Pope Francis’ Meeting with Patriarch Kirill Results in LGBT Condemnation


Pope Franics and Patriarch Kirill

After their historic meeting in Cuba this past weekend,  from Pope Francis and Russian Patriarch Kirill issued a statement which included a strong condemnation against marriage equality, the pontiff’s latest strike against marriage rights for lesbian and gay couples.

Two paragraphs of their wide-ranging statement dealt with family life. After noting that Catholics and Orthodox hold the “same conception” of family and shared concern for “the crisis in the family in many countries,” the second paragraph followed:

“The family is based on marriage, an act of freely given and faithful love between a man and a woman. It is love that seals their union and teaches them to accept one another as a gift. Marriage is a school of love and faithfulness. We regret that other forms of cohabitation have been placed on the same level as this union, while the concept, consecrated in the biblical tradition, of paternity and maternity as the distinct vocation of man and woman in marriage is being banished from the public conscience.”

The meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill at Havana’s airport was a stopover for the pontiff on his journey to a pastoral visit to Mexico. (More about the Mexican portion of his trip in a future post.)

That these religious leaders retain a hetero-normative understanding of marriage is not news. Pope Francis said in January there should be “no confusion between the family as willed by God, and every other type of union” and in the past he has endorsed political movements to stop marriage equality in Slovenia and Slovakia. But this joint statement is still troubling and worth reflecting upon. Below, I offer three points to help understand what this statement could mean.

First, there is a question about whether the leaders’ intentions behind their joint statement’s words are equally aligned.

The institutional Catholic Church’s record on homosexuality is problematic, but the Russian Orthodox Church’s record is far more so. Being out as a gay or lesbian person in Russia remains dangerous. A 2013 propaganda law essentially criminalized LGBT culture and advocacy and caused hate crimes to increase. There are no non-discrimination protections, but more troubling is the anti-gay vigilantism which goes unchecked. The Russian Orthodox Church, intimately tied to the Russian state under President Vladimir Putin, has explicitly as well as implicitly endorsed this reality. Catholic journalist Jamie Manson explored the connection between religion and anti-LGBT prejudice in a 2013 column for the National Catholic Reporter. She reported that gangs physically attacking LGBT protesters in Moscow have “held Orthodox icons and chanted prayers” during their actions.

While Pope Francis’ record on LGBT issues is aptly described as ambiguous, Patrarich Kirill’s is certainly not. Manson quoted Kirill as saying marriage equality is “apocalyptic” and will lead to Russia’s “self-destruction.” He is a close ally of Putin’s, too, and The New York Times reported that a Russian newspaper admitted the meeting between Kirill and Francis would not have happened “if the interests of the Russian Orthodox Church did not coincide with those of the Kremlin.”

There’s a dissonance between Kirill’s approach to LGBT issues and Pope Francis’ call for mercy for all people. It seems the intentions and implications of each church’s approach to homosexuality is quite different.  Pope Francis should have been aware that the message of the joint statement will be heard very differently in Russia than it will in Western Catholic nations where marriage equality is a settled reality.

Second, Christian unity is a good and necessary project but it is a false unity if built on oppression. Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill’s meeting was the first between leaders of their respective churches in history. It is progress in healing a divide between Catholic and Orthodox Christians that has existed for more than a millennium. But real unity will not come if that unity is premised upon a joint desire to degrade and limit the rights of LGBT people, or women, or other communities marginalized by the churches. Pope Francis should have avoided LGBT issues altogether in the joint statement given Patriarch Kirill’s record. Discipleship in Christ is grounds enough for these ecumenical projects without providing cover for those who use religion to justify their anti-LGBT prejudices.

Third, and this is perhaps a perpetual reminder. Church leaders like Francis and Kirill have their helpful roles, but they are not the church in and of themselves. This joint statement is a mixed bag, with portions worth criticizing (their words on marriage) and  portions worth praising (the attention they gave to persecuted Christians). But we should not afford it too much weight. This joint statement’s content will likely become less important than the sheer symbolism of this meeting. Most importantly, the people of God compose the church and, in many regions, Catholics are overwhelmingly supportive of human rights for and ecclesial inclusion of our LGBT siblings. No statement can impede that inclusive movement by the Spirit.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


0 replies
  1. Friends
    Friends says:

    I anticipate the storm of fury from our readers and contributors that this news report is going to generate. I don’t know if Pope Francis understands or cares how “playing footsie” with viciously anti-gay religious bigots is going to sit with the liberal and progressive cohort of active practicing Catholics. But he’s not doing the Church any favors by refusing to stand strongly in support of the devotion and faithfulness of GLBT Catholics. How much longer can we justify putting up with Francis’ diplomatic flip-flops and ambiguities?

  2. Loretta Fitzgerald
    Loretta Fitzgerald says:

    Domestic violence, abandonment, marital rape, Common law marriage, cohabitation, emotional neglect of spouse and children, teen suicide, having a child well before the wedding, if it happens at all. Where’s the joint statement condemning these realities that cause the destruction of traditional marriage?

  3. Anton
    Anton says:

    The joint statement by Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill is sad indeed. In my mind, the statement is a criticism of Jesus himself and centuries of church practice. As to the first part: ” 31 And His mother and His brothers arrived, and standing outside they sent word to Him, and called Him. 32 And a multitude was sitting around Him, and they said to Him, “Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are outside looking for You.” 33 And answering them, He said, “Who are My mother and My brothers?” 34 And looking about on those who were sitting around Him, He said, “Behold, My mother and My brothers! 35 “For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35, NASB).” How about Luke 14:25ff where Jesus tells us to hate father, mother, wife and children, etc., to follow him? And this was introduced into so-called religious communities/religious life where members were not allowed to visit their families, at times even at the death of a family member, and, when though we are told to love one another as Jesus loves us, friendships were forbidden. And now we’re hearing about a deep personal friendship that Pope (St) John Paul II had with a woman, and several years ago, it was revealed that theologian Karl Rahner, SJ had a very intimate relationship with a woman as well. I am also reminded of the argument Peter used when challenged for eating “unclean foods” and his experience on the roof at Joppa, Acts 11. “What God has made clean don’t call profane.” Nothing is fixed forever. When we learn more about human nature and the world we have to change. Pope Francis himself said: “Tradition is protecting the fire, not preserving the ashes.” What the world needs today is a “NOSTRA AETATE” to confess the ill-treatment of LGBT people over the centuries as was finally admitted in regard to our Jewish sisters and brothers. It took centuries for the church to recognize that Galileo was correct: The earth does indeed move around the sun and not the sun around the earth. I recommend Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill plan a trip joint trip to Damascus inviting Saul/Paul to be their guide.

  4. Larry
    Larry says:

    So for the sake of “unity” Francis curries favor with a prelate closely tied to the autocratic dictator Putin and decides that marriage equality [which in Russia equates with beating and killing homosexuals] is a good place to find common ground. It is too bad that Francis is so worried about the plight of persecuted Christians but not persecuted gay people. So much for mercy. Looks like Francis is throwing gay folks under the bus.

  5. poolgirl2
    poolgirl2 says:

    Another display of the “one-trick pony” that continues to drive people from seeking and accepting the love of God. Wait, the second trick is abortion. I’m surprised they didn’t add that to the statement. Our Catholic Faith is so much more than these issues. I guess they had to build a relationship on common beliefs of discrimination, fear, and exclusion first. It just keeps getting harder to be a Catholic.

  6. poolgirl2
    poolgirl2 says:

    All of this from two men elected by men, never married, no known children, who continue to drive people from the Catholic Church from a very long list of “don’ts ” . What happened to the Jubillee Year of Mercy? Just like a bitter cup of coffee – spit it out and throw away the rest of it.

  7. Rosa G. Manriquez, IHM
    Rosa G. Manriquez, IHM says:

    Disappointing, but not surprising. I’m sure this, along with refusing to ordain women, is done for ecumenical reasons……….so sad.

    • Anton
      Anton says:

      It would be wonderful if all these comments could be forwarded to Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill. The Year of Mercy is turning into another Year of MIsery for LGBT persons and the families that created them and the people who love them. Francis is so eloquent in speaking in defense of refugees and migrants, and at the same time creating LGBT outcasts in church and the wider society. Who is providing all the stones?

  8. Mike
    Mike says:

    Bob, don’t try to make lemons out of lemonade this time. This papal document is vinegar. Pope Francis has clearly stated his position re LGBTQ marriage. End of story and any hope for change in his lifetime.

  9. Alex Klebenow
    Alex Klebenow says:

    It sounds to me that the Pope is the one building a WALL rather than a BRIDGE!!
    When you condemn the LGBT community, yet continue to shelter accuse Pedophiles simply because they have positions of power in the church, you are are a hypocrite, and lose ALL credibility. Also, YOU ARE EQUALLY CULPABLE for the crimes of those you are sheltering according to U.S. Law.
    If the Pope EVER comes to America again, HE needs to be arrested as an accessory after the fact, and for harboring a fugitve!!

  10. Richard McIvor
    Richard McIvor says:

    “There’s a dissonance between Kirill’s approach to LGBT issues and Pope Francis’ call for mercy for all people”. There is very good and nuanced commentary here by Bob Shine. Pope Francis ended the 1,000 year schism with the Russian Orthodox Church by having a long sought meeting with Kirill. Pope Francis, also, in hosting the first Synod of Bishops with it’s discussion of recognizing the value of gay relationships and generally in advocating acceptance of all people first and doctrine second is still way ahead of other prelates. We have gone from “intrinsically disordered” to emphasizing “we are all God’s children”.

    • Larry
      Larry says:

      Sorry Richard but the official Church doctrine is that gays are “intrinsically disordered”. You can’t make that disappear with a “nuanced” reading of what the mess of a Synod did or didn’t do. Parsing the Pope’s words or indications or tea leaves is only wishful thinking. The Church/the Pope needs to strongly and clearly overturn this doctrine and announce publicly and without qualification that gay people are the same as straight people in every regard. Otherwise, Francis’ mercy is hollow.

  11. Kathleen
    Kathleen says:

    I told my pastor who is confused about marriage equality that there should be no confusion about it. Marriage is a civil/legal right and protection for each and every person. Holy matrimony is the Church sacrament formed in the ancient religious marriage tradition of one man to one woman. If Pope Francis would at least acknowledge marriage equality rights by law it would help, but he doesnt. The RCC and other “patriarchs” have enjoyed their cultural dominance over societies for too long and will not let go of wielding power and control.


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