The U.S. bishops are having their ad limina visits, group meetings with the pope which occur every five years for a particular nation. This past week, Pope Francis met with bishops from California, Nevada, and Hawaii, as a group, offering pastoral advice on a variety of issues. Though the meetings are private, some bishops are letting people know about the pope’s messages as they give interviews to the press.
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco told America magazine that among the topics the pope discussed were the pastoral care of LGBTQ people. The news story, quoting and summarizing Cordileone, stated:
” ‘He spoke about the pastoral care that we have to give’ and the need to understand the suffering many of them have endured, including being shunned by their families.
” ‘He made important distinctions between the (sexual) orientation and the question of marriage,’ for example saying it was important to ensure gay couples have access to public benefits, but insisting gay couples cannot marry, the archbishop said. ‘Marriage is unique; marriage, by its nature, is complementarity between man and woman. And he spoke about the danger of the gender ideology and how it denies difference,’ the diversity with which God created human beings male and female.”
While the pope’s admonitions against “gender ideology” were reported by other bishops, what is interesting about Cordileone’s report is that he relates that the pope believes it is important for same-gender couples to have legal protections, essentially approving domestic partnership and civil union arrangements. This is a new and important message to note. The pope has been strong in his advocacy for a heterosexual definition of “marriage,” but he has said nothing publicly supporting legal protections for same-gender couples. In fact, in November 2013, early in his pontificate, he said that “on an educational level, gay unions raise challenges for us today which for us are sometimes difficult to understand.”
His actions, however, sometimes pointed in a different direction. In September 2015, during his apostolic visit to the U.S., he met with Yayo Grassi, a former student, and Grassi’s male partner, welcoming them warmly. In July 2017, he sent a congratulatory note to a Brazilian gay couple on the occasion of their children’s baptisms.
Of course, his statement to the bishops was not public, but it is also important to note that he gave this advice about legal protections for gay and lesbian couples to a group of U.S. bishops, many of whom have opposed and continue to suppose legal recognition of any kind for same-gender couples. In particular, Archbishop Cordileone is the former chair of the U.S. bishops’ committee for the defense of marriage and the current chair of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth. (Cordileone has expressed interest in developing more pastoral messages to the LGBTQ community.)
Someone should pull the pope aside at some point and tell him to drop “gender ideology” from his vocabulary. It’s a meaningless term designed to cause fear, not communicate information. The pope has made some great pastoral gestures towards transgender people, but he still has a lot to learn about gender identity.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, January 31, 2020