Pope's Comments on Marriage Raise Questions About His LGBT Outreach

In a style which is becoming a hallmark of his papacy, while at the same time raising many questions, Pope Francis addressed the Vatican’s controversial conference on traditional marriage.  As has become his custom, the pope praised theological concepts concerning heterosexual marriage, while at the same time avoiding condemnations or even mentions of gay or lesbian couples, relationships, and marriages.

Pope Francis addresses Vatican conference on marriage.

Joshua McElwee of The National Catholic Reporter reported on the main points of the pope’s talk at the conference entitled “Humanum: The Complementarity of Man and Woman”:

” ‘We must not fall into the trap of qualifying [family] with ideological concepts,’ said the pontiff, speaking at an event organized to bolster inter-religious support for the concept of complementarity of men and women in marriage.

” ‘We cannot qualify [the family] with concepts of an ideological nature that only have strength in a moment of history and then fall,’ Francis continued. ‘We cannot talk today of conservative family or progressive family: Family is family.’

” ‘The family is in itself, has a strength in itself,’ said the pontiff.”

(You can read the entire text of the pope’s talk by clicking here, and scrolling down to the end of the news story.)

Pope Francis’ style of not wanting to offend also leaves room for a lot of speculation.  What does he mean by “ideological concepts”?  Since the major push in family laws around the globe focuses on same-gender marriage, it seems that this might be his target.  But the vagueness allows him plausible deniability.  It is easy to get behind his last statement about family strength, but only if he means it in an inclusive and expansive way to denote ALL families.

Other comments during his speech, however, indicate that he did not mean families with single parents or headed by gay or lesbian couples.   McElwee noted the conference’s general reticence to mention same-gender married couples, and noted the pope’s most direct comment on this topic:

“While speakers at the event have shied away from directly addressing or criticizing same-sex unions, most left little doubt about their view of such relationships.

“On that subject, Francis himself said: ‘Children have the right to grow up in a family, with a father and a mother, able to create a suitable environment for their development and their emotional maturation.’

“The pontiff also said ‘today marriage and the family are in crisis.’ “

It would have been better had the pope said that children have a right to grow up in a loving and supported environment, which is the greatest factor in promoting healthy development and emotional maturation.

Interestingly, the only direct reference so far about gay people came from a British representative discussing the mathematician Alan Turing, who was gay:

“[Rabbi Jonathan] Sacks, who also is a member of Britain’s House of Lords, made the only oblique reference to same-sex marriage during Monday’s morning session.

“Mentioning the story of Alan Turing, an early 20th century gay British mathematician who was punished with chemical castration because of his sexual orientation, Sacks said: ‘That’s the kind of world to which we should never return.’

” ‘But our compassion for those who choose to live differently should not prohibit us from being advocates,’ said Sacks, referring to traditional marriage as ‘the best means for which we have discovered for nurturing future generations.’ “

Sacks’ use of the words “choose to live differently” reveals a basic ignorance about the fact that homosexuality is not a choice for people.

The conference at the Vatican was already controversial even before Pope Francis spoke because of the line-up of speakers strongly opposed to same-gender marriage.  The most shocking invitation was Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, a notoriously anti-LGBT organization.  Perkins was invited to attend, but not give a speech.

In an Associated Press account of the story, Nicole Winfield framed the pope’s talk within the context of appealing to Church traditionalists:

“Pope Francis is seeking to reassure the church’s right-wing base that he’s not a renegade bent on changing church doctrine on family issues — weeks after a Vatican meeting of bishops initially proposed a radical welcome for gays and divorced Catholics.”

Similarly, British journalist Nick Squires said he thought the pope “appeared to bow to pressure from Catholic conservatives.”

I disagree with Winfield and Squires.  I think that what we are seeing is what Pope Francis has been doing for a long time:  defending traditional doctrine, but avoiding angering those who oppose it.  Is this a strategy that can work for the long haul?  How long will it be before people start asking for more specifics?

Specifics might be something he will need to work on when he visits the U.S. next September to participate in the World Meeting of Families, an appearance that he confirmed yesterday.  The event in Philadelphia is expected to draw over 1.5 million people.  No other details were given about any other stops the pope might make on his U.S. visit.

This pope has done more for engendering good will among LGBT people than any other Catholic leader.  He would do well to learn how his statements, which seem to be intended not to offend, actually cause harm to the people he is supposedly trying to welcome to the Church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

Crux: “Pope confirms US trip, defends traditional family”

The Telegraph: “Pope: children need mother and a father”

News.va: “Pope Francis: I will go to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families”

Religion News Service: “Philadelphia gets ready to host Pope Francis following official papal announcement”

Bondings 2.o: “Pope Francis Needs to Speak Clearly on LGBT Issues,”  April 12, 2014


9 replies
  1. Anton
    Anton says:

    Well, there might be another way of looking at this whole question, whatever “traditional families” means. It doesn’t take a man and a woman to raise a child, as “ideal” as that might sound. Single parents and same-gender parents can do as well. There seems to be ample proof of that. Over the centuries religious sisters ran orphanages. I don’t think many of the sisters qualified as “fathers.” However, didn’t all LGBT persons come from “traditional families” or “marriages?” Most LGBT persons don’t reproduce. And if they do, there is no guarantee that their offspring will be LGBT. And If LGBT people raise children not produced by them, there is also NO GUARANTEE that the children are LGBT. Is there really a fear that if same-gender marriage is allowed no one will choose opposite gender bonding/marriage? And hence there will be no more human reproduction? Please!!!!

    • Friends
      Friends says:

      Those are slam-dunk points, Anton! Obviously Pope Francis is an exceptionally intelligent man. You don’t get to be a Jesuit if you’ve been short-changed in the domain of intellectual and academic achievement. So it’s clear that all of his public ideological positioning is mostly about POLITICS…not about the transmission of Faith or Revelation. We need some BIG TIME intervention from the Holy Spirit, to get these guys to stop playing politics with people’s lives, and to start looking at these issues the way Jesus Himself would have looked at them. Yes, it’s a tall order — but we have a right to expect our global Church leaders at least to make an attempt to discern: “How would Jesus Himself respond to this particular human situation which is being presented to Him?” We need much more Bonhoeffer…and much less Burke!

  2. Tim MacGeorge
    Tim MacGeorge says:

    I think what we’re seeing here is the result of something that has troubled me for quite some time about the argument that many in the LGBT rights community have relied on and how quickly things have moved, without the necessary thought that significant change requires. What I’m speaking of is this: many have advocated for gay rights using a “gay family” argument instead of a “gay person” argument or a “gay relationships” argument. They have argued that “our families are the same as your families” and “we [gay people] have the right to form families the same way that you [straight people] form families.” Unfortunately, these “gay family” arguments have been put forth without first winning the hearts and minds of those opposed to gay rights on the “gay person” argument. The fact is, LGBT do not form families (as distinct from relationships/unions) in the same ways that most straight people form families. And, the issues surrounding gay persons, gay relationships and gay families ARE different from one another. The Catholic Church, along with many others, has long held positions that would question the means by which many LGBT people go about forming families, especially those reproduction methods that include the destruction of human embryos. Why would we expect that Church’s moral discussions around such things as in-vitro fertilization and other means of non-conjugal procreation to be different for gay people than they are for straight people? We need to recognize that these issues about how families are formed are behind much of what “traditional family” advocates have to say.

    We need to convince them first and foremost that LGBT persons have the same rights and responsibilities as non-LGBT persons, including the right to form loving and committed relationships. Let’s win those two arguments first.

    • Friends
      Friends says:

      Very subtle and insightful, Tim. But I would prefer to say that ALL OF THE ABOVE are agenda items which should be given identical and top-level priority. Different parts of the community may wish to pursue different specializations in their particular choices of concern. But the recognition of “universal human personhood” and “the natural rights pertinent to universal human personhood” is the underpinning for all of the contingent arguments.


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