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Pope Francis to LGBTQ+ Catholics: God Does Not Disown You

Pope Francis

The pope commented on LGBTQ+ people and the church in response to a letter from Father James Martin, an LGBTQ-supportive priest.

Pope Francis has written a letter to LGBTQ-friendly Catholic priest Father James Martin saying, "God is Father and he does not disown any of his children."

Martin, who has advocated for the Roman Catholic Church to be more welcoming to LGBTQ+ people, sent the letter to the pope last Thursday, asking three questions regarding Catholicism and the LGBTQ+ community. It was written in Spanish, Pope Francis's native language, and the pope responded Sunday. Martin published the text of the questions and answers in English Monday on his website, Outreach.

He asked the pope what was most important for LGBTQ+ people to know about God, and the "God is Father" comment came in response to that. The second question was what he would like LGBTQ+ people to know about the church, and Francis suggested reading Acts of the Apostles, a book in the New Testament. "There they will find the image of the living church," the pope said.

The third question was on what the pope would say to LGBTQ+ people who have experienced rejection by the church. Francis replied that any rejection was from "people in the church," not the church itself. "The church is a mother and calls together all her children," he wrote, recommending that LGBTQ+ people consider a biblical parable of those invited to the feast, including "the just, the sinners, the rich and the poor, etc."

Martin published the queries and responses without comment. In advocating for a more welcoming church, he has asserted he is not challenging Catholic doctrine. That doctrine holds that same-sex attraction is a disorder and that acting on it is a sin, and that gender is fixed at birth and immutable.

Over the course of Francis's papacy, his words have alternately encouraged and frustrated LGBTQ+ Catholics and their allies. His welcoming attitude, beginning with the famous "Who am I to judge?" comment in 2013, has been a source of comfort. But he has also consistently upheld the doctrine against same-sex relationships and trans people being out, and observers have noted that any major change in church teaching on these subjects is most unlikely.

Martin is a member of the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits, a Catholic order known for its intellectualism and, to some degree, liberalism. He is one of the highest-profile LGBTQ+ allies in the church. He wrote the 2017 book Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity, and is the subject of a new documentary, also titled Building a Bridge. His Outreach organization is holding a conference for LGBTQ+ Catholics in June.

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, which advocates for full inclusion of LGBTQ+ people in the church, emailed these comments to The Advocate in response to the exchange between Martin and the pope:

"As someone who will be speaking at the Outreach conference, and as a married Lesbian Catholic mother with a transgender child, I am glad to know that this event is on Pope Francis' radar. It is vitally important that church officials, including the Pope, are aware of and publicly acknowledge gatherings of LGBTQ and Ally Catholics. It is encouraging that he sent warm greetings. It is interesting that he refers us to the Acts of the Apostles, where Scripture depicts many struggles about what it means to be a follower of Jesus and who is welcome in the community. It seems there is an ongoing struggle between those who seek to limit the definition of 'Christian' and the expansive embrace of God.

"I wish I had the opportunity to ask Pope Francis a couple of follow up questions about his letter. I'd ask whether by saying God does not disown people he means a full embrace with no conditions. Does he see God blessing the loving marriages and families created by same-sex spouses? Does he believe God delights in seeing transgender and nonbinary people growing into the selves they were created to be? And finally, I would ask him how he would answer LGBTQ+ people who hear church teachings labelling us as 'objectively disordered,' our relationships as 'intrinsically evil,' and living our true genders as threatening families and the social order as rejection. Why given all of the years of testimony from LGBTQ+ people and our families about how dehumanizing these teachings and the practices they generate are have they not been changed? I would really want to understand how Pope Francis would expand on these points in his response."

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