Pope Francis inspired me as no other pontiff in my lifetime. As an active Roman Catholic, I celebrated as this progressive cleric condemned the sins that are destroying our environment, deepening global poverty, racism and oppression.
I cheered the news last fall that Pope Francis had endorsed same-sex civil unions, becoming the first pope to take that profound step. “Homosexual people have the right to be in a family,” he said in an interview for a documentary. “They are children of God.”
That gave every child of God hope.
My church is changing, I prayed. It will finally begin to reject its cruel and exclusionary views of LGBTQ people and those who love them.
Then last week came a Vatican decree that doubled down on the longtime church mantra that homosexuality is a sin.
The decree posed the cold, clinical question: Does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?
And the decree declared: “RESPONSE: Negative.”
Priests are banned from blessing same-sex unions, the Vatican said, because that would be “illicit” and would “approve and encourage a choice and a way of life that cannot be recognized as objectively ordered to the revealed plans of God.”
God “never ceases to bless” individuals, the decree continued. “But he does not and cannot bless sin: he blesses sinful man, so that he may recognize that he is part of his plan of love and allow himself to be changed by him.”
I was shocked and disheartened.
I believe in a merciful, all-loving God. I also believe that my LGBTQ friends, family and allies possess the basic human right to love and marry whomever they want, and before that God.
The Pope’s God.
I reached out to Modesto Tico Valle, a gay man who feels this pain in his spiritual bones.
Though Valle formally left the Catholic Church long ago, he told me that he still finds himself to be “very spiritual.” And he had high hopes for Pope Francis.
“I thought he was on the path of healing the Church and embracing the LGBTQ community,” Valle said. “This new creed is archaic, and a step way, way back, a step backwards from where he was taking the church.”
Valle, 57, is the longtime chief executive officer of the Center on Halsted, a community center that serves LGBTQ people in Chicago and throughout the Midwest.
He grew up in Chicago’s Old Town. He attended St. Michael’s Elementary School, Holy Trinity High School and the seminary at Notre Dame University. He sang in the church choir. He served as a sacristan at St. Michael’s.
“I didn’t leave (the Church) because I was gay,” he said “I left because I didn’t believe in their philosophy of hate.”
It’s a “closet hatred,” he explained. “Here, there are all these priests, brothers, that are in the closet, and they’re preaching this hate.”
It is a hate that says being gay is an “intrinsic disorder.” A hate that preaches division. A hypocritical hate that will take money from people who are LGBTQ and Catholic yet ban them from the sacrament of marriage.
Valle has heard from LGBTQ, Catholic friends who are disappointed and angry.
The Church’s credibility is dying on the vine of its hypocrisy, he said. It struggles to recruit new priests.
“The younger generation is demanding change,” he said, and they will go elsewhere to practice their faith.
The pope, my friend said, “will regret making this decision.”
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