A decision by Pope Francis to host a private meeting at the Vatican on Monday with an American Catholic priest who has been an outspoken advocate for the church to embrace LGBT Catholics is being viewed as yet another signal that Francis may be leaning toward changing the church’s long-held position of condemning homosexuality.
Francis’ meeting with Father James Martin, author of the book “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and The LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity,” came one week after three prominent U.S. bishops criticized Martin for his LGBT advocacy efforts.
Among the critics was Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, who wrote a commentary suggesting Martin’s ministry to the LGBT community presented “ambiguities” in church teachings.
“This meeting with the pope refutes the unjustified barrage of criticism he has received from a minority of church leaders and other anti-LGBT sectors of the church,” said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of the LGBT supportive Catholic group New Ways Ministries.
“Even more so, it recognizes that Fr. Martin’s approach to LGBTQ pastoral ministry, already praised by bishops, archbishops, and cardinals, has won the approval of the highest levels of the church,” said DeBernardo in a statement. “It is a clear signal that Pope Francis is calling the church to conversion away from the negative messages it has sent in the past about LGBTQ people.”
Added DeBernardo: “It is a day of celebration for LGBTQ Catholics who have longed for an outstretched hand of welcome from the church that they love.”
DeBernardo noted that while Francis’s meeting this week with Fr. Martin is another in a long list of LGBT supportive public statements and gestures since becoming pope in 2015, Francis has yet to issue an official doctrinal statement calling for changing the church’s teachings condemning homosexuality.
In fact, according to DeBernardo, the one official statement Francis has made on LGBT matters reaffirmed the church’s opposition to same-sex unions and adoptions by same-sex couples.
Nevertheless, DeBernardo and LGBT Catholic activists point out that Francis’ outspoken expressions of support for LGBT people to be welcomed by the church have been unprecedented and are viewed by some church observers as a possible first step toward changing official church doctrine on homosexuality.
“This is the enigma maybe of Pope Francis,” DeBernardo told the Blade on Monday. “It’s that he has not supported same-sex unions. He’s come out against them in many ways,” he said. “But he strongly signals and supports LGBT inclusion in the pastoral life of the church. Now that might not seem significant and it certainly isn’t the ideal that we would hope and would like,” DeBernardo said. “But it is a step that the church takes on its way to changes,” he said. “Often the change happens first in pastoral practice and that after a period of indeterminate time the effects of that pastoral practice often call for a change in church teaching and will bring about a change in the church teaching.”