Responding to Pope Francis’ unambiguous apology to gay people, James Martin wrote on his facebook page
(Francis said) “Christians must say sorry and not only for this. They must ask forgiveness, not just say sorry” and also ask God’s pardon. “It is a word that we forget a lot today,” he said.
Pope Francis is correct of course. The church should continually seek for forgiveness from those it has offended or offends–including the LGBT community. Seeking forgiveness is an essential part of the Christian life. Indeed, during the Jubilee Year, St. John Paul II asked for forgiveness on behalf of the church from, among other groups, Jews, women, indigenous peoples, immigrants, the poor and the unborn.
This emphasis on the apology as a request for forgiveness puts it squarely in the realm of the Catholic tradition of confession (now known as the Sacrament of Reconciliation). Reconciliation raises important obligations, on both parties: the one who is asked to forgive is expected to respond with generosity and mercy – provided certain conditions are met. In the sacrament of confession, there cannot be absolution for the one asking for forgiveness unless there is genuine contrition – and also an act of restitution, an attempt to set things right.
Quest, as an association for lesbian and gay Catholics, is included among those who have been asked by Pope Francis to grant forgiveness. We should do so, responding in a spirit of generosity and mercy – but as in the sacrament of reconciliation, with the usual conditions of genuine repentance and restitution.
Dealing with the condition of repentance is easy: there is no reason at all to doubt Pope Francis’ sincerity, so we may take that condition as in place.
Restitution is more difficult. It is just not possible to simply undo the serious harm that has been done to countless millions of gay and lesbian people over many centuries. Instead, we must look for something else, an attempt to undo the damage that continues to be done. Does such an attempt exist?
In England and Wales, I believe that there is at least the beginning of an attempt, at least on the part of some bishops (and others). Both pf the English bishops attending the family synod expressed their own apologies for past harm some months ago, on their return from Rome. Cardinal Vincent Nichols has appointed Monsignor Keith Barltrop as his special representative to LGBT Catholics and Catholic groups in his diocese of Westminster, and asked him to seek ways to expand LGBT ministry. The bishop of Brentwood arranged a Mass in his cathedral with an explicit message of welcome to LGBT Catholics as part of the Year of Mercy, Bishop Patrick McKinney of Nottingham has agreed to something similar, for later in the year. In Quest, we have seen a greater willingness by bishops to meet with us, and to co-operate with us in expanding pastoral support for LGBT Catholics. In recent months we have had cordial and productive meetings with bishops in some dioceses, with members of the pastoral planning team in another, and with the safeguarding team in one more. In collaboration with Stonewall, we have been welcomed into selected Catholic schools to talk as role models, of our experience of being gay and Catholic. All of these meetings are likely to lead to further extension of appropriate pastoral support.
I suggest that at least the beginnings of restitution on the part of some sectors of the English Catholic Church are in place. We in turn should begin the process of forgiveness and reconciliation – while continuing to work with bishops, clergy and other church structures to complete and expand the process.
- Pope Francis’ Apology to Gay People
- A Catholic Obligation to Apologise to LGBT People
- Lest We Forget: Remember the Ashes of Our Martyrs
- St. Joan of Arc, Trans Martyr
- How a Woman Became a Dominican Priest, and Teacher of Moral Theology
- Catholic Church Should Apologize to Gay People, Says Top Adviser to Pope Francis (Bondings 2.0)
- Church Must Apologise to Gay People, Says Pope’s Advisor (Irish Times)
- Reflections on Pride (Fr James Martin SJ, at America)
- Catholicism and LGBT Discrimination (US Catholic)
(Cross-posted from Queering the Church. The opinions expressed in this post are my own, and are not necessarily those of Quest as an organisation).