Pope’s first visit to the United States instills hope, raises questions for LGBT Catholics


Pope Francis waves to the crowd during a parade Saturday, Sept. 26 in Philadelphia. The pontiff has drawn praise from the LGBT community for what some see as a more welcoming attitude toward LGBT people, but his visit with anti-gay Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis during his trip to the U.S. has caused others to rethink their position. (AP/Matt Rourke, Pool)


JAMES RUSSELL  |  Staff Writer

In his first visit to the United States since his papacy began in 2013, Pope Francis spoke before a joint session of Congress on Sept. 24. It was the first time a pope had spoken to the U.S.’s top legislative body.

Cliff Garinn was delighted by his message.

“I felt inspired by his general demeanor and ability to be non-judgmental,” Garinn said. “He told Congress, ‘I’m not here to lecture you.’ His plea to [Congress to] stop fighting was refreshing and inspiring.”

Garinn, a former priest who serves with his husband Jon Anthony as co-chaplain of Dignity Dallas, a group of LGBT Catholics who worship at Cathedral of Hope, was also relieved.

“I’m glad he didn’t call out same-sex marriage [in his speech before Congress],” he said.

By publicly focusing on issues of social and economic issues, Francis just isn’t boosting the image of the Catholic Church, which has historically been harsh toward the LGBT community, but practicing his Jesuit beliefs.

“He follows the Jesuit mentality that faith is a way to liberate. He’s not talking about rules, regulations and protocols. He’s asking we care for another and the planet,” Garinn said. “Just look at the response from the crowds. He’s even inspired the non-religious with his sense of justice.”

Pope Francis is Garinn’s type of Catholic.

“He’s drawing us to a better way of treating one another,” Garinn said. “His sense of fairness and unity is not what I encountered through my life.”

Francis’s messages are encouraging, he has left many LGBT Catholics, as well as advocates for women’s ordination and reproductive rights activists, begging for him to be more specific.

“People want him to be definitive,” Garinn said.

“[The Catholic Church’s] strong on the Eucharist and Last Supper, which Francis emphasizes in his teachings,” Garinn said. What the Pope is saying, is that we’re not all sitting at separate tables, but together in communion at one table, Garinn added.

Francis once wrote the faith is a warm fire.

“He wasn’t looking at the cold ashes,” Garinn pointed out.

Garinn’s sentiments are shared by many other Americans —  LGBT, Catholics and Protestants. According to a study released in August by the Public Religion Research Institute, Francis himself is actually more popular than the Catholic Church as a whole.

It’s what the center called the “Francis effect.”

Two-thirds, or 67 percent, of Americans have a favorable view of the pope, compared to just 56 percent who hold a favorable view of the

Catholic Church. Among Catholics, approximately nine in 10 view both the pope and church favorably.

“While there is only one official Roman Catholic Church, politically speaking, there are increasingly two American Catholic churches,” said

Robert Jones, chief executive officer of PRRI. In his visit, Francis was addressing the two demographically different churches.

The two different churches have two different views, too. Among the majority of Catholics who support same-sex marriage, for instance, nearly half believe the pope supports their view. Among the minority of Catholics opposed to same-sex marriage, however, 62 percent believe the pope supports their view.

Francis’s elusive views may have endeared him to many Americans, but speeches in Washington, D.C., New York City and Philadelphia had some national LGBT advocates skeptical.

Even before a private visit with Rowan County, Ky. Clerk Kim Davis, who was jailed for refusing to issue any marriage licenses after citing religious objects to same-sex marriage, some national LGBT groups expressed skepticism towards some of the pope’s past statements condemning same-sex marriage and other LGBT issues.

Statements released during his visit reinforced that skepticism.

When news broke Francis privately met with Davis but declined to meet LGBT Catholics, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin expressed disappointment.

“It would come as a shock to all those who were inspired by Pope Francis’ call for greater tolerance and inclusion if he were to lend support to a public employee who has become synonymous with discrimination against LGBT people. And it would be most disappointing to the dozens of LGBT faithful who gathered to welcome Pope Francis to Washington, D.C., and whose request for a meeting was denied,” he said in a statement.
(Representatives with the national Dignity USA attended one of Francis’s speeches at the invitation of the White House.)

Rea Carey, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, was also among the LGBT advocates disappointed with Francis. She applauded his commitment to issues of economic and environmental justice but was alarmed by sharp jabs at marriage equality.

“We welcome Pope Francis’ advocacy for the ‘Golden Rule’, which calls on everyone to ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ But this doesn’t seem to apply to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people and our families,” she said in a statement.

Francis’ commitment to eliminating poverty and unemployment, support for comprehensive immigration reform and better stewardship of the environment, for example, should intersect with a positive view on LGBT issues. “It’s unfortunate a leader who can be so good on these issues can be so out of touch to others,” she said.

Still, Garinn, interviewed before the news broke that Davis privately met with Francis, sees the pendulum swinging in another direction.

The change is evident even in the decline in attendance at Dignity Dallas’ services.

“We’re seeing a change in membership,” Garinn said, suggesting that the group’s members are returning to services at traditional Catholic churches, rather feeling they have to segregate themselves.

“It could be either LGBT Catholics are comfortable going to their own church or not going to church at all,” Garinn said. “They could simply be practicing their own communion with God.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 2, 2015.