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Dear Pope Francis: Is the Church Door Half Open or Half Shut?

September 24, 2015

Over the years there have been numerous metaphors about the doors to the Vatican – are they open or shut? Is the Catholic Church ready for renewal or closing in upon itself again?

Earlier today, Pope Francis became the first-ever Pope to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress. Next week, as part of his first visit to the US as Pope, he will speak at the 2015 World Congress of Families in Philadelphia. And while his calls today for better environmental stewardship, fair and comprehensive immigration reform, and an end to war and poverty were heard loud and clear, there is still much speculation about the future direction of the Catholic Church.

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In 1959, Pope John XXIII was credited with throwing open the Catholic Church’s doors when he called for a gathering of all theologians and faith leaders in what became known as Vatican Council II—which eventually gave birth to significant changes within a moribund Catholic Church. The popes that followed–Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI–slowly started to walk back the progress from Vatican II and the doors of the Church began to close, and in the eyes of many observers, the Catholic Church moved back on a path towards decline and irrelevancy.

In 1959, Pope John XXIII was credited with throwing open the Catholic Church’s doors when he called for a gathering of all theologians and faith leaders in what became known as Vatican Council II—which eventually gave birth to significant changes within a moribund Catholic Church. The popes that followed–Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI–slowly started to walk back the progress from Vatican II and the doors of the Church began to close, and in the eyes of many observers, the Catholic Church moved back on a path towards decline and irrelevancy.

Then came Pope Francis—the first pope elected to the post originating from either North or South America. With little fanfare, and even less pomp and ceremony, he began to shake the church by challenging many of the Catholic Church’s dogmas and long-held convictions. Some of his changes have been substantive and structural, others have been cultural and symbolic and more to do with the tone of the church; few have been doctrinal.

The rub is, how does one read the direction that Pope Francis is leading the Catholic Church—are the doors just slightly ajar or is it the beginning of a real opening up of the Catholic Church? For LGBTQ people of faith – some of us cradle Catholics – the messages have been truly mixed.

During today’s speech in front of Congress, Pope Francis called on everyone to exercise the Golden Rule and to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Yet for every similar remark and “who am I to judge?” moment of affirmation, in the same breath the Vatican continues pushing for discrimination against LGBTQ people, the rejecting of trans people as Godparents, the belittling of LGBTQ families, and the trashing of children adopted by gay and lesbian parents. It is the continued mistreatment and rejection of LGBTQ people that overshadow well-intentioned gestures by the Pope, such as meeting with trans and gay activists, washing the feet of a person with living with AIDS, and a report released by Catholic Bishops in Rome suggesting that the Church create a more inclusive space for LGBT Catholics. And while these are simply just gestures, these actions would not have taken place under previous Popes.

As I continue to listen to Pope Francis’ remarks during his historic visit to the US with mixed emotions and expectations, I share with him the following exhortation: Pope Francis, you have opened a crack in the Church door around a number of significant issues – but we need you to swing that door wide so that actions will follow words.

 by Barbara Satin, Assistant Faith Work Director, The National LGBTQ Task Force

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