For Gay Catholics and Supporters, a ‘Sense of Whiplash’ Over Pope’s Reported Use of Slur


This was the pope who asked, “Who am I to judge?” in response to a question about gay priests in 2013. He announced last year that he would allow priests to bless same-sex couples, defying conservative critics in the Roman Catholic Church. And he apologized only weeks ago, in a statement from the Vatican, for using an offensive Italian term for gay men at a conference of bishops.

So reports that Pope Francis had repeated the slur during a meeting with priests in Rome this week set off a wave of confusion and hurt among some gay Catholics who have carefully parsed his comments over the years for signs of greater acceptance from the church.

In interviews and public statements, some supporters of more acceptance for L.G.B.T.Q. Catholics by the church said his remarks, made in reference to the presence of gay men in seminaries and the clergy, showed the limits of his tolerance. And some said they believed the pope may not have intended to convey bigotry, but that his pejorative language was jarring and unacceptable.

“I was experiencing a sense of whiplash,” said Michael O’Loughlin, the executive director of an L.G.B.T.Q. Catholic ministry based in New York, who, like many gay Catholics, has struggled with his relationship to the church. “Because I’ve been so used to covering some of these positive developments, and then when something like this happens, it’s like, ‘Whoa, what is this?’”

The Rev. James Martin, a high-profile supporter of making the church more welcoming to gay Catholics, said he met with the pope after the latest remarks at Casa Santa Marta, the Vatican guesthouse where the pope lives. “With his permission to share this, the Holy Father said he has known many good, holy and celibate seminarians and priests with homosexual tendencies,” Father Martin wrote on social media.

The pope had signaled support for reaching out to estranged gay Catholics, in part by meeting with Father Martin in 2019 after the priest’s book, “Building a Bridge,” had elicited criticism from conservative clergy members. Their recent meeting, which Father Martin said lasted for an hour on Wednesday, had been previously scheduled and, by coincidence, took place on the 25th anniversary of Father Martin’s ordination to the priesthood.

In an interview, Father Martin suggested that the pope, who is 87, had not fully understood the offensiveness of the slur, which he reportedly used jokingly. “To me, it’s clear that he understands now how much that word offended people,” Father Martin said. “And let me say, there is not an ounce of homophobia in Pope Francis. None.”

But the Rev. Bryan Massingale, an openly gay priest and theology professor at Fordham University in New York, said he was “shocked and saddened” by the pope’s words. The pope, Father Massingale said, bears responsibility for their far-reaching impact, regardless of his intent.

“Many gay people grow up all of our lives hearing various slurs and insults, and to say that you didn’t mean it maliciously doesn’t diminish it,” Father Massingale said in an interview. “Whether the pope intended it or not, the use of a derogatory slur, especially a second time, sends a message.”

Pope Francis was reported to have first used the anti-gay slur during a meeting of 250 Italian bishops late last month, when asked whether openly gay men should be admitted into seminaries. The bishops recently adopted new admission standards, which are awaiting Vatican approval. According to Italian news outlets, the pope replied that seminaries were already too full of “frociaggine,” an Italian slang term that translates to “faggotness,” and carries connotations of campiness and frivolous behavior.

The Italian news outlet Corriere della Sera reported on Wednesday that he used the term once again on Tuesday, when recounting the words of a bishop to a group of Italian priests. “A bishop came to see me and told me: ‘Here in the Vatican there is too much frociaggine,’” the news outlet reported the pope as saying.

Some observers of the pope interpreted his remarks as allusions to priests whose traditionalist approach to both liturgical style and church teaching had been criticized by the pope before — some of whom are themselves gay, yet who may be among the most openly critical of gay sexuality. Others said he could have been suggesting that a large number of gay seminarians might inadvertently alienate heterosexual applicants to the seminary.

Some who have pushed for more acceptance of L.G.B.T.Q. Catholics saw in the pope’s remarks a reference to a concern he had shared before: that some clergy members were taking vows of chastity for which they were unprepared and ended up leading “double lives.” Others said the comments indicated the pope’s unwillingness to acknowledge the contributions of gay priests to the church, even as he has sought to be more welcoming of gay congregants.

All Catholic priests take a vow of celibacy. But in 2005, as the scope of revelations about the church’s sexual abuse crisis emerged, the church issued a document formally excluding most gay men from the priesthood, barring candidates “who are actively homosexual, have deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called gay culture.” Research commissioned by the church has shown that priests who have sexual experiences with same-sex partners are no more likely to abuse minors than others, yet L.G.B.T.Q. advocates say gay priests continue to be scapegoated and stigmatized.

Francis DeBernardo, the executive director of New Ways Ministry, a group based in Maryland that supports gay Catholics, said that one interpretation of the pope’s reported remarks was that he was making “an erroneous assumption that gay men are the priests that are going to be more sexually active than heterosexual men.”

“I wish he would use more precise language to say exactly what he means, because his recent words are puzzling to many,” said Mr. DeBernardo, who said he viewed acceptance of L.G.B.T.Q. people in the church as a matter of justice that sprung from his Catholic identity.

Mark D. Jordan, a professor at Harvard Divinity School who studies gender and sexuality in the church, said the ongoing efforts to interpret the pope’s remarks might be the result of a strategy of “deliberate ambiguity” on the pope’s part as he tries to balance the church’s political factions.

“Sometimes it seems as if the Vatican is saying, ‘It doesn’t matter what your orientation is, as long as you agree to be celibate,’” Dr. Jordan said. “Other times they seem to be saying: ‘No, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a celibate gay or not. If you’re gay, you shouldn’t be studying the priesthood.’”

He added: “I always liken it to reading ‘Pravda’ in the old days, where you had to read between the lines because what you were reading was a series of coded messages involving internal struggles in rooms that you could never reach.”

For Father Massingale, at Fordham, the pope’s remarks raised what he described in a recent essay as “the deepest question” facing the Catholic Church: “Are gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans and queer people fully equal members of the body of Christ?”

He said the remarks offered a more nuanced portrait of Francis, the Church’s 266th pope.

“People want to see him as either A or B,” he said. “He’s either a champion for the gay community or he’s a representative of a homophobic church. And what I’m trying to understand is that both things can be true.’’

Emma Bubola and Elisabetta Povoledo contributed reporting.

Source link


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here