Archbishop Giacomo Morandi, secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was widely seen as being behind the March 2021 document that outraged the gay community, which Francis has made pains to welcome into the church fold.
Pope Francis took the first step Monday to reorganize the Vatican’s powerful doctrine office, removing the No. 2 official widely believed responsible for a controversial document barring blessings for same-sex couples because God “cannot bless sin.”
Francis named Archbishop Giacomo Morandi, currently the secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, bishop of the Italian diocese of Reggio Emilia-Guastalla. The move amounts to a demotion since Morandi currently has the title of archbishop, yet is heading to a small diocese, not an archdiocese.
The Vatican said Morandi would nevertheless retain the title of archbishop “ad personam.”
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, or CDF, is one of the most important Vatican offices, interpreting doctrine for the universal Catholic Church, sanctioning dissenters and handling cases of clergy sexual abuse of minors. Morandi joined the CDF as an under-secretary in 2015 and was promoted to secretary, or the No. 2, in 2017.
He was widely seen as being behind the March 2021 document that outraged the gay community, which Francis has made pains to welcome into the church fold.
The document declared that the Catholic Church won’t bless same-sex unions because God “cannot bless sin.” The document said Francis had been informed of the document and “gave his assent” to its publication, but Francis was apparently taken by surprise by its impact.
Francis has since made several gestures of outreach to the gay Catholic community and their advocates, including a recent letter congratulating an American nun once sanctioned by the CDF, Sister Jeannine Gramick, on her 50 years of LGBTQ ministry.
The CDF is currently headed by the Jesuit Cardinal Luis Ladaria, but he is expected to retire relatively soon since he turns 78 in April, three years beyond the normal retirement age for bishops.
Aside from Morandi, there are two “additional secretaries” in the CDF, including the American Archbishop Joseph Di Noia, who also is due to retire soon since he turns 79 in July. The other is Archbishop Charles Scicluna, but he has a full-time job as archbishop of Malta.
The impending retirements and transfer of Morandi thus suggests some management changes at the office, though they probably won’t be announced until Francis releases the blueprint of his reform of the Vatican’s overall bureaucracy, expected sometime this year.
Pope Francis has sent an encouraging letter to an American nun thanking her for her 50 years of ministry to LGBTQ Catholics, more than two decades after she was investigated and censured by the Vatican for her work.
In his letter dated Dec. 10, Francis wrote that Sister Jeannine Gramick has not been afraid of “closeness” and without condemning anyone had the “tenderness” of a sister and a mother. “Thank you, Sister Jeannine, for all your closeness, compassion and tenderness,” he wrote.
He also noted her “suffering … without condemning anyone.”
Gramick, who lives just outside of Washington, D.C., in Mount Rainier, Md., said that the letter felt like it was “from a friend.”
“Of course, I was overjoyed,” she said. “It felt like a turning point in the church, because for so long, this ministry has been maligned and in the shadows.”<
For decades, Gramick and her New Ways Ministry co-founder, the late Rev. Robert Nugent, were considered controversial by some church leaders for the workshops they did about the science and theology around LGBTQ topics. Gramick said she would not provide her opinion, but she would present the Catholic Church’s teaching, as well as doctrinal positions from more moderate and liberal theologians.
Gramick said she was under scrutiny from the Vatican for about 20 years before officials issued a declaration that she would be barred from ministry.
“The ambiguities and errors of the approach of Father Nugent and Sister Gramick have caused confusion among the Catholic people and have harmed the community of the Church,” the 1999 statement from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith said.
Gramick later transferred to another religious order to keep doing her work.
A spokesman for the Vatican did not respond immediately Friday to a message seeking to confirm the authenticity of the pope’s letter to Gramick. The letter, first published on Friday in the Catholic publication America magazine, is the latest in a series of several letters the pontiff has written this year to gay Catholics and others who are serving and advocating for LGBTQ people.
The pope’s letter follows actions by the Vatican on gay rights that have frustrated Francis’s more liberal supporters. Early in his papacy, he famously declared: “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?” But he has upheld church doctrine that calls LGBTQ acts “disordered.” Last year, the Vatican’s doctrinal body said that Catholic priests cannot bless same-sex unions.
In December, a Vatican official apologized to New Ways Ministry for having pulled a reference to it on the Vatican website, drawing praise from the group as a rare and “historic” apology and for restoring the reference. New Ways revealed that Pope Francis had written them two letters earlier in 2021 praising their ministry. In those letters, Francis noted Gramick’s work, that he knew “how much she has suffered,” describing her as “a valiant woman who makes her decisions in prayer.”
The Rev. James Martin, a New York City-based priest known for his ministry affirming LGBTQ Catholics, said he has received a few letters from Pope Francis but made one of them public in July 2021. Gramick’s letter, he said, is significant because she has been censured by the Vatican.
“For most LGBTQ Catholics, Sister Jeannine is a real hero, so they’ll be delighted. They’ll rightly see this as one of Pope Francis’s steps forward,” Martin said. “He doesn’t change church teaching on this but take steps … added up, all the steps, we’ve come a long way.”
Gramick said official investigations came after the late Cardinal James Hickey, the former archbishop of Washington, wrote to the Vatican asking officials to pressure Gramick and Nugent to stop their ministry. An investigation was launched in 1988 and in 1999, the Vatican issued its censure.
“It was devastating,” she said. “What can I say? It didn’t feel good.”
A spokeswoman for the archdiocese of Washington did not immediately return a request for comment on the letter.
Gramick said she and others from New Ways Ministries met with Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, in October and told them about the letters Pope Francis had sent the ministry. “Sounds like you’re pen pals,” Gregory told them, according to Gramick.
Gramick said she started her ministry when she was 29 while studying in graduate school and befriended a gay man who had left the Catholic Church for the Episcopal Church. In his apartment, she organized Mass for gay and lesbian people who had left the Catholic Church.
“When the liturgy was over, they had tears in their eyes because they felt they were being welcomed home again,” she said.
Gramick said she hopes the church will eventually change its position on sexual ethics and listen to the growing number of parishioners who have become more LGBTQ affirming.
“What would I say to LGBT Catholics is, ‘Hold on, it will change,’ ” she said. “We have to make our views known so that the officials of the church can properly express that change.’ ”
Francis also wrote to America magazine national correspondent Michael O’Loughlin, who is a gay Catholic, commending him for reporting on Catholic responses to the HIV/AIDS crisis.
From the earliest days of his papacy, O’Loughlin said, the pope has reached out to individuals in a personal way by calling people on the phone and writing the string of LGBTQ-related letters.
“There’s a lot of hurt and pain in the LGBT community and a single letter or group of letters is not going to fix that,” O’Loughlin said. “He’s interested in highlighting Catholics living out their faith even in areas that have been historically difficult for the church.”
When Carol Baltosiewich was a Catholic nun, she spent 10 years caring for young men dying from AIDS. Even so, the first time I spoke to her, in 2016, I was terrified to tell her I’m gay.
As a reporter who covers the church, I had started interviewing Catholics who worked and fought during the height of the H.I.V. crisis in the United States, roughly 1982 to 1996. People like Ms. Baltosiewich persisted amid frequent hostility from church leaders toward gay people and the broader stigmas of the time. A poll in 1987 found that 43 percent of Americans agreed with the statement, “AIDS might be God’s punishment for immoral sexual behavior.”
A Catholic myself, I’d long internalized that being honest about my sexual orientation could be dangerous. L.G.B.T. people have been fired from their jobs at Catholic organizations. Some groups supporting L.G.B.T. Catholics have been barred from parishes. So even someone like Ms. Baltosiewich, who has loved and served countless gay men, could feel risky.
But my conversations with Ms. Baltosiewich and others like her — the fellowship, gratitude and moments of revelation we exchanged — had a profound effect on my own faith. So much so that recently, I wrote a letter to Pope Francis to share the book I wrote based on those conversations, and even to tell him a little about myself as a gay Catholic. To my surprise, he wrote back. His words offer me encouragement that dialogue is possible between L.G.B.T. Catholics and church leaders, even at the highest levels.
When I first learned about Ms. Baltosiewich’s work, I was tempted to describe her as a hero nurse-nun who showed compassion to gay men with AIDS at a time when so many other people refused to help. And she was. But what gets lost in that framing of her story is the reality of how the individuals she met through this ministry broadened her understanding of God’s love and ultimately made her a better Christian.
Ms. Baltosiewich can trace this change to a particular moment. She had moved to Manhattan from her home in Belleville, Ill., to learn about AIDS ministry. She was sitting on the stoop of the convent in Hell’s Kitchen where she was staying when she noticed a young man, Robert, walking toward her. He was visibly upset. Ms. Baltosiewich recognized him from the hospital where she volunteered and asked what happened.
His partner was dying from AIDS and there was nothing he could do to help. Robert broke down in tears. Ms. Baltosiewich held him.
She knew what her church taught about homosexuality. She remembered her own initial discomfort at the thought of romantic love between two men. But in that moment, as she held Robert, she thought about the love and concern he showed his partner and, she remembers thinking, “You couldn’t say it was wrong.”
I’ve felt isolated and alone at times as a gay Catholic trying to find a place in the church. I stay partly for cultural reasons, taking comfort in practicing the faith of my ancestors. I also find order and meaning in Catholicism, especially when life feels unpredictable. With U.S. bishops meeting in Baltimore this week, following months of debate about the worthiness of some Catholics to receive Communion, I’ve realized that personally, I stay in the church mostly for the Eucharist, that ritual during Mass when I believe the divine transcends our ordinary lives and God is present. I haven’t found that elsewhere.
Still, there have been moments when I felt that I had no choice but to leave, that the hypocrisy and judgment were too great. I once went so far as to begin the process of being received into the Episcopal Church but didn’t follow through. I sometimes wonder if I should have, like the time I sat at a dinner in Rome and listened to another Catholic criticize Pope Francis and suggest that despite the pope’s “Who am I to judge?” attitude, gays would, in fact, burn in hell.
But my encounters with people like Ms. Baltosiewich have been transformative, so much so that when I decided this past summer to write a letter to Pope Francis about my book, the fear I had once felt with Ms. Baltosiewich was gone. I told him that I am a gay Catholic journalist and that these stories of encounter have the power to change lives. I told him about the many L.G.B.T. Catholics I’ve interviewed, who are barely hanging on to their faith.
Later, when I saw the white envelope with the return address of the Vatican Embassy in Washington, I froze. Pope Francis had written back.
“Querido hermano,” began the letter. The letter was in Spanish, Pope Francis’ native tongue, but it’s been translated into English for this article. “Dear brother. I thank you for the letter and the book, which you wrote.”
“As I finished reading your letter,” the pope continued, invoking the Gospel of Matthew, “I was spontaneously struck by that through which we will one day be judged: ‘For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to me.’”
I read on.
“Thank you for shining a light on the lives and bearing witness to the many priests, religious sisters and lay people, who opted to accompany, support and help their brothers and sisters who were sick from H.I.V. and AIDS at great risk to their profession and reputation.”
Then he offered a decades-delayed papal blessing on the work undertaken by people like Ms. Baltosiewich.
“Instead of indifference, alienation and even condemnation,” Pope Francis continued, “these people let themselves be moved by the mercy of the Father and allowed that to become their own life’s work; a discreet mercy, silent and hidden, but still capable of sustaining and restoring the life and history of each one of us.”
“Again, I thank you and ask that the Father bless you and the Virgin Mary care for you, and please, don’t forget to pray for me,” he concluded, signing off, “Fraternally, Francis.”
I’m not under any illusions that a letter, even one signed by the pope, will heal the wounds some Catholics imparted decades ago. Or that this might finally be the moment when Francis changes church teaching on homosexuality. In fact, under his leadership, the Vatican has doubled down, releasing what many read as a reiteration of the ban on gay priests. More recently, the Vatican stated that while the church should welcome gay people “with respect and sensitivity,” God “does not and cannot bless sin” and thus declared priests cannot bless gay couples.
But Christians are called to have hope, and so for now, I still do.
Ms. Baltosiewich’s world was altered through her encounters with gay men more than 30 years ago. She has since left the order of nuns she was part of during her years of AIDS ministry and joined the Sisters for Christian Community, a non-canonical group, but remains a Catholic. When I called to read her the letter, she told me her eyes filled with tears.
My faith has been edified through my interactions with Ms. Baltosiewich. And now, with a papal blessing on this kind of work, perhaps church leaders — maybe even the pope — will be transformed in how they see L.G.B.T. people and others whose faith is lived on the margins. If they don’t, imagine what the church will have lost.
The Church needs a thorough revision of canon law and a commission to oversee this revision should include lay people, one of the country’s top barristers, Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws has said.
Speaking as part of a panel on the theme, Insisting on Sharing Authority at this week’s Root and Branch lay-led synod, the Scottish lawyer, broadcaster and Labour member of the House of Lords said a radical revision of canon law should be a “key call” from the synod.
She said a commission to oversee reform should “systematically go through the structures of the canon law and make them appropriate to the 21st century” and it should sit in public as it heard evidence.
Describing herself as “a firm believer in reform”, she said: “I really feel that we have to persuade the current leadership [in the Church] that they must cede power in order to survive.”
Elsewhere in the discussion, Baroness Kennedy called for an end to mandatory clerical celibacy. “I feel very strongly that you have to have abandon the business of celibacy.” She told the online discussion that clerical celibacy had been “one of the root problems in so many of the issues that we are talking about” and needed to be dealt with “first and foremost”.
“People are sexual beings. Some might choose to be celibate, and so be it. But there should be a possibility to follow a vocation even if you are a married person, male or female.”
She also called on the Church to deal with its “hostility to homosexuality”.
She said: “We have to stop being so preoccupied and fetishistic about sex within the Church and start concerning ourselves with the suffering of the world.
“Our knowledge of humanity has developed, and science has helped us to understand sexuality so much better.”
Recalling the passing of the same sex marriage referendum in Ireland in 2015, Baroness Kennedy said that despite the Church having had such a dominant role in terms of power and authority, the people of Ireland by a majority voted for gay marriage. “It was because Catholic grandmothers and Catholic mothers and fathers said why should our child not have the same right to be with the person they love as our other child.”
She believed that there are “so many good things about the teachings of the church” which had given her a value system.
“The hierarchy has to be persuaded that this [reform] is about sustainability. The Catholic Church is not going to survive if it does not address these issues because the young are just not going to engage.”
Referring to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the need for a global template of values against which every legal system should be measured, including canon law, she asked: “Why has the Catholic Church not embraced it properly, particularly with regard to due process, the idea of access to justice – where was the access to justice for the many victims of sexual abuse within the Church?”
She said Church failures on abuse and moving people on who had committed crimes was one of the reasons so many people are now alienated from the Church.
“They do not see the Catholic Church adhering to that whole framework of human rights, rule of law, and respect for due process, access to justice, and the treatment of people as being equal before the law.”
She also hit out at the Church’s willingness to accommodate Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s desire to marry in a Catholic Church, which she had raised with Cardinal Nichols.
“People were very distressed, and I would say disappointed when they saw the ease with which the prime minister, who is not known for his sobriety when it comes to relationships with women, was able to have a marriage in the Catholic Church, despite the fact of being twice divorced.”
Recalling a conversation with a cab driver in Glasgow whose marriage had failed and who had remarried a catholic, he had told her of his pain at being unable to receive communion and feeling excommunicated.
“These are the things that are such a scar on the Church, and on all the people who still think of themselves as being Catholics, and who want to be able to take up the sacraments, to be a participant, to belong to this family. And yet, they are not able to do so.”
She had told the Cardinal: “Your communications strategy on saying everybody is equal before canon law is not working. You need to do something about that.”
The discussion on Wednesday was chaired by Virginia Saldanha, executive secretary of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences Women’s Desk.
It heard contributions also from Dr Luca Badini Confalonieri, Executive Director at the Wijngaards Institute, and broadcaster, writer and public speaker, Christina Rees, a member of the general synod of the Church of England.
Pope Francis will meet with Indigenous leaders later this year to discuss coming to Canada to apologize for the church’s role in operating schools that abused and forcibly assimilated generations of Indigenous children, a step toward resolving the grievances of survivors and Indigenous communities, the head of Canada’s largest Indigenous organization said on Wednesday.
In a statement, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said that the pope will meet separately at the Vatican with the representatives of Canada’s three biggest Indigenous groups — the First Nations, the Métis and the Inuit — during a four-day series of meetings in December that will culminate in a joint session with all three.
“Pope Francis is deeply committed to hearing directly from Indigenous Peoples, expressing his heartfelt closeness, addressing the impact of colonization and the role of the Church in the residential school system,” the bishops wrote.
Canada’s Indigenous leaders have long called for a papal apology for the church’s role in the residential schools, a government-created system that operated for about 113 years and that a National Truth and Reconciliation Commission called “cultural genocide.”
Those calls have intensified since May, following announcements by three Indigenous communities that ground penetrating radar has revealed many hundreds of unmarked graves containing human remains, mostly of children, at the sites of former schools in British Columbia and Saskatchewan. While both disease and violence were widespread at the schools, the scans offer no information about how the children died.
Catholic orders ran about 70 percent of the schools on behalf of the government. Despite a direct plea from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2017, the pope has consistently refused to apologize for the church.
Three Protestant denominations that also ran residential schools apologized long ago and contributed millions of dollars to settle in 2005 a class-action suit brought by former students.
The Catholic Church, however, has since raised less than four million Canadian dollars, or $3.2 million, of its 25 million dollar share of the settlement.
The delegation of Indigenous leaders will push the question of compensation at the Vatican meetings, said Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Canada’s largest Indigenous organization. However, their focus will be on persuading the pope to come to Canada to apologize.
The news of the Vatican meeting came as the third Canadian Indigenous community announced on Wednesday that it had found 182 human remains near a former school for Indigenous children run by the Catholic church.
At the St. Eugene’s Mission School, located in British Columbia on the land of a First Nation which renders its name as ʔaq’am, Indigenous leaders said that a search that started last year has found 182 unmarked graves, some of them just three to four feet deep.
Chief Bellegarde said that the Indigenous groups had been trying for two years to schedule this meeting with the pope. But he said that it remains unclear which, if any, of their requests that the pope will agree to.
“There are no guarantees of any kind of apology or anything coming forward, there’s no guarantee that he’ll even come back to Canada,” Chief Bellegarde said. “But we have to make the attempt and we have to seize the opportunity.”
A national Truth and Reconciliation Commission found that physical, mental and sexual abuse were common at the schools, which operated for over 100 years, starting in the late 19th century. Many of the schools were overcrowded, their children afflicted by disease and, in some cases, malnutrition. All of them rigorously, and sometimes violently, enforced prohibitions on Indigenous languages and cultural practices.
In May, Canadians were shocked to learn that ground penetrating radar had revealed the remains of 215 people, mostly children, near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia.
Last week the shock was compounded after a First Nation in Saskatchewan said that the technology had found 751 remains at the site of a former school on its land.
The St. Eugene’s Mission School, where the discovery of remains was announced on Wednesday, was operated between 1890 and 1969 by Catholic orders, including the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.
In a statement released Wednesday, the Lower Kootenay Band said the remains likely belonged to people from the bands of Ktunaxa Nation — of which it is a member — and other neighboring Indigenous communities.
The search, which is continuing, was organized by the ?aq’am First Nation, which informed Chief Jason Louie of the Lower Kootenay Band about its initial findings last week. After making the discovery public on Wednesday, Chief Louie said that he is less interested in a papal apology than criminal charges being brought against members of the church involved in running the school.
“We’re beyond apologies, we need to talk about accountability,” he said. “If Nazi war criminals can be tried at an elderly age for their war crimes, I think we should be tracking down the living survivors of the church — being the priests and the nuns — who had a hand in this.”