Pope Francis is (most likely) coming to Philadelphia in 2015 and many Catholics are already offering their welcome to him, as well as an invitation to advance LGBT acceptance in the church.
Given that he is coming for the World Meeting of Families, many are also wondering whether Pope Francis will include all families on the agenda for the meeting
Mark Segal writes to the pope in The Inquirer that he is joyful about the papal visit, hoping that it will “bring people together to learn tolerance and understanding” in keeping with the Pontifical Council for the Family’s stated mission. Segal, who is editor of Philadelphia Gay News, continues:
“While the pope’s visit here would be about promoting the value and values of families – and I believe that is something we all can embrace – it must include all families. That would mean including families in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community who, unfortunately, have not felt comfortable and at times have been aggressively targeted by the church…
“This denial of LGBT families denigrates those family members and makes them feel less than human. Imagine how the children in those families feel when other children belittle them for having two mothers or two fathers. Or how do parents explain to their child that they were fired because they married their spouse?”
Segal believes that dialogue will help bridge the divide within the Catholic community and between the church and LGBT communities, helping to heal wounds and make amends–and ultimately to promote stronger, more fruitful family life.
But this can only happen through Pope Francis’ leadership, who can be the necessary impetus to change the US bishops’ narrative when it comes to LGBT people and their families. John Gehring of Faith in Public Life writes in Time that Pope Francis’ visit is “a unique opportunity to have a conversation about families that moves past the usual culture war flash points.”
Gehring notes that visit will come at a crucial point for religion and politics in the U.S., with upcoming 2016 presidential campaigns assuredly underway with a full docket of Catholic candidates. It will also likely occur with even more states having legalized marriage equality and expanded LGBT non-discrimination rights, and predictable controversies as Catholic leaders grapple with this new reality. Gehring is not hopeful that the U.S. bishops will respond positively. He stated:
“While Catholic bishops once helped inspire social reforms that took root in the New Deal and challenged Reagan-era economic and military policies, these days bishops are more likely to be known for opposing the Violence Against Women Act, the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, health care reform legislation that became the Affordable Care Act and breezily mentioning President Obama’s administration in the same breath as Hitler and Stalin…
“Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia, who will be the first to greet Pope Francis when his plane touches down next fall, is regarded as the new intellectual leader of the culture warrior camp. While Pope Francis made headlines for saying it was not his place to judge gays and lesbians, Chaput once defended a pastor for his refusal to enroll two girls, ages 5 and 3, in a Denver Catholic school after it became known their parents were lesbians.”
Indeed, America’s bishops have not ceased opposing marriage equality, even as several anti-LGBT campaigners admit it is a lost cause. There is a troubling rise in the firing of LGBT church workers, as more come out publicly and get married. Theologian Massimo Faggioli is quoted in Gehring’s article saying that the US bishops “are the most difficult team Pope Francis has to work with because sociologically and culturally the are in a different place.” To change the conversation on marriage and family life, Pope Francis will have to challenge the US episcopacy’s status quo. It will not be easy, but his first year has proven that this is not just any other papacy.
To start, perhaps the pope could take Archbishop Chaput and others on a tour around Philly with Kate Childs Graham, who offered her thoughts in the National Catholic Reporter about 10 touristy things the pope could do, including praying at the city’s famous “LOVE” sculpture. As Childs Graham notes: “It’s all we need.”
In terms of messages, policies, and gestures, what do you think the pope will do at the meeting in Philadelphia? What do you think he should do?
Where do you think he should visit not just in Philadelphia, but anywhere in the United States? Who do you think he should meet with?
What are your hopes for the World Meeting of Families? What are your fears?
Offer your answers to these questions and other reactions to the opinions expressed above in the “Comments” section of this post.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry