Nov 18, 2013

LGBTQ Catholic Students Find ‘a New Springtime’ in Pope’s Words

Pope Francis's recent remarks on homosexuality  have helped clarify the church's teachings on the subject, UT-Austin students say. Photo by Catholic Church of England and Wales via Flickr, used under Creative Commons.

Pope Francis’ recent remarks on homosexuality have helped clarify the church’s teachings on the subject, UT-Austin students say. Photo by Catholic Church of England and Wales via Flickr, used under Creative Commons.

By Caroline Khoury
For Reporting Texas

Pope Francis’ recent remarks on gay marriage and homosexuality are providing courage and a newfound comfort to many Roman Catholic gay and lesbian students at the University of Texas at Austin.

In a lengthy interview with an Italian Jesuit magazine published earlier this fall in the United States, the pope answered a question about same-sex couples by saying that the church must always “consider the person” and “accompany them, starting from their situation.”

On the papal airplane traveling back from Brazil in July, he said that if a person is of good will and is in search of God, then “who am I to judge” someone based on sexuality.

Leaders of PRISM, the spiritual group affiliated with UT’s University Catholic Center that serves the spiritual needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer students, said there has been an increase in student involvement since the pope’s remarks. Some students view the pope’s words as new moral teachings, they said, while others said the pope was just clarifying Catholic policy.

“We’ve had an influx of more people than I’ve ever seen in adoration on Thursday nights,” said PRISM vice president Jenny Pham. “We’ve had more recruitment than I’ve ever seen before. Pope Francis has brought in almost what is like a new springtime. He is making people realize what the Catholic Church is and what the truth is all about, and more people are coming in. People are flocking to tradition.”

PRISM president Ahmed Bhadelia said the pope’s words have helped make people aware of traditional teachings that proclaim an acceptance of everyone in the Catholic Church.

“The result has been an increased fervor of wanting to be a part of [the church] and help spread the news that this is what we believe and what we practice despite what everyone else is telling you,” Bhadelia said.

Pham and Bhadelia said homosexual acts are condemned in the same way as heterosexual sex before marriage. LGBTQ students in PRISM who were aware of the Catholic stance on homosexuality before the pope’s remarks still believe they are accepted by the church in the same way heterosexual people are, they said.

Recently a friend of Bhadelia’s expressed interest in attending a PRISM meeting, but was skeptical of joining the group for fear that homosexuals wouldn’t be accepted. After hearing Pope Francis’s remarks, he said, his friend now feels comfortable enough to join the University Catholic Center.

“We never want anyone to feel like they aren’t accepted,” Bhadelia said. “So having Pope Francis say these things helps us get our word out about PRISM and LGBTQ organizations, and about the help and support LGBTQs receive in the Catholic Church.”

Several local Catholic leaders objected to the notion that the pope’s comments amounted to anything novel, pointing to the traditional Catholic beliefs outlined in the church’s catechism, a summary of church principles.

“Honestly, this ideal of the Catholic Church is nothing new,” said the Rev. Ed Novak, director of the University Catholic Center at UT. “It’s just that the pope is actually saying it. That’s what’s new.”

The catechism states the belief that sexual acts resulting from same-sex attraction are condemned, but never states that the person is condemned. Instead, it states that people with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” should be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.

The Most Rev. J. Douglas Deshotel, auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Dallas, said the pope’s remarks have always been fundamental beliefs of the Catholic Church and that although sexual acts are condemned, gay and lesbian members of the church are respected.

“The pope restated that people who do have same-sex attraction are not to be discriminated against in any way at all,” Deshotel said. “They are to be treated with kindness and with respect, and they are to be encouraged in their struggle to live a chaste life according to God’s design – just like any non-married person has to strive to live a moral life by not using sex outside of marriage, whether it be heterosexual sex or homosexual sex.”

Deshotel said the pope’s comment on not having authority to judge people has been taken out of the context of the catechism, which affirms that authority. He suggested this might be a reason people are viewing the pope comments as something completely new.

“All the media has done is isolate that one phrase that the pope said without putting it into context and say, ‘Oh, look. The pope changed the moral teaching of the church,’” said Deshotel. “But he didn’t. The pope is calling us to do what the catechism teaches.”

Samantha Kelley, UT team director of the national organization Fellowship of Catholic University Students, said it is a shame that the beliefs of the church are misunderstood.

“It hurts my heart when individuals think that we are a church of hatred or of non-acceptance because we don’t condone the action,” Kelley said. “If in any way Pope Francis is giving these people a message of love, praise God. They need to know that they have a place, and I’m glad they are hearing it now.”