Friday, October 11, 2013

In Catholic News: Pope Francis Responds to Letter from Gay Group in Italy

An item much in Catholic news in the past several days, particularly among gay Catholics: the Italian newspaper La Repubblica reported several days ago that a group of gay and lesbian Catholics in Italy, Kairos, had written a letter to Pope Francis about the struggles gay folks face in the Catholic church, and that the pope responded to the letter, sending a "benedictory greeting" to the group. At his Dish site, Andrew Sullivan offers a translation of the La Repubblica article. Kairos has not released the text of either its letter to Francis or Francis's response.

Other sources reporting on this story include The Tablet, Kevin Clarke for America, NCR's staff for National Catholic Reporter, and Meredith Bennett-Smith for Huffington Post.

At Queering the Church, Terry Weldon argues that the fact that we don't have the text of either Kairos's letter to the pope or of the pope's response doesn't matter. What's important is that Francis did respond, when this same group wrote similar letters to both John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and neither chose to acknowledge the letters: 

None of these include any content from Francis’ letter, but that doesn’t matter. What is important is the simple fact that he did reply, in sharp contrast to his two predecessors, who had simply ignored the many similar letters the same group had sent to them.  . . . 
For too long, the only letters to the Vatican that seemed to receive any attention seemed to be those from a small but vociferous minority of conservative Catholics, pleading for disciplinary action against those they regard as out of line with their own narrow understanding of Catholicism. Pope Francis has already said plainly that such letters of complaint should no longer be dealt with by the Vatican, and will be simply referred back to local bishops. On the other hand, it is becoming ever plainer that letters to the Pope that describe the difficulties encountered by ordinary Catholics grappling with the harsher aspects of Catholic doctrines in the reality of their life situations, are receiving considerable attention.

In a separate posting, Terry publishes a moving letter that a gay Catholic woman, Kellie King, has written to Francis and shared with him. Terry encourages other gay and lesbian Catholics to consider Francis's apparent willingness to listen as a "message in a bottle" moment in which we may now feel some hope about sending our stories to the pope. At the New Ways Ministry blog Bondings 2.0, Bob Shine seconds the idea, as he maintains that a "pen and paper revolution" is underway with Francis, and lay Catholics should feel encouraged to make their voices heard by writing the pope--including gay Catholics.

My own thinking: I continue to hope. Against hope itself. As Tony Kushner's powerful meditation on hope, the Angels in America series, repeatedly argues, we can find hope in many unexpected places, if we search hard enough for it. We can find hope even in the midst of a plague in which many of those we love are dying all around us, as those with the power to provide medicine to treat the plague, or to do significant research on it, drag their feet--since it's only dirty nobodies who are dying, after all.

Who are homosexuals, when all is said and done? Kushner has Roy Cohn answer that question in Angels in America as follows:  "Homosexuals are men who know nobody and who nobody knows."

Tony Kushner wrote Angels in America on the heels of the AIDS crisis that devastated communities of gay men across the U.S. and in many other places in the world precisely to illustrate the strength of Walter Benjamin's thesis about hope: that, in brushing history against the grain, we find ways to fan the flames of hope, even when everything in the world seems against us. And in doing so, we often find that embers of hope are hidden in unexpected places--even in a terrible plague that is killing many of us, but which unexpectedly makes our humanity visible for the first time to many people around us, and gives those of us who survive the courage to claim our identities and speak from our own personal spaces to the world around us. 

To claim our gay identities and speak from our gay places as a tribute to our friends and family members who died too young, with much still to give to the world . . . . To make their lives count by making our own lives count . . . .

So, I hope. Even when circumstances all around me conduce to the opposite of hope. I struggle to keep hoping, and if the new pope is opening a door for gay Catholics, though the door may open only a crack and I think there's something very peculiar about the way in which many of us who are Catholics hang on every word a pope says, I'm willing to search for the light coming through that crack.

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