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National Religious Leadership Roundtable responds to election of new pope

March 13, 2013

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s National Religious Leadership Roundtable responded today to the election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope Francis I.

Statement by Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, National Religious Leadership Roundtable Member:

We greet Pope Francis I, and we send him our prayers and best wishes as he takes on the awesome role as chief shepherd and pastor of the Roman Catholic Church.

As he begins his papacy, we request that Pope Francis I make one of his top priorities the re-evaluation of the Catholic hierarchy’s approach to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues. As a cardinal in Argentina, the new pope spoke strongly against marriage equality and against the right for gay and lesbian people to adopt children. We hope that in his new office, he will have the wisdom to hear all sides of these complex issues and that he will inject pastoral messages into his statements.

Over the past several decades, under the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, our church has suffered because of the aggressively negative approach to issues of sexual orientation and gender identity that the hierarchy has taken. As a result of these condemnatory and hurtful messages, thousands upon thousands of people — both LGBT and heterosexual — have left the Catholic Church. Some have looked to other churches for a pastoral welcome, and some have given up on faith altogether.

Pope Francis I has the opportunity to repair much of this hurt and alienation by offering sincere pastoral outreach to LGBT people and their families. A welcoming gesture from the new pope in the first month of his papacy can go a long way to express God’s love for all humanity. Without such a gesture, the church will continue to lose members, as well as credibility.

Pope Francis I will need to go further than gestures, too. In the past few decades, Catholics in the United States and all over the globe have become increasingly welcoming of LGBT people. Catholics have gone to ballot boxes to ensure that LGBT people do not suffer from discrimination and violence, and that they receive equal benefits in society, including civil marriage. During that time, Catholic theologians, using modern research and evidence, have called for the Catholic Church to update its teachings and approach to sexuality, including sexual orientation, same-sex relationships and gender identity. The Catholic Church is ready for the full acceptance of LGBT people in the church community. The only obstacle to recognition of the full dignity of LGBT people is the intransigence of the hierarchy. Through example and directive, the new pope can move the church toward full acceptance.

Pope Francis I has many items on his agenda, but we hope that he will place the updating of Catholic teaching on LGBT issues at the top of his list. The Catholic Church is hurting because of the many people it has lost due to the homophobia and prejudice of its officials. We need the new pope to be a healer and reconciler, and a true shepherd of all souls.

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