On Flight Back to Rome, Pope Francis Offers Advice to Parents of Lesbian and Gay People

Throughout the papacy of Pope Francis, we’ve come to recognize that his visits to other countries are never over once his plane leaves the land. Some of his most important statements have been made during the in-flight press conferences he has during his trip home from Rome.  His trip to Ireland was no exception.

Pope Francis on his flight from Dublin to Rome.

On the return flight home from the World Meeting of Families, Pope Francis spoke with journalists aboard the plane, covering a variety of topics, though mostly focusing on the sex abuse crisis.  He made his first public statement concerning Archbishop Vigano’s letter which hurled accusations against him. The National Catholic Reporter recorded his comments:

“Asked about the letter from Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano in a press conference aboard the Aug. 26 flight back to Rome after a two-day visit to Ireland, Francis advised journalists to ‘read the statement attentively and make your own judgment.’

” ‘I will not say a single word on this,’ the pope said of the letter. ‘I think this statement speaks for itself, and you have the sufficient journalistic capacity to draw conclusions.’

” ‘When some time passes and you have your conclusions, maybe I will speak,’ said Francis. ‘But I would like that your professional maturity carries out this task.’

[For New Ways Ministry’s response to Vigano’s letter, click here.]

The National Catholic Reporter also recorded his advice to parents who learn they have a gay or lesbian child.

“At the end of the press conference, Francis was asked what advice he might give to a father or mother whose son or daughter tells the family that they are gay.

” ‘I would say first to pray,’ the pope responded. ‘Do not condemn. Dialogue. Understand. Make space for the son or daughter; make space so they express themselves.’

” ‘I would never say that silence is a solution,’ the pope continued. ‘Ignoring a son or daughter with homosexual tendencies is to neglect giving them paternity and maternity.’

“Suggesting a conversation the parent might have with their child, Francis offered: ‘You are my son. You are my daughter, as you are. I am your father, or mother. Let’s talk.’ “

” ‘If you, mother or father, don’t know how to do it, ask for help, but always in dialogue,’ Francis advised.

” ‘That child has the right to a family,’ he said. ‘Don’t chase them away from the family.’ “

The pope’s advice is similar to the advice has been going to church leaders and pastoral minister who encounter LGBT people:  Listen. Don’t break off relationship. Continue to love.  Allow the person to speak.  His reference to “homosexual tendencies” to describe a person with a gay or lesbian orientation is a common reference some church leaders use.  Unfortunately, it is not the way that the major of lesbian and gay people refer to themselves.  And even more problematic, the term seems to imply that homosexuality is about behavior and actions, not about the constitutional way someone was created by God to be in relationship with other people and to express and receive love.

Another report, on Father James Martin’s Facebook page, added the following quotation from the pope’s comments about gay/lesbian children:

“Then, at what age does this concern (‘inquietudine’) of the child express itself? Its important. One thing is when it shows itself in a child. There are many things one can do with psychiatry, to understand things. Another thing is when it shows itself after 20 years of age or so. “

As far as I can understand this quotation, it seems that the pope is saying that parents should respond in ways that are age-appropriate to their children.  And he appears to be recommending that they consult psychological information, not for attempting “conversion” therapy, but to understand what homosexuality and sexual orientation are.  It’s good that a church leader acknowledges and recommends seeking advice from the sciences, and not to rely solely on misconceptions and common myths and assumptions.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, August 27, 2018

10 replies
  1. Thomas Ellison
    Thomas Ellison says:

    To suggest that parents seek ‘psychological’ help to cope/learn / understand seems surprising , since a parent would not do that for a heterosexually inclined child. Does this imply an “intrinsically disordered” condition?

    Reply
    • Sarasi
      Sarasi says:

      I don’t think this is surprising in the least, as we wouldn’t expect certain Catholic parents to know much about the subject. It’s like finding out your child’s learning is a bit different–you need to know the facts in order to proceed in the best interests of your child.

      I was really struck by the pope’s words, translated in one piece as, “There are many things to do with psychiatry, to see how things are” and in another, “to understand things,” because it sounds as though he is validating science on the subject of homosexuality. It does not sound as though he is wading into conversion therapy. I do agree that it’s unfortunate he uses the outdated and inaccurate “homosexual tendencies” but something may be lost in translation here.

      Francis also made remarks about abortion, saying the starting point must be to understand why it is a solution for so many women and rejected starting with “religious principles.”

      These remarks, quite revolutionary, have been largely ignored in the Vigano fallout.

      Reply
    • Sarasi
      Sarasi says:

      I want to rescind my remarks about the pope’s reference to psychiatry and being gay. It looks, from a video of the press conference with subtitles, that he was recommending some kind of psychiatric consultation if the child were young.

      Reply
  2. Mary Jo
    Mary Jo says:

    The part where he says things can be done with psychiatry is very troubling! Your interpretation is quite different from mine. The use of the term homosexual tendencies is also so unenlighted! He didn’t condemn or even rebut Vigano. I know you are an optimist and want to see all the good, but these statements get everyone nowhere and are dangerous

    Reply
  3. Bishop Carlos Florido, osf
    Bishop Carlos Florido, osf says:

    Pope Francis phrase “homosexual tendencies” does not relate to reality. Some adolescents may be ambivalent about being homosexual. What is important is to help them to discern if they actually are homosexual. True homosexuality is not a tendency. It is a reality and it must be accepted as such.

    Reply
  4. Richard Rosendall
    Richard Rosendall says:

    At this rate, today’s gay children will die of old age before the Church accepts them as God made them. They don’t need psychiatry, they need an end to anti-gay bias. Compassionate gestures are not good enough. But that, denial, and criminal coverups appear to be all we are going to get. This is spiritual leadership? Pathetic.

    Reply
  5. David Carlson
    David Carlson says:

    Dialogue, love, make a place for all children. This is Francis way. It’s pretty revolutionary really in a church that has pilloried gay people for so long. I pray that Francis will make room for gay priests and then recognize all people in kinship. He needs to review the scientific data on the truth about same sex attraction. We need all our brothers and sisters to be one. Vigano’s response displays the terror of the old church. Go Francis!

    Reply
  6. Friends
    Friends says:

    It appears to me that Pope Francis’ recent comments — both in writing and verbally — are a sort of “black box” into which people may read a variety of personal interpretations. What Francis gives us is a cornucopia of possible understandings. I tend to see this maneuver as a kind of “duck and cover” camouflage, since he knows that there’s no way he can ever get everyone together under one big theological tent. Depending on your personal position, what he’s doing will be judged either as a moral evasion, or as a skillful diplomatic compromise. I don’t think any of us would want to be in his shoes, when he attempts to square the circle of such passionately-held but non-reconcilable opinions.

    Reply
  7. Paul Chamberlain
    Paul Chamberlain says:

    As long ago as Evangelii Gaudium, published in 2013 at the beginning of his pontificate, in paragraph 231 Francis enunciated an important principle: ‘Realities are greater than ideas.’ He goes on to write: ‘This calls for rejecting the various means of masking reality: angelic forms of purity…..ethical systems bereft of kindness, intellectual discourse bereft of wisdom.’
    Using this principle and applying it in the light of what is now understood about same sex attraction/relationships and that other important principle: ‘beings act according to what they are’ it seems clear to me by so many of his words and actions that Pope Francis is personally accepting of gay people and in that document has indicated a way out of the cul-de-sac the Church is in when it comes to its teaching on homosexuality and sexuality generally. On these issues given the state of modern scientific opinion the institutional Church is in the same position as Christian creationists vis a vis evolution. It’s time the institutional Church faced reality, most of its ordinary members already have.

    Reply

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