In late June, just as I was arriving in Kraków, Poland, for the annual seminar in Catholic social teaching organized by George Weigel, there was a minor kerfuffle about a personal letter that Pope Francis had sent to Fr. James Martin, S.J. It brought to mind another private papal letter from twenty-seven years ago. Private correspondence, selectively shared, is one way that popes choose their interpreters.

Just weeks before the letter from Pope Francis, Fr. Martin had lamented that same-sex couples could not have their unions blessed by a priest. Fr. Martin chose to make his private letter public, arguing that the Holy Father supported his ministry of “building a bridge,” as his 2017 book put it, to gay and transgender individuals.

Pope Francis wrote in Spanish, and Fr. Martin provided this translation: …

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