I am not Catholic, never was, and never will be. We part company on a host of important issues, not just the headline hot button issues like women and gays, but on really fundamental concepts of what it means to be Christian and to be the Church. On matters of salvation, doctrine, and individual conscience, I am much closer to Luther than to any Roman Church Council since the 16th century. I have little patience with things like hierarchy, magisterium, and natural law theology. I can be as anti-doctrinal and even as antinomian as William Blake in many of my views. I could never join any church (especially yours) that claims to be the One True Church, because I don't believe any such thing exists or ever existed. Nonetheless, I pay close attention to what you are doing and saying these days.
I don't think what you are doing or saying is the radical departure that the media describes and some people imagine. Your pronouncements on the poor and on the environment are consistent with Roman Church teaching for decades. While your aside on the plane about not presuming to judge gays and lesbians got a lot of attention, the distinction was more one of tone than substance. What is a dramatic departure from your predecessors is your conception of the Church in relation to the larger world. Both of your immediate predecessors wanted a smaller church of the doctrinally pure and correct with high thick walls between itself and the modern world. While they thought of the church as a kind of ghetto of the Elect, you conceive of the church as a vast mobile emergency hospital actively engaged with the world as it is. To stop the daily bleeding, you are more willing tolerate a little mess and fraying around the doctrinal edges up to a point. I think it is that more actively compassionate conception of the church that has so caught imaginations around the world including mine.
In the spirit of that famous aside to the press corps about gays and lesbians on the plane awhile back, and in the spirit of that more actively compassionate church you wish to create, I would like to make a request that I don't think is impossible or unreasonable. Please stop opposing laws that grant civil rights protections to sexual minorities in housing, employment, and public services. Clearly and publicly oppose violence against gays and lesbians around the world, and especially in Central Africa and Eastern Europe. Demand that civil laws protect gay and lesbian citizens. Such stands would cost you and your church little. The Roman Catholic Church would not have to change its doctrines on sexuality and marriage at all.
The Roman Catholic Church here in New York City led the opposition to local civil rights protections for gays and lesbians from 1970 until the inclusion of gays and lesbians in the city's Human Rights laws in 1986. Here is a chance to redeem that history and countless others at little cost. At the least don't finance and encourage violence and discrimination as do so many American evangelical churches. Likewise, please don't shamefully give tacit support to anti-gay laws and violence through silence as does the hierarchy of the Church of England and other churches.
That aside on the plane may only have been an aside. Yes, it was only a change of tone and not of substance on the Church's policy toward gays and lesbians. But it electrified people around the world with the possibility that at the very least, the Roman Catholic Church might no longer play a leading role in the oppression of gays and lesbians. With all due respect, I please ask that the Roman Catholic Church stand down from that role. It would cost little and the reward would be great, especially at a time when the Church's moral authority is so badly compromised by crime and scandal.
Finally Pope Francis, there are pictures of you all over the media this week, but I will close with a picture of a young Chilean man, Daniel Zamudio who was murdered in 2012 because of his sexual orientation. Public revulsion over his death finally overcame opposition in parliament from your church and from evangelical churches to a bill guaranteeing civil rights protections to people like him. Please consider what I have proposed for his sake and for so many others like him living and dead.
Pope Francis, you frequently quote the Golden Rule in your speeches about our responsibilities to the poor and unfortunate, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
Please remember that crucial passage from the Gospel as you consider how to deal with sexual minorities that your church historically has anathematized and victimized, minorities that know mostly persecution and violence, but whose expectations are rising around the world.
Treat us as you would wish to be treated yourself.
If these accounts of the Pope meeting in secret with Kim Davis turn out to be true, then I'm feeling hoodwinked and betrayed.
The "secret" meeting turned out not to be true. His only private audience during his visit to the USA was with a gay couple; a former student from 50 years ago and his partner.