In the wake of Pope Benedict's resignation announcement Feb. 11, gay and lesbian Catholics reacted with relief and cautious optimism for a pope willing to engage in dialogue.
With the departure of Benedict, DignityUSA, the nation's largest gay and lesbian Catholic organization, called for an end to church statements that "inflict harm on already marginalized people" and depict gay people "as less than fully human."
In a collective statement, leaders of Equally Blessed, a coalition of Catholics that works for equality for gay people, called upon the cardinals to select a pontiff who will realize that "in promoting discrimination against LGBT people, the church inflicts pain on marginalized people, alienates the faithful and lends moral credibility to reactionary political movements across the globe."
The coalition, which includes Call to Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, and New Ways Ministry, said the church now has the opportunity to turn away from Benedict's "oppressive policies toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics, and their families and friends."
For at least the last five decades, Catholic pronouncements on gay Catholic issues have been at least ambivalent and even sometimes contradictory. They have included exhortations on pastoral care and inclusivity and at the same time admonitions against gay lifestyles and warnings to gay Catholic organizations.
This ambivalence has resulted from church torn between the pastoral nature of the Gospels and sexual code based on centuries-old understandings of natural law. Official Catholic sexual morality forbids all "unnatural" acts under penalty of grave sin. It also rests in teachings that sexual acts are to be open to biological procreation. By extension, church prelates have fought hard politically against gay rights and gay marriage.
To be sure, no official Catholic pronouncement has ever argued for the church's acceptance of homosexual expressions. Yet there have been distinct differences in the way theologians, pastors and educators approach the issue of homosexuality, often calling for more understanding and less judgment.
Much of the current theological and social environment in which the church ministers -- or does not minister -- to gay Catholics was formed during the papacy of Pope John Paul II when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued statements on homosexuality.
Repeatedly, Ratzinger placed doctrinal enforcement over pastoral considerations. In the process, he built the reputation of being "God's Rottweiler."
Gay Catholics widely view Pope Benedict as the chief architect of what they see as the official church's unwavering anti-gay teachings and attitudes.
New Ways Ministry's executive director, Francis DeBernardo, said he is cautiously hopeful looking into the future. He said he hopes the next pope will be listener.
Gramick said she wants the papal war on gay people to end.
"The church," she said, "requires a future pope with a pastoral heart who is willing to listen and engage in dialogue."