Heterodox LGBTQ Organization Claims Pope Francis Sent It Supportive Letters - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Heterodox LGBTQ Organization Claims Pope Francis Sent It Supportive Letters

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated with a response from Francis DeBernardo. 

Francis DeBernardo, the executive director of the LGBTQ advocacy group New Ways Ministry, claimed Wednesday that the organization received two friendly letters from Pope Francis in May and June, one of which said, “Thank you for your neighborly work.”

In 2010, the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference issued a strong statement warning against the group, stating: “Their claim to be Catholic only confuses the faithful.” The bishop’s statement noted that New Ways Ministry had criticized the church for upholding traditional marriage and encouraged Catholics to vote to legalize same-sex marriage.

New Ways Ministry’s co-founders, Sister Jeannine Gramick and Fr. Robert Nugent, were prohibited from performing pastoral work relating to LGBTQ people in 1999 by Pope Benedict XVI, who was then the prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. 

DeBarnardo claims that the letters his organization received from Pope Francis described Gramick as “a valiant woman.” The pope wrote: “I know how much she has suffered,” and he added that Gramick “makes her decisions in prayer.”

Benedict XVI said in his 1999 statement that Gramick had “called central elements of [the Church’s teaching on homosexuality] into question.”

The National Catholic Reporter, a progressive newspaper, reported that the letters were written in Spanish on “official Vatican stationery.” According to the news organization, Pope Francis says in one of his letters that the history of New Ways Ministry “has not been an easy one.” 

The pope also wrote to DeBarnardo: ​​“It helped me a lot to know the full story you tell me” about New Ways Ministry. He added, “Sometimes we receive partial information about people and organizations, and this doesn’t help. Your letter, as it narrates with objectivity its history, gives me light to better understand certain situations.”

The National Catholic Reporter, which has been condemned by multiple bishops in its home diocese, did not release the full text of the letters, but claimed that in the letters, Pope Francis “commended the organization for its outreach to the LGBTQ community.” The new organization’s decision to selectively release only portions of the pope’s letters leaves it unclear whether the pope’s correspondence was really as supportive as the National Catholic Reporter and News Ways Ministry made it out to be. 

DeBernardo told The American Spectator that he provided the National Catholic Reporter with “all the quotations from the pope’s letters that concerned the work, history, and mission of New Ways Ministry.” The full contents of the letters were not released, he explained, because “the rest of the correspondence was of a pastoral and personal nature, so it would not have been appropriate or pertinent to release the full texts.”

DeBernardo used the letters as a vindication of his ministry, telling the National Catholic Reporter: “Despite what some church leaders might say or think of us, it appears that Pope Francis is happy that we’re reaching out and helping to bring LGBTQ people into the church, and helping those who are here to stay.”

He claimed that he decided to take the letters public Wednesday after the Vatican’s General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops removed a link to a New Ways Ministry video from its website on Tuesday after it said it learned that the organization had been censored by the bishops in 2010. (READ MORE: The Church Caves in the Age of COVID)

“We weren’t planning on making the correspondence public,” he said, “but given this situation, it’s important for people to know. We do believe [Pope Francis] wants LGBTQ people speaking, and we think it’d be helpful for him and helpful for his message and his invitation of inclusion, that people know that he has been corresponding with us.”

While the released portions of the letter leave unclear exactly the nature of the pope’s correspondence with New Ways Ministry, the pope sent a supportive letter to LGBTQ advocate Father James Martin earlier this year, the full contents of which were released. 

In that letter, Pope Francis said in reference to Martin’s ministry with LGBTQ people: “You are a priest for all men and women, just as God is Father for all men and women.” He added, “I pray for you to continue in this way, being close, compassionate and with great tenderness.”

Martin, who is known for subtly and sometimes not-so-subtly challenging the Church’s teaching on marriage, commented on the pope’s letter to New Ways Ministry, saying: “The Holy Father’s warm letter to New Ways Ministry is not only another step in his outreach to LGBTQ people, but the beginning of a kind of rehabilitation for New Ways, and for Sister Jeannine as well, in recognition of their important ministry in our church.”

In September, Pope Francis again affirmed that marriage is between a man and a woman, saying “I have spoken clearly about this, no? Marriage is a sacrament. Marriage is a sacrament. The Church doesn’t have the power to change sacraments. It’s as our Lord established.”

“Marriage is marriage, but this does not mean condemning [homosexual] people,” the pope said. “No, please, these are our brothers and sisters, and we need to be close to them, but marriage as a sacrament is clear.”

Pope Francis also said: “If they want to spend their lives together, a homosexual couple, nations have the possibility civilly to support them, to give them safety with regards to inheritance and health.” This contradicted a document issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith during the pontificate of Pope John Paul II which stated that “The Church teaches that respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behavior or to legal recognition of homosexual unions.”

Image licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.
Ellie Gardey
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Ellie Gardey is Reporter and Associate Editor at The American Spectator. Follow her on Twitter @EllieGardey.
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