Five centuries after St. Ignatius Loyola’s conversion, Catholics are called to embrace LGBTQ people.

Views Luís Corrêa Lima, S.J. / November 4, 2022 Print this:
A cropped image of "The Conversion of Saint Ignatius Loyola" by the Oaxaca-born artist Miguel Cabrera (1695-1768). The painting is housed in the Museo Nacional de Arte in Mexico City. (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

This article has been translated from the Spanish and edited for clarity and style by J.D. Long-García and Ricardo da Silva, S.J. The original Spanish-language version can be found here. A previous version of this article, published in Portuguese last November, is available here.

In 1521, the Spanish gentleman Iñigo de Loyola was injured in a battle in the city of Pamplona. He could have lived or died. He later spent a year in convalescence. During that time, reading the life of Christ and the saints, Ignatius experienced a profound spiritual and existential transformation. His life took a new turn and the process continued.

Iñigo created the Spiritual Exercises, a way to identify and fulfill the will of God. He changed his name to Ignatius and founded a religious order, the Society of Jesus, which played an important role of evangelization during the Age of Discovery. 

The Exercises of St. Ignatius, in their different modalities, lead believers to recognize their internal movements—thoughts, emotions and desires. In what Ignatius calls motions, it is either the Spirit of God or that of the “malignant one” that acts. Ignatius experienced this in his convalescence.

Those who do the Exercises must discern those interior movements, looking for the will of God and God’s grace, learning to follow the path of Jesus Christ and conform themselves to Him. The entire process is based on the certainty that human beings are created to praise and serve God (and in that way reach salvation) as well as on the conviction that it is the same Spirit that guides Christ and his bride, the church. 

To commemorate the 500-year anniversary of the conversion of St. Ignatius of Loyola, we look with gratitude on his conversion, which led to so much good. It is also an opportunity to consider the contemporary relevance and possibilities of the Exercises. 

In the modern times in which he lived, subjectivity and individual autonomy came to carry more weight. This led in large part to Christianity’s rejection of the religious hierarchy as mediator between God and the faithful, resulting in the Protestant Reformation. In the Catholic world, some religious currents valued interiority in relationships with God, in addition to external practices. The modernity that germinated in the time of Ignatius expanded and gave rise to religious liberty, as well as freedom of conscience and expression.

With secularization, science reached a level of autonomy and governments became nonreligious. Along with social movements, human rights emerged in support of equality among men and women, among races and sexual orientations. Gender studies converged to establish that continuity does not necessarily exists when it comes to the sex of a person assigned at birth, the perception of oneself as man or woman and sexual practice and desire.

“Francis is the first pope to utilize the term ‘gay’ to refer to individuals who are homosexual, as social movements abandoned the term ‘homosexual’ for its original associations with pathology.”

Not everyone is cisgender, that is, people who identify with their assigned sex. Some people are also transgender, bisexual or homosexual. The term “LGBTQ” contemplates this diversity, increasingly visible in society. 

Pope Francis, formed by the Spiritual Exercises, advocates for a church that goes out to the existential peripheries to encounter those suffering diverse forms of injustice, conflicts and scarcity—people who need the light of the Gospel. The pope offers nuances to the magisterium and novelties in his pastoral approach, rereading the Gospel in line with the Second Vatican Council and from the perspective of contemporary culture.

Francis is the first pope to use the term “gay” to refer to individuals who are homosexual, as social movements abandoned the term “homosexual” for its original associations with pathology. His question became famous: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” 

At the base of this question is church teaching from the Second Vatican Council about the autonomy and inviolability of conscience. It is the right of a person to act according to the dictates of conscience, and the duty to not act against it. In it resides “the sanctuary of the person,” where God is present and is made manifest.

By being faithful to the voice of conscience, Christians unite themselves to other human beings in their duty to search for the truth, and to resolve those moral problems posed by society. Francis brings this doctrine to the reality of LGBTQ persons. 

At the Vatican, Pope Francis received a transgender person and their partner, as well as a gay couple, and treated them with much appreciation. Above all, the pope publicly explained that people should be accompanied as Jesus accompanies them. In each case, it is necessary to welcome, discern and integrate, because that is what he would do today. If there is a gay couple, we can be pastoral with them, deepening the encounter with Jesus Christ.

Francis also defended governmental protection of same-sex unions, although he did not equate them with matrimony. If there are children in these unions, Francis also recommended that the parents should bring them to the parish, and be transparent about the situation. 

As he convoked the Synod of Bishops on the Family, the pope proposed these questions. In his post-synodal exhortation, he addresses persons in situations he calls “irregular.” It cannot be said that all live in mortal sin, deprived of divine grace. A pastor cannot apply moral laws as if they were rocks thrown at the lives of persons. This applies to the divorced and remarried, as well as those in LGBTQ unions.

We must always invite people to live out the supreme commandment of love: “Love one and other as I have loved you,” which is the fullness of the law. Individuals in “irregular” situations can live in the grace of God, receiving the help of the church, including the sacraments. The confessional should not be a torture chamber, and as the pope has proclaimed, the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, but rather medicine and nourishment for those in need. 

LGBTQ people must be presented with the gentle yoke and the easy burden of Jesus. They must be healed of the devastating harm caused by homophobia and transphobia. And those who cause these injuries need conversion.

Five hundred years after the conversion of St. Ignatius of Loyola, there needs to be another conversion. LGBTQ persons are not “sodomites,” like those in the biblical story who intended to commit sexual violence against people invited by the patriarch Lot. They are not detestable persons who attract divine anger or bring about social destruction. Neither did they choose their sexual orientation or gender identity. God made them this way. They must be loved and must love themselves as God made them.

These persons must be presented with the gentle yoke and the easy burden of Jesus. They must be healed, no doubt, of the devastating harm caused by homophobia and transphobia. And those who cause these injuries need conversion.

LGBTQ persons have many gifts and talents to be recognized and multiplied. All need these gifts, the church as much as society. Everyone loses when they are not received or are openly accosted. These actions lead to a disfiguration of the body of Christ and his loving face. It offers to the world a sad testimony, a rigid and frightening image of God. 

The Spiritual Exercises are also an extraordinary way to help LGBTQ persons. Lives can be changed, saved from depression, sadness and suicide. There is a beautiful diversity in creation that can enrich the church. As the Brazilian prelate Dom Hélder Câmara, archbishop of Recife, said: “Make me a rainbow that welcomes all colors amid those who fragment your light!”

Luís Corrêa Lima, S.J.

Luís Corrêa Lima, S.J., is an historian and professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro. He works in ministry with LGBTQ people.

All articles by Luís Corrêa Lima, S.J.

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  1. The Catholic Church has a rich history of appreciating the mystery of God and His creation. We are also a Church that respects our traditions.

    Our LBGTQIA+ brothers and sisters are revelation of God’s mystery. Our response needs to be that of our greatest tradition, love. Not lukewarm, but the *radical* love revealed to us by Jesus of Nazareth.

    Mary, our Mother, pray for us.

    – Duane (he/him)
    Proud parent of a transgender adult

  2. Wow ! “ The heavens are telling the glory of God, and all creation is shouting for joy!”

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