While Pope Francis’ latest document, Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), contains some hopeful passages, it does not inspire joy in LGBT Catholics and their supporters. As far as sexual orientation and gender identity issues are concerned, the pope’s latest apostolic exhortation reiterates church formulas which show that the Vatican has yet to learn from the experiences and faith lives of so many LGBT Church members or their supporters.
Though the pope calls for church leaders and ministers to be less judgmental and to respect individuals’ consciences, he has not provided a new pastoral approach to LGBT issues or people.
On other family topics such as divorce and co-habitation, Amoris Laetitia offers some hopeful advice—and if this advice were simply applied to LGBT issues, which would not be incompatible to do, this document would have been much more positive. Pope Francis calls for non-judgmental pastoral care, assisting people in developing their consciences, encouraging diverse pastoral responses based on local culture, and calling church leaders to be more self-critical.
All these things, if applied to LGBT people and issues, could produce enormous positive change in the church.
Instead of listening to more progressive voices at the synods who called for greater understanding and dialogue with the LGBT community, the pope simply repeated church condemnations of same-sex unions, adoption by lesbian and gay people, and the complexities of gender identity.
Most egregious is his repetition of the synod fathers’ false claim that international aid to developing nations is dependent upon openness to marriage equality.
No evidence exists for such a claim. Randy Berry, the U.S. Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI People categorically denied this claim last November during meetings with church officials at the Vatican to discuss the persecution of LGBT people globally.
Moreover, Pope Francis’ one statement discussing pastoral care to families with lesbian and gay members is included in a section entitled “Casting Light on Crises, Worries and Difficulties.” Such a classification reveals an assumption that LGBT topics are simply problems to be surmounted, and it does not recognize the giftedness and grace that occur when a family accepts and loves its LGBT family members.
While Pope Francis repeats church teaching condemning discrimination and violence against LGBT people, the fact that there is no elaboration of this teaching concerning countries that are criminalizing sexual and gender minorities makes these words ineffective.
Many in the Catholic LGBT community had great, but realistic, hopes for this document.
While not expecting a blessing on marriage for lesbian and gay couples, many were anticipating that Pope Francis would offer an affirming message to LGBT people, and not the same ill-informed comments. Many were hoping for something more pastoral from this pope known for warm gestures and statements.
Where is the Pope Francis who embraced his gay former student and husband during his U.S. visit? Where is the Pope Francis who invited a transgender Spanish man for a personal meeting at the Vatican? That Pope Francis is hard to find in his latest text.
The two synods in 2014 and 2015, as well as the wide consultations among the laity which preceded them, served as the research for this new papal document. Unfortunately, as far as LGBT issues are concerned, there is nothing in Amoris Laetitia that indicates the great call for new approaches to these issues that occurred during these discussions.
Perhaps there is hope in the suggestion made by some bishops at the 2015 synod that the Vatican hold an entirely separate synodal discussion on the issues of sexuality and gender.
While this document has a lot to offer on a variety of important family topics, it did not give adequate attention to LGBT family issues that deserve serious examination by church leaders.
Given the new general pastoral direction of this document, there is potential for further development in regard to LGBT issues. Much more faithful witnessing of LGBT Catholics and their supporters, as well as continued steps toward dialogue with Church leaders, will further this goal.
In one of the more hopeful parts of the document, the conclusion of chapter 8, Pope Francis actually calls for the continuation of such a dialogue:
I encourage the faithful who find themselves in complicated situations to speak confidently with their pastors or with other lay people whose lives are committed to the Lord. They may not always encounter in them a confirmation of their own ideas or desires, but they will surely receive some light to help them better understand their situation and discover a path to personal growth. I also encourage the Church’s pastors to listen to them with sensitivity and serenity, with a sincere desire to understand their plight and their point of view, in order to help them live better lives and to recognize their proper place in the Church.
Such dialogues can transform those in so-called “complicated situations,” but they can also transform the Church’s ministers and leaders.
This process is a proven method for the development of doctrine in the Catholic Church.