Is Pope Francis moving church forward as irrelevance looms?

pope francis catholic church
Pope Francis meets Father James Martin

History tells us that the creaking administrative wheels of the Holy Catholic Church grind slowly.  Nevertheless, the election of Pope Francis gave hope to those who believe that reform is a) possible and b) critical. Recent developments perhaps point to positive reforms in the church’s approach to LGBTIQ people.

Is Pope Francis engineering a more LGBTIQ friendly College of Cardinals?

Gay theologian restored to the ministry by Francis

Private audience with Father James Martin renowned for his ministry to LGBTIQ communities.

Any potential reform comes not a moment too soon. Pope Francis is now 83. Although apparently in good health, his six years on Peter’s throne has featured far too many stop/start movements to satisfy the calls for humanitarian and common-sense reform regarding LGBTIQ matters.


Vatican watchers point to the frustration of the Pope during his struggles with Vatican right-wing insiders. Both conservative cardinals and career bureaucrats in the Vatican fiercely resist almost every innovation.

Consistory of Cardinals

In September, the Vatican scheduled a consistory of Cardinals for 5 October. That date will see the creation of thirteen new Cardinals.

Because Cardinals over the age of 80 cannot vote, three of the appointments are honorary.

However, the ten new voting appointments will mean 50% of the College of Cardinals owe their red hats to Pope Francis.

And that balance is causing something of a stir with several of the appointees known allies of Francis.

Three are fellow Jesuits. Four previously made positive statements on LGBTIQ issues.

Francis himself has also made measured positive statements regarding LGBTIQ people. His words perhaps point to an intention to gradually guide the church to a more humane interpretation of religious text and dogma.

John Allen of the Catholic journal Crux wrote of the strategy behind the appointments.

“This is a consistory in which Francis is elevating a cohort of like-minded churchmen, positioning them to help advance his agenda right now and also to help ensure that the next pope, whoever it may be, isn’t someone inclined to roll back the clock.”

Pope restores gay theologian and priest James Alison to ministry

Last week, Father James Alison shared news of a phone call Pope Francis made to him restoring Alison to the ministry.

Although the call happened two years ago, it was not previously reported other than an anonymous reference in Frédéric Martel’s book In the Closet of the Vatican, earlier this year.

Previously the Vatican’s Congregation of Clergy suspended Alison from the priesthood in the 1990s because of his sexuality.


Francis DeBernardo of the New Ways Ministry said the pope’s action was significant.

“It is a great sign of affirmation to gay priests, showing that despite official denigrations of them from the Vatican, the pope is willing to act pastorally to affirm one of their number.  It is another sign that Pope Francis is trying to change the way the church responds to the LGBTQ community.”

Private audience with Father James Martin

On 30 September, Pope Francis granted a private audience to a priest well known for his ministry to LGBTIQ communities. The pope met Father James Martin in his private library where he traditionally meets heads of states and other distinguished persons. Vatican insiders said this indicated the pope wished to send a message on the significance of the meeting.

Father Martin said the meeting moved him immensely.

“I shared with Pope Francis the experiences of L.G.B.T. Catholics around the world, their joys and their hopes, their griefs, and concerns. I also spoke about my own ministry to them and how they feel excluded.

“I saw this audience as a sign of the Holy Father’s care for L.G.B.T. people.”

Rainbow Catholics will no doubt pray fervently for the Holy Spirit to guide the work of these new leaders of the Church. Who knows? One of them may follow Francis into the See of Rome.

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