Pope Francis praises nun who ran LGBT ministry

Pontiff’s own stance on homosexuality wavers between conservative and liberal

Decades after she was barred from pastoral work by the Vatican, Pope Francis has sent a letter of thanks to an American nun who held services for LGBT people, in which she questioned some teachings of the Church.

Since the late 1970s, Sister Jeannine Gramick ran workshops for LGBT Catholics, in which she taught both the Catholic Church’s position on homosexuality and more liberal Christian doctrines. These workshops caught the attention of the Vatican, and in 1999 the Church’s  Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith barred her from ministry, as she was promoting, in their words, “ambiguous positions on homosexuality and explicitly criticised documents of the Church’s Magisterium on this issue.”

The Congregation’s statement was written by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, and described homosexuality as an “intrinsic evil.”

Gramick ceased her LGBT ministry and joined another religious order. Ratzinger went on to become Pontiff – Pope Benedict XVI – and was regarded as a staunch conservative. His successor, Pope Francis, has a more liberal reputation.

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In a letter to Gramick sent last month and published by the Jesuit magazine ‘America’ on Friday, Francis thanked the nun for her “closeness, compassion, and tenderness.” The pontiff acknowledged that Gramick had experienced “suffering” during her 50 years of ministry, but did not elaborate further on the topic.

Speaking to the Washington Post, Gramick said that she was “overjoyed” by the letter, and expressed hope that it would mark a “turning point” in the Church’s position on homosexuality, which at present considers it a sin. While the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith recently ruled that gay people may receive blessings, the Church will not bless same-sex unions, as it considers them too close to marriage, and defines marriage strictly a male-female partnership.

Francis has stood by this view, stating in 2020 that “homosexual people have a right to be in a family,” but should opt for civil partnerships instead of marriage. Two years earlier, he recommended that gay priests should stay out of the Church, saying “It’s better for them to leave the ministry or the consecrated life rather than to live a double life.”

However, the pontiff has made several notable statements in support of the LGBT community. Back in 2013 he declared that “if a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?” Last summer he praised the work of Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and gay rights campaigner who once ministered alongside Gramick, saying it “reflects the closeness of God.” The previous year he sent a letter of support to an Argentinian nun running a home for transgender women, declaring that the transgender are the “lepers of today.”

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