Pope Francis Is Queering The Catholic Church
In another sign of support for L.G.B.T. Catholics and those who advocate on their behalf, Pope Francis sent a handwritten letter on Dec. 10 to Jeannine Gramick, S.L., the co-founder of the Catholic apostolate New Ways Ministry.
Sister Gramick is celebrating 50 years of working with and advocating for L.G.B.T. people. Noting her anniversary as the reason for his letter, the pope congratulated her in Spanish on “50 years of closeness, of compassion and of tenderness” in a ministry that he described as being in “‘the style’ of God.”
Pope Francis’ letter to Sister Gramick is the latest in a series of letters from the pope written to gay Catholics and others who are serving and advocating for L.G.B.T. people.
In his letter, the pope praised Sister Gramick for her willingness to suffer for love’s sake. “You have not been afraid of ‘closeness,’” he wrote, “and in getting close you did it ‘feeling the pain’ and without condemning anyone, but with the ‘tenderness’ of a sister and a mother.”
[Interview: Sister Jeannine Gramick on being censured by the Vatican, 50 years of ministry and her hopes for LGBT Catholics]
“Thank you, Sister Jeannine,” the letter concluded, “for all your closeness, compassion and tenderness.”
Here is the full text of the letter:
December 10, 2021
Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL
Many thanks for your letter. It made me happy to receive the news about your 50th anniversary.
Your letter reminded me of “the style” of God… God has his own style to communicate with us. And we could summarize that style in three words: closeness, compassion, tenderness.
And I am thinking of your 50 years of ministry, which were 50 years with this “style of God,” 50 years of closeness, of compassion and of tenderness.
You have not been afraid of “closeness,” and in getting close you did it “suffering with” [compassion] and without condemning anyone, but with the “tenderness” of a sister and a mother.
Thank you, Sister Jeannine, for all your closeness, compassion and tenderness.
I pray for you. Please do not forget to pray for me. Greetings to Yayo (Obdulio).
May Jesus bless you and the Holy Virgin protect you.
All this therapeutic language (“closeness, compassion, tenderness”) conceals the fact that Sr. Jeannine and her ministry has been leading people away from clear, authoritative Catholic teaching about sexuality, and homosexuality. In 1999, the Vatican’s chief doctrinal office, led then by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, ruled that New Ways Ministry fundamentally opposes Catholic teaching, and confuses the faithful, and that Sr. Jeannine and a priest colleague are forbidden from ministering to LGBT Catholics. Now, Pope Francis has brought the pro-gay, anti-Catholic ministry in from the cold.
Legalistic conservative Catholics, perhaps desperate to preserve their position, can say that with this Francis is not changing doctrine. And they are right — for now, at least. But that is an awfully thin reed on which to hang one’s hopes. All that doctrine written down on paper doesn’t mean much if the Church and its pastors don’t live by it. Francis is teaching as much by what he doesn’t say as by what he does. I just don’t see how one can get around the fact that the Roman pontiff is praising the defiance of church teaching by a progressive ministry — a ministry that just over twenty years ago was suppressed by the Vatican for that very defiance. I would not be surprised if Francis attempts to overturn Catholic teaching about homosexuality, thus provoking a schism.
Last week I was talking to a Protestant man who told me he and his family have reached the end of the line with Protestantism, and believe there is no realistic hope that it will be able to resist permissive modernism. He approached me to ask me about Orthodoxy and Catholicism. I told him that there is no institutional escape from these challenges, that we have within Orthodoxy in this country a contingent of liberal intellectuals who want to queer our churches too, as well as make other theological innovations to make Orthodoxy conform more to the spirit of the age. The best any of us can do is to find a place where we stand a better chance of weathering the storm.
He told me that he is attracted to the Catholic catechism, and the solid, coherent teaching of the Catholic Church, but sees things like what Pope Francis does (this was last week, before today’s announcement) and worries that if he and his family go Catholic, they will have signed up for something that is not what it appears to be. I told him that yes, that was my experience too: I read myself into the Catholic Church, but was shocked to discover that the Church of John Paul II and Richard John Neuhaus was not what I found in most parishes where I worshipped. Of course it was the same church as a matter of communion; what I meant was that it was a shock to me to become a Catholic in 1993 and to find that it was no escape at all from the divisions within Protestantism, but that all these same arguments took place under a canopy of unity that functioned more like a Potemkin façade.
For the time being, American Orthodoxy is not as vulnerable as American Catholicism is to liberalizing, but Orthodox would be fools to think we are somehow protected. I brought this up to an Orthodox priest once, who said that it doesn’t surprise him that Catholics are going this way, but he wasn’t worried about us Orthodox. I think that is whistling past the graveyard. One of the painful lessons I learned from my 13 years as a Catholic is how futile it is to rely on written texts and institutional practices to preserve the faith when the people don’t care to live out the faith’s teachings, and the clerical leadership doesn’t show that it believes orthodoxy and orthopraxy are important. I told the Protestant who contacted me asking my opinion that I thought he should become Orthodox, not only because I think Orthodoxy is a more accurate account of who God is and what He wants from us, but also because after 16 years of practicing the Orthodox faith, I have come to appreciate much more how important practice is to sedimenting doctrinal teachings into one’s bones.
This matters for a reason I could not have seen when I read myself into the Catholic Church as a young man. Three years after my Catholic conversion, an older friend who was leading his family out of the Episcopal Church was trying to figure out whether or not he should go Catholic or Orthodox. I made to him an argument for Catholicism. He said what made him balk was the question of whether or not the Catholic Church in this country was a safe place to raise his children. He wasn’t talking about abuse; he was talking about whether or not it was a safe bet that his children would remain Christian if they were raised in the contemporary US Catholic Church. I got my back up, and told him that that didn’t matter, that the only thing he should be concerned about is whether or not the Catholic claims were true.
The family became Orthodox. Years later, when I married and had a family of my own, I understood my older friend’s point in a way I could not have when I was young and living wholly inside my head. He agreed with me back then that we had a good pope (John Paul II), but said he wasn’t worried about the pope; rather, he was concerned with the local bishops, the local pastors, and the local Catholic schools. What good is the Catechism if nobody where you are living and raising your family wants to live by it?
I’m sorry to say that Orthodoxy is not an escape from it. When I was living and working Philadelphia, a Greek Orthodox turned Evangelical colleague asked me one day in the break room why I was eating such a puny lunch. I told him that today was a fast day in the Orthodox calendar. He was genuinely surprised. He said he grew up in the cathedral parish in Manhattan, and went to the Greek cathedral school for his entire education, and never once heard about fasting. This, even though fasting is a core part of Orthodox Christian spirituality. I thought: no wonder he became Evangelical. This is what happened to Eric Metaxas too.
The point is this: there is no religious system perfect enough to relieve individuals of their responsibility to be seriously engaged with their faith. You can leave Catholicism or Protestantism for Orthodoxy, but if you don’t put your faith into practice diligently, you will be no better off. We are in such a sorry state in American Christianity broadly that if you can find a church that doesn’t actively work against your attempts to live faithfully and raise faithful children in the religion, you are ahead of the game. One reason so many of us American converts to Orthodoxy are so sensitive about this “compassion” talk is because we are refugees from churches that lost their way when they began to succumb to appeals to “compassion” and “tenderness” as a justification for bending on Scriptural teaching. I knew that my family’s days in Catholicism were numbered when I began having conversations with my oldest child, then seven years old and starting to pay attention to the sermons, explaining to him that what Father preached that day is not what the Church teaches. I finally told my wife that I was having to teach our son to distrust our church’s authority figures before he has learned to trust them. I can only imagine how hard it is for faithful Catholic parents to have to teach their children today that what the Pope says and does is not what the Church teaches.
To be clear, I make a point of not using this space for proselytizing. Even if I wanted to do that, I don’t have it in me. It has been 16 years since I left Catholicism, and though I healed many years ago from the specific wounds left by the loss of my Catholic faith, I recognize now that I will probably never fully heal from my inability to fully trust religious hierarchy. That might be to the best. When people ask me privately to tell them about Orthodoxy, I am always excited to talk about what Jesus Christ has done for me in the Orthodox Church. If they want to know more, I am happy to direct them to the resources they need. But I have also counseled Catholics in crisis in ways that helped them decide to continue on with the Catholic faith. I don’t think I’ve ever had a Protestant who talked to me about this but decided to stay Protestant, but I would not consider it a failure if that happened. I would like for everybody to become Orthodox, but more than that, I want everybody to have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. Maybe I should care more about prompting people to convert to Orthodoxy, but at this stage in my life, I’m more interested in helping them to be better Christians. In the Orthodox Church, we have a number of good apologists whose mission is different than mine. On the front line of apologetics, you need soldiers who, unlike me, don’t carry unhealed battle wounds.
So, to sum up: I don’t believe that one church is just as good as any other, nor do I believe that all churches in America are in the same woebegone condition. If you come to Orthodoxy from another Christian church, you will probably find resources you didn’t even know were available. I could not imagine being anything other than Orthodox now. But what you will not be able to do in Orthodoxy is hide securely from the challenges of the post-Christian world. They are coming for all of us. And though it might benefit Orthodox membership to see the other churches crumbling (doctrinally and otherwise), no Orthodox has the right to feel triumphalistic. On the American scene, Orthodoxy is very, very small. The future of American Christianity will not likely be decided by what happens to the Orthodox Church, but by what happens to the Catholic and Evangelical churches. The future of Western Christianity, likewise. When the Catholics have a strong, good pope, we Orthodox should rejoice, because that stands to make our lives as Christian in post-Christian America easier. When Evangelicals have strong pastoral leadership, bearing witness to Christ in a courageous, admirable way, we Orthodox should thank God for their service. I am not a universalist, but I really do mean that.
I just never imagined that I would live to see the day when a Roman pontiff would do some of the things Francis is doing. In 2013, not long after he was elected Pope, Francis made his famous “who am I to judge?” comment about gays. It’s true that the statement was taken somewhat out of context by progressive advocates, but Jorge Bergoglio did not fall off the turnip truck on his way to St. Peter’s Square. He had to know how his remarks would be reported. I received an email shortly after that from a teacher at a Catholic high school in Tennessee. He was devastated. He said that he had been working for years to explain the Church’s teaching on sexuality to students, and in a single stroke, Francis had obliterated his labor. The teacher told me that his students had all taken to saying some version of, “But the Pope says who are we to judge?” Three years on, the Catholic bishops of Eastern Canada issued a pastoral letter embracing euthanasia under certain circumstances, citing Francis’s “who am I to judge?” as a guiding principle. I wrote about it here at the time. In the hands of those bishops, the tenderness and compassion of Pope Francis led to the euthanist’s needle.
When the Roman pope, the historic Patriarch of the West and the spiritual leader of the world’s largest Christian communion, starts saying and doing the things that Francis does, it is not a time for Orthodox or Protestant triumphalism. It is a sign of big trouble for all faithful Christians. In 2018, commenting on a matter of intercommunion with Protestants, Cardinal Wim Eijk of Utrecht criticized the liberalizing initiative of the German bishops and Pope Francis, and said, in part:
Observing that the bishops and, above all, the Successor of Peter fail to maintain and transmit faithfully and in unity the deposit of faith contained in Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, I cannot help but think of Article 675 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
“The Church’s ultimate trial
Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the ‘mystery of iniquity’ in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth.”
Whatever your church or communion, you must pray, and you must prepare. There is no escaping this trial.
UPDATE: Here’s upcoming fun with Pope Francis’s beloved New Ways Ministry:
UPDATE.2: A reader comments:
Rod, I’m a Catholic priest whose primary apostolate has been with young adults and seminarians for the last sixteen years. You are correct to point out the grave damage that Pope Francis has done to the Church, as well as the iconoclastic narcissists (those ordained between 1965-1980), have done to the Church. I can only see the election of Pope Francis and his horrific reign as a purification upon the Church, one that clarifies the papal-olatry that creeped in as a result of having two amazing (albeit imperfect like all of us) popes in JPII and BXVI.
In all my years of work with young adults and seminarians, I have NEVER met one who says that they are Catholic or are in the seminary because of Pope Francis. Bishops, seminary rectors, and other priests can affirm this as their experience as well. Meanwhile, I know hundreds who were inspired, and continue to be inspired by Pope St John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
I’d like to offer three insights – two hopeful, one not so much.
First the less hopeful. The iconoclastic narcissists who were ordained between 1965 and 1980 make up the great majority of bishops today. Unfortunately they are going to be replaced by what is probably the gayest generation of priests in the history of the US (1980-1995). In those years, seminaries became places where it was safe and even encouraged to be gay, and even act out sexually. That generation is now taking leadership. It will be another 15 years before they go on their way. The queering of the episcopacy will continue in the US.
Now, to the more hopeful. Pope Francis has not only lost the orthodox Catholic faithful, he’s also lost most of the liberals as well. His pattern of bringing in associates who are morally compromised, which gives him the power to control them, and then discarding them when he is done with them, has run its course. One gets the sense that this along with his psychological problems (anger management) and Latin American dictatorial style, that this papacy is in the last stages. I am certain that after his death, the stories of his unjust anger, his deceptions, and his evil acts will come out. Right now, they are only spoken of quietly. But much of it will be revealed.
The most hopeful comes from my earlier comment. I am not aware of any faithful Catholic under the age of 40 and most under the age of 50 who isn’t completely against this nonsense that Pope Francis proclaims. I think most diocesan priests (and most religious) in the same age group would be the same way.
I would tell those people who are thinking about becoming Catholic, don’t let popes or bishops destroy your faith. It isn’t an easy time, it isn’t a warm and welcoming Church, but it is the Church and Jesus promised that the gates of hell will not prevail against it. The Church is not a cruise ship, it is a battleship. Unfortunately our human captain today is incompetent, a little unstable, and unqualified. Rough waters, difficulties, and even bad leadership should neve tempt us to leave the ship (that is not a comment directed against you, Rod).
I’m not saying that it will be easier after Pope Francis dies. The most narcissistic generation of priests/bishops is being replaced by the gayest generation of bishops. it will be a difficult time for faithful orthodox Catholics for another 20 years.
Many years ago, I came to realize that my vocation as a priest was to clean up the mess of the previous generation. The only correction that I had to make was that I thought that would have been done a decade ago. Now, I realize my entire priesthood will be spent cleaning up after the iconoclastic narcissists who cannot believe anything good happened before 1965 or after 1980. I wish this wasn’t my vocation. I wish I could go out and be a part of what PJP called the “New Evangelization,” but it is my task to clean up the messes and take care of the remnant that remain.
UPDATE.3: The conservative Catholic writer Phil Lawler writes that though he has never been a traditionalist Catholic, Pope Francis is driving him towards the movement. Excerpts:
For several decades after Vatican II, Catholics who might, for want of a better term, be classified as “conservative”—and I include myself among them—looked askance at traditionalists. Even The Wanderer, a newspaper never associated with liberalism, viewed the Trads as too negative. We defended the Novus Ordo liturgy, trusting that all would be well once the excesses of the 1970s, which were certainly not authorized by the Vatican Council—were eliminated. We balked at the notion that the Council itself had introduced problems; it was, we firmly believed, the deliberate misinterpretation of the Council that had plunged the Church into chaos.
Above all, we “conservative” Catholics longed and worked and prayed for the “reform of the reform” in the liturgy. We firmly believed that, once the fads and novelties and outright abuses were corrected, we could restore reverence and dignity to the Mass. We imagined—and if we were fortunate, occasionally encountered—a Mass actually celebrated according to the guidelines laid out by Sacrosanctum Concllium, and we found it beautiful.
Still, through all those years, the liturgy that we experienced in ordinary parishes did not improve. The abuses were not corrected; the novelties continued to proliferate. We could usually find a parish where the liturgy was celebrated more or less properly, but that situation could change overnight with the arrival of a new pastor or a directive from the diocesan liturgy czar. When we traveled, we entered an unfamiliar church with great trepidation, never knowing what sort of Mass we would find.
Alongside the deterioration of the liturgy, we saw the collapse of orthodox Catholic teaching, the flight from Church moral standards, and the exodus (especially of young people) from the pews. All these disasters occurred after Vatican II. But they were not, we repeated, caused by the Council. The misinterpretation of the Council was to blame.
Thank God we could look to Rome for leadership, for orthodox teaching, for inspiration. Pope John Paul II and then Pope Benedict XVI gave us abundant indications that the Church had not changed in any essentials. Unfortunately, at the parish level, things did not notably improve. The liturgy was sloppy, the catechesis sloppier; the young people continued to drift away. We waited, and hoped, and prayed for the time when all that clear papal teaching would filter down to the local churches. As indeed it must, we felt sure, because wasn’t the Pope the final authority on what the Council taught, and what the Church teaches?
And then came Pope Francis.
Within the past week I have spoken with a half-dozen other Catholics who, like me, have begun regularly attending the Traditional Latin Mass. In every case, their movement toward the TLM began during the current pontificate. We did not move toward traditionalism because the Trads attacked the Pope; it would be far more accurate to say that we moved in that direction because the Pope attacked us.