How some interpret what pope said about apologizing to gay members

While Nick Johns is pleased to hear Pope Francis say Christians need to apologize for the treatment of gays, lesbians, bisexual, transgender and queer members, he doesn’t think anything will change.

“He says a lot of nice things about gay people, but he doesn’t do anything official,” said Johns, who lives in Avondale Estates. “I can’t say I really care anymore.”

Johns was raised in the Catholic Church and played the organ for a church in Alpharetta. Several years ago, though, Johns claims he was fired because of his sexual orientation.

“It was really, really, really rough,” he said. “It was very hard. That was where I felt I was supposed to be and I didn’t belong there anymore. It was a very traumatic experience.”

During a recent news conference aboard the papal plane, Francis said Christians should seek forgiveness from people who are LGBTQ and have been offended or mistreated by the church.

“I repeat what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: that they must not be discriminated against, that they must be respected and accompanied pastorally,” he said.

“The church must ask forgiveness for not behaving many times — when I say the church, I mean Christians! The church is holy, we are sinners!”

Francis didn’t limit that proposed apology to just members of the LGBTQ community. He also cited treatment of the poor, exploited women and child laborers.

The pope’s comments and actions have often caught Catholics off guard.

Earlier this year, for instance, he issued a decree that women could participate in the Holy Thursday foot-washing ritual for the first time since the 1950s.

“The pope continues to stir the pot,” said Phillip M. Thompson, executive director of the Aquinas Center of Theology at Emory University.

His comment serves several purposes.

“He wants to make sure there’s no discrimination against gays and no violence against gays,” said Thompson. “This, of course, is in line with church teachings, so it’s nothing unusual in that. What is unusual, though, is that he says the church should apologize for what we have done in the past towards gays.”

LGBTQ members have not always felt welcomed. Some complained of being marginalized or even dismissed because they were in a same-sex relationship. Francis did not say the church should perform same-sex marriage, nor is he likely to, experts say.

“This is where theological ideas hit the ground,” said Thompson. “We can welcome them into the church, but it doesn’t mean we’re going to be fully accepting of their sexuality.”

Conal Charles, regional director of PFLAG Gulf Region, which includes Georgia, comes from a very devout Catholic family in India. He moved to the United States in 2005 and found an open and welcoming Catholic church in Atlanta.

“Catholic doctrine still refers to gay people as ‘objectively disordered,’” he said. “It’s no wonder then that the LGBT community feels marginalized by Catholics who subscribe to these views. Many of us feel unwelcome in some parishes whereas heterosexual families are always welcomed and encouraged to participate. Pope Francis’ message of love and inclusion is truly groundbreaking because he begins at the first step — asking forgiveness on behalf of the church. But as my faith has taught me, asking forgiveness by itself isn’t enough, we need actions that mend and heal. His statements set the right tone for the healing to begin.”

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory said he welcomed “the Holy Father’s statement that the Catholic Church must extend a more hospitable and welcoming posture toward our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. Our language needs to be more pastoral. Whenever we as Catholics have been offensive or abrasive toward any group, we need to both change our language and seek their forgiveness.”

That doesn’t mean, though, they have changed their minds on issues like same-sex marriage. The Catholic Church does not perform same-sex marriages, and its teachings hold that marriage is between a man and a woman.

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