The members of New Ways Ministry have made three trips to the Vatican over the years, under three different popes, but this was the first time the officials gave them any attention. "We were basically ignored by them," said Francis DeBernardo, the group's executive director. "So not just to be acknowledged, but to be acknowledged in such an honorable way, is [good]."
Upon arrival, the 50 or so members from Maryland found their seats were in a special section that was on eye level with Pope Francis — needless to say an extraordinary honor. They had no idea they were to receive such VIP treatment until they received their tickets the night before. "It's really an incredible honor and an incredible step forward for the LGBT community to be recognized," DeBernardo told CNN.
However, according to the LGBT group's director, there's still a long way to go before the community is truly on the level with heterosexual practicing Catholics. While the group had special seating, they were simply regarded as another Catholic group among the rest, and when they asked for a private audience with Pope Francis, they were refused.
While there have certainly been some positive changes made since Argentinian Bishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected pope back in March of 2013, the Vatican's stance on LGBT issues remains relatively the same. That said, the pope's attitude toward said issues is noticeably different from his predecessors'.
When asked about his position on gays and lesbians back when he was first elected, he said, "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?" He went further with this notion a few months later by declaring that "church officials have the right to express opinions but not to 'interfere spiritually' in the lives of gays and lesbians." This was a push from the pope to open the arms of the Catholic church wider and do away with social issues that simply distract from the larger point of religion — to be a haven for everyone who believes.
DeBernardo is pleased with all the pope's efforts made on behalf of the LGBT community, but in the end, he's unsure if he'll actually do more than make these types of statements. However, he does recognize that any step forward is good. According to DeBernardo, "He is a pope who is opening up a discussion." And as we all know, that is sometimes the most difficult step to take, especially with such a controversial subject.
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