According to L’Avvenire, the pope met with Italian LGBTQ+ Catholic group The Tent of Jonathon in a Wednesday (21 September) conference to discuss the organisation’s plan to build a hospitable church that would cater to LGBTQ+ people.
The group, which was founded in 2018, works with various religious organisations to provide “sanctuaries of welcome and support for LGBT people and for every person affected by discrimination.”
In an effort to convince Pope Francis, organisation members gave him a collection of letters from the parents of LGBTQ+ children who have faced “isolation and suspicious within the Christian community.”
Having urged religious parents to “never condemn your children” in a 26 January address, adding that parents should “not hide behind an attitude of condemnation,” the conferences appeared to convince him as he told the organisation to continue with the church’s construction.
Despite upholding traditional church teachings that claim homosexuality is “intrinsically disordered,” the pontiff has been surprisingly forthcoming about introducing LGBTQ+ members into Catholic proceedings.
In 2013, he famously said: “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?”
But there is still a long way to go for LGBTQ+ acceptance in the Vatican. During the same address, he condemned what was cryptically described as lobbying by the LGBTQ+ community.
“The problem is not having this orientation,” he claimed. “We must be brothers. The problem is lobbying by this orientation, or lobbies of greedy people, political lobbies, Masonic lobbies, so many lobbies. This is the worse problem.”
Pope Francis has also repeatedly shut down any hope of same-sex marriage in the Catholic Church, most recently in 2021 when he said he “doesn’t have the power to change sacraments.”
“I have spoken clearly about this, no? Marriage is a sacrament. Marriage is a sacrament. The church doesn’t have the power to change sacraments. It’s as our Lord established.”
Excommunications for LGBTQ+ positive paraphenalia is still incredibly common in local Catholic communities. In June, a middle school was kicked out of the Catholic fold after officials refused to remove Pride and Black Lives Matter flags from school grounds.
In a statement, Massachusetts bishop Robert J. McManus, who chose to excommunicate the Nativity School of Worcester, said: “I publicly stated in an open letter…that ‘these symbols (flags) embody specific agendas or ideologies (that) contradict Catholic social and moral teaching
“It is my contention that the ‘Gay Pride’ flag represents support of gay marriage and actively living a LGBTQ+ lifestyle.”
In response, school president Thomas McKenney said that the flags “represent the inclusion and respect of all people” and that they simply state “that all are welcome at Nativity and this value of inclusion is rooted in Catholic teaching.”
There is a lot of talk about “synodality” in the Catholic church these days. Synodality refers to a process in which bishops and priests consult with lay Catholics about issues in the church.
In 2021, Pope Francis called for the “Synod on Synodality,” a worldwide discussion of issues that impact the church, which will culminate with a bishops’ meeting in Rome. A final report is scheduled for October 2023.
The Catholic Church in Germany has also moved forward with a national “synodal path” to restore trust after its own sexual abuse scandal.
The German synodal path has been controversial. On Sept. 8, 2022, a minority of German bishops blocked a motion to redefine Catholic teaching on homosexuality, bisexuality, gender identity and masturbation. In response, some proponents of these liberalizations warned they would “take it to Rome.”
As a scholar of global Catholicism, I believe this controversy reflects much wider tensions within Catholicism. In 1910, two-thirds of the world’s Catholics lived in Europe. Today, just one in four do. The church’s numbers have grown most quickly in Africa and Asia. As more power shifts to the global south, the church sometimes struggles to chart a path forward for all regions, each of which has its own distinct perspectives.
The German meeting spotlights particularly difficult topics about sexuality and women’s roles, where some Catholics in Europe, North America and Australia clash with Catholics elsewhere.
The Catholic Church is often assumed to look and feel the same everywhere. But Catholicism is culturally quite diverse.
The most public disagreement involves African Catholics and those in the United States and Europe. For example, Ghanaian Catholic bishops have criticized advocates for LGBTQ rights for imposing “their so-called values and beliefs.” Other African bishops have said they feel betrayed by liberal sentiments in European Catholicism, such as the push to allow Holy Communion for divorced church members.
Tribalism also remains a challenge. For example, a Nigerian priest published a social media video asserting the superiority of the Igbo tribe. In rejecting such attitudes, other African priests have emphasized that African Catholics should draw on the philosophy of “ubuntu” that affirms collective belonging to humanity.
In Japan, for example, where Catholics make up less than 1% of the population, the main dilemma is how Catholics can maintain their community identity. In the Catholic-majority Philippines, recent meetings for the Synod on Synodality have focused on how poverty and corruption impact the Catholic community and the nation as a whole.
Latin America is home to almost 40% of the world’s Catholics. But the rise of Protestantism has concerned many priests and laity. Many new Protestants in Latin America believe that evangelical and Pentecostal communities are more sensitive to their needs, prompting soul-searching for Catholics.
It would be a mistake to see this “walking together” from an exclusively Western perspective. The debate in Germany reflects how ideologically divided Catholicism has become in the Western world alone. And it is not as though churches elsewhere are simply areas of potential problems or disagreements; their faith and rich theological traditions are an important resource for Catholics worldwide.
Still, given the cultural diversity of Catholicism, there are many potential flash points as the Synod on Synodality moves forward: poverty, adapting to local culture, sexuality and gender, church governance and the continuing sexual abuse crisis – just to name a few.
This has left some commentators wondering if anything meaningful can be discussed or achieved. In my view, whether Synod conversations turn into controversies will ultimately depend on how Catholics see themselves as part of a church that is truly global.
Robert W. McElroy became the first cardinal of San Diego Saturday, receiving his scarlet skullcap, ring and silk hat as he knelt before Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
McElroy, 68, was inducted along with 19 cardinals from around the world in a ceremony, known as a consistory, that was live streamed from 7-8 a.m. San Diego time (4-6 p.m. Rome time).
Among those in attendance was Bishop John Dolan, former auxiliary bishop of San Diego until he assumed duties of bishop of Phoenix this month.
After the consistory, the new cardinals met with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Afterwards, the cardinals were scheduled to greet the faithful of Rome and those visiting from their home countries for the customary post-Consistory congratulatory visits, according to Vatican News.
On Sunday, McElroy will celebrate his first Mass (live streamed) as a cardinal. On Monday and Tuesday, he will join the College of Cardinals for an in-depth study of Praedicate Evangelium regarding on the Roman Curia, and Tuesday evening they will celebrate Mass together with Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Basilica (live streamed).
The pope chose men from five continents who mostly agree with his vision of a more progressive and inclusive Roman Catholic Church and influencing their choice of his eventual successor.
Francis, 85, presided , telling the new cardinals to show concern for ordinary people despite the high rank that will bring them into contact with the powerful of the earth.
The ceremony marked the eight time Francis has put his stamp on the Church’s future with a new intake of cardinals who will serve as his top advisors and administrators at the Vatican and around the globe.
The College of Cardinals now consists of 226 cardinals, including 132 electors and 94 non-electors. 52 cardinals were created by John Paul II of whom 11 are electors; 64 created by Benedict XVI of whom 38 are electors; and 112 created by Francis of whom 83 are electors, according to Vatican News.
Across the world they are distributed as: 106 in Europe, of whom 54 are electors; 60 in the Americas, of whom 38 are electors; 30 in Asia, of whom 20 are electors; 27 in Africa, of whom 17 are electors; and 5 cardinals in Oceania, of whom 3 are electors, according to Vatican News.
Those under 80 — 16 among the 20 newcomers — can enter a conclave to elect a new pope from among themselves after he dies or resigns. Cardinals over the age of 80 are not electors.
Among the significant appointment from the richer countries is that of McElroy, who is seen as a progressive. By giving San Diego its first cardinal, Francis bypassed conservative archbishops in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
McElroy has been an outspoken ally of Francis’ pastoral approach to social issues, such as protection of the environment and a more welcoming approach to gay Catholics.
He also has opposed conservative U.S. clergymen who want to ban Catholic politicians, including President Joe Biden and House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, from receiving communion because of their support of abortion rights.
Four new countries will be granted a new cardinal: Mongolia, Paraguay, Singapore and East Timor.
Besides the United States, the the new cardinals come from Britain, South Korea, Spain, France, Nigeria, Brazil, Italy, Ghana and Colombia.
One bishop to be named cardinal, Bishop Richard Kuuia Baawobr, 62, of Wa, Ghana, became ill after arriving in Rome and was unable to attend the ceremony.
“A Cardinal loves the Church, always with that same spiritual fire, whether dealing with great questions or handling everyday problems, with the powerful of this world or those ordinary people who are great in God’s eyes,” Francis said.
Sitting before the main altar of St. Peter’s Basilica, Francis asked them to remember “poor families, migrant and homeless persons.”
He read his homily in a strong voice, often going off script, even to joke about a Rome priest who was so close to his parishioners that he knew not only all their names, but also the names of their dogs.
Francis, elected as pope in 2013, has now chosen 83 of the 132 cardinal electors, or about 63%.
With each consistory, Francis has continued what one diplomat has called a “tilt towards Asia,” increasing the likelihood that the next pope could be from the region that is a growing economic and political powerhouse.
Resignation not at Hand
The 85-year-old pontiff told Reuters in an interview last month that if he does resign in the future for health reasons — instead of dying in office — he has no plans to do so anytime soon. This means he could name even more cardinals as soon as next year.
After reading his homily, Francis gave them each their ring and red hat, the color of which, along with their vestments, is to remind them that they should be willing to shed their blood for the faith.
Since his election as the first Latin American pope, Francis’ has often broken the mould used by his predecessors in picking cardinals. Often he has preferred men from developing nations and smaller cities, rather than from major capitals where having a cardinal used to be considered automatic.
Archbishop Leonardo Steiner of Manaus, Brazil, becomes the first cardinal from the Amazon region, underscoring Francis’ concern for indigenous people and the environment.
Another unexpected new cardinal elector is Archbishop Giorgio Marengo, an Italian who is the Catholic Church’s administrator in Mongolia. At 48, he is the youngest of the new cardinal electors.
Mongolia has fewer than 1,500 Catholics but is strategically significant because it borders with China, where the Vatican is trying to improve the situation for Catholics.
“The Holy Father cares for the Church wherever it is in the world. (We) feel that a tiny community is as important as a large community,” he told Reuters before the ceremony.
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.
Pope Francis revealed that women may have a say in choosing the Catholic Church’s Bishops who are all men. This is a significant step forward in including women in higher decision-making roles.
By Dipavali Hazra
Pope Francis has been spearheading some radical reforms in the VaticanChurch that have opened up doors for women to play a role in the seat of Catholic power. While women cannot move up in the religious hierarchy in the Catholic Church, they will, for the first time ever, have a say in the appointment of Bishops- who are all men.
Though this has not been officially announced yet, the Pope revealed in an interview with Reuters that: “Two women will be appointed for the first time in the committee to elect bishops in the Congregation for Bishops.”
He did not elaborate on who were the women who could be appointed to this committee that comprises cardinals, bishops and priests nor did he say when the announcement would me made official. However, the presence of women in one of the top decision-making bodies is a significant step forward in the fairly orthodox religious organisation. This image of the Catholic Church is one that Pope Francis has been trying to modify.
His tenure has been marked with more openness toward not only women but also homosexuals. He has previously supported same-sex “civil unions” calling for their right to be in a family. As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he did not support same-sex marriage but did back legal protection for those who chose such living arrangements.
Though his previous comments have appeared to flip flop on homosexuality, his more conciliatory approach has divided people, with liberals welcoming his words, conservatives unhappy and analysts observing that real change would come only when legal protections are given in the church doctrine and homosexual behaviour is no longer considered a “sin”.
Also, in the backdrop of the US Supreme Court abortion ruling, the Pope condemned the practice and compared it to “hiring a hit-man to solve a problem”.
Meanwhile, as far as women’s representation is concerned, Pope Francis, during his 9-year tenure, has certainly paved the way for more opportunities in the Vatican.
In March 2022, he had approved a new constitution for the Vatican’s central administration known as the Curia. The new constitution replaced St John Paul II’s founding constitution, which was written in 1988. One of its key reforms was to permit any baptised lay man and woman to head any of the Vatican’s ministries. In a big shift from positions of power being held only by male clergy, the preamble to the new constitution which was adopted on June 5 says, “The pope, bishops and other ordained ministers are not the only evangelizers in the Church.” Another section of the constitution reads: “Any member of the faithful can head a dicastery (Curia department) or organism.”
When he was asked during the Reuters interview about which Vatican departments could be headed by a member of the public as opposed to the clergy he said that such positions could be cleared in the department for Catholic Education and Culture and the Apostolic Library.
Last year Pope Francis had appointed Sister Raffaella Petrini, to the number two position in the Vatican City Governorate which oversees the Vatican offices and residences in the Vatican city state as well as in Rome. Petrini is the first woman to hold the position.
The current Pontiff has made several other appointments of women to high-ranking administrative posts. In January 2020, Francesca di Giovanni was named Undersecretary for the multilateral sector in the Secretariat of State’s Section for Relations with States and International Organizations, another first.
Sister Nathalie Becquart, Sister Alessandra Smerilli, Sister Carmen Ros Nortes are other women who have been appointed to important positions.
Despite the advances made so far, women have traditionally never been ordained and cannot become priests, bishops or popes in the Catholic Church. The Anglican Church, however, has set a precedent by ordaining women Bishops.