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Refreshing Language

If you are like me, you find Pope Francis to be a constant source of fresh air for our Church. What I love is his ability to go off script and cause many at the Vatican to be challenged and upset. His language is simple and down to earth, completely in alignment with the gospel Jesus proclaimed. Today, Tuesday, in the daily readings Jesus takes the Pharisees to task for their detailed observance of Jewish rules and their lack of authentic faith.

He responded, “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts. You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.” Mark 7:6-8

I often feel Pope Francis does similarly with his off the cuff comments, and slowly through his actions as Pope. During his general audience on January 26 for the feast of St Joseph, he went off script and added a sentence for parents that have children of different sexual orientations.

“...Sick children, with permanent diseases. How much pain there! Parents who see different sexual orientations in their children, how to deal with it and accompany their children and not hide in condemning behavior…."

Given his history of supporting people of different sexual orientations, I did not even blink an eye at the flurry of news reports about this. Interestingly, you will not find these words concerning children with different sexual orientations in the official Vatican transcript of the audience. It took a post by Fr James Martin about Francis' use of radically different language to open my eyes to how radical it was.

Yesterday, Pope Francis's pastoral message for parents of children with "different sexual orientations," made headlines. Less remarked upon was how the Holy Father has brought into church discourse mainstream terms that were once off-limits. 

"Orientations" is a word that some church leaders still resist, much less the idea that there are "different" ones. (He used the word "diversi.") Pope Francis is also the first pope to publicly use the word "gay." Notice the Pope doesn't say "afflicted" or "struggling" with "same-sex attractions," as some still do in the church. 

Using the contemporary language that the LGBT community prefers ("gay" over "struggling with same-sex attractions") and, also, recognizing the reality that there are different orientations, is one way to show the "respect, compassion and sensitivity" that the Catechism asks for.

It's also in keeping with Jesus's model of meeting people where they are and speaking in their language. When Jesus went to the Sea of Galilee, he spoke to Peter and Andrew as fishermen: "Come after me and I will make you fish for people."  Jesus used words and ideas that were more familiar to them, rather than to him.  It is key to any pastoral ministry..

For some people, particularly those in the US and Western Europe, these may seem like small, obvious, or even insufficient measures. "Not enough," say some.  But in many parts of the church worldwide, where bishops have called LGBT people a "rainbow plague," or have supported repressive civil laws that criminalize LGBT people, the Pope's words in his General Audience yesterday are a decided pastoral challenge.

The phrase used by Bishops (especially the United States Bishops in their writings) when referring to people of different sexual orientations has been that they are ”intrinsically disordered”. This phase has always upset me and caused me discomfort. It has always felt very degrading to people that we know are created in the image of God and are beloved children of God. I feel that Jesus would not refer to people with such language and it is a good reminder to us that our language in referring to others is very important and part of being a disciple of Jesus. Our job is to build up everyone and bring them to understand how special and loved they are.

Peace, Love, and Blessings

Deacon Richard


  • Mary HuettlPosted on 2/12/22

    Deacon Rich,
    You are right on, as always. I so appreciate the expression of your views.

  • Bill DorganPosted on 2/10/22

    Thank You for all you said. It still takes courage to face the truth as Pope Francis or simply as a member of the church. Father Byron has said in the past, " Gay people are not an accident of nature, they are a part of human nature just like the rest of us." They have to be respected and loved just like everyone else.



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