On June 26, Pope Francis stated that Christians should apologize to gay people and others who the Church has offended or exploitedremarks that some have called historic regarding the church's attitude toward homosexuality.
"I repeat what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: that they must not be discriminated against, that they must be respected and accompanied pastorally," the pontiff said at a press conference on his plane while he traveled to Armenia. He added, "I believe that the church not only should apologize to the person who is gay whom it has offended, but has to apologize to the poor, to exploited women, to children exploited for labor. It has to ask forgiveness for having blessed many weapons."
The pope was responding to a question from journalist Cindy Wooden about a German cardinal who said the Catholic Church should apologize for being "very negative" about gays. Pope Francis was also asked if Christians bear some blame for hatred toward the LGBT communitywith the recent Orlando, Florida, mass shooting still resonating in the minds of many people.
"To hear the head of the Roman Catholic Church acknowledge the hurt and pain the church has caused in the lives of countless gay people and women worldwide is a welcoming and encouraging sign towards needed healing and reconciliation," said Call To Action Co-Executive Director Ryan Hoffmann in a statement. (Call To Action is a national organization working for equality and justice within the Catholic Church.)
In a separate press release, New Ways Ministry Executive Director Francis DeBernardo said, in part, "No pope has said more welcoming words to LGBT people than Pope Francis' recommendation today that the Churchindeed, all Christiansshould apologize for the harm religious traditions have caused to LGBT people. The pope's statement was simple, yet powerful, and it fell from his lips so easily. The simplicity of his language will provide an immense blessing of healing and reconciliation to LGBT people and Catholics who support them, who have been waiting decades to hear such a simple, honest statement from the Vatican.
"Indeed, some Catholic leaders have already acknowledged the pain that the Church has caused sexual and gender minorities. When the person in charge sets the tone for such apologies, more leaders and people will be moved to follow suit.
"Pope Francis' comments did not come out of a vacuum, but out of the decades of work that Catholics have been doing to remind Church leaders that the Church was too often complicit in the social prejudice and physical harm that LGBT people experience. The prayers, witness, work, and ministry of so many dedicated Catholics has finally risen to the top of the hierarchy and is starting to be heard and enacted."
DignityUSA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke also welcomed the Pope's remarks. "This could be a very important step in healing the relationship between the Catholic Church and LGBTQ people," she said. "The frank acknowledgment by the Pope that Church teachings and practices have done immense harm to LGBTQ people over the centuriesleading to such evils as violence, oppression, self-hatred, the division of families, youth homelessness, and suicideis essential.
Duddy-Burke welcomed the pope's reference to the part of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that says gay people should not be discriminated against. However, she noted that the Catechism also still uses such language as "objectively disordered" and "intrinsically disordered" in reference to homosexuality. DignityUSA and its partner organizations in the Equally Blessed coalition, among others, have repeatedly called for such language to be eliminated.
Dignity/Chicago, the advocacy organization of Catholics committed to equality and justice for LGBTQ people echoed DignityUSA's welcome of the statement by Pope Francis that the Church must apologize to LGBT people and to other groups that it has let down or offended throughout history.
Dignity/Chicago board president Ramon Rodriguez said, "The Pope's call for an apology will carry great meaning for many LGBT Catholics who feel excluded from the life of our Church. The Pope is right to recognize that much harm has been done to LGBT people by Church leaders and members for hundreds of years. This is a very positive step that needs to go beyond an apology into actual change in Church teaching about same-sex relationships. LGBT Catholics are eager to dialogue with our Church leadership to guide and advise on what those changes can and should be. We would hope to begin by having language that refers to the sexual relationships of LGBT people as being "intrinsically evil" and "morally disordered" removed from any Church documents or teachings."
Dignity/Chicago also calls for accountability of local bishops to follow the Pope's message and to see changes in each local diocese. Said Rodriguez, "We are fortunate in Chicago that Archbishop Cupich has already made efforts to create a more welcoming church here. We have reached out to him to request an opportunity to discuss the needs of our community and look forward to that conversation. Sadly, many of his brother bishops are still hostile to our communities and have sought to exclude rather than include."
DignityUSA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke said, "In order to bring about the full healing of the relationship between the Catholic Church and LGBT people, the Church must not only acknowledge the wrongs of the past, but take concrete actions that demonstrate its commitment to treating LGBT people justly from now on. For example, Catholic institutions must stop firing LGBT people simply because their sexual orientation or marital status becomes known. The Church must stop conducting public campaigns that seek the right to discriminate unjustly against LGBT people in the civil arena on the specious grounds of 'religious liberty.' It must cease campaigns against same-sex civil marriage and LGBT civil rights protections around the globe. And it must speak out strongly and clearly against the horrific violence and discrimination that is often directed against LGBT people in countries around the world, including our own, many with substantial or majority Catholic populations."
Dignity/Chicago is a chapter of Dignity/USA, and shares its mission to work for respect and justice for all gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons in the Catholic Church and the world.