Pope Francis has lost control of his liberal revolution

— Trouble is brewing in the very regions that cradled the 16th-century Protestant Reformation.



The events that sent the Catholic Church to the brink of a full-blown schism really got going just after lunch.

On a freezing afternoon last November in central Berlin, a few hundred German Catholic politicians, theologians and captains of industry piled into the grand chandeliered assembly hall of the Hotel Titanic Chaussee to put the final touches on an ambitious reform that would allow them to effectively overrule their own bishops — and by extension the Holy See.

During a rowdy assembly lasting several hours, with the wind whipping outside, the delegates complained that Pope Francis had let the German Church down on key issues such as clerical sex abuse, gay marriage and trans rights, on which the German faithful desperately sought progress.

“They found out, using human science, that there are more than two genders — and yet the pope rejects this!” the theologian Andreas Lob-Hüdepohl fumed from beneath a mushroom cloud of fuzzy red hair. “Nobody knows where he goes, he’s always changing his mind. There’s no throughline in his doings, no logic.’”

Since the beginning of his papacy, Francis has faced attacks from conservatives worried he’s gone too far on issues like homosexuality, abortion and capitalism. But those gathered in Berlin were complaining of precisely the opposite: that he isn’t liberal enough.

“Francis was elected to renew the Catholic Church,” said Thomas Söding, the vice president of the Central Committee for German Catholics, the group that descended on the German capital in November. But the pope’s failure to bring about any meaningful change has left the Church archaic and unfixed, he said, forcing the Germans to try and beat their own path.

It would be wrong to say Francis has done nothing to earn his reputation as a liberal revolutionary. Since the start of his papacy, the pontiff has roiled the religious hierarchy with interventions in popular debates, not only on sexuality but also on the economy, immigration and climate change. He has introduced some genuine reforms, including opening high-level offices in the Holy See to women, and has famously embraced a tolerant, each-to-his-own philosophy, even declaring that heaven is open to atheists. Asked about gay priests during an exchange with reporters on the papal plane returning from his first foreign trip, the pontiff answered: “Who am I to judge?”

This has all been accompanied by a conspicuous effort to project holiness and humility. Francis decided early to settle into the Vatican’s cramped Santa Marta guesthouse instead of the opulent abode of previous popes, and he ditched the bulletproof popemobile for a navy Ford Focus. Just days after the conclusion of the conclave that elected him, the then-Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires was reported to have expected so little of his chances that he’d already booked a return ticket to Argentina.

But even as conservatives in the United States, Africa and the Vatican itself have fumed over Francis’s self-consciously populist approach, repeated right-wing attacks on his authority have fizzled. Instead, the more serious challenge has come from those who complain the pope’s liberal reforms have been half-hearted, stopping short of theological change while being overshadowed by scandal.

Last year, for example, a landmark declaration allowing clerical blessings for same-sex couples was diluted after a fiasco involving religious musings on the nature of orgasms. In late May, moreover, Francis’s own liberal bona fides were questioned after multiple reports that he had used a homophobic slur behind closed doors.

Driven to desperation, progressive Catholics in Germany and elsewhere have seized on an effort by Francis to inject a modicum of consultative democracy into the Church — an arcane initiative he has dubbed “synodality.” Since then they have used the process to seize powers normally reserved for the ordained and to steer their local branches in a direction more to their liking. Many, indeed, want to harness the synodal process to actually change Church law.

“Ninety percent of people who leave the Church say they are angry with sexual abuse, clerical corruption, that they are angry with the leadership,” Söding said. “There is this idea of holy men who are elected by God himself and have the position to lead the Church — even if the big majority of the faithful are not convinced that this is the right way.”

Since the beginning of his papacy, Francis has faced attacks from conservatives worried he’s gone too far on issues like homosexuality, abortion and capitalism.

For much of the past year, the German challenge has rippled through the Catholic Church, prompting dire warnings of a schism and calls for a conservative crackdown. It hasn’t gone unnoticed that the threat to clerical authority has erupted in the very regions that cradled the 16th-century Lutheran upheavals. Last year, one prominent archbishop described the events in the German Church as “the greatest crisis since the Reformation.” And though the uprising has recently been subdued, it shows no signs of ending.

* * *

Some revolutions are full of fire, rage and righteous oratory. The progressive revolt against Francis, however, has a more German hue, one of careful and piecemeal administrative reform.

The Teutonic rumblings began in 2018 with a landmark inquiry into Germany’s clerical abuse crisis. Commissioned by the country’s clergy to stem the exodus of jaded churchgoers, the resulting report recommended that priestly celibacy be questioned, that greater tolerance be shown toward LGBTQ+ people, and that lay Catholics have a greater say over the appointment of bishops.

In many places such suggestions could have been ignored, but in Germany that was less plausible. Unique among its counterparts, the German Church is funded by the taxes of its 20 million-odd members, making it sensitive to public opinion in a way most ecclesial bodies aren’t. In 2018 that sensitivity led to pressure on German bishops to enact the reforms concerning clerical abuse — even if many of them contravened Church law.

Ironically enough, the tool German Catholics have used to challenge the Vatican was one provided by Francis himself. Over the course of his papacy, the pope has rolled out several major, church-wide consultative forums known as synods, while expanding their scope to include laypeople and encouraging others to take cues.

While Francis’s allies say these synods are really only about “listening,” many in the German clergy, perhaps wishfully, viewed them as an endorsement of outright democratic reform. They soon found a willing partner in the Central Committee for German Catholics, the powerful lay pressure group that descended on Berlin last year. Representing the cream of the German Catholic elite — its ranks include Brussels politician Manfred Weber — the Central Committee naturally bends toward the political mainstream, and it seized the opportunity to drag the bishops into modernity.

And so Germany’s “Synodal Path” was born. Through a series of joint assemblies, the institutions worked briskly to put the recommendations of the 2018 report into practice, even if it made some of the bishops queasy. Where Church doctrine was immovable their proposals were rhetorical, but at times they explicitly defied Vatican guidance — approving, for instance, blessings for gay couples in 2023.

Last year, controversy erupted when the Central Committee pushed through a motion to weaken the voting power of the bishops, allowing them to be overruled by a simple majority. Ignoring the outcry from Rome, the Committee then pushed to make that arrangement permanent, with a “Synodal Council” that would forever bind the two parties together.

That was the goal of last November’s gathering in the Hotel Titanic Chaussee: to vote in that final reform and institutionalize the Germans’ pioneering Church democracy. The bishops, for their part, were expected to rubber-stamp the vote the following February.

The mood at the hotel resembled a party political conference. There was much grandstanding about Israel, while grievances with the pontiff ranged from clerical abuse to the minutiae of daily politics. Among those who gave impassioned speeches was Hildegard Mueller, president of the German Association of the Automotive Industry — not the most obvious authority on theology.

Inevitably, such scenes alarmed the Holy See. Francis and his allies concluded that the Synodal Path was an attempt to change Church law outright. The previous year, the pope’s top diplomat had warned the Germans that their initiative posed a “threat to the unity of the church.” Francis himself intervened in November, urging the German Catholics to stop “looking for ‘salvation’ in ever new committees,” and instead to “open up and go out to meet our brothers and sisters, especially those who are … on the thresholds of our church doors, on the streets, in the prisons, in the hospitals, in the squares and in the cities.”

The Germans largely shrugged off the criticism, outwardly playing down their aims while privately talking of genuine democratic transformation. The power-sharing reform sailed through the Committee with a decisive yes — with practically no dissent.

For much of the past year, the German challenge has rippled through the Catholic Church, prompting dire warnings of a schism and calls for a conservative crackdown.

* * *

The uprising against clerical authority hasn’t been confined to liberal circles in Berlin. Earlier this year, bishops in Belgium unveiled a “Synodal Manifesto” that called for many of the same reforms as the Germans. To be sure, the Belgians were more careful, agreeing to go ahead only with Vatican approval. But the development showed the extent to which public outrage was spreading at a regional and even sub-regional level.

To take a more extreme example, not long after the Germans voted to defy the Holy See, Bishop Felix Gmür welcomed POLITICO to his beleaguered alpine redoubt in the town of Solothurn in northern Switzerland, the seat of the diocese of Basel. Under a pale January sky, with snow falling on the gray fir trees surrounding his palatial headquarters, the bespectacled bishop described the fiasco engulfing his own small, cold corner of the Church.

The revolution had come to Gmür’s doorstep in November, when churchgoers from one of the cantons under his watch presented him with four demands pertaining to the handling of child abuse by the Swiss Church. Switzerland, too, had been roiled by a series of horrifying revelations, and the Lucerne “Synod” — a parliament of laypeople tasked with collecting and disbursing tax revenues for the diocese — wanted Gmür to set up an external body to investigate abuse, as well as an archive to prevent the destruction of documents.

As in the German case, the events illustrated the deteriorating relations between the clergy and the faithful; the difference here, however, was how far the parishioners were willing to go. They were not advocating a new, benign power-sharing arrangement — they were threatening to withhold some half a million francs from Gmür should he not meet their demands.

To some, that was a terrifying precedent: “If you have the money, you now have the power against the bishop,” said Urs Corradini, a Swiss deacon who works for Gmür’s diocese and has publicly defended the bishop. “This is really dangerous. The power has to be with the pope, the bishops, the priests.” Otherwise, he said, matters of faith risk becoming subject to democratic decision-making — “and then the group decides if you want to believe in Christ or not.”

While the dispute may still be resolved amicably, Gmür was scandalized that it arose in the first place. “I said, you’re not my superiors. That’s not the way it works!” he said.

“It’s a war,” he added, only partly joking.

St. Ursus Cathedral in Solothurn, Switzerland. The city is the seat of the diocese of Basel and home to the beleaguered bishop Felix Gmür.

To be sure, committee meetings and checkbooks aren’t pitchforks and torches, but the events roiling Central Europe have alarmed the more conservative Church leaders, who worry that efforts like those in Berlin, Brussels and Basel could impose political, secular directives on weakened bishops.

As the Germans gathered in Berlin, Stanislaw Gadecki, the powerful former Polish archbishop of Poznan, gave an interview to the Catholic World Report in which he likened the debate in Germany to the Protestant Reformation that tore the church apart in the 16th century. “The documents [the Germans were voting on] draw profusely from Protestant theology and the language of modern politics,” he said.

Others have suggested that the Germans are playing with fire in their mistaken view that the 2,000-year-old Church, with its fundamentally authoritarian hierarchy, can ever function like a modern democracy.

“They have misread the pope, the pope is not liberal,” Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, a close ally of Francis, told POLITICO. He said the German Church was the victim of “aggressive lobbying” and U.S- style culture war polarization. Such politicking, he added darkly, “destroys the unity of the Church.”

* * *

While the pontiff has poured cold water on the German effort, he has refrained from a definitive crackdown. Indeed, as pope, he’s all too aware how precarious a position the European Church is in, with worshippers leaving in droves. “Faith in Europe and in much of the West is no longer an obvious presumption but is often denied, derided, marginalized and ridiculed,” the pontiff said in a speech to prelates in 2019.

Francis has tried to push the envelope on what flies in the Church, but he keeps colliding with the rigidity of its culture and of scripture — or tripping over his own scattered approach to theological policymaking. There’s a familiar rhythm to the pope’s scandals: He casually floats a progressive idea, draws vicious pushback from the right and then retreats, angering the left. Days, months or years later he reintroduces a diluted version of his mothballed proposal, only to generate greater pushback and deeper confusion.

What often results from this chaotic process is a precarious “two-speed Church” in which Francis tries to appease both sides by leaving the application of his diktats to the discretion of local priests — an idea as revolutionary as it is indicative of increasing desperation in the Vatican. While there has always been a degree of to-each-his-own permissiveness regarding major regional differences, rarely has it come so explicitly from the top.

Illustrating this approach was the surprise publication in December of Fiducia supplicans, a papal declaration affirming the right of priests to give simple blessings to same-sex couples. At first it looked as if the pope was changing his mind following years of equivocation, in which he had embraced gay Catholics on a personal level while cracking down on independent efforts to move ahead with blessings — most notably in Germany in 2021.

But the initial excitement of liberals soured to disappointment when Francis downplayed the significance of the declaration following fevered backlash from conservative Catholics, most prominently in Africa. A rare top-down clarification explained that Fiducia supplicans referred only to rote, cookie-cutter blessings, of the sort a priest could offer an unscrupulous businessman if he wanted — as Francis himself later put it.

Rites for gay couples ought to last no longer than 10-15 seconds, the Holy See said, adding the practice could be ignored entirely in regions where it would be considered “imprudent.” What was certainly not on offer was a formal, doctrinal recognition of same-sex unions per se. Those, the clarification made painfully clear, were still sinful.

The pope’s allies would say this fudge was by design, and that Fiducia supplicans was rooted in the same philosophy that underlay Francis’s “Who am I to judge?” comments from 2013. Sure, it didn’t rewrite Church law, but it was a call for priests to fixate less on sin — especially sexual sin — and to refrain from subjecting churchgoers to “exhaustive moral analysis.” After all, priests sin as much as the next man — and sometimes more.

Still, nobody was satisfied. Conservatives complained that the declaration amounted to a kind of moral relativism imposed from above without warning. For liberals, meanwhile, it was a reminder that the pope was at heart a conservative, and that his support for LGBTQ+ causes had a hard limit (a sense that was reinforced by his reported use of the homophobic slur “frociaggine” last month when discussing the possibility of gay priests).

Worse yet, reports circulated that the document’s author, newly appointed Cardinal Victor Fernandez, had written graphic books as a young priest exploring kissing and orgasms. Fernandez was a longtime Argentine protégé of Francis who had that year been made head of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, the revered Vatican ministry tasked with defending Catholic dogma. Fernandez soon became the target of a conservative outcry, and while Fiducia supplicans wasn’t officially rolled back, for conservatives in particular it was as if it had never existed.

“Read the document,” said a Vatican official who was granted anonymity to speak openly about a pope he described as vindictive toward critics. “It says: well, obviously you cannot bless a homosexual relationship, because from a Catholic point of view, it’s sinful. However, we will invent a new form of blessing. It’s not a sacramental blessing, it’s a ‘fracramental flessing.’ It looks almost like a blessing, and if you run sideways, and do it in under ten seconds, and keep it totally spontaneous…”

The chief problem, the official added, is that the pontiff has an overriding need to do everything his way, often at the expense of ideological coherence. “Most of his energy goes into hiding what he thinks, hiding who he is, and hiding what he’s going to do, in an almost neurotic way,” the official complained. “He keeps what he wants to do even from himself as long as possible, in order to be totally unexpected in what he does.”

To illustrate, the official relayed an unfiltered comment Francis had made to a person who met him in the 2000s when he was still archbishop of Buenos Aires. The person was new to Argentina and wanted to get a sense of the locals.

Francis’s response was telling. “With the Argentinians, you have to be careful,” he said. “What they say, what they do and what they think are totally different things.”

He may well have been talking about himself.

Pope Francis, then Argentina’s cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio at St Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City in 2005.

* * *

It doesn’t help that, in all likelihood, the Pope is not long for this world. At 87 and with only one intact lung, he struggles to breathe, suffers bouts of pneumonia, and is perennially in and out of hospital. Every public cough generates macabre headlines. Meanwhile, he has largely failed to appoint enough allies to the College of Cardinals to guarantee a like-minded successor, and liberals wonder whether he will leave any progressive legacy at all.

Caught between a liberal Europe and a predominantly conservative global south, Francis is in a bind. He is largely preoccupied with reining in — or appeasing — breakaways and rebels on all sides; for his right flank that means withholding reform, while for his left it means dangling promises he’s unlikely to keep.

A prime example of this tightrope act has been the most ambitious of the pope’s much-ballyhooed consultative “synods,” which followed two that took place in 2015 and 2018. The “Synod on Synodality” kicked off in 2021, culminating in a month-long forum in Rome last year in which around 450 delegates (including laypeople and women) debated major issues from different cultural perspectives. This grand international exercise in cultural bridge-building concludes in October; as with previous synods, the findings can make it into canon law, if the pope so chooses.

Gmür, the beleaguered bishop of Basel, was among those in attendance. He recalled a discussion in which African bishops sought allowances for polygamy — asking, in particular, whether a man would have to leave all his wives in order to convert — while some European participants sought canonical recognition of LGBTQ+ rights. “We did conclude that polygamy is not an idea of the bible,” Gmur said. “And certainly not [of] the New Testament.” On LGBTQ+ rights, “even the word was a problem,” he added. “That’s why in the document we call it, ‘With different personal sexual identity and orientation’.”

The current synod has invariably stoked the fears of conservatives who see it as a Trojan horse for an insidious woke agenda. As if in confirmation, the synod’s own leaders have cast it as the last great hope for introducing real structural reform: “If we miss this experience, we will not be effective in our mission,” Cardinal Mario Grech, the Synod on Synodality’s secretary general, told POLITICO in his Vatican office, a portrait of the pontiff smiling down from the wall behind him. “And then the future will be bleak.”

As usual, however, the prevailing view is that little will change. Grech’s comments notwithstanding, the pope has deferred many of the more touchy issues to Vatican-controlled “working groups,” such as the ordination of female priests and lay influence over the appointment of bishops. While that could mean Francis wants to repeat the same chaotic approach of Fiducia supplicans and roll out the big changes on his own terms at some unplanned date, it’s more likely that they’ve simply been put on ice. Tellingly, when the pope was asked by the 60 Minutes program in May whether little girls could ever dream of becoming deacons, a kind of priest, his answer was a decisive “no.”

Cardinal Hollerich, the Synod’s relator general, acknowledged that the goal of the synod is rather more aspirational — to seed a culture of inclusivity and dialogue that could, perhaps, lead to doctrinal reform, somewhere down the line. Holy See spokesperson Matteo Bruni said its core aim was to foster “greater involvement of the people of God” in pastoral and administrative Church matters, pointing to early successes in the Eastern Church. But he emphasized that it wouldn’t delve into the other big questions — the Synod on Synodality, as its name suggests, would be entirely self-referential.

This all bodes ill for the Germans, whose options are now seriously limited following some 11th-hour papal maneuvers. Last February, as the German bishops were gathering in the city of Augsburg to ratify the final decisions of the Synodal Path, they received a scathing letter from Francis’s deputies. When a smaller delegation later went to Rome to resolve the matter, they ultimately agreed, in a humiliating climb-down, to pursue their scheme only within the strict bounds of canon law, checking each new development with Rome — just as Belgium’s bishops had agreed to do.

As a result, the Synod on Synodality appeared to be the last channel through which the Germans could air their domestic grievances, though even that forum was already being closed off to them, according to one person familiar with the proceedings. Ecclesiastically outgunned, the Germans’ grand democratic experiment looked stone dead.

And yet, hope abides among Germany’s layfolk, many of whom remain defiant. Central Committee Vice President Söding told POLITICO he was confident the Synodal Path would go ahead, while a mid-June gathering of the Synodal Path participants proceeded just as planned — with zero papal intervention.

The German cause would seem to have gained an unstoppable momentum. Even if the Holy See does try to curb their efforts, Söding said, the Church is now too fragmented to forestall them indefinitely. “They would like to have control from the center — but they do not have this control,” he said.

More importantly, the Germans seem to have received a boost from figures behind the Leonine Walls. According to two people familiar with the Rome discussions, the bishops negotiating the future of the Synodal Path had an ally in the increasingly influential — and controversial — Cardinal Fernandez. As the author of the declaration on same-sex blessings, Fernandez is a prominent exponent of the “two-speed Church” compromise, an idea that is becoming, if partly by accident, de facto Vatican policy, as a way to bridge the Church’s yawning disparities.

As an idea it could literally tear the institution apart, introducing a new kind of Catholicism in which moral judgments are increasingly subject to regional interpretations, making the whole affair look rather Protestant. In practice it would be a way, as with Fiducia supplicans, for Francis to give the Germans what they want — albeit with delayed effect, and on his own obscure and disappointing terms.

It is whispered that Francis himself privately revels in this prospect, viewing it as a way to rid the Church of its sexual obsessions and return it to a grassroots approach that puts power in the hands of local priests. Certainly, in his efforts to please everyone, he has given up on trying to impose a cohesive, universal morality. At this point, if the Germans or others do opt to split irreversibly with Rome, who is Pope Francis, of all people, to judge?

Complete Article HERE!

The conflicted history of Pope Francis’ LGBTQ+ comments

— From ‘who am I to judge’ to ‘frociaggine’

What does Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic Church, really think about the LGBTQ+ community?

By Emily Maskell

The Vatican is in hot water after Pope Francis is alleged to have recently used a homophobic slur during a meeting with bishops about allowing celibate gay men to train as priests.

In the behind-closed-doors meeting, the pontiff is believed to have said there was already too much “frociaggine” in seminaries, an Italian word which roughly translates as f****t.

The Vatican released an apology, insisting that the pope is a supporter of the LGBTQ+ community.

A woman dressed as a clergywomen with rainbow umbrella
Are LGBTQ+ people accepted in the Catholic Church?

“As he stated on several occasions: ‘In the Church, there is room for everyone. Nobody is useless, nobody is superfluous, there is room for everyone. Just as we are, all of us’,” a spokesperson said.

“The pope never intended to offend or express himself in homophobic terms, and he apologises to those who felt offended by the use of a term reported by others.”

This recent controversy has reignited discussion about the religious leader’s tenure and his relationship with the LGBTQ+ community. So, what has Francis actually said about LGBTQ+ people in the past?

Who am I to judge them?

Pope Francis waves to faithful gathered St.Peter’s Square for a Mass
Pope Francis’ has voiced both pro and anti comments on LGBTQ+ issues.

In 2013, the pope opened up a dialogue surrounding gay priests in what was a radical statement.

“If [gay priests] accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalised. The tendency [same-sex attraction] is not the problem… they’re our brothers.”

However, he reiterated his support for Catholic Church’s universal catechism, which states that while being gay is not sinful, homosexual acts are.

“The catechism explains this very well. It says they should not be marginalised because of this, but that they must be integrated into society,” Francis said.

Trans people can be godparents

Pope Francis
Pope Francis has confirmed that trans people can be baptised.

While 2013 marked a watershed moment for LGBTQ+ relations with the Catholic Church, a decade later the pope still vacillates between pro and anti-queer comments.

Just last year, Francis said trans people can take part in Catholic practices such as being baptised and acting as godparents or witnesses to marriage, under the same conditions as any other adult.

There was “nothing in current universal canonical legislation that prohibits” a transgender person, or any LGBTQ+ person, from serving as a witness at a Catholic marriage, he explained. However, a Vatican document, signed by the pope, highlights that for trans people, this is an honour not a right and should be avoided “if there is a risk of scandal, of undue legitimation or disorientation in the educational field of the ecclesial community”.

Nonetheless, this still marked a major stepping stone in the Church’s acceptance of transgender people.

Blessing same-sex unions

Pope Francis
Gay rights groups celebrated Pope Francis’s declaration that the Catholic church is open to blessing same-sex unions.

Late last year, in a reversal of the Church’s traditional stance, the pontiff – also known as the Bishop of Rome – announced that same-sex couples could have their unions blessed under certain circumstances.

But the Vatican also said that while same-sex couples could be blessed, such ceremonies should not be part of regular Church rituals or related to civil unions or weddings, and the Church continued to view marriage as between a man and a woman.

However, this message of acceptance marked a turning point for many LGBTQ+ Catholics.

In a letter explaining his stance, Francis said the clergy must use “pastoral prudence” and “pastoral charity” to guide their responses to same-sex couples who request a blessing.

GLAAD president and chief executive Sarah Kate Ellis hailed the decision as “both unprecedented and compassionate”.

Pope Francis will bless LGBTQ+ people but not their unions

Pope Francis presides over the meeting ‘Arena of Peace’ at the Verona's Arena on May 18, 2024 in Verona, Italy
Pope Francis clarified that he supports blessings for LGBTQ+ people despite being against same-sex marriage

A few months on from the news of the pope’s acceptance of same-sex union blessing, he clarified that he supported blessing LGBTQ+ people, but not their unions.

“That cannot be done because that is not the sacrament,” he explained. “To bless a homosexual-type union goes against the given right, against the law of the Church. But to bless each person, why not? Some people were scandalised by this. But why?”

Same-sex critics are hypocritical 

Pope Francis wears his white cassock while he sits on a white and gold chair during mass
Pope Francis said homosexuality is “not a crime” and stressed that “criminalisation is neither good nor just”.

The pope has denounced the criticism of same-sex blessings. Commenting on the backlash from conservative bishops and dioceses, Francis believed those who disagree with the decision [were] showing “hypocrisy.”

According to Vatican News, the pope said: “I do not bless a ‘homosexual marriage’, I bless two people who care for each other, and I also ask them to pray for me.

He went on to say that the “gravest of sins” one could commit was not homosexuality, but being someone who “disguises themselves with a more ‘angelic’ appearance.

‘Gender ideology’ is ‘dangerous’

Pope Francis in Rome
Pope Francis has labelled “gender ideology” as “dangerous”.

His stance on gender is somewhat different.

The pontiff has described so-called gender ideology as one of the “most dangerous colonisations.”

Little more than a year ago, he said it “goes beyond the sexual” and “the question of gender is diluting the differences and making the world the same, all dull, all alike”, adding: “Because it blurs differences and the value of men and women, [it] is contrary to the human vocation.

“[Gender ideology] eliminates differences, and that erases humanity, the richness of humanity, personal, cultural and social.”

Banning surrogate pregnancies 

Pope Francis delivers a speech in Rome on June 13, 2016.

In 2008, the pope called for a blanket ban on surrogate pregnancies, describing them as “exploitation” and a “violation” of dignity.

“I deem deplorable the practice of so-called surrogate motherhood, which represents a grave violation of the dignity of the woman and the child, based on the exploitation of situations of the mother’s material needs,” he said.

“Consequently, I express my hope for an effort by the international community to prohibit this practice universally.”

Welcoming trans people to the Vatican 

The Pope dines with trans women
The Pope dined with a group of trans women during lunch with the poor for the 2023 World Day of the Poor.

Last year, Francis welcomed trans women, along with 1,000 poor and homeless guests, to a Vatican lunch to mark the Catholic Church’s World Day of the Poor.

Trans former sex worker Claudia Vittoria Salas was seated at the same table as the pope.

He also met with a trans group in the Vatican in 2022. Sister Genevieve Jeanningros and local priest Andrea Conocchia reportedly said the meetings had given the group hope.

Sacking a conservative bishop over LGBTQ+ inclusion

LGBTQ+ advocates rally together in support of trans rights as Republican lawmakers in Texas try to push back on the trans community and access to gender-affirming healthcare for trans youth in the state
In 2023, human rights group teamed up to complain to the UN about Texas’s anti-LGBTQ+ bills.

Last year, in a move seen as aligning the pope as an LGBTQ+ ally, he “relieved” Bishop Joseph Strickland, from eastern Texas, of his position as head of the Diocese of Tyler.

The decision came after Strickland said Francis was “undermining the deposit of faith” and was a “diabolically disordered clown”.

Strickland had also criticised the pope’s moves to make the Church more welcoming for LGBTQ+ Catholics, describing the plan as a “travesty.”< Complete Article HERE!

Catholic diocesan hermit approved by Kentucky bishop comes out as transgender

— Matson is thought to be the first openly transgender person in his position in the Catholic Church.

Brother Christian Matson is a Catholic diocesan hermit in Kentucky.


Diocesan hermits by nature don’t get much attention. A small subset of religious persons, hermits mostly spend their lives engaged in quiet prayer.

Brother Christian Matson, a Catholic diocesan hermit in Kentucky, has spent years doing just that. His monk’s habit might catch his neighbors’ eye, but he is known in the town where he lives primarily through his work with the local theater.

But recently Matson decided that his faith compels him to make a little more noise than usual.

“This Sunday, Pentecost 2024, I’m planning to come out publicly as transgender,” Matson told Religion News Service on Friday (May 17), saying he was speaking out with the permission of his bishop, John Stowe of the Diocese of Lexington in Kentucky.

Matson, who is also a Benedictine oblate, believes he is the first openly transgender person in his position in the Catholic Church. It is a difficult claim to confirm — even Stowe told RNS he did not know for sure if Matson is the first — but Matson’s status is at least highly unusual, and comes at time when church officials are grappling with how to address transgender Catholics.

According to Matson, 39, his “disclosing,” as he describes it, is a moment years in the making. He offered his story as indicative of the often difficult path for trans Catholics, including those seeking life as a religious — a category that includes brothers and nuns.

“I am currently based in the Appalachian mountains of eastern Kentucky,” he wrote in an email to friends and supporters on Sunday. “I live in a hermitage at the top of a wooded hill, which I share with my German Shepherd rescue, Odie, and with the Blessed Sacrament, which was installed in my oratory shortly before Christmas.”

Raised in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Matson converted to Catholicism in 2010 — four years, he noted, after transitioning in college, a step he refers to as a part of his “medical history” rather than a “central part of my personal identity.” After his conversion, Matson felt called to minister to people working in the arts, but knew he would encounter “issues” because of a 2000 Vatican document that, according to a Catholic News Service report from the time, declared that anyone who had undergone “sex-change” was ineligible “to marry, be ordained to the priesthood or enter religious life.”

Matson approached a canon lawyer to discuss his options and was told that only two aspects of Catholic life were categorically off the table: marriage and the priesthood. According to Matson, the canon lawyer recommended being upfront about his status as a transgender man in any vocational conversations with church leaders and noted the role of a diocesan hermit, which may prove less challenging enlisting with an existing religious order.

The canon lawyer, Matson said, effectively conveyed to him “there’s no problem as long as there’s a bishop who will accept you, because there’s no distinction by sex and you’re not in a community — you’re by yourself.”

What followed was roughly a decade of searching and no small amount of rejection. Living in the United Kingdom while pursuing a master’s degree and later a Ph.D. in theology, Matson entered a vocational discernment program and approached the Jesuit order to ask if he could join.

“They said, ’No, we just don’t see how this would work for us,’ which was crushing, because that’s where I felt called,” Matson said.

Other communities offered similar responses, when they responded at all. “People who knew me said, ‘You clearly have a religious vocation,’ and these were all people who knew my medical history,” Matson said. “But when they would go to the people in the community in charge of making that decision, they … would often just refuse to even meet with me.”

In one instance, Matson said, a religious leader declined to meet simply to hear his experience as a trans man, saying doing so would be “a waste of time.”

But Matson’s call to religious life wouldn’t abate. While visiting a monastery during a retreat, he found himself unable to sleep, consumed with the idea of starting “a religious community of and for artists — artists who are living together, (operating) in the church through their art, and ministering to the loneliness and sense of precarity many artists experience.”

In 2015, he returned to New York City, where he had attended college. Having already taking private vows of poverty, chastity and obedience — witnessed by his spiritual director — before he arrive, he co-created a nonprofit called the Catholic Artist Connection. The group hosted retreats and connected artists to resources such as the Archdiocese of New York’s Sheen Center for Thought and Culture, where Matson began working as a programming associate.

Matson kept running into artists who wanted to pursue religious life, he said, and continued to feel the tug himself. But roadblocks kept appearing. “As I spoke to friends in the archdiocese, I knew somebody with a trans background was never going to be accepted into religious life in the Archdiocese of New York,” Matson said.

He tried again after a move to Minnesota in 2018, but his entreaties to various religious communities and orders were also rejected.

“I thought, well, if I can’t find a religious community to sponsor me, maybe what I need is a bishop,” Matson said.

A priest friend recommended different bishops to contact, beginning with Stowe, who was emerging as a leading voice among Catholics calling for a more tolerant approach to LGBTQ people. In 2020, Matson sent Stowe a letter, conveying his status as a transgender man, his vision for an artists’ community and his pull to religious life.

Stowe wrote back immediately, expressing his openness.

“It was an enormous relief,” Matson said. “I was in tears. I felt my hope revive.”

Stowe confirmed Matson’s account, saying the then-aspiring brother was recommended to him by a number of people.

“My willingness to be open to him is because it’s a sincere person seeking a way to serve the church,” Stowe said of Matson. “Hermits are a rarely used form of religious life … but they can be either male or female. Because there’s no pursuit of priesthood or engagement in sacramental ministry, and because the hermit is a relatively quiet and secluded type of vocation, I didn’t see any harm in letting him live this vocation.”

He added that Matson’s spiritual journey was “consistent with the calling of that particular vocation.”

Bishop John Stowe. (Video screen grab)
Bishop John Stowe.

Matson moved to Kentucky, having already made progress on Stowe’s suggestion that he link up with an additional community through which to experience religious life. Matson entered the novitiate at a Benedictine monastery in 2021, hoping the formation offered by that path would eventually help him form a new religious community for artists.

Finally, in August 2022, Matson took his first vows as a diocesan hermit — a yearlong commitment — under Stowe’s direction.

For the next year, Matson “lived a life of basically spending half the day in prayer and half the day doing some form of work” that included producing and writing at a local theater.

Three years earlier, Matson read with frustration a document issued by the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education titled “Male and Female He Created Them: Toward a Path of Dialogue on the Question of Gender Theory in Education.” The instructional letter rejected “calls for public recognition of the right to choose one’s gender.”

In 2021, the Diocese of Marquette, in Michigan, followed with its own instruction to priests to refuse transgender people asking to be baptized or confirmed until they have “repented.”

“It was suddenly becoming a lot more difficult in the church to be trans,” Matson said.

The Rev. Andrea Conocchia, center, introduces members of the Torvaianica transgender community to Pope Francis on Aug. 11, 2022, during the pope’s general audience at the Vatican. (Photo courtesy of Andrea Conocchia)
The Rev. Andrea Conocchia, center, introduces members of the Torvaianica transgender community to Pope Francis on Aug. 11, 2022, during the pope’s general audience at the Vatican.

But tolerance seems to be growing in some quarters. While Pope Francis has opposed elements of gender theory and recently called its proposals “ugly,” he has also met and dined with groups of transgender people.

In November 2023, the Vatican doctrine department ruled that transgender people may be baptized and serve as witnesses at Catholic weddings, so long as doing so “doesn’t cause scandal among the faithful.”

In the United States in March, a coalition led by Catholic nuns released a letter voicing support for transgender, nonbinary and gender-expansive individuals, implicitly rebuking a statement put forward by group of U.S. Catholic bishops discouraging Catholic health care groups from performing various gender-affirming medical procedures.

But overall, “Vatican-level documents that have come out on the subject have not engaged with the science at all,” Matson said, adding that he believes many diocesan-level statements are inconsistent in their attempts to categorize gender and cite scientific studies misleadingly. Matson has sent multiple private letters to Vatican offices, urging them to engage with transgender people and arguing that the church can embrace transgender people while maintaining orthodoxy.

As trans rights began to be debated in statehouses across the United States in recent months, conservative lawmakers have begun pushing bans on providing gender-affirming care for youth and, in some cases, adults.

Matson vented his frustrations to Stowe and his spiritual director, saying he wanted to speak out. But he said he was advised to first “build a foundation” in religious life for several years.

During that time, Matson had an experience that shook him. Attending a friend’s play in his religious habit, he was approached by a student who identified as trans and nonbinary. After asking if Matson was a monk, the student said they were raised Catholic, but that their parents had rejected their identity, and the student felt like they “don’t have a place in the church anymore.”

Matson responded by saying there were people in the church who would support the student, and Matson prayed with them, asking God to show the student how they are “wonderful the way you’ve made them.” The student, Matson said, grew emotional, thanking the hermit profusely and saying, “No one from the church has ever affirmed me for who I am.”

Matson, who renewed his vows in 2023, eventually began mulling a date to go public with his status. “I have to say something,” Matson told his spiritual director. He settled on Pentecost, which emphasizes preaching “the good news of God’s love to everyone,” he said. It was also the day in the church calendar when he’d been baptized years before.

“I can’t stand by and let this false and, at times, culpably ignorant understanding of what it means to be transgender continue to hurt people,” he said. “If I don’t say anything and allow the church to continue to make decisions based on incorrect information, then I’m not serving the church.”

Both Matson and Stowe said they are bracing for blowback after Sunday’s announcement. Matson said he is largely unconcerned with “online trolls” but is sensitive to people who are “legitimately concerned” that “accepting a trans person into religious life means Catholic anthropology gets thrown out the window.”

For people with such concerns, he said, he looks forward to engaging in dialogue. “I don’t have a hidden agenda, I just want to serve the church,” he said. “People can believe that or not.”

Both the hermit and his bishop are prepared for the possibility that church officials may push for Matson’s removal. Stowe acknowledged that “if I’m told to by higher authorities, then I will have to deal with that at the time.”

Matson bristled at the idea of leaving the church, which he called “my family.” “I’m Catholic,” he said. “I became Catholic after I transitioned because of the Catholic understanding — the sacramental understanding — of the body, of creation, of the desirability of the visible unity of the church, and primarily because of the Eucharist.”

At the very least, Matson said, he hopes going public will spark dialogue about his fellow transgender Catholics, a discussion he believes can enhance unity among the body of believers.

“You’ve got to deal with us, because God has called us into this church,” he said. “It’s not your church to kick us out of — this is God’s church, and God has called us and engrafted us into it.”

Complete Article HERE!

N.Y. Archdiocese Condemns Funeral of Transgender Activist at Cathedral

— In a statement, the pastor of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan said the church was not aware of Ms. Gentili’s background, or her avowed atheism, when it agreed to host the Thursday service.

Cecilia Gentili, an activist and actress well known for her advocacy on behalf of sex workers, was celebrated at the funeral as “Saint Cecilia, the mother of all whores.”

By Liam Stack

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York condemned the funeral of a transgender community leader that was held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Thursday, calling the event an insult to the Catholic faith and saying it was unaware of the identity of the deceased — or her vocal atheism — when it agreed to host the service.

The funeral, which drew well over 1,000 people, celebrated the life of Cecilia Gentili, an activist and actress well known for her advocacy on behalf of sex workers, transgender people and people living with H.I.V. She was also a self-professed atheist, a topic around which she built a one-woman Off Broadway show.

The service on Thursday was an event that most likely had no precedent in Catholic history. The pews were packed with mourners, many of them transgender, who wore daring high-fashion outfits and cheered as eulogists led them in praying for transgender rights and access to gender-affirming health care.

People guide a coffin down the center aisle of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
Catholic liberals, including some parishioners at St. Patrick’s, said the church had done a good thing by hosting the funeral of a transgender person. Some conservative Catholics vehemently disagreed.

One eulogy, a video clip of which was widely shared online Friday, remembered Ms. Gentili as “Saint Cecilia, the mother of all whores,” to the thunderous cheers of a nearly full cathedral.

Catholic liberals, including some parishioners at St. Patrick’s, said that regardless of how some mourners behaved, the church had done a good thing by hosting the funeral of a transgender person. But the response from conservatives was fiery.

CatholicVote, a conservative group, called the funeral “unbelievable and sick” and said it was “a mockery of the Christian faith.” The Rev. Nicholas Gregoris, a co-founder of the Priestly Society of Saint John Henry Cardinal Newman, called it “revolting,” a “blasphemous & sacrilegious fiasco” and “a deplorable desecration of America’s most famous Catholic Church.”

On Saturday, the archdiocese released a statement saying it shared the anger of conservative Catholics over what it called “the scandalous behavior” at Ms. Gentili’s funeral. The Rev. Enrique Salvo, the pastor of St. Patrick’s, said the church was not aware of Ms. Gentili’s background or beliefs when it agreed to host the service.

“The cathedral only knew that family and friends were requesting a funeral Mass for a Catholic, and had no idea our welcome and prayer would be degraded in such a sacrilegious and deceptive way,” the pastor said.

A priest stands and speaks at a pulpit. In front of the pulpit is a large photograph of Cecilia Gentili.
In its statement on Saturday, the archdiocese of New York said it shared the anger of conservative Catholics over what it called “the scandalous behavior” at Ms. Gentili’s funeral.

The funeral’s organizer, Ceyenne Doroshow, said on Thursday that Ms. Gentili’s family had kept her background “under wraps” because they feared the archdiocese would not host a funeral for a person it knew was transgender.

Ms. Doroshow said the family wanted Ms. Gentili’s funeral to be at St. Patrick’s because “it is an icon, just like her.”

On Saturday, the Gentili family was incensed by the church’s criticism and accused the archdiocese of “hypocrisy and anti-trans hatred” in a statement.

The family said the L.G.B.T.Q. community would continue to celebrate Ms. Gentili for how she “ministered, mothered and loved all people.”

“Her heart and hands reached those the sanctimonious church continues to belittle, oppress and chastise,” the family said. “The only deception present at St. Patrick’s Cathedral is that it claims to be a welcoming place for all.”

Members of Ms. Gentili’s family stand in a line holding hands just outside a cathedral door.
The Gentili family accused the New York archdiocese of “hypocrisy and anti-trans hatred” in a statement on Saturday.

The day before the funeral, the archdiocese described the service as a routine event, even after it was informed by a reporter that Ms. Gentili was a transgender activist.

On Wednesday, a spokesman for the archdiocese, Joseph Zwilling, said that “a funeral is one of the corporal works of mercy,” a part of Catholic teaching the church has described as “a model for how we should treat all others, as if they were Christ in disguise.”

But on Saturday, Father Salvo said in the statement that the cathedral had held a special Mass of Reparation to atone for the funeral. Mr. Zwilling said the event happened that day.

“That such a scandal occurred at ‘America’s parish church’ makes it worse,” Father Salvo said, referring to the funeral. “That it took place as Lent was beginning, the annual 40-day struggle with the forces of sin and darkness, is a potent reminder of how much we need the prayer, reparation, repentance, grace and mercy to which this holy season invites us.”

New York City is home to roughly a dozen gay-friendly Catholic parishes that in many ways reflect the church’s softer tone on sexuality under the leadership of Pope Francis. But St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the seat of the powerful archdiocese, is not one of them.

Ms. Gentili, who died on Feb. 6 at age 52, had a complex relationship with religion, which she explored last year in her Off Broadway show, “Red Ink.”

After a religious upbringing, Ms. Gentili said in an interview last year, she came to identify as an atheist because she felt rejected by so many Christian denominations as a transgender woman.

“I used to go with my grandmother to the Baptist Church, and they didn’t want me there,” she said, adding: “I used to go to the Catholic Church, too, and both were such traumatic experiences for me as a queer person. So I came to identify as an atheist, but I know that so many trans people have been able to find a relationship with faith in spaces that include them.”

Complete Article HERE!

The Brazilian bishop who took the first step toward the Catholic Church embracing LGBTQ+ people

— The prelate of the diocese of Santo Amaro, in São Paulo, Brazil, submitted the consultation to the Vatican. That inquiry led to the authorization to baptize the LGBTQ+ faithful, who can also be godparents and witnesses to a wedding

Bishop José Negri (left, with miter and crosier) in São Paulo, Brazil on January 24.

By Naiara Galarraga Gortázar

The next lesbian, gay, or transgender person to be the godparent of a baby baptized in a Catholic parish, or in a cathedral, in any corner of the world, may not know what led him or her to assume that crucial responsibility in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church. But the process began in Brazil, in the office of a bishop in São Paulo. Specifically, it started with a letter with six questions addressed to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and signed by Bishop José Negri, of the diocese of Santo Amaro, in the southern part of Latin America’s most populous city. The Holy See received the letter on July 14 and responded almost four months later with a decision signed by Pope Francis. The news was made public at the beginning of November. In summary, trans Catholics can be baptized, but it is not a right and requires avoiding disconcerting believers and public scandal. A same-sex couple’s children can receive the same sacrament as long as there is a well-founded hope that they will be educated in the Catholic faith. They can all serve as witnesses for a wedding.

Bishop Negri raised the six questions clearly and directly. The first question: “Can a trans person be baptized?” The fourth inquiry: “Can a same-sex couple appear as the progenitors of a child to be baptized if he or she was adopted or conceived through other methods, such as surrogacy?” The response from the body that deals with the Church’s doctrinal and theological questions — the former Inquisition — was also concise in its three-page answer, which included multiple footnotes. The Brazilian prelate declined this newspaper’s request to be interviewed about his consultation and its consequences.

The decision on whether LGBTQ+ Catholics can receive some sacraments has caused less of a stir than another of the Pontiff’s rulings (unrelated to Negri)—this one announced in December—which deepens his policy of the institution’s openness. The Vatican approved the blessing of same-sex couples, but, importantly, without equating it to marriage. The decision has even caused a small rebellion on the part of Peru’s clergy.

The diocesan prelate, known here as Dom José, was born in Milan, Italy, as Giuseppe, but he has lived in Brazil since his 20s. He has a degree in Psychology from the Gregorian University in Rome. He has a slight Italian accent, is 64 years old and boasts 132,000 Instagram followers, almost ten times more than the diocese he leads. The publications from the day last November when the Vatican announced its response to his query do not refer to the matter.

But, like Argentina’s Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Negri is in favor of the Catholic hierarchy “listening to the peripheries,” be they urban, social or economic. Previously, he was bishop in Blumenau, in the whitest part of Brazil, a land colonized by German immigrants who preserve the language and even celebrate Oktoberfest. A few years ago, he chaired the Brazilian Episcopal Conference’s child protection committee; at the time, he pledged that the Church would firmly confront the sexual abuse in its midst.

The bishop of Santo Amaro “is on the most conservative spectrum” of the Church in Brazil and “is prudent as a bishop,” explains Paulo Ricardo, of the (Instituto de Estudos da Religião) Institute of Religious Studies. The diocese over which he presides includes some two million Catholics and owes its fame to Father Marcelo Rossi, of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement, which was a true mass phenomenon in the 1990s thanks to his records, a Latin Grammy, show masses and modern methods of evangelization.

The fact that this consultation on LGBTQ+ people reached the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from Brazil is not so surprising if one considers that the South American country is one of the nations where the Catholic Church has more faithful, although the group is dwindling in the face of a strong push by

evangelicals. Same-sex marriage has been legal for over a decade. Fifteen years have passed since the public health system performed the first gender-affirming procedure. And while Brazil is the country where the most trans people are murdered (among those countries that record such crimes), they are also represented in many areas of society and have tremendous visibility. Indeed, there are two trans deputies in Brazil’s national congress and another two in state legislatures.

obispo José Negri
Bishop José Negri (right) last Wednesday.

Luis Rabello, 35, the executive secretary of the Brazilian network of LGBTQ+ Catholic groups, welcomes the changes introduced by Pope Francis because “they serve to give visibility” to a group that “has always existed in the Church, both among the faithful and as catechists.” He is happy that the Vatican has finally adopted norms to resolve issues that until now have been handled on a case-by-case basis. On the phone from Brasilia, he recalls a case from a few years ago: a trans woman who had undergone gender-affirming surgery requested that her dead name — the name on her birth certificate — be replaced by her new one on her baptismal certificate. She got her wish. It happened in Curitiba, a city in southern Brazil.

The representative of LGBTQ+ Catholics in Brazil maintains that Bishop Negri’s questions for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith responds to a social demand. “LGBTQ+ people are demanding more space in the Church; they are demanding respect.” He explains that it is a trend that has grown in recent years with social changes and the LGBTQ+ community’s inspired by the current Pontiff’s gestures. Rabello notes that Pope Francis has received trans people in the Holy See. A civil servant by profession, he believes the recent Vatican rulings are “very important for educating priests, bishops…”

Brazil has about 20 LGBTQ+ Catholic groups spread over 10 states that meet in person, plus virtual ones, including one for non-binary people. A priest from the diocese of Santo Amaro, Father Negri’s diocese, monitors these groups, Rabello says.

Pope Francis has a very special place in the hearts of Brazilian LGBTQ+ Catholics for the answer he gave a Brazilian journalist in 2013 on the return flight from his visit to Brazil. “Francis spoke for the first time about LGBTQ+ people; [he was] the first pope to utter the word gay!” Rabello recalls. It was a revolution in an institution with two millennia of history. That gesture and the ones that followed encouraged the LGBTQ+ faithful to seek more information and to ask their parishes about baptism, marriage and being godparents for baptisms and weddings.

Last October, Bishop Negri spoke a little about his childhood during an interview with another priest — both in collars — during the so-called diocesan youth meeting. He recalled that his grandmother introduced him to the Church and taught him the Rosary (which she recited in Latin). “My ideal was to be an altar boy, but Jesus wanted something else,” he explained. The motto of that youthful encounter sounded provocative: “You seduced me, Lord, and I let myself be seduced.” Bishop Negri took advantage of the occasion to announce that he was organizing a big event “to evangelize en masse, in schools, in subway stations, at bus stops, in universities…”. The battle between Catholics and Evangelicals for the souls of over 200 million Brazilians is intense.

Complete Article HERE!