Pope's Message of 'Complementarity' Harms More Than Lesbian & Gay Couples

Pope Francis supported heterosexual complementarity in a speech on Sunday given to 25,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Square for a pastoral conference for the Diocese of Rome.

A married lesbian couple kisses in front of the Colosseum during Rome’s 2015 LGBT Pride celebration.

Though he did not mention lesbian and gay couples, the timing of the speech seemed significant to some since it came a day after tens of thousands of people marched through the streets of the Eternal City to celebrate LGBT Pride and to call for marriage equality in Italy.

Religion News Service captured significant quotes from the papal talk:

“. . . [T]he pope said the differences between men and women are fundamental and ‘an integral part of being human.’

“The pontiff likened a long-lasting marriage to a good wine, in which a husband and wife make the most of their gender differences.

“ ‘They’re not scared of the differences!’ the pope said. ‘What great richness this diversity is, a diversity which becomes complementary, but also reciprocal. It binds them, one to the other.’

“Heterosexual marriages not only ensured couples’ happiness, the pontiff said, but were deemed essential for good parenting.

“ ‘Children mature seeing their father and mother like this; their identity matures being confronted with the love their father and mother have, confronted with this difference,’ Francis said.”

Pope Francis with a young girl during his speech in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday.

It has become part of Francis’ rhetorical style not to criticize lesbian and gay couples directly, but to indirectly cast judgement on them by effusively praising heterosexual complementarity.   Yet, his remarks cast aspersions on more than lesbian and gay couples.  In praising heterosexual complementarity as the preferred norm for marriage and child-rearing, he is also sending harmful messages to those in heterosexual marriages where abuse occurs, as well as to single-parent families.

Francis’ remark that gender differences are “an integral part of being human” ignores the fact that decades of scientific and social scientific research has shown that what people consider “natural” gender differences are actually the result of cultural biases and stereotypes.

I don’t know of anyone who is “scared” of gender differences, as the pope seems to imply, but I know many people who rightly fear that rigid adherence to constricting gender roles suppresses and represses individual talents, thoughts, and emotions.  Of all the problems plaguing contemporary marriages and families, complementarity is definitely not one of them. Most happy heterosexual couples that I know are happy because they equally and mutually integrate their lives together, not because they feel they need the other partner to “complete” them.  They are bound together by liberating love to be the best each one can be.

Too often, complementarity has been used to keep one partner dominant and one submissive; one rational and one emotional; one the bread-winner and one the homemaker.  Can you guess which roles go with which gender?

Indeed, one of the great gifts that lesbian and gay couples give to their heterosexual friends and family is the witness to the fact that marital and familial relationships do not need to be based on restrictive conformity to specific gender roles.  The lesbian and gay couple shows that one partner does not have to be weak, while the other is strong,  or assertive while the other is passive.  Each can live out their full and complex natures in whatever way God has called them.

Francis’ comments that children need to see a difference between two parents is not based in empirical evidence–the place where all good theologizing should begin.  Secure, affirming, and unconditional love, not the number or gender of the parents, are what children need most to be raised in a healthy manner.

Gay Star News reported that Rome’s LGBT Pride March on June 13th sent a strong message to Italy’s politicians that marriage equality should be legalized nationally, following Ireland’s recent example.  The article stated:

“After Ireland’s referendum which allowed same-sex marriage, Italian lawmakers who support marriage equality have reportedly spoken out in favor of swift passage of the proposed legislation to allow civil unions.

” ‘Ireland is giving us a lesson in civility,’ gay Italian politician Nichi Vendola, president of the Apulia region.”

And although an Italian court in February said gay and lesbian couples should not have marriage rights, the fact that a recent poll shows 85% of the Italian population favors civil unions (though not marriage) may be what is motivating politicians to respond favorably, as Gay Star News reported:

“The Lower House of Parliament earlier in the week on Wednesday approved a motion same-sex civil unions which was promoted by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party (PD).”

Clearly, the pope is going to have to confront the reality of marriage equality as the movement now moves in earnest to Italy.  Offering to meet with a married gay activist in Paraguay this summer is a good first step, but he will have to take many more bold steps to catch up with not just the rest of the world, but, more importantly, the Catholic population.

While it is somewhat noble of Pope Francis not to directly criticize lesbian and gay couples as his predecessors did and as some of his brother bishops continue to do,  he has to also learn that messages promoting complementarity are not pastorally or intellectually effective for the modern world.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry



4 replies
  1. Anton
    Anton says:

    Found this on line. Pope Francis might want to reflect on these observations.

    Gay Marriage Killed the Dinosaurs from Facebook – Top 17 Reasons Why Gay Marriage is Wrong

    17. Gay marriage will change the foundation of society; we could never adapt to new social norms. Just like we haven’t adapted to cars, the service-sector economy, or longer life spans.

    16. Gay culture is a new fad created by the liberal media to undermine long-standing traditions. We know this is true because gay sex did not exist in ancient Greece and Rome.

    15. There are plenty of straight families looking to adopt, and every unwanted child already has a loving family. This is why foster care does not exist.

    14. Conservatives know best how to create strong families. That is why it is not true that Texas and Mississippi have the highest teen birthrates, and Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire have the lowest. This is a myth spread by the liberal media.

    13. Marriage is a religious institution, defined by churches. This is why atheists do not marry. Christians also never get a divorce.

    12. Children can never succeed without a male and a female role model at home. That’s why our society has no single parents.

    11. Gay marriage is not supported by religion. In a theocracy like ours, the values of one religion are imposed on the entire country. That’s why we have only one religion in America.

    10. Obviously gay parents will raise gay children, since straight parents only raise straight children.

    9. Straight marriages are valid because they produce children. Gay couples, infertile couples, and old people shouldn’t be allowed to marry because our orphanages aren’t full yet, and the world needs more children.

    8. Gay marriage should be decided by the people and their elected representatives, not the courts. The framers checked the courts, which represent mainstream public opinion, with legislatures created to protect the rights of minorities from the tyranny of the majority. Interference by courts in this matter is inappropriate, just as it has been every time the courts have tried to hold back legislatures pushing for civil rights.

    7. Straight marriage will be less meaningful if gay marriage were allowed; the sanctity of Britany Spears’ 55-hour just-for-fun marriage would be destroyed.

    6. Civil unions, providing most of the same benefits as marriage with a different name are better, because “separate but equal” institutions are a good way to satisfy the demands of uppity minority groups.

    5. Straight marriage has been around a long time and hasn’t changed at all; women are still property, blacks still can’t marry whites, and divorce is still illegal.

    4. Legalizing gay marriage will open the door to all kinds of crazy behavior. People may even wish to marry their pets because a dog has legal standing and can sign a marriage contract.

    3. Gay marriage will encourage people to be gay, in the same way that hanging around tall people will make you tall.

    2. Being gay is not natural. Real Americans always reject unnatural things like eyeglasses, polyester, and air conditioning.


    Obviously, God did not build change into the world and we humans have the audacity to do so. Isn’t it weird that one cannot get an annulment in the Catholic church without first obtaining a civil divorce? Was the church in Ireland right in treating unmarried mothers and their children as Philomena was treated? The mother of Jesus would not have stood a chance in the church with those attitudes unchanged. May God forgive us for being compassionate as our heavenly Father is compassionate.

  2. lynne miller
    lynne miller says:

    Sex is not the only way in which couples can be complementary. If that’s it, they won’t have much of a marriage. The Holy Father would do well to remember that, and also that most gay people were born of heterosexual marriages, and undoubtedly the same percentage of straight people that are born to straight people, will also be born to gays. I think he is really trying to prepare a path for future changes that the church isn’t ready for yet, and with the changes in the structure of the heierarchy he will be helping to do that.

  3. Father Anthony
    Father Anthony says:

    I Meet many people who say they were raised Catholic but no longer are. This is so true in the LGBT community where Catholicism has a bad reputation.. Francis must change things but he is trying to satisfy the conservative side appointed by John Paul. He can start by expanding the meaning of procreation to not just mean children.

  4. poolgirl2
    poolgirl2 says:

    Heterosexual marriage is not negatively impacted by same sex marriage or homosexuals, in general. No one is criticizing or demeaning marriage between a man and a woman, or parenting by a man and a woman. This is not an exclusivity diagram or situation, it is an inclusive one.


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