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Pope softens tone on gays

Pope Francis

Pope Francis Credit: Pope Francis (EPA)

Gay Catholics throughout NYC were trying to divine the meaning behind the seemingly conciliatory comments of Pope Francis Monday, wondering if the pontiff’s words could someday lead to true equality.

In an 80-minute news conference Monday  on a plane en route to Rome from Brazil, Pope Francis said in response to a question about gay priests, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” He also said gay people “shouldn’t be marginalized.”

The remarks were “a surprise and a nice opening for the possibility of dialogue,” but gay people are eager to know if the church will ever reverse discriminatory policies against gay and lesbian employees, stop inveighing against marriage equality and finally endorse the rights of gays and lesbians to be parents, said Lewis Speaks-Tanner, the vice-president of Dignity USA, an organization that works to promote equality within the Catholic Church.

Currently, said Speaks-Tanner, who lives in Jackson Heights, gay employees of the Catholic Church “do not have the same rights as other workers” and can be (and are) fired for no reason other than their orientation.

The Archdiocese of New York said Monday it had no statement on the Pope’s remarks.

Change comes slowly to the Catholic Church and only time will reveal whether a historically conservative institution is liberalizing, said Father Daniel McCarthy, of Prospect Heights, a gay priest who severed ties with the church in 2001 and now serves the community at Dignity/New York.

“My first thought is ‘small steps,’ but as a gay priest myself, I find it a little condescending,” McCarthy said of the remarks.

“If someone has said something decent, they’ve said something decent,” added McCarthy, saying, “every little bit helps.”

“It’s a huge deal he said anything at all that’s not hateful, but the statement was very ambiguous. It wasn’t clear,” said Cathy Marino-Thomas, a board member for Marriage Equality NY who lives in Fort Greene. Marino-Thomas was raised Catholic but left to worship in a more accepting and inclusive congregation, where she married her partner of 20 years 10 years ago. “I’m all about pushing for some clarification,” she said.

But Jeff Stone, a writer and editor from the Upper West Side, was in a celebratory mood. The pope’s comment “is a wonderful change in tone,” said Stone. Pope Francis “seems comfortable talking about gay people. Even using the word ‘gay’ is an advance for a pope,” enthused Stone.

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