Catholic LGBTQ groups call Pope’s use of Italian slurs ‘shocking and hurtful’

DignityUSA, a national advocacy organization for LGBTQ Catholics, denounced Pope Francis’ recent use of an Italian slur when discussing the admission of gay men into priestly seminaries as “shocking and hurtful.”

“We are pleased that Pope Francis has apologized for using such a demeaning term,” Marianne Duddy-Burke, the group’s executive director, said in a May 28 statement. “We know this has been shocking and hurtful to many, especially to the countless gay priests who have faithfully and well served the people of God. We stand with them and those who have benefited from their ministry. The truth is that the Church simply could not function without the countless homosexual priests, bishops and perhaps even popes who currently serve and have served over the centuries.

In an interview with NCR, Duddy-Burke said that “incidents like this are also very traumatic, especially for people who have watched the pope and have hope because of his pastoral approach, even in things like meeting me in October 2023. start to feel like they can feel truly welcomed and valued in our church, and then those hopes are dashed when something like this happens.

Earlier on May 28, the Vatican apologized for the pope’s use of anti-gay slurs during a recent closed-door meeting with Italian bishops. The 87-year-old pontiff reportedly made the controversial remark while discussing the suitability of gay men for priestly training.

The Vatican statement did not directly confirm whether the pope had used the term, but said: “The pope never intended to offend or express himself in homophobic terms, and he apologizes to those who felt offended by the use of a term, as reported by others.”

At the May 20 meeting, Francis reportedly advised Italian bishops to allow gay men into seminaries. According to reports from reputable Italian newspapers such as Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica, the pope used the Italian word “frociaggine” which translates to “queer” or “queer,” in his remarks.

The comments came during a discussion of proposed amendments to the guidelines for seminary applicants. Francis, a native of Argentina who speaks Italian as a second language, may not have realized the offensive nature of his remarks, Corriere della Sera speculated.

Reports about the pope’s alleged comments have reignited debate over the Church’s stance on LGBTQ+ issues. A 2005 decision by the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education prohibits the ordination of men who are actively homosexual or have “deeply rooted” homosexual tendencies, a position reaffirmed by Pope Francis in 2016. In 2018, he reportedly reiterated to Italian bishops the need to exclude homosexual candidates from the priesthood, during a similar closed-door meeting with prelates.

“Unfortunately, although a joke, the pope’s comment reveals the extent of anti-gay prejudice and institutional discrimination that still exists in our Church,” Duddy-Burke said.

“It’s wrong to demean any group of people, including those of us who are LGBTQIA+,” she said. “And it is a mistake to continue to act as if God only calls heterosexual, cisgender men to serve the Church and the world.”

New Ways Ministry, another prominent Catholic LGBTQ advocacy group, also released a statement in response to the pope’s reported comments. Francis DeBernardo, executive director of the group, expressed gratitude for the pope’s apology, saying it was an important step toward more respectful dialogue within the Church.

“His apology is a model for all Catholic leaders who continue to use language and ideas that offend LGBTQ+ people, even without knowing it,” DeBernardo said. The Vatican’s apology was interpreted by New Ways as an acknowledgment that the use of the slur was unintentional.

New Ways also expressed disappointment with the pope’s lack of specificity regarding his stance on gay men in the priesthood. DeBernardo said Francis should clarify his comments to avoid misinterpretations that could lead to a “blanket ban” on gay men entering seminaries.

He cited the pope’s famous 2013 remark: “Who am I to judge? – urging Francis to make a clearer and more compassionate statement that recognizes the faithful service of many gay priests.

“We hope this incident will encourage him to learn more about the language he uses and be more careful, because misuse can be dangerously harmful,” DeBernardo said.