Pope Francis responded personally to Lorenzo Michele Caruso Photo: IllMessaggero

Former Homosexual Seminarian Receives Letter from the Pope Shortly After Francis’ Use of a Pejorative Word

Caruso, who described the Pope’s answer as “beautiful,” said that the letter gives him hope and affirms his dream to become a priest.

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(ZENIT News / Rome, 03.06.2024).- In an unexpected gesture, Pope Francis responded personally to Lorenzo Michele Caruso, a 22-year-old youth, who was excluded from the Seminary for declaring his homosexuality. In a hand-written letter, the Holy Father urged the young man to “go on” with his vocational search, offering him words of encouragement and hope. On May 28, Caruso sent an e-mail to the Pontiff, in the context of the controversy over the Pope’s use of a derogatory word regarding homosexuals.

The Pope’s Message

The Pope’s answer, sent after Caruso addressed him, refers not only to the personal situation of the aspirant seminarian, but also to broader reflections on clericalism in the Church. “Thank you very much for your e-mail — wrote the Pope on a hand-written card, scanned and attached  to the e-mail –. One of your expressions caught my attention: ‘Toxic and elective clericalism,’ and it’s true! Do you know that clericalism is a pest? It’s an ugly ‘worldliness,” and as a great theologian says: “Worldliness is the worse thing that can happen to the Church, worse even than the time of the concubinary Popes.” Jesus calls all, all. Some think that the Church is a customs office, and that’s ugly. The Church must be open to all. Brother, go on with your vocation. I pray for you. Please do so for me. (I need it). May the Lord bless you and Our Lady take care of you. Fraternally, Francis.”

Caruso, who described the Pope’s answer as “beautiful,” said that the letter gives him hope and affirms his dream to become a priest. “He makes it seen who the true Pope is, not the image than some have created. The Seminary is still a dream not abandoned,” said the young man, who nourishes — vainly? — dreams that the forthcoming October Synod will make changes in this ambit.

Context and Controversy

Caruso’s case is situated in the context of a broader discussion on the possibility that declared homosexual men be able to be admitted to the priesthood. During a meeting with the Italian Bishops, Pope Francis used an expression that some interpreted as derogatory, sparking controversy (“faggot”). However, the Vatican clarified later that the Pope did not have the intention to offend or express himself in homophobic terms, and he offered his apologies to those that felt themselves aggrieved.

According to a 2005 Instruction of the Vatican Dicastery for the Clergy, the Church cannot admit to the Seminary or Ordain those that practice homosexuality, have deeply rooted homosexual tendencies or support the so-called “gay culture.” This measure was reaffirmed in 2016, stressing the official position of the Church on this matter.

Pope Francis’ letter to Caruso, however, highlights the constant tension within the Church between the official doctrine and the pastoral focus. In fact, the letter leaves perplexities as it’s not known well what vocation the Pope is encouraging the young man to follow. In a statement to a Roman newspaper Caruso stressed: “He told me: continue with your vocation, no ‘calm, there are other paths.’ My whole story has been dotted with these answers, when a Religious discovered my sexuality, as much as he would have appreciated my person and my Faith, up to a minute before answered thus: “there are many ways of declining a vocation.” In fact, they denied me the possibility of having a priestly vocation.”

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