After Pope Francis endorsed civil unions between same-sex couples in his documentary, questions swirled as to whether or not the Catholic Church was changing their long-standing belief on gay marriage.
Father Jim Sichko is a papal missionary of mercy for the Catholic Church. He explained the Pope's remarks were all about respect.
"As Christians, as Catholics, we are pro-life, individuals. And what the Holy Father is doing, is he is affirming those who have for many, many years, felt isolated and abandoned by the church. And what he is doing is, he is not changing any sacramental any theological aspect of our church," Sichko explained. "What he is doing is sharing how we are all connected we are all brothers and sisters in the Lord and how respect needs to be given to the LGBTQ community."
In the documentary, the pope said, "Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God."
Diocese of Lexington LGBT Ministry Director Stan "JR" Zerkowski said the pope's comments were "an invitation to come home. It's an invitation that says, you know, 'we recognize your situation we recognize your relationship. We recognize who you are. We're ready to accompany, and we're ready to give you a place in the church.'"
For more than four years, Zerkowski has led the ministry for Lexington community that he said is open to LGBTQ+ persons of any faith and to family and friends who support the LGBTQ community.
Zerkowski explained the rarity of those who identify as LGBTQ to want to join a Catholic Church because of the church's stance on gay marriage but, he said the Lexington Diocese breaks that mold and is a model for cities around the world.
"We have seen people being attracted to the Catholic Church at St Paul's specifically and entering into conversation with the pastoral staff at St. Paul, and our pastor Father Richard. Who have been attracted to become members of the Catholic Church, because of what they see, we are doing with LGBT ministry. And I'm not just talking about LGBTQ persons, I'm talking about straight people, too."
Sichko said the Pope's stance will help ministries like Zerkowski's further the mission of the Catholic Church.
Sichko explained, "We are pro-life, and so many people think that that's just dealing with before someone is born. No! For us as Catholics, respect of life is from the womb to the tomb. Okay? So we are--really the Holy Father is saying, 'We owe these people. They are children of God, they are our brothers and sisters, they are us.' Why, why should we be pushing them out of the church when we need to be inclusive?"
In regard to the Catholic Dioceses of Lexington, Zerkowski said all the pastors "care about the people of God" but, he hopes the Pope's stance will open the door to deeper and more frequent conversations. Sichko said he agrees.
"A leader, doesn't depend upon the approval of others. You know, look at who we profess to believe in Jesus Christ. Who was it that he spent most of his time with? It was those who are most in need of His mercy and healing. And, and that is Pope Francis," stated Sichko. "Pope Francis reaches out beyond the peripheries, and he sees those who are marginalized and who are who are who are broken and who feel shunned, and he is welcoming them into the fold. And that, that is the gospel and that is challenging."
To learn more or become a part of the Catholic LGBT Ministry in Lexington, contact Zerkowski via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.