Will the Roman Catholic Church ever welcome LGBTQ+ people? | The Excerpt

On a special episode (first released on June 12, 2024) of The Excerpt podcast: The Roman Catholic Church hasn’t been known for its inclusive stance with the LGBTQ+ community historically. But over the past decade, Pope Francis has steered a course that is decidedly more liberal and accepting by welcoming trans sex-workers at the Vatican, for instance. Is this progressive repositioning a signal of a broader policy shift for the Roman Catholic Church? Sister Jeanine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, a Catholic outreach group focused on education and advocacy for LGBTQ+ people in the church, joins The Excerpt to share her experiences.

Hit play on the player below to hear the podcast and follow along with the transcript beneath it. This transcript was automatically generated, and then edited for clarity in its current form. There may be some differences between the audio and the text.

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Dana Taylor:

Hello and welcome to The Excerpt. I'm Dana Taylor. Today is Wednesday, June 12th, 2024, and this is a special episode of The Excerpt. The Catholic Church hasn't been known for its inclusive stance with the LGBTQ+ community historically. But over the past decade, Pope Francis steered a course that is decidedly liberal and accepting in contrast to traditional church doctrine.

He's welcomed trans sex workers at the Vatican, for instance. Is this progressive repositioning a signal of a broader policy shift for the Roman Catholic Church? Our guest on The Excerpt today is Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, a Catholic outreach group focused on education and advocacy for LGBTQ+ people in the church. Thanks for joining us, Sister Jeannine.

Sister Jeannine Gramick:

Oh, my pleasure. Thank you.

Dana Taylor:

I want to start with a little bit about you. You started this ministry over 50 years ago, which was quite controversial at the time. Tell us about how your advocacy work for the LGBTQ+ community started.

Sister Jeannine Gramick:

Well, it began because I met some gay people at the... And we only call them gay people in the early '70s. In 1971, when I was at the University of Pennsylvania, I became involved in meeting members of the gay and lesbian community. And many, not all, but of course, but many, many were Catholic and felt that the church rejected them because they were getting hostile messages. So I told them, no, you are part of the church. You are welcome.

And so we began having liturgies, which is a Catholic prayer service, Catholic Eucharist, in people's homes. And from that, one of the leaders of the group asked me, what further can the church do for his gay brothers and sisters? And at my experience in that year or two at the university and meeting the members of the gay and lesbian community, I felt that if people understood and knew more that there wouldn't be the hostility or the fear.

And so that really began New Ways Ministry. It began as an, well, it still is, an educational organization to help people to promote justice and reconciliation between LGBT people and the church.

Dana Taylor:

Now, let's turn to the church. Pope Francis has shifted church policy to be more inclusive and accepting. He's welcomed trans sex workers, as I mentioned. He's also allowed for trans people to be baptized or to become godparents. And finally, he's sanctioned clergy to bless same-sex couples unions. Does this mean your work here is done?

Sister Jeannine Gramick:

Oh, no, no, no. There's still much work to be done. And Pope Francis, as kind and pastoral as he is, he understands that the work is not done. The work is only done when all people's hearts have been changed and all people welcome LGBT people. And that's what his program of Synodality is about, to bring people together, to talk with each other, to listen, to learn from each other, and so that we will walk together in the future. So no, there's much, much more work to be done.

Dana Taylor:

What steps do you think the church should be taking next? What would you like to see here?

Sister Jeannine Gramick:

Well, I would like to see a continuation of the Synod. We had one... Well, we've had several Synods, but the last Synod in Rome with Synod delegates, the Synod was open to more than bishops. Technically, in the Catholic Church of Synod is a meeting of the bishops of the world with the Pope. But Pope Francis has enlarged that saying that there need to be other voices heard besides the voices of the bishops.

So laypeople, including women and LGBT people also, were invited. So I would like to see a continuation of the Synod process, not only in Rome, which will continue this October, but also in every diocese and in every parish, actually, if a parish would institute Synod. A Synod is just a conversation, listening to someone and then telling your story, giving your experience, and listening to them. And it's bringing together people with diverse viewpoints.

Dana Taylor:

The Pope has recently faced controversy telling media reported of his use of a homophobic slur when asked about allowing gay men to seminary. What do you say to LGBTQ+ Catholics regarding this moment?

Sister Jeannine Gramick:

Catholics really do not mind if their pastor, their priest is gay or heterosexual. I should say, I'm speaking about here in the United States. For decades now, Catholics have understood and accepted their gay priests, their pastors, whether the pastor is out, known publicly to be gay or not. So it doesn't matter to them. It seems to matter more to the bishops. It's the bishops who are about a gay priest being known publicly as gay. Well, I guess I don't understand their attitude, so there needs to be more discussion. But there's really general acceptance of gay clergy among the body of the church.

Dana Taylor:

You received a handwritten letter from the Pope last year and then later visited him. What did he share with you?

Sister Jeannine Gramick:

The first letter that was public was he congratulated me on my 50 years in this ministry. That made me feel very good, of course. And then I have been in correspondence with him, and it was last year that I went to Rome during the Synod in October to meet with him. And I took my colleagues at New Ways Ministry along with me. What he shared in that meeting, he shared that we must have hope. We must always have hope. And he shared about the importance of prayer.

And he also shared, which we all knew, that the LGBTQ community is criminalized throughout the world. Now, he has made public statements that homosexuality or being transgender is not a matter to be criminalized for. But in some countries, we know LGBT people are put to death, imprisoned, and even put to death. So he has reiterated that remark publicly. And yet still, there are countries in the world where the Catholic bishops will not follow his injunction. So that was one thing we talked about.

Dana Taylor:

There are those Catholics who passionately disagree with you when it comes to homosexuality, gender identity, and the spectrum of sexual orientation. How do you approach them? And has that changed over the years?

Sister Jeannine Gramick:

Well, I've met many of them when I have traveled across the country giving talks and workshops, and they come up and we dialogue. And my approach is that you can't argue with someone. That really is not helpful. And so I calmly listen to them. And if they ask me a question, I will calmly reply.

But I try to stress with them that we are all part of the Body of Christ, that we may disagree and maybe disagree very vehemently. But I think in the end, things will work out. But meanwhile, when we're not at the end, when we have this disagreement, we are together in the faith. So that's how I begin a discussion.

Dana Taylor:

Where are you seeing the most resistance to change, and what are the biggest hurdles you face in your ministry?

Sister Jeannine Gramick:

Well, I certainly believe the biggest hurdle is someone who has different views, and the hurdle is because I think they have not known LGBT people. They may have met them, but not known that they were LGBT. So the hurdle is to enable people to listen to people's stories. To me, that's how we're going to evolve, to love one another, to listen to each other, to listen to our stories.

Dana Taylor:

And finally, Sister Jeannine, we're airing this interview during June, which is Pride Month here in the US. To all the LGBTQ+ people listening to this interview who want to be a part of the church, what is your message?

Sister Jeannine Gramick:

Oh, my message is you are certainly part of the church. Pope Francis couldn't have said it better. He said, "Everyone, come into the... This is your church." So I bring those words from Pope Francis, and that's certainly my message that I've been trying to convey for decades. But I also say that we each need to find a place that is a spiritual home for that.

And if you can't find a spiritual home in the Catholic community, I hope that there is some place that is spiritually home to you. We all need a spiritual home. But of course, I would like it to be the Catholic Church.

Dana Taylor:

Thank you so much for being on The Excerpt, Sister Jeannine.

Sister Jeannine Gramick:

Thank you. It's been my pleasure.

Dana Taylor:

Thanks to our senior producer Shannon Rae Green for her production assistance. Our executive producer is Laura Beatty. Let us know what you think of this episode by sending a note to podcasts@usatoday.com. Thanks for listening. I'm Dana Taylor. Taylor Wilson will be back tomorrow morning with another episode of The Excerpt.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Will Roman Catholic Church ever welcome LGBTQ+ people? | The Excerpt