615 Pope Francis Sent Me a Letter. It Gives Me Hope as a Gay Catholic
Updated: Nov 21, 2021
Day 615 Saturday, November 20, 2021
Pope Francis Sent Me a Letter. It Gives Me Hope as a Gay Catholic
When Carol Baltosiewich was a Catholic nun, she spent 10 years caring for young men dying from AIDS. Even so, the first time I spoke to her, in 2016, I was terrified to tell her I’m gay.
As a reporter who covers the church, I had started interviewing Catholics who worked and fought during the height of the H.I.V. crisis in the United States, roughly 1982 to 1996. People like Ms. Baltosiewich persisted amid frequent hostility from church leaders toward gay people and the broader stigmas of the time. A poll in 1987 found that 43 percent of Americans agreed with the statement, “AIDS might be God’s punishment for immoral sexual behavior.”
A Catholic myself, I’d long internalized that being honest about my sexual orientation could be dangerous. L.G.B.T. people have been fired from their jobs at Catholic organizations. Some groups supporting L.G.B.T. Catholics have been barred from parishes. So even someone like Ms. Baltosiewich, who has loved and served countless gay men, could feel risky.
But my conversations with Ms. Baltosiewich and others like her — the fellowship, gratitude and moments of revelation we exchanged — had a profound effect on my own faith. So much so that recently, I wrote a letter to Pope Francis to share the book I wrote based on those conversations, and even to tell him a little about myself as a gay Catholic. To my surprise, he wrote back. His words offer me encouragement that dialogue is possible between L.G.B.T. Catholics and church leaders, even at the highest levels.
When I first learned about Ms. Baltosiewich’s work, I was tempted to describe her as a hero nurse-nun who showed compassion to gay men with AIDS at a time when so many other people refused to help. And she was. But what gets lost in that framing of her story is the reality of how the individuals she met through this ministry broadened her understanding of God’s love and ultimately made her a better Christian.
Ms. Baltosiewich can trace this change to a particular moment. She had moved to Manhattan from her home in Belleville, Ill., to learn about AIDS ministry. She was sitting on the stoop of the convent in Hell’s Kitchen where she was staying when she noticed a young man, Robert, walking toward her. He was visibly upset. Ms. Baltosiewich recognized him from the hospital where she volunteered and asked what happened.
His partner was dying from AIDS and there was nothing he could do to help. Robert broke down in tears. Ms. Baltosiewich held him.
She knew what her church taught about homosexuality. She remembered her own initial discomfort at the thought of romantic love between two men. But in that moment, as she held Robert, she thought about the love and concern he showed his partner and, she remembers thinking, “You couldn’t say it was wrong.”
I’ve felt isolated and alone at times as a gay Catholic trying to find a place in the church. I stay partly for cultural reasons, taking comfort in practicing the faith of my ancestors. I also find order and meaning in Catholicism, especially when life feels unpredictable. With U.S. bishops meeting in Baltimore this week, following months of debate about the worthiness of some Catholics to receive Communion, I’ve realized that personally,
I stay in the church mostly for the Eucharist, that ritual during Mass when I believe the divine transcends our ordinary lives and God is present. I haven’t found that elsewhere.
Still, there have been moments when I felt that I had no choice but to leave, that the hypocrisy and judgment were too great. I once went so far as to begin the process of being received into the Episcopal Church but didn’t follow through. I sometimes wonder if I should have, like the time I sat at a dinner in Rome and listened to another Catholic criticize Pope Francis and suggest that despite the pope’s “Who am I to judge?” attitude, gays would, in fact, burn in hell.
But my encounters with people like Ms. Baltosiewich have been transformative, so much so that when I decided this past summer to write a letter to Pope Francis about my book, the fear I had once felt with Ms. Baltosiewich was gone. I told him that I am a gay Catholic journalist and that these stories of encounter have the power to change lives. I told him about the many L.G.B.T. Catholics I’ve interviewed, who are barely hanging on to their faith.
Later, when I saw the white envelope with the return address of the Vatican Embassy in Washington, I froze. Pope Francis had written back.
“Querido hermano,” began the letter. The letter was in Spanish, Pope Francis’ native tongue, but it’s been translated into English for this article. “Dear brother. I thank you for the letter and the book, which you wrote.”
“As I finished reading your letter,” the pope continued, invoking the Gospel of Matthew, “I was spontaneously struck by that through which we will one day be judged: ‘For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to me.’”
I read on.
“Thank you for shining a light on the lives and bearing witness to the many priests, religious sisters and lay people, who opted to accompany, support and help their brothers and sisters who were sick from H.I.V. and AIDS at great risk to their profession and reputation.”
Then he offered a decades-delayed papal blessing on the work undertaken by people like Ms. Baltosiewich.
“Instead of indifference, alienation and even condemnation,” Pope Francis continued, “these people let themselves be moved by the mercy of the Father and allowed that to become their own life’s work; a discreet mercy, silent and hidden, but still capable of sustaining and restoring the life and history of each one of us.”
“Again, I thank you and ask that the Father bless you and the Virgin Mary care for you, and please, don’t forget to pray for me,” he concluded, signing off, “Fraternally, Francis.”
I’m not under any illusions that a letter, even one signed by the pope, will heal the wounds some Catholics imparted decades ago. Or that this might finally be the moment when Francis changes church teaching on homosexuality. In fact, under his leadership, the Vatican has doubled down, releasing what many read as a reiteration of the ban on gay priests. More recently, the Vatican stated that while the church should welcome gay people “with respect and sensitivity,” God “does not and cannot bless sin” and thus declared priests cannot bless gay couples.
But Christians are called to have hope, and so for now, I still do.
Ms. Baltosiewich’s world was altered through her encounters with gay men more than 30 years ago. She has since left the order of nuns she was part of during her years of AIDS ministry and joined the Sisters for Christian Community, a non-canonical group, but remains a Catholic.
When I called to read her the letter, she told me her eyes filled with tears.
My faith has been edified through my interactions with Ms. Baltosiewich. And now, with a papal blessing on this kind of work, perhaps church leaders — maybe even the pope — will be transformed in how they see L.G.B.T. people and others whose faith is lived on the margins. If they don’t, imagine what the church will have lost.
Nov. 15, 2021
By Michael O’Loughlin
Mr. O’Loughlin, a correspondent for a Catholic news organization, is the author of “Hidden Mercy: AIDS, Catholics, and the Untold Stories of Compassion in the Face of the Fear,” from which this essay is adapted.
Upcoming Mass and Concert with Doug Harmon and John Poirer:
Please announce that Michael John Poirier will play the 5 pm Mass with Doug at Resurrection Parish on Saturday, November 20th and at 7pm Doug and John will play guitar and sing with Doug on cello in a concert there in memory of His Mother: Maryjane Poirier! Thanks,☮️Doug
Volunteer Opportunity with Seeds of Learning:
Please respond to Mark Etherington on his email at:
This Saturday, November 20th, from 9-12 is our next opportunity to volunteer at the Foodbank. Get your Thanksgiving week off to a great start. This is the toughest time of the year, and the time of most need for the Foodbank . If you can make it, we would love to see you there for the fastest 3 hours of your week.. Please let me know if you can make it so I get your name on the list. Thanks for helping Seeds of Learning support the Redwood Empire Food Bank.
The Redwood Empire Food Bank is located at
3990 Brickway Blvd., Santa Rosa, CA 95403
Take the Airport Blvd. exit west off of Hwy. 101. We are directly behind the Medtronic corporate campus; turn right onto Brickway Blvd. and turn into the second driveway on the right. We ask that you carpool when possible as we have limited parking. Please plan on arriving 15 minutes prior to the event start time.
Please share the following rules with your group prior to the event:
1. Closed toed shoes are mandatory - wear comfortable shoes as you will be standing on a concrete floor.
2. Age Requirements - To volunteer independently, you must be at least 14 years old. 12 & 13 year olds are welcome to volunteer if they are accompanied by an adult at all times.
3. Dress in layers - the temperature in the warehouse can be unpredictable.
a. Please leave dangling/loose jewelry at home.
b. Long hair should be tied back. Hats are typically fine.
3. Refreshments - you are welcome to bring beverages/food to consume during breaks. We have an area set aside for coats, handbags, snacks; please do not bring into the production area.
4. REFB staff and volunteers may not consume or take home any of the food that is being processed.
5. We encourage you to take advantage of the on-site Value Market where you can purchase healthy snacks and beverages.2
Announcement #3: Save the Date
Please join us for a TEA for PALESTINE to support Palestinian children!
About this event
NorCal Sabeel is hosting this event:
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Delicious tea and light refreshments!
Music by ASWAT, the Bay Area's premier Arab music ensemble
Poetry by Palestinian American, Lorene Zarou-Zouzounis
This is a special fundraiser to support the vital work of three important organizations that help Palestinian children. All funds will be donated to the following three groups:
Defense for Children Alliance (DCI-P)--https://www.dci-palestine.org
Middle East Children's Alliance (MECA)--mecaforpeace.org
Palestine Children's Relief Fund (PCRF)--https://www.pcrf.net
The event will adhere to CDS guidelines--vaccinated guests only, please.
If you can't attend, please consider donating.
Street parking in and around the venue (Uptown Body and Fender, 401 26th St., Oakland).