Pope Francis, through an aide, has sent his congratulations and apostolic blessing to a legally married Brazilian gay couple on the occasion of the baptism of their three adopted children.
According to Business Monkey News (the only immediately available English language news story), Toni Reis and David Harrad received a letter from Monsignor Paolo Borgia, advisor to the Secretary of State Vatican, which read in part:
“Pope Francisco wishes you congratulations, calling for his family abundance of divine graces, to live constantly and faithfully the condition of Christians.”
The couple, who were married in 2011, and they adopted three children–Alyson, Jessica, Felipe–between 2012 and 2014. They wrote to the pope in the spring of 2017, informing him of the upcoming baptism of their children, who are now young teens. They live in the city of Curitiba in Brazil’s Paraná state.
Reis posted a photo of the letter on his Facebook page.
Though the Vatican is downplaying the significance of the letter, saying the pope responds to many of the personal letters he receives, its impact on pastoral care cannot be underestimated.
Pope Francis knows the impact that his messages, even personal ones for private occasions, will have around the world. He is savvy enough, based on his history of making headlines with LGBT-positive statements, to know that his gesture would be made public.
The way I see it, Pope Francis is giving a clear message to bishops, priests, and pastoral ministers around the world about how they should treat families headed by gay and lesbian couples. His message is “welcome and bless.”
I am not under any illusion that Pope Francis approves, theologically, of same-gender marriages. Indeed, he has publicly opposed laws intended to spread marriage equality.
But, he has consistently promoted a positive pastoral response to LGBT people and their families. He seems to recognize that there is a difference between political reality and personal reality, and he is courageous enough to respond positively to the personal reality, even if it conflicts with his political ideas.
Our bishops need to follow his example. Of course, the first to come to mind is Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, who made headlines last month because of his draconian barring of married lesbian and gay people from most of parish life. As we’ve noted before, Bishop Paprocki could learn from Bishop Patrick McGrath of San Jose, California, who instructed his priests to “not refuse sacraments or Christian Burial to anyone who requests them in good faith.”
The words of Toni Reis should ring in the ears of bishops and LGBT people around the world:
“It is a great advance for an institution that burned gays during the Inquisition and now sends us an official letter congratulating our family. I am very happy, as I can die in peace.”
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, August 9, 2017