Pope Francis has made his most specific and critical statement about families headed by same-gender couples by stating that children should be raised “in the complementarity of the masculinity and femininity of a father and a mother.”
The Advocate’s Michael O’Loughlin reported that the remarks were made in the context of an address to a delegation from the International Catholic Child Bureau. The pope’s comments, in context, were:
“it is necessary to emphasize the right of children to grow up within a family, with a father and a mother able to create a suitable environment for their development and emotional maturity. Continuing to mature in the relationship, in the complementarity of the masculinity and femininity of a father and a mother, and thus preparing the way for emotional maturity.”
Pope Francis further stated:
“Working for human rights presupposes keeping anthropological formation alive, being well-prepared regarding the reality of the human person, and knowing how to respond to the problems and challenges posed by contemporary cultures and mentalities that are spread by the mass media. . . .
“At times it is necessary to flee; at times it is necessary to stop to protect oneself; and at times one must fight. But always with tenderness.”
For those who have been lifted up by the pope’s more positive remarks on LGBT issues, these new words will come as a shock. Though the pontiff has been developing a reputation as being progressive, many have warned all along that his thinking on women and gender have needed development. Since the heart of these remarks focus on the outdated concept of “gender complementarity,” it seems reasonable to attribute these remarks, in part, to this blind spot of his.
Regardless of its origin in the pope’s thinking, this remark shows that Francis still needs to learn a lot about LGBT people and their families. That’s the bad news. The good news is that he seems open to learning more about sexuality and gender issues, witnessed in his call for lay people to provide their opinions on marriage and family issues in anticipation of the October 2014 synod on those topics.
This new statement seems to be stated in the typical style that Pope Francis has used over the past year: while he expresses support for heterosexual marriage and family structures, he definitely avoids any direct attacks against LGBT people and relationships. It sometimes seemed that his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, went out of his way to criticize and condemn LGBT issues. That is not Pope Francis’ style. In a recent general audience he spoke about the beauty of heterosexual marriage, but did not use the praise of that institution as an occasion to explicitly disparage same-gender relationships. Here’s what he said at the Vatican on April 2nd, according to Religion News Service:
“When a man and a woman celebrate the sacrament of marriage, God is reflected in them. . . .
“As ‘one flesh’, they become living icons of God’s love in our world, building up the Church in unity and fidelity. The image of God is the married couple — not just the man, not just the woman, but both.”
He appears to be using the same strategy in the new example of praising families about headed by heterosexual couples. We don’t see him using accusations that children raised by same-gender couples experience “violence,” as Benedict often said. Instead, Francis remains silent on the topic.
While silence is not ideal, it is a welcome relief, and a good first step. But it is also not enough. While Francis has made some exciting and encouraging statements, some of them have been ambiguous, allowing some to develop strange interpretations, and sometimes forcing people to guess at what he meant.
Pope Francis could clear this up by making a clear, strongly positive statement on LGBT issues which will clear up any doubt about where he stands on these matters. Of course, we would most like him to speak clearly and forcefully against anti-LGBT laws that are being enacted around the globe. Or he could support employment rights for LGBT people working in Catholic institutions. A statement of support to LGBT youth who experience bullying and other forms of violence would also be helpful. (What kind of statement would you want the pope to make? Write your thoughts in a “Comment” to this post.)
If he needs any help formulating such statements, we are glad to help him. He can just give us a phone call–something that we know he likes to do!
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry