While addressing a group of pilgrims from Slovakia during the papal audience this past Wednesday, Pope Francis gave his blessing to those working against a proposed pro-LGBT law in that country.
Speaking about Slovakia’s referendum on marriage and adoption by same-gender couples which will take place this Saturday, Buzzfeed quotes the pope as saying:
” ‘I greet the pilgrims from Slovakia and, through them, I wish to express my appreciation to the entire Slovak church, encouraging everyone to continue their efforts in defense of the family, the vital cell of society.’ “
The referendum will focus on three questions: banning same-gender marriage, banning adoption by same-gender couples, and allowing parents to withdraw their children from sex education classes.
The vote comes after legislators successfully banned marriage equality last June in a nation where 62% of the population are Catholic. These remarks place the pope in the midst of the debate about the Catholic Church’s involvement in these matters, and they are the first ones directed specifically toward one nation’s current voting.
Critics accuse the Conference of Slovak Bishops of engineering the referendum, pointing to public statements and fundraising for an anti-gay group, Alliance for Family, as evidence. The bishops’ spokesperson denied these claims, calling the vote “an initiative of civil society” and claiming ignorance about the fundraising ties. Still, Martin Macko, head of the Slovakian LGBT rights group Inokost, criticized this involvement:
“For first time in Slovak modern history the Catholic Church is heavily involved in political campaign.”
The referendum will not necessarily have an easy passage because the nation’s requires that a minimum of 50% of eligible voters participate for it to become law.
Advocate.com reported the reactions of two Catholic LGBT advocates to this latest papal news:
“American Catholic advocates for LGBT equality expressed disappointment with the pope’s endorsement of the ballot questions. ‘Pope Francis has made some amazing gestures of openness and welcome to LGBT people, but a statement like this shows that he still has a lot to learn,’ Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, told The Advocate.
“ ‘It’s pretty clear that since the synod on the family last fall … the Catholic right has really gotten to the Vatican and to Pope Francis,’ said Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, in an Advocate interview. ‘It’s really crushing to a lot of people who were hoping to see policy change.’
“The pope needs to hear from Catholics in same-sex unions as well as theologians and laypeople who support LGBT equality if anything is going to change, both activists said. ‘The official Catholic teaching on marriage is really out of step with what most Catholic theologians think and write today,’ DeBernardo said.
“The second session of the Synod of Bishops on the Family, a follow-up to last fall’s event, will be held in Rome in October, and DeBernardo expressed the hope that the pope would meet with same-sex couples there, so he would be talking with them instead of about them. Duddy-Burke added that the World Meeting of Families in September in Philadelphia, which Pope Francis is set to attend, would provide opportunities for him to meet with same-sex couples and equality supporters.”
Pope Francis’ comments add to his ambiguous record on LGBT issues, with recent contrasts including his meeting with a transgender man while calling on Catholics to oppose ideological colonization while in the Philippines. While his welcoming words and pastoral moments are a breath of fresh air in the church’s life, his support for anti-LGBT civil laws rapidly expanding across the world are in opposition to his emphasis on justice and mercy. Caring for sexual and gender-diverse minorities requires more than kind words and touching individual moments; it requires structural justice, too.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry