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Local Gay Catholics react to Pope Francis
by Chuck Colbert, Keen News Service

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"Cautiously optimistic" and "toned-down rhetoric" are some overarching observations as local LGBT Catholics take measure of the new pontiff, Pope Francis, the former cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, Jorge Mario Bergoglio.

And while local gay Catholics are well-aware of the Vatican's historical hard line orthodoxy against homosexuality, they see hope already in the new pope's gracious and open style with people and his downplaying, if not eschewing the papacy's grandeur and monarchical trappings.

"I am pleased to see Pope Francis begin his service by demonstrating the simplicity for which he is know in Buenos Aires. And I hope he will be able to change the culture in the Vatican, and throughout the church, with this call to live with simplicity and service," said Martin Grochala of Dignity Chicago.

"I am not surprised that he has been adamantly opposed to gay marriage—describing it as though he does not know the LGBT community, though I understand he has had much dialogue with the community in Buenos Aires. He is still a bishop whose views have been shaped by the church's narrow and willfully ignorant understanding of human sexuality," added Grochala, who is chair of DignityUSA's national convention, scheduled for this summer in Minneapolis. "It is our duty as LGBT Catholics to make ourselves known to our Pope, to be open to sharing the truth of our lives with him, and lead him to greater understanding of how our faith has shaped our lives."

Indeed, the media has widely reported the new pope's view on same-sex marriage and adoption by gay couples. During his tenure as cardinal archbishop, Bergoglio opposed both, calling them works of the devil. And yet, despite Catholic hierarchical opposition, Argentina passed legislation in 2010 opening marriage to gay and lesbian couples. It was the first country in Latin America to do so.

The media has also spotlighted the new pope's pastoral sensitivity to persons living with HIV. For example, in 2001 Bergoglio visited a hospice where he washed the feet of AIDS patients.

And a recent New York Times piece reported that during the Argentine same-sex marriage battle, Bergoglio, in behind-the-scenes discussions, favored a compromise focusing on civil unions.

Before becoming pope, it was Benedict XVI—then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as the church's chief doctrinal enforcer—who issued pastoral care letter on homosexual persons that used unkind language of "objective disorder" to describe the "homosexual inclination" and "intrinsic evil" to explain "homosexual acts."

Marilyn O'Leary of Dignity Chicago said she was heartened by Francis' concern for the poor and downtrodden. "Now that he is pope perhaps his kind and generous nature might allow him to feel some of the same affection for LGBT people," she said.

"If the hate rhetoric is stopped or at least lessened, we would belong to a much more Christ-like church," O'Leary added. "I am willing to give Francis some time to come into his own and welcome all people of faith into the Church. In the meantime, we will pray for him."

In a similar vein, Dignity Chicago's president Chris Pett said reactions a recent chapter Mass "were fairly hopeful, believing that with Francis' background, affinity with the poor and simple lifestyle, there is the possibility he will be open to dialogue and potentially be a spiritual and administrative reformer of the church."

Pett added, "I'm a bit more guarded but cautiously optimistic."

Asked to elaborate, he said, "The challenge for Francis is there seems to be this interesting contradiction between someone who is very committed to the poor and social justice and yet does not make the connection between that and the injustice of telling LGBT people they are morally disordered and intrinsically evil, which is exclusionary and harmful. It has caused deep harm to many in our community, causing many to leave the church."

"At least to this point, that disconnect has not been acknowledged by Francis, but we hope there will be opportunities for dialogue," said Pett.

"As an LGBT Hispanic, I am glad that we have a pope who comes from Latin America and is more in touch with the needs of this side of the world," said Ramon Rodriguez of Dignity Chicago. "Although in the past he has echoed the official teachings on homosexuality given by the Vatican, as the pope he has an opportunity to make a new start and, at the very least, change the rhetoric to be more inclusive and less poisonous. I sincerely hope he goes beyond just stopping the hateful remarks against LGBTs and actually transforms the Catholic Church's view on sexual morality to focus on justice and understanding."

Leadership of the Rainbow Sash Movement offered an assessment of the new pope. "The significance of this papal election, we believe foreshadows a change not in doctrine, but in tone," said Chicago-based Joe Murray, executive director.

"We expect the tone of the anti-LGBT rhetoric to be toned down," he explained, adding, "We also expect to see a commitment to give women a larger role in the Church."

Murray also said he expected "a thorough house-cleaning of the Roman Curia," which is the governing body of the Vatican.

"LGBT Catholics should welcome this new pope as an opportunity for new beginnings, and be open to any gestures of bridge building on his part," said Murray. "LGBT Catholics should not be guided by fear or anger."

"The Rainbow Sash Movement is hopeful and cautious this new occupant of Saint Peter's chair will bring back sanity to a Church that promotes hate over love," said Murray.

Attempts to reach Chicago's Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach ministry for comments were unsuccessful.

©Copyright 2013. Chuck Colbert. All rights reserved.

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