What Are We To Make Of Pope Francis’ Inclusive Prison Visit?

by Robert Shine

Pope Francis joined 90 prison inmates for lunch during his visit to Naples last Saturday, including 10 from the ward which houses those who are gay, transgender, or have HIV/AIDS. They were among the 1,900 inmates who participated in the lottery for a chance to eat with the Pope.

The pope did not address LGBT issues specifically in his talk to the prisoners but stuck to general themes about God’s love for those incarcerated. In his talk, he stated:

Sometimes it happens that you feel disappointed, discouraged, abandoned by all: but God does not forget his children, he never abandons them! He is always at our side, especially in trying times; he is a father “rich in mercy” who always turns his peaceful and benevolent gaze on us, always waits for us with open arms. This is a certainty that instills consolation and hope, especially in moments of difficulty and sadness. Even if we have done wrong in life, the Lord does not tire of showing us the path of return and encounter with him. The love of Jesus for each one of us is a source of consolation and hope. It’s a fundamental certainty for us: nothing can ever separate us from the love of God! Not even the bars of a prison.

The inclusion of the prisoners who are trans, gay, and HIV+ was not a special outreach by Pope Francis, but it is significant that their identities did not prevent the pope from meeting with them. A Washington Blade article quoted New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo about the importance of this papal gesture:

This is another example that Pope Francis does not consider sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status as something that should prevent him from engaging them in dialogue and conversation. Under the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, these same personal characteristics were causes for the popes to shun and ignore people, much to the discredit of the church.

The Washington Blade story also cited Andrea Miluzzo, director of LGBT News Italia, who said that there was an additional positive LGBT angle to the pope’s visit to Naples:

“Members of the local affiliate of Arcigay, an Italian LGBT advocacy group, were among those who were allowed to stand along the streets of Scampia, a poor Neapolitan neighborhood overrun with crime, earlier in the day as Francis passed through in his open-air car known as the pope-mobile.”

Pope Francis’ willingness to include trans, gay, and HIV+ prisoners in his luncheon and to allow an LGBT advocacy group on the parade route, but not mentioning either of them in his talks, shows the complicated approach he is taking to LGBT issues, and perhaps to other issues, too. In an editorialThe National Catholic Reporter analyzed what they see as the pope’s strategy:

Francis perplexes Europeans and North Americans who have split the analysis along a liberal-conservative axis, writes [Austen] Ivereigh, “because he uses a lens and a language that come from outside those categories.”

Francis wades into slums, embraces those who otherwise might inspire revulsion, refuses to draw boundaries so rigidly as to exclude anyone, welcomes all questions and robust debate, and leads with the God of mercy.

He preaches “the art of encounter,” which requires moving beyond the safety of the church building and walking with the people. It is an approach schooled in the slums of Buenos Aires, Argentina, where the norm is broken lives, messy, stressed and needy.

It is in those circumstances, he preaches, in the irrational embrace of the prodigal, that grace abounds. In a recent visit to a parish in Rome, he instructed its leaders to avoid telling people where they were wrong, but to “get closer” to the people, walking with them and respecting their needs.

The power in Pope Francis’ symbolic gestures lies in the hope that other church leaders will soon imitate him, thus opening up greater possibility for encounter and discussion on LGBT and other important issues, too.

Originally published by New Ways Ministry; Photo via flickr user Aleteia Image Department

Comments (3)

Archbishop Richard G. Roy

Make no mistake. Neither
Make no mistake. Neither Pope Francis nor the Roman Catholic Church is going to change its teaching on homosexual relationships in the lifetime of anyone reading this post. It will take many generations, perhaps centuries for that to happen.

So, stop living for the crumbs that fall from their table, where we have been given no place.

Bishop Michael Anthony Gifford,fesc

I agree, we gay people have
I agree, we gay people have been begging for scrapes to be tossed to us from the Table for years. At times it looked as if the Roman Catholic Church was getting the message, however, this ends up being false hope. Clinging to the altar cloth crying out that we are normal, healthy people. We are born, we live and we die like everyone else. For the RC to claim that we are intrensicly evil was the last straw for me.

Evil is evil, it has no gender or sexual identity. Evil comes from a depraived mind. A mind that has been damaged far beyond any hope. However, LGBTQ people have spent many years finding out that we are not the evil creatures the Church makes us out to be. Grant it, there are perverts out there that harm children, however, gay people are not the majority in this box. But for some reason the Church refuses to say openly that it is wrong. Grant it, it took the RC 480 years to admit that Gallaleo was right and they lifted the house arrest that had been imposed on him. I believe that eventually the RCC is going to have to admit once again the it is wrong. It does not have all the answers to life’s questions. The Church is a fallable organization made up of every kind of human person known on this earth.

Once I came to terms with this I was able to walk away from Rome. Shook the dust from my shoes and just walked forward. In time I became attached to the Orthodox Catholic Church. It gave me a home for a few years, but it ended up going in a different direction that I was not comfortable with. I had been consecrated bishop for the California Diocese. I saw the writing on the wall and walked away. I am now the Bishop in the International Old Catholic Church for the Diocese of Sts. Francis and Clare, which covers Oregon, Nevada, and California. Lots of territory, few followers, at this tiime. The church offers people the opportunity to practice they’re Catholicism without the guilt and pain of loneliness that is inflected on LGBTQ people. My question to everyone is if the pot is burning you why not let it go and find a new place where one is welcome with open arms. Instead of being angry at the RCC, go to a catholic church that is just as old as the RCC. So stop begging for crumbs and banging your heads on the bronze doors. Come home and pray with us. Pax et Bonum + Michael Anthony, fesc

David Lester

I think his visit is
I think his visit is significant. My partner is Catholic and watches EWTN every day at noon. Thursday we watched Pope Francis have a service at a prison in Rome. during the service he washed and kissed the feet of 12 prisoners. It was a moving experience for all. He is being inclusive, even if the Catholic church is not.

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