When President Obama welcomes Pope Francis to the White House this Wednesday, the chief executive will be accompanied by a number of LGBT Catholics, their allies, and other LGBT and social justice advocates. While the presence of these guests is a cause for celebration for many who have waited decades for this kind of recognition and affirmation, not everybody is pleased with this situation.
LGBT Catholics, allies and other advocates who will be present include:
- Daniel Barutta, President, Dignity/Washignton
- Sr. Simone Campbell , Executive Director, NETWORK, and founder of the “Nuns on the Bus” campaign
- Nicholas Coppola, a gay Catholic from New York who was ejected from parish ministries
- Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry
- Marianne Duddy-Burke, Executive Director, DignityUSA
- Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO, GLAAD
- Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder, New Ways Ministry
- Aaron Jay Ledesma, a gay Catholic blogger and Marquette University alum
- Mary Ellen and Casey Lopata, Founders, Fortunate Families
- Lisbeth Melendez-Rivera, Director of Catholic and Latino/a Initiatives, Human Rights Campaign
- Allen Rose, former President, Dignity/Washington
- Michael Tomae, founder of OwningOurFaith
- Mateo Williamson of DignityUSA’s Transgender Caucus
- Margie Winters, lesbian teacher fired by a Catholic school, and her wife, Andrea Vettori
- Deb Word, former President, Fortunate Families
According to The Washington Blade, DeBernardo commented on the significance of this event:
“The presence of a number of LGBT Catholics and advocates at the White House reception sends a strong message that LGBT people are a great concern of this administration. . .It also shows that the White House thinks Pope Francis is concerned about this community too. . .
“President Obama and the White House are doing what Catholic bishops should be doing and should have been doing for a long time [building bridges].”
The Washington Blade also reported on other advocates for LGBT equality who will be present, including Episcopalian Bishop Gene Robinson, Ross Murray, Director of Programs, GLAAD, Frank Bua of the Family Equality Council, Mayor Bao Nguyen of Garden Grove, California, and Ben de Guzman of the Diverse Elders Coalition who said:
“The pope and the president appear to be kindred spirits, visionary leaders playing the long game, working incrementally to move the needle with otherwise recalcitrant institutions. . .It will be humbling to be in the presence of two men whom history will undoubtedly view as transcendent reformers.”
LGBT/Ally people’s presence at the White House has outraged conservative Catholics and, supposedly disturbed Vatican officials, too. Former senator Rick Santorum claimed the invitation shows President Obama’s “contempt for faith,” reported The New Civil Rights Movement. A Wall Street Journal story, as quoted at The New Civil Rights Movement, further claimed:
“According to a senior Vatican official, the Holy See worries that any photos of the pope with these guests at the White House welcoming ceremony next Wednesday could be interpreted as an endorsement of their activities. . .the Vatican has taken offense.”
However, Fr. Thomas Rosica of the Vatican Press Office denied this claim, reported Crux, and said the Vatican never comments on guest lists and has released no statement. Zac Davis, an editorial assistant at America, compared concern of Pope Francis potentially meeting LGBT Catholics to Jesus and his disciples:
“According to a senior Apostle, Jesus’ followers are worried that being seen with the tax collectors and prostitutes would greatly harm his P.R. image.”
Veteran Catholic observer David Gibson analyzed the development of how the idea that the Vatican was upset about the White House guest list snowballed. In a Religion News Service article, Gibson noted that the supposed Vatican criticism was mentioned in a Breitbart article, and it grew from there:
“The Breitbart story was given further momentum when The Wall Street Journal on Thursday(Sept. 17) ran an article saying ‘the Vatican has taken offense’ at the guest list. The story cited an unnamed “senior Vatican official” as the source of the offense.
“That really got the ball rolling, and in a cascade of tweets and blog posts, conservative Catholics and their allies voiced outrage at the ‘childish dig at the pope’ and the ‘juvenile’ and ‘deliberate insult’ to American Catholics.”
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest noted that with 15,000 people welcoming Pope Francis from the South Lawn, diversity is expected and reveals just how powerfully Pope Francis is impacting the United States. Sr. Jeannine Gramick offered a similar observation about this welcome:
“[It] won’t be different from what you find in an average Catholic parish in the sense that you find people with all different points of view. . .Some people would agree with the bishops on these issues, but most … will disagree.”
While anything involving the White House necessarily involves politics, critics seem to forget that Pope Francis himself has requested diversity and welcome in the church, a place he desires to be “home for all.” On LGBT people in particular, Francis held a meeting with, and embraced, a transgender man from Spain earlier this year.
Any fears over potential photos or encounters are misguided and are just further evidence of the deep and growing rift between Pope Francis and conservative U.S. Catholics that this trip may blow wide open. In the meantime, Pope Francis will receive warm hospitality from LGBT Catholics and their allies as his U.S. visit begins.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry