Pope Francis Sent Me a Letter. It Gives Me Hope as a Gay Catholic.

By Michael O’Loughlin

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.

Complete Article ↪HERE↩!

Pope honors Catholic priests, nuns who cared for HIV victims

By Associated Press

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.”

Complete Article HERE!

Pope Francis wants every Catholic to have a say. Why haven’t US Catholics heard about it?

By Phyllis Zagano

Pope Francis’ plan is for ordinary Catholics to have their say. It begins with the coming synod, which opens in Rome on Oct. 9 and in every diocese in the world on Oct. 17.

The problem: No one seems to know about it. The bigger problem: U.S. bishops don’t seem to care.

It’s called “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission.” While Pope Francis truly wants all Catholics to pray and talk about the needs of today’s church, his plan depends on diocesan participation. As the U.S. bishops fulminate over which Catholic politician can receive Communion, they’ve done little to plan for the worldwide discussion on the needs of the church. They were asked to get organized last May. They haven’t.

Here’s how things are supposed to work. Last May, Rome asked every bishop for the name of the person managing his diocesan synodal process. The bishop then is to open his local synod Oct. 17, collect input from parishes, and report to his national episcopal conference.

The conferences — in North America the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops — will then gather the results for the members of the 16Ordinary General assembly of the Synod of Bishops, scheduled for October 2023 in Rome.

Folks in Central and South America, as well as in Australia, Germany and Ireland, jumped at the idea. Their meetings are already underway. The USCCB named an elegantly trained and experienced national coordinator, Richard Coll, but U.S. dioceses seem behind the curve.

If a sample of the 10 New York dioceses is any indication, the diocesan synods will have a bumpy start even once they get going. While Rome asked all dioceses to submit the names of their synod coordinators in May, few, if any, seem to have plans.

One week after being queried, only three of the 10 New York dioceses had responded. Two sent the names of diocesan coordinators, and one said it was too early to give any information. (One of the two offered up the bishop and the coordinator for a phone call. But only one.)

To be fair, the Vatican’s synod office published the synod handbook, called a vademecum, and the synod’s preparatory document just a few weeks ago, on Sept. 7.

But “synodality” has been in the air for years, gaining prominence after the Second Vatican Council.

Rome announced the next synod’s theme in March 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic began. Lockdown-time pushed the culminating Rome meeting back one year, to October 2023, giving interested bishops and episcopal conferences more planning time.

So, what does all this talking (or not talking) mean? Synodality — the word comes from the Greek, meaning “common road” — is Francis’ way of listening to the periphery. Francis is known to have said “the periphery is the center,” and he wants the bishops atop the pyramid in the hierarchical church to recognize that. He wants to hear from ordinary Catholics, as well as from their bishops.

Francis has already acted on a few requests for changes from 2019’s Pan-Amazon synod aimed at broadening participation. In January of this year, he changed canon law to allow women to be installed as lectors (readers during Mass) and acolytes (altar servers), lay ministries required prior to diaconal ordination.

The synodal process, when properly done, brings about prayerful discernment and an understanding of what the church needs going forward.

The process itself is the beginning and the end of synodality. If everyone has a voice, not on defined doctrine but on the relatively mundane issues of who gets to do what (married priests, women deacons, parish leadership, control of funds and properties), then the process will have met its goal.

What are the chances of success? That depends on whom you ask.

For bishops cemented in clericalism, they will begin to pay lip service at best to a process deeply inserted into the church. They are likely to survey the usual suspects, choosing whom to hear and what to report. Their “success” will be maintaining control.

Success for bishops not focused on controlling power will be listening and honestly reporting the needs of the people.

What gets to Rome from individual national conferences is critical, but what remains to be seen is how the periphery makes its voices heard. The coming synod may depend more on social media and less on diocesan bishops. But you never know.

Complete Article HERE!

Vatican Warns U.S. Bishops: Don’t Deny Biden Communion Over Abortion

Conservative American Catholic bishops are pressing for a debate over whether Catholics who support the right to an abortion should be allowed to take Communion.

A deserted St. Peter’s Square in April. Despite opposition from the Vatican, conservative American bishops have vowed to press ahead with efforts to deny communion to politicians who support abortion.

By Jason Horowitz

The Vatican has warned conservative American bishops to hit the brakes on their push to deny communion to politicians supportive of abortion rights — including President Biden, a faithful churchgoer and the first Roman Catholic to occupy the Oval Office in 60 years.

But despite the remarkably public stop sign from Rome, the American bishops are pressing ahead anyway and are expected to force a debate on the communion issue at a remote meeting that starts on Wednesday.

Some leading bishops, whose priorities clearly aligned with former President Donald J. Trump, now want to reassert the centrality of opposition to abortion in the Catholic faith and lay down a hard line — especially with a liberal Catholic in the Oval Office.

The vote threatens to shatter the facade of unity with Rome, highlight the political polarization within the American church and set what church historians consider a dangerous precedent for bishops’ conferences across the globe.

“The concern in the Vatican,” said Antonio Spadaro, a Jesuit priest and close ally of Francis “is not to use access to the Eucharist as a political weapon.”

Pope Francis, who has explicitly identified the United States as the source of opposition to his pontificate, preached this month that communion “is not the reward of saints, but the bread of sinners.” His top doctrinal official, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, wrote a letter to the American bishops, warning them that the vote could “become a source of discord rather than unity within the episcopate and the larger church in the United States.”

The result is a rare, open rift between Rome and the American church.

Opponents of the vote suspect a more naked political motivation, aimed at weakening the president, and a pope many of them disagree with, with a drawn-out debate over a document that is sure to be amplified in the conservative Catholic media and on right-wing cable news programs.

Asked about the communion issue, Andrew Bates, a White House spokesman, said, “As the American people know well, the president is a strong person of faith.”

Pope Francis met then U.S. Vice President Joe Biden at the Vatican in 2016.Credit…

Pope Francis, along with the rest of his church’s hierarchy, explicitly opposes abortion, which they consider among the gravest sins, and incessantly speaks out against it. But that is not the same as punishing Catholic lawmakers with the denial of communion, which many here believe would be an intrusion into matters of state.

That effort is being led by Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who has been passed over repeatedly by Francis for elevation to the rank of cardinal.

“The focus of this proposed teaching document,” Archbishop Gomez wrote in a memo, “is on how best to help people to understand the beauty and the mystery of the Eucharist as the center of their Christian lives.”

The conservative American bishops are largely out of step with Francis and his agenda of putting climate change, migrants and poverty on the church’s front burner. But Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a Jesuit priest, and a senior analyst with Religion News Service, said conservatives constitute at least half of the American bishops’ conference and could have the votes to begin the process of drafting a teaching document about who can receive communion.

It is unlikely the conservatives would be able to ultimately ratify such a document, which would require unanimous support from all the country’s bishops, or two-thirds support and the Vatican’s approval. But the debate promises to keep the issue alive and present a nagging headache for President Biden and other Catholic politicians who support abortion rights.

A good portion of the bishops want to avoid the question altogether. Already, 67 American bishops, about a third of the conference, and including top cardinals aligned with Francis, signed a letter on May 13 asking Archbishop Gomez to remove the item from the virtual meeting’s agenda.

One of those signees, Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, has the ultimate decision on whether to deny communion to President Biden in the archdiocese of Washington. He has made it abundantly clear he will not.

Cardinal Gregory’s authority in the matter is a result of a compromise in 2004 when he himself led the bishops’ conference.

Pope Francis and Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, the head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office, cautioned the American bishops against moving to deny Communion to Catholic politicians.

That year a group of conservative bishops sought to deny communion to then Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry for his support of abortion rights. Conservatives had more support in the Vatican then; the top doctrinal official, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who soon after became Pope Benedict XVI, wrote that politicians who persistently supported abortion rights were unworthy to receive the sacrament.

But at a meeting in 2004, the American bishops chose instead to let individual bishops decide on a case-by-case basis.

The whole situation took a political toll on Mr. Kerry, who lost the election and now, as President Biden’s climate envoy, would rather not relive those days.

On a recent visit to Rome, during which he saw the pope, Mr. Kerry preferred to talk about the Biden administration and Francis’ shared commitment to combat climate change.

In an interview, Mr. Kerry argued that the political climate in the United States had “matured a lot” since his run-in with the conservative bishops, and that there is tolerance for “people to act on their faith in ways that do not somehow cross a line into politics.” He suggested that it was a misstep for the conservative bishops to try again.

“It’s been there and done that,” he said. “And it doesn’t always work out well for people.”

But if anything, America’s church politics have become more polarized in the last 17 years. Some clergy close to Francis in the Vatican say privately that elements within the American church have become political and extremist.

Francis himself has said it is “an honor that the Americans attack me.” But on this issue, he, like Mr. Kerry, would prefer to talk about something else.

Sandro Magister, a Vatican expert with L’Espresso magazine, said that the issue was uniquely American, and was basically unheard of in Europe. He said, “The pope himself would rather not have this vivid debate.”

But the conservative American bishops have for weeks made clear they want to do more than talk.

On May 1, the archconservative bishop of San Francisco, Salvatore J. Cordileone, issued a letter arguing that “erring Catholic” politicians who supported abortion rights should be excluded from communion. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Catholic and staunch supporter of abortion rights, is a parishioner in his San Francisco diocese.

Soon after, Archbishop Gomez sent a letter to the Vatican’s chief doctrinal office informing it that the American bishops’ conference was preparing to tackle “the worthiness to receive Holy Communion” by Catholic politicians who support abortion rights at their June meeting.

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, wants to move forward on a document that would draw a hard line on who can receive Communion.

The Vatican apparently had seen enough. On May 7, Cardinal Ladaria wrote Archbishop Gomez urging caution. He said it would be “misleading” to present abortion and euthanasia as “the only grave matters of Catholic moral and social teaching.”

If the American bishops were going to crack the door open on the communion issue, Cardinal Ladaria added ominously, they should be prepared to consider extending the policy to all Catholics “rather than only one category of Catholics.”

The matter seemed settled. It wasn’t.

On May 22, Archbishop Gomez sent a letter to the American bishops defending the decision to schedule a vote, arguing — critics say with shocking disingenuousness — that doing so “reflects recent guidance from the Holy See.”

Complete Article HERE!

Pope Francis names gay man to clergy sex abuse commission

Juan Carlos Cruz

by Michael K. Lavers

Pope Francis has named a gay man to a commission that advises him on protecting children from pedophile priests.

Juan Carlos Cruz — a survivor of clerical sex abuse in Chile — was named to the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. The Associated Press on Wednesday reported nuns, laypeople, a bishop and a priest are among the commission’s other members.

Cruz on Wednesday told the Blade during a telephone interview from Chile that Francis “decided he wanted me on the commission.”

“I’m very honored,” said Cruz. “I’m a survivor. I’m gay. I’m a lay person. I’m Catholic.”

Cruz is among the hundreds of people who a now-defrocked priest sexually abused in his parish in El Bosque, a wealthy neighborhood in the Chilean capital of Santiago over more than three decades.

Cruz and two other men — José Murillo and James Hamilton — in 2010 went public with their allegations. Two Chilean cardinals later blocked Cruz from being named to the same commission to which Francis appointed him.

Cruz is the first openly gay man and the first person from Latin America to serve on the commission.

“I had lots of hits against me, but he trusts me,” Cruz told the Blade, referring to Francis.

“I’m honored,” he added. “It just renews my commitment to change things from within, for survivors, for every person who feels disenfranchised from the church. This is a place where we all belong, with no adjectives.”

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which defends Catholic teachings, earlier this month published a decree that said the Catholic Church cannot bless same-sex unions. Cruz, who met Francis at the Vatican in 2018, is among those who sharply criticized the edict.

“As a Catholic, I would immediately ask for a change in the leadership of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which every day resembles that of the infamous Torquemada himself and not that of the pastors that Francis proposes to us,” Cruz told the Blade, referring to the mastermind of the Spanish Inquisition.

Cruz in response to Francis’ decision to name him to the commission reiterated he is “really, really honored and will do my best to live up to his appointment and the commitment that I have with the people who are expecting so much from me.”