Pope Francis! Pope Francisco! When I heard his name, I thought, "What an auspicious beginning!" His name alludes to St. Francis Xavier, founding Jesuit scholar, but it is St. Francis of Assisi, renowned for service to the poor and his love for all God's creatures, that Pope Francis is claiming. We pray that ministry to and with the poor become the hallmark of his legacy.
We want to cheer for the Pope. Indeed, there was a cheer across the world when, for the first time in 1300 years, someone from outside of Europe was elected Pope. Here was the first Jesuit and the first Latin American to be elected as Pontiff. But we have questions. Will Pope Francis truly serve the poor? Will he be the first Pope to embrace God's richly diverse creation, including God's LGBT children? Will women be allowed to lead as priests? Will the Pope clean up the Vatican's finances? And, of course, will he lead the church to confess, decry and report the crime of sexual abuse by ordained Catholic leaders?
Although our faith leads us to believe in the possibility of transformation, our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Argentine brothers and sisters know Pope Francis as Jorge Mario Bergoglioa, an archbishop with a record of condemning lesbian and gay families and standing too close for comfort to Argentina's military dictatorship in the repressive era now called the "Dirty War." Father Bergoglioa claims he was working to free priests who were detained and tortured for months when he was the 40-year-old head of the Jesuits in Argentina.
There is much to consider. As the head of communion for the Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC), I have great empathy for the weight of leadership now on the shoulders of Pope Francis. Our ministries in 40 countries serve tens of thousands; Roman Catholic ministries serve more than a billion. Still the question remains, Pope Francis, will you serve all God's children?
It is not as an outsider that I bring deep questions and prayers to this papal election. More than a third of MCC members are exiles from the Roman Catholic Church. But whether our roots are Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical or Pentecostal, we come to MCC looking for faith leaders who affirm all God's children, including those who identify as LGBT. When we were first getting started forty-five years ago, Jews met with us as well. We all knew the same God loved us fiercely.
Today, we stand with our friends and family in DignityUSA, the historic LGBT Catholic group founded not long after MCC. Their hopeful statement urges Pope Francis to minister to all Roman Catholics, saying, "We are encouraged by Pope Francis' clear commitment to the poor, and to the social justice tradition at the heart of our faith. At the same time...we call on our new Pope to recognize that he is now head of a Church that includes a huge number of LGBT people, their families and friends around the world. We invite him to take the time to learn about our lives, our faith, and our families before he makes any papal pronouncements about us, and we stand ready to enter into dialogue with him at any time."
We stand with Mary Hunt who asks, Where are the Women? "The vast majority of young and seasoned Catholic women are making their own choices about their faith and their lives. They are working to eradicate injustice, ministering to those in need, and celebrating the goodness of creation. They are exercising their moral authority despite the exclusionary ways of the hierarchy."
We pray with DignityUSA, with Mary Hunt, and with all those who pray that the Pope lives up to the Roman Catholic Church's stand on human rights and dignity for all people. Even without changing his beliefs about LGBT people, he can speak out against the imprisonment, execution or persecution of LGBT people throughout the world. Vatican officials have done so before, and it is time to speak out again.
Finally, I share a personal word with Pope Francis, from one head of a church to another. With the grace of God and the power of prayer, I know you can become a voice for respect and dignity for all people everywhere. Our prayers are with you and with the whole church.