experiences expressed by participants.”

Camden Diocese

Many of the nearly 4,000 participants discussed the need for women in church leadership and also said the diversity of the local community is not reflected in their parishes. The diocese includes 475,000 Catholics in Atlantic, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem counties.

A substantial number of people complained about the exclusion of LGBTQ and divorced individuals. The common recommendation was to create specific ministries where members can enjoy the richness of parish life, the church said.

“There appears to be a perception that the LGBTQ and divorced individuals cannot receive communion and participate in liturgy,” said the report. “Many expressed a need for improving the teaching on these subjects.”

Metuchen Diocese

The Metuchen diocese is composed of a Catholic population of roughly 650,000 and encompasses Middlesex, Somerset, Hunterdon and Warren counties. About 1,800 people participated in sessions, and many said the church is moving “too slowly” and is “too harsh,” but didn’t offer specific examples.

As in the other New Jersey dioceses, Metuchen participants were concerned about marginalized groups feeling “excluded” and said the church needs to become more hospitable, its report said.

People pointed to outdated language used by the church to refer to those who identity as LGBTQ as “disordered,” describing it as hurtful. Some respondents accused the church of being “out of step with the world” regarding gender issues.

Complete Article HERE!

Pope Francis meets transgender guests of Rome church

Pope Francis waves to faithful as he arrives in the Paul VI hall for his the weekly general audience at the Vatican, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022.

By Nicole Winfield

Pope Francis has met with a fourth group of transgender people who found shelter at a Rome church, the Vatican newspaper reported Thursday.

L’Osservatore Romano said the encounter took place Wednesday on the sidelines of Francis’ weekly general audience. The newspaper quoted Sister Genevieve Jeanningros and the Rev. Andrea Conocchia as saying the pope’s welcome brought their guests hope.

The Blessed Immaculate Virgin community in the Torvaianica neighborhood on Rome’s outskirts opened its doors to transgender people during the coronavirus pandemic.

Francis previously met with some of them on April 27, June 22 and Aug. 3, the newspaper said.

“No one should encounter injustice or be thrown away, everyone has dignity of being a child of God,” the paper quoted Sister Jeanningros as saying.

Francis has earned praise from some members of the LBGTQ community for his outreach. When asked in 2013 about a purportedly gay priest, he replied, “Who am I to judge?” He has met individually and in groups with transgender people over the course of his pontificate.

But he has strongly opposed “gender theory” and has not changed church teaching that holds that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.” In 2021, he allowed publication of a Vatican document asserting that the Catholic Church cannot bless same-sex unions since “God cannot bless sin.”

Recently, Francis wrote a letter praising the initiative of a Jesuit-run ministry for LGBTQ Catholics, called Outreach. The online resource is run by the Rev. James Martin, author of “Building a Bridge,” a book about the need for the church to better welcome and minister to LGBTQ Catholics.

Francis praised a recent Outreach event at New York’s Jesuit Fordham University, and encouraged organizers “to keep working in the culture of encounter, which shortens the distances and enriches us with differences, in the same manner of Jesus, who made himself close to everyone.”

The first Jesuit pope of the Roman Catholic Church has spoken of his own ministry to gay and transgender people, insisting they are children of God, loved by God and deserving of accompaniment by the church.

Complete Article HERE!

AP-NORC poll details rift between lay Catholics and bishops

FILE – Migrants watching Pope Francis’ Mass in Juarez, Mexico, from a levee along the banks of the Rio Grande in El Paso, Texas, take part in Communion, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016. According to a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research conducted in mid-May 2022, only 31% of lay Catholics agree that politicians supporting abortion rights should be denied Communion, while 66% say they be allowed access to the sacrament.

By David Crary 

The hardline stances of many conservative Catholic bishops in the U.S. are not shared by a majority of lay Catholics. Most of them say abortion should be legal, favor greater inclusion of LGBT people, and oppose the denial of Communion for politicians who support abortion rights, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

The poll, conducted in mid-May, shows a clear gap between the prevalent views of American Catholics, and some recent high-profile actions taken by the church’s leaders.

For example, leaders of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops recently called on Catholics nationwide to pray for the U.S. Supreme Court to end the constitutional right to abortion by reversing its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. According to the new poll, 63% of Catholic adults say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and 68% say Roe should be left as is.

On May 20, the archbishop of San Francisco, Salvatore Cordileone, announced that he will no longer allow U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to receive Communion because of her support for abortion rights.

According to the poll, only 31% of lay Catholics agree that politicians supporting abortion rights should be denied Communion, while 66% say they should be allowed access to the sacrament.

An even larger majority – 77% — said that Catholics who identify as LGBT should be allowed to receive Communion. That contrasts sharply with a policy issued by the Diocese of Marquette, which encompasses Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, saying pastors should deny Communion to transgender, gay and nonbinary Catholics “unless the person has repented.”

Natalia Imperatori-Lee, a professor of religious studies at Manhattan College, said the rift between rank-and-file Catholics and the bishops “reveals a breakdown in communication and trust — shepherds who are far removed from the sheep.”

“This is a precarious time for the U.S. Catholic church,” she added in an email. “U.S. Catholics are, on the whole, accustomed to living and working in a pluralistic society and this poll reinforces the notion that they want the public square to remain pluralistic, free from coercion, and oriented toward care for the vulnerable populations among us.”

The Rev. Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, said the poll results didn’t surprise him, and underscored a need for anti-abortion clergy and activists to redouble efforts to change people’s positions.

“For us working on pro-life issues, these kinds of polls are like a summons,” he said. “You’ve got to be doing your work — maybe you’ve got to do it better.”

As for conservative bishops, “their awareness of the gaps that the polling reveals is precisely one of the reasons they feel the need to speak up,″ Pavone said. “They are striving to exercise the role outlined for them in Scripture, namely, to patiently and persistently teach the faith, whether convenient or inconvenient, to clear up confusion.”

Beyond the bishops/laity rift, the poll highlighted other challenges facing the church, which is the largest denomination in the U.S.

For example, 68% of Catholics reported attending religious services once a month or less. Compared to five years ago, 37% said they were now attending less often; 14% said they were attending more often.

Over that five-year span, 26% percent of Catholics said their opinion of the Catholic church had worsened, while 17% said their opinion had improved. Most said their opinion hadn’t changed.

More than two-thirds of U.S. Catholics disagree with church policies that bar women from becoming priests. And 65% say the church should allow openly gay men to be ordained.

The poll was conducted just after the leak of a draft Supreme Court majority opinion that would strike down Roe v. Wade. The views of U.S. Catholics, as expressed in the poll, were in line with the overall American public, both in regard to supporting abortion’s legality and preserving Roe.

However, there were sharp differences among major religious groupings. While 63% of Catholics said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, that stance was held by 74% of mainline Protestants and only 25% of evangelical Protestants.

Sharon Barnes of Dallas, who converted to Catholicism as a young adult, appreciates the centuries-old consistency of Catholic doctrine. Yet she differs from the church on some major social issues, including abortion.

“It’s a woman’s right to decide,” said Barnes, 65. “It’s something that you have to kind of reconcile yourself, and it’s between you and God.”

Pedro Gomez, a 55-year-old border patrol agent in Rio Rico, Arizona, is a lifelong Catholic who prays every night and attends church regularly. He understands the need for abortion in cases of rape, incest or saving the life of a mother, but he said he considers the procedure to be the killing of a child.

Gomez was surprised that most U.S. Catholics support some degree of abortion rights.

“There’s a lot of gray area now that was never there in my upbringing,” he said. “Maybe they’re watering down Catholicism … Now people are being able to make up their own rules.”

Ed Keeley, a 62-year-old public school teacher in Houston, also was raised Catholic. He described abortion as “a hard subject,” saying he believes in the sanctity of life but that abortion should be allowed in specific cases, including rape or incest

He finds it “ridiculous” that a priest would deny Communion to someone because of their views on abortion or politics generally.

Last year, some conservative bishops, including Cordileone, argued publicly that President Joe Biden — a lifelong Catholic — should not receive Communion because of his support for abortion rights. However, Pope Francis conveyed his opposition to such a stance, saying Communion “is not a prize for the perfect.”

Cordileone’s recent denial of Communion for Pelosi was supported by several of his clerical colleagues, including the archbishops of Denver, Oklahoma City, Portland, Oregon, and Kansas City, Kansas. However, Archbishop Michael Jackels of Dubuque, Iowa, issued a statement describing the action as “misguided.”

“As Jesus said, it’s the sick people who need a doctor, not the healthy, and he gave us the Eucharist as a healing remedy,” Jackels said. “Don’t deny the people who need the medicine.”

He also contended that abortion was not the only critical “life issue” facing the church.

“Protecting the earth, our common home, or making food, water, shelter, education and health care accessible, or defense against gun violence… these are life issues too,” he said. “To be consistent, to repair the scandal of Catholics being indifferent or opposed to all those other life issues, they would have to be denied Holy Communion as well.”

John Gehring, Catholic program director at the Washington-based clergy network Faith in Public Life, said some conservative bishops engage in the culture wars “in ways that damage their already diminished relevance and credibility.”

“Most Catholics are fed up with bishops who want to weaponize Communion in a hypocritical, single-issue campaign against pro-choice politicians, especially when we see Pope Francis offering a better road map,” said Gehring

The AP-NORC poll of 1,172 adults, including 358 Catholics, was conducted May 12-16 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.0 percentage points, and for Catholics is plus or minus 7.4 percentage points.

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