By Corky Siemaszko
(NY Daily News) Their group was the elephant in the room.
For the first time ever, a delegation of American gay and lesbian
Catholics were in the VIP seats at a public papal audience in the
Pope Francis did not mention New Ways Ministry in his remarks Wednesday.
They were identified on the list of attendees only as a “group of lay people accompanied by a Sister of Loreto.”
And when a Vatican official read out the list of the groups that made
the pilgrimage to St. Peter’s Square, he skipped over them altogether.
But they were there. And veteran Vatican watcher David Gibson says that is a very big deal.
“It’s a substantial change of direction for the Catholic Church, not
just a symbolic move,” Gibson, of the Religion News Service, told The
“In the past, such groups or individuals would never be formally
acknowledged in any way — not even a response to a letter — for fear
that some could view such an attitude as approval,” he said. “Now
Francis is saying the Church must cast aside such fears...”
New Ways honcho Francis DeBernardo said they were thrilled to have been invited.
“We didn’t get the shout-out, but we were very, very close,” DeBernardo told The Associated Press.
New Ways co-founder Sister Jeannine Gramick said, “Pope Francis gives me hope.
“To me, this is an example of the kind of willingness he has to welcome
those on the fringes of the church back to the center of the church,”
Gramick would know.
Back in 1999, she defied an order to stop ministering to gay Catholics
from the Vatican’s chief liturgical watchdog, who concluded that she
didn’t sufficiently adhere to church teaching on the “intrinsic evil” of
That watchdog was the future Pope Benedict.
DeBernardo told the AP he had tried twice before to get his group VIP
seats to a papal audience — and each time he was turned down.
This time, both the Vatican ambassador in Washington and the archbishop of San Francisco forwarded the group’s request to Rome.
And in another sign that the Vatican might be shifting course, the
bigwig who invited New Ways to sit up front was none other than
Benedict’s right-hand man, Msgr. Georg Gaenswein.