10 April 2016




The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics Respond to Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia - The Joy of Love

Pope Francis’s response to the 2014 & 2015 Synods of Catholic Bishops on Marriage & Family, the Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of Love, raises more questions than it answers for LGBTQI Catholics, parents and families, globally. Disappointed by the light touch given to same-sex and gender identity concerns in the papal document, published 8 April 2016, the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics welcomes, nevertheless, the fact that the doors of welcome in this Jubilee Year of Mercy have not been slammed shut definitively. However, the GNRC is pleased that Pope Francis offers some clues as to where the key might be found, even if it looks more like it might be under the door-mat!

Pope Francis has opened up new ways for the Church to engage pastorally with the reality of its members’ lives, including all its LGBTQI people of God.  The GNRC welcomes the move away from outmoded theological understandings, and emphasis on law and regulations, to strategies which empower all who minister in the Church to stand alongside and learn from those whom it has previously considered ‘irregular’ or even ‘disordered’. A key question now is how The Joy of Love’s principles on personal and ecclesial discernment, primacy of conscience, respectful and justice-rooted pastoral care, and refreshed ways of doing moral theology can be applied within LGBTQI contexts.

The Exhortation reinforces the priority of respect for the human dignity of each person, not only in its rejection of homophobic and transphobic discrimination but in any form of aggression or violence towards LGBTQI people. These general statements need to lead to the Vatican’s active and public support for global decriminalisation, as well as the condemnation of torture and the death penalty on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. The Vatican must be vocal in its support for LGBTQI human rights and the GNRC regrets that the unfounded allegation that aid to poorer countries continues to be linked to the implementation of same-sex marriage remains Vatican rhetoric.

Even though the emphasis on pastoral care priorities is warmly welcomed, the GNRC cannot ignore the continuing harm to spiritual and personal well-being caused by the use of untrue and inaccurate theological language such as ‘intrinsically evil’  and ‘objectively disordered’ . The GNRC welcomes the lack of such vocabulary in The Joy of Love but such categories foster prejudicial stances towards LGBTQI persons and communities, not least in contributing to higher-than-average rates of bullying, self-harm, and suicide among LGBTQI younger people.

LGBTQI Catholics, parents and families cannot continue to be treated as ‘problems’ that challenge the wider Church, but must be seen as active participants in the dialogue to which Pope Francis calls us all, with gifts to bring for the common good. We therefore renew our call for a structured, international ‘listening process’ wherein the Church’s hierarchy and theologians can engage with LGBTQI Catholics, parents, and young people, including children in same-sex families, alongside a diverse group of experts in the human sciences. Such a process will enable the whole people of God to develop its vision, language and teaching on human sexuality and gender identity.


The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics (GNRC) brings together organizations and individuals who work for pastoral care and justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, questioning, and intersex (LGBTQI) people and their families. The Network works for inclusion, dignity and equality of this community in the Roman Catholic Church and society. The GNRC was founded in October 2015 at the Rome conference, “Ways of Love”, with 80 participants from 30 countries. To date, the GNRC represents 25 groups of LGBTQI Catholics, their families and friends from all continents. 

Further information:
Website: www.rainbowcatholics.org
Twitter: #rainbowcatholics  - #waysoflove2015

Contact persons:
Dr. Michael Brinkschroeder - michael.brinkschroeder@web.de /  mob: +49 15778814399 - Germany
Francis De Bernardo - director@newwaysministry.org / +001 301-277-5674 / mob: + 001 240-432-2489 - USA
Benjamin Oh - benjaminowk@gmail.com / +61429531775- Australia
Joseanne Peregin - joseanne253@gmail.com / +356 79442317 - Malta (parents)
Chris Vella – drachmalgbt@gmail.com/ +356 79253875 – Malta
Eros Shaw - 422247611@qq.com / +86 17740805632 - China
Martin Pendergast - lgbtcatholicswestminster@gmail.com / +44 208 986 0807 - UK
Dr. Andrea Rubera - arlock965@yahoo.it / +39  335 7510922 - Italy
Joey Joleene Mataele - joleenm10@hotmail.com / mob +676 7718021 - Tonga
Fernando Gonzalez - pastoraldiversidadsexual@gmail.com - Chile




The post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis with the title “Amoris Laetitia” opens up new perspectives for the pastoral work of the Catholic Church, drawing both from earlier teachings of the Church on family life and marriage, and also from a pragmatic and more ‘grounded’ appreciation of the real lived-experiences of family life. Nonetheless, we note that these perspectives are not yet applied with full consequence when it comes to persons of different gender and/or sexual orientation (LGBTQI persons).

Welcoming new pastoral approaches

We are supportive of the more positive stance taken by the Pope to move away from an inflexible attachment to doctrine and towards a more humane approach to discipleship grounded in true charity, which ‘is always unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous’ (Art. 296). We welcome pastoral approaches that avoid judgments that do not take into account ‘the complexity of various situations’ (Art. 296) but rather aim to reach out to everyone to find their proper way of being in the Church (Art. 297). It is indeed positive that Pope Francis reiterates a point he made in the Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (2013) that the Church has often acted as ‘arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators’ and affirms that rather than being a tollhouse, the Church is ‘the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems’ (Art. 310). 

We appreciate that the Pope empowers the local churches to find fitting interpretations of pastoral, moral and doctrinal issues (Art. 3). This will give more flexibility and freedom to the dioceses to make practical decisions, which is important when it comes to pastoral work with LGBTQI people and their families.

The document gives fresh guidance on pastoral discernment which emphasizes that pastors need to respect the conscience of the person, take the individual situation into consideration and follow the ‘logic of pastoral mercy’ (Art. 307). It rejects an understanding of “natural law” as ‘an already established set of rules’ which was a traditional tool in anti-homosexual argumentation. Instead, it reinterprets natural law as ‘a source of objective inspiration for the deeply personal process of making decisions’ (Art. 305). Indeed, ‘those who manifest a homosexual orientation’ should be assisted through ‘respectful pastoral guidance’ to be able ‘to understand and fully carry out God’s will in their lives’ (Art. 305).

Sex Education

Pope Francis reiterates the teachings of the Second Vatican Council on the need of ’a positive and prudent sex education’, noting the challenges of sex education ‘in an age when sexuality tends to be trivialised and impoverished’ (Art. 280). Francis notes that ‘the sexual urge can be directed through a process of growth in self-knowledge and self-control capable of nurturing valuable capacities for joy and for loving encounter’ (Art. 280). The Pope also calls for a sex education that includes ‘respect and appreciation for differences’ and an appreciation of one’s body that is necessary for one’s encounter with others different from oneself (Art. 285). We hope that this statement can make a difference in the lives of many LGBTQI adolescents who often face insensitivity in their schools and whose difference is not always acknowledged and embraced healthily, often by members of the Church.     

Families with LGBTQI persons

When the Pope speaks explicitly about families that ‘include persons who experience same-sex attraction’ (Art. 250), he affirms the dignity of every human person regardless of sexual orientation. He asks for respect and avoidance of aggression and violence. Yet, Pope Francis’ one statement discussing pastoral care to families with lesbian and gay members is included in a section entitled “Casting Light on Crises, Worries and Difficulties”.  Such a classification reveals an assumption that LGBTQI topics are simply problems to be surmounted, and it does not recognize the giftedness and grace that occur when a family accepts and loves its LGBTQI family members. 

We welcome the document’s acknowledgement of the need for respectful pastoral care. We know from our experience of working with LGBTQI Catholic persons, the most respectful and effective forms of pastoral care are the ones that are done in consultation with LGBTQI persons that respects their lived realities and honours their voices, aspirations as well as celebrates their gifts and dignity in the community of the faithful.

The problem of language

That the document uses ‘homosexual orientation’ (in some versions) to refer to persons who experience same-sex attraction is already worth noting, considering that in earlier pronouncements of the Church on this subject, it always used to use the derogatory expression ‘homosexual tendencies’.  

This does not mean that the Church has overcome the basic problems of language, for even reductive expressions as ‘same-sex attractions’ are still simplistic and unsatisfactory. The GNRC cannot ignore the continuing harm to spiritual and personal well-being caused by the use of untrue and inaccurate theological language such as ‘intrinsically evil’ and ‘objectively disordered’. The GNRC welcomes the lack of such vocabulary in The Joy of Love because such categories foster prejudicial stances towards LGBTQI persons and communities, not least in contributing to higher-than-average rates of bullying, self-harm, and suicide among LGBTQI younger people.

Homosexual unions

We are disappointed that the Pope reiterates the Church’s long-held position that homosexual unions cannot be considered ‘in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family’ (Art. 251, 52) and seems not to offer much scope for dialogue and theological exploration in these new ‘signs of the times’. The lived experiences of several same-sex couples all over the world and who belong to the Catholic faithful should encourage the Church to discern these and other expressions of LGBTQI existence, rather than continue making categorical statements that close the door to dialogue.  

It is worth considering that Pope Francis is concerned about the great poverty of contemporary culture, which is evident in the loneliness of individuals, arising from the absence of God in a person’s life and the fragility of relationships. He notes that the State has the responsibility to pass laws and create work to ensure that young people can realise their plan of forming a family (Art. 43). The Second Vatican Council also echoes this perspective when stating that ‘such a love, bringing together the human and the divine, leads the partners to a free and mutual self-giving, experienced in tenderness and action, and permeating their entire lives’ (Art. 125). Yet, this seems only to apply to heterosexual relationships, and nowhere in this Apostolic Exhortation is there a tacit acknowledgement that this may also be true to same-sex relationships. We hope that the Church will apply the same logic that it applies to other irregular unions to same-sex relationships as well and will ‘not disregard the constructive elements in those situations which do not yet or no longer correspond to her teaching on marriage’ (Art. 292).

Condemnations of violence against LGBTQI people are not enough               

We also note with concern that the Pope reiterated positions repeated in the Synodal documents that deem it unacceptable that international aid be tied with the introduction of laws that establish same-sex marriage (Art. 251), while not being vocal enough in its denunciation of legal violence in several countries in the world towards LGBTQI people who are criminalised for being who they are. The apostolic exhortation acknowledges that LGBTQI persons experience aggression and violence, however it does not recommend any forms of remedy beyond avoidance.  

In a global context where LGBTQI persons around the world continue to face various forms of aggression and violence that manifests in structural, physical, cultural, spiritual and psychological violence, this response is inadequate. Where criminalisation, extrajudicial abuse, capital punishment, torture, aversion therapy, moral vilification and the denial of human rights of LGBTQI persons is still prevalent, we urge the leaders of our Church to urgently call upon the end of all forms of aggression and violence against LGBTQI persons and their families. We urge the Holy See to make an explicit statement condemning laws which criminalize LGBTQI persons. Such a statement would be entirely consistent with the principles that the Pope has made in this document and which already existed in Church teaching.

Understanding Gender and ‘Gender ideology’

We also note that Pope Francis’ framing of the discourse on the ‘ideology of gender’ is rooted in the understanding of gender as a biological constant and that the gender ideology purportedly reduces gender identity to ‘the choice of the individual, one which can also change over time’ (Art. 56). One appreciates the Church’s concern for any relativistic reductionism of gender-related issues. However, we urge the Church not to trivialise the lived experiences of transgendered persons, for whom choosing a gender identity that is different from their biological sex is not a matter of choosing a different gender, but rather allowing them to be true to their ‘truth’, as they experience it in their innermost sense of being.  

At the same time, we welcome his acknowledgement that masculinity and femininity are not rigid categories and that the social constructions of gender should be rather fluid, thus not excluding individuals from professions, arts or leadership on the basis of one’s gender (Art. 286).   

The need for further discernment on LGBTQI issues

Whilst the document promotes a dialogical approach for the Church’s pastoral work, the document has also demonstrated a lack of scientific understanding of LGBTQI lives as well as the often harsh realities faced both within and beyond the Church.  

We invite Pope Francis together with fellow Synod Fathers to set-up a listening process that seeks for wide consultation with LGBTQI persons and their families as well as scholars, scientists and professionals in this area of health, psychology and other social sciences. We hope that such a process can inform the Church as it discerns its understanding of LGBTQI persons and in due course clarify and revise its vision, doctrine and language on these persons and God’s plan for them.


We look with interest at the Pope’s gentle encouragement for dialogue within the family, rooted in the recognition that different persons within the family have different standpoints, concerns, abilities and insights. He continues to acknowledge that every person has his/her truth and deep concerns and he urges for sensitivity and empathy with the other by putting ‘ourselves in their shoes and try to peer into their hearts, to perceive their deepest concerns and to take them as a point of departure for further dialogue’ (Art. 138). 

While we appreciate this understanding of dialogue, we also invite the Church to embrace this type of dialogue herself and adopt such attitudes towards the several LGBTQI persons within the Catholic Church who also want to share with the Church their own lived faith in their sexual and gender diversity. We urge Pope Francis to apply his own advice to families ‘to free ourselves from feeling that we all have to be alike. A certain astuteness is also needed to prevent the appearance of “static” that can interfere with the process of dialogue’ (Art 139).

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