The Green Populist Pope and LGBT People

08/04/2015 07:52 pm ET Updated Aug 04, 2016

During his pilgrimage to Latin America Pope Francis I asked his followers to pray for a miracle to happen at the General Synod on the Family. A miracle? That's the Pope's subtle method of bridging conservatives and liberals, he's a savvy politician who merits the attention he receives -- who wouldn't after the papacies of Saint John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

Still, who doesn't want a miracle, especially divorced, remarried and LGBTQ Christians who remain fringe characters according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that's the place where the Church's official doctrine, dogma and tradition is detailed.

The October Synod has the chance to revisit official Church doctrine and dogma in light of the West's embrace of same-sex marriage, e.g., the Irish vote and the United States Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. Yet, instead of asking for a miracle the Pope could have written an encyclical about the family, about the place of LGBTQ Christians in it. Unfortunately, the green populist pope chose the environment and climate change as the topic for his encyclical Laudato Si. It is impossible to deny science or that human beings contribute to the warming of the climate.

In choosing the easier softer way the pope lets bishops and cardinals take the lead at the Synod. Archbishops like Charles Chaput and Cardinals like Raymond Burke are clearly opposed to ministry by LGBT people. Even the Pope refused the services of a gay man, he would not let Laurent Stefanini serve as the French ambassador to the Vatican. (Now the French government must stay firm and refuse to appoint another ambassador.)

Even more disappointing, the parents of St. Therese of Liseaux will be canonized at the Synod -- such a move is an affirmation of the sacramentality of marriage between a man and a woman, and it confirms the Church's belief that same-sex desire and same-sex love is disordered, against nature, intrinsically evil. Many are asking the wrong question, namely, How can the Church treat LGBTQ people with the fullness of human dignity, especially when they are married to members of the same-sex? For instance, while many divorced and remarried Catholics work at Catholic sponsored institutions, are they treated with dignity and mutual respect when the Church has a set of beliefs in her Catechism and ignores or does not enforce them.

Arguing that the Church can do the same with married or unmarried LGBTQ people misses the point of the Gospel -- where we find Jesus talking about the fullness of human flourishing in places like the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Sermon on the Mount and in the Gospel of John chapter 10, where Jesus speaks about the fullness of human life. Jesus' theology of human flourishing is an exhortatory means for a rather close and personal encounter with Him, God and the human person, thus fulfilling itself not in encounter but in relationship.

If the Roman Catholic Church still believes that homosexuals are intrinsically disordered, and that sacramental marriage can only be between a man and woman, then she should teach her faith, and stand by it. For Pope Francis to give mixed signals, like his anodyne comment about gays, "Who am I to judge," confuses not only gays but also dissimulates the general membership of the Church. Is the Church afraid of being honest and truthful with laypeople (or the secular world)? Is the Church afraid of going on the record and declaring LGBT people incapable of teaching the catechism of the Catholic faith, or being part of the spiritual formation of, e.g., children or adolescents in Catholic schools?

My hope is that once the Church tells her believers what she actually believes, that people of faith will discern and decide, whether or not to remain members in good standing. Why confuse people and give them false hope or whittle Jesus' message down to "treat people with dignity" when the Church can rewrite doctrine and shape dogma to give LGBTQ the fullness of human dignity -- as identified by inclusion, not marginalization in the Church.

These days, I pray for a world where all LGBTQ people flourish as individuals and as members of their faith community. I have a vision of a world where LGBTQ people are not negatively labeled as pedophiles, or ephebophiles, for these are psychological disorders that have nothing to do with same-sex love or homosexuality. Over the past 10-years, attitudes have changed, even mine: I thought I could be an openly gay, celibate, Jesuit priest, but I was egregiously wrong; to me it was an incoherent truth.

For a Church that still teaches that homosexuality is a crime against chastity, like fornication, masturbation, rape or incest, the time has come for her to take a hard think about her war on culture, not nature. What many desire is what H. Reinhold Niebuhr writes eloquently about in Christ and Culture. He posits a Christ who transforms culture, who gives life to the world by confronting aggressive atheism and secularism. Does the church, after her sexual scandal, have the moral authority to teach on sexuality? Can she ever again take the high ground? And will people have to rely for justice on a secular body like the Supreme Court?

In our modern world has the Supreme Court one upped all Catholicism, by showing more reason, compassion and understanding of gays? Has the Supreme Court taken the place of the Church, exhibiting more humanity than she? Can the Church match the Supreme Court in matters of tolerance and respect for the marginalized? The Pope has to be as charitable and kind and understanding as the Supreme Court, which has one upped the Church who should have led the way to accepting gays in society. The church failed, the Court won.

Moreover, the Church cannot deny that many of her priests and religious are gay men, who sought the priesthood because the Church teaches that they were "intrinsically disordered" or that forced celibacy was the only option for a "true" life in Christ. What palaver!

When I consider the poetry of gay men like Oscar Wilde, Walt Whitman, Langston Hughes, Allen Ginsberg, Mark Doty or gay novelists like Thomas Mann, Frederico Garcia Lorca, Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, James Baldwin, I imagine a heteronormative world at once intolerant and cruel, where some obfuscate these men's sexual identities by labeling them bisexual. When I consider the shock, then resentment, that comes with "outing" someone, I see a world that still fears, what men like Michel Foucault wrote about, when they spoke candidly about same-sex desire.

When I consider the recent wave of memoirs and novels published by talented gay men like Brad Gooch, Richard Rodriguez, David Plante, Robert Waldron, Benjamin Alire Saenz, Dale Peck, Dan Savage, David Sedaris and Christopher Isherwood, I imagine a world heading in the right direction, a world that is far more inclusive and free.

Our world is marked by such civil rights, as full marriage equality, employment and business non-discrimination laws, which prevent LGBTQ people from being fired, or denied services based on perceived "religious freedom." Such progress is also contributed to by the coming out of gay athletes, musicians and actors, like Tom Daley, Michael Sam, Robbie Rogers, Clay Aiken, Dustin Lance Black, Neil Patrick Harris. For good, the coercive nature of capitalism and the free market ushered in these changes. Still gay men lack the ability to donate their life saving blood to blood banks, their blood remains "infected" with HIV/AIDS and in many other ways, gay men remain second-class citizens.

But many in the world remain afraid of LGBTQ people. This is why the theological texts of men like Patrick Cheng, John Boswell, Mark D. Jordan and Robert E. Goss matter more than ever before. LGBTQ bodies matter. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer notes, shame and covering demonstrates disunion, or separation from God, and the human person, born in the image and likeness of God desires restoration of lost unity. Aldous Huxley said, Christians invented shame, it is artificial, that it does not exist spontaneously. LGBTQ bodies cannot be concealed, fear is not an option. People who claim that LGBTQ impinge upon their religious freedom, or threaten the expression of heterosexual marriage are losing standing in the court of public opinion and in the court of jurisprudence. There is nothing more germane to a memoir about how the Roman Catholic Church destroys her gay priests than the creation of a framework for human flourishing and the Beloved Community. Why?

As a layperson, and former Jesuit, I still see human flourishing thwarted and impinged upon by intolerance, hate and discrimination. As a clinical social worker, who works for one of New York States largest health and mental health organization, I treat young men who are bullied because they are "gay," young teenagers who may or may not be attracted to people of the same sex (or gender). These gay youth, like all gay men, long to be known for the good people they are, boys, teens and men not judged because of whom they love, but rather because of whose they are, God's beloved children, born in his image and likeness, desiring to contribute positively to the social world that often rejects them as immoral agents, thus making them safe outsiders and fringe characters (aka second class citizens).

Time and time again, whether it is was as a priest-in-training and/or guidance counselor in a Jesuit high school, or now as a clinical social worker in a Jewish run institution, terms like "queer," "fag," "homo," "girl,""pussy" or "fairy" are used by clients to refer to the indiscriminate bullying of people who appear different. More often than not, the young man was targeted by these bullies because he is empathetic, sensitive and somewhat pensive, e.g., reflecting on life with only a mother at home. These bullies encouraged them"to die," that the world would be better off without them, "to kill themselves"; they wrote them hateful, threatening messages on social media, like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. These young men are brought to therapy for a host of reasons, but usually at their breaking point, when the difference between life and death bears makes little sense, when suicide is a practical solution for a person suffering from doubt, depression and lack of self-worth.

Closeted gay priests have long failed these youth. They miss an opportunity to be like Jesus Christ, to help make the world a better place for LGBTQ youth everywhere. When a closeted gay priest doesn't out himself, he acts un-lovingly towards people with the same sexual orientation, and contributes to the historical "othering" of his community.

In the past some have chided me for focusing too much on the negatives. I want to write about the positive contributions of LGBT Christians to the Catholic community, but I cannot guarantee that Church officials (who disagree vehemently with my understanding of scripture) will respect their contributions and not fire them. Being fired from a job means a loss of a source of income, being fired from a volunteer activity means a cutting off from ministry -- both suggest an unworthiness about the person's nature. Both suggest the shaming of LGBT people based on who they are and who they love.

I cannot abide being a part of an institution that fires even one gay or lesbian for being openly gay or for being married to the person they love. I refuse to whittle Jesus' message down to treat people with kindness. No, the meaning of Christian witness is far deeper than that. Yes: Let's hope and pray for that miracle, but more urgently for the green populist pope to shape the Church and to reform official teaching, doctrine and shape dogma and tradition to reflect Jesus' theology of human flourishing.