In a style which is becoming a hallmark of his papacy, while at the same time raising many questions, Pope Francis addressed the Vatican’s controversial conference on traditional marriage. As has become his custom, the pope praised theological concepts concerning heterosexual marriage, while at the same time avoiding condemnations or even mentions of gay or lesbian couples, relationships, and marriages.
Joshua McElwee of The National Catholic Reporter reported on the main points of the pope’s talk at the conference entitled “Humanum: The Complementarity of Man and Woman”:
” ‘We must not fall into the trap of qualifying [family] with ideological concepts,’ said the pontiff, speaking at an event organized to bolster inter-religious support for the concept of complementarity of men and women in marriage.
” ‘We cannot qualify [the family] with concepts of an ideological nature that only have strength in a moment of history and then fall,’ Francis continued. ‘We cannot talk today of conservative family or progressive family: Family is family.’
” ‘The family is in itself, has a strength in itself,’ said the pontiff.”
(You can read the entire text of the pope’s talk by clicking here, and scrolling down to the end of the news story.)
Pope Francis’ style of not wanting to offend also leaves room for a lot of speculation. What does he mean by “ideological concepts”? Since the major push in family laws around the globe focuses on same-gender marriage, it seems that this might be his target. But the vagueness allows him plausible deniability. It is easy to get behind his last statement about family strength, but only if he means it in an inclusive and expansive way to denote ALL families.
Other comments during his speech, however, indicate that he did not mean families with single parents or headed by gay or lesbian couples. McElwee noted the conference’s general reticence to mention same-gender married couples, and noted the pope’s most direct comment on this topic:
“While speakers at the event have shied away from directly addressing or criticizing same-sex unions, most left little doubt about their view of such relationships.
“On that subject, Francis himself said: ‘Children have the right to grow up in a family, with a father and a mother, able to create a suitable environment for their development and their emotional maturation.’
“The pontiff also said ‘today marriage and the family are in crisis.’ “
It would have been better had the pope said that children have a right to grow up in a loving and supported environment, which is the greatest factor in promoting healthy development and emotional maturation.
Interestingly, the only direct reference so far about gay people came from a British representative discussing the mathematician Alan Turing, who was gay:
“[Rabbi Jonathan] Sacks, who also is a member of Britain’s House of Lords, made the only oblique reference to same-sex marriage during Monday’s morning session.
“Mentioning the story of Alan Turing, an early 20th century gay British mathematician who was punished with chemical castration because of his sexual orientation, Sacks said: ‘That’s the kind of world to which we should never return.’
” ‘But our compassion for those who choose to live differently should not prohibit us from being advocates,’ said Sacks, referring to traditional marriage as ‘the best means for which we have discovered for nurturing future generations.’ “
Sacks’ use of the words “choose to live differently” reveals a basic ignorance about the fact that homosexuality is not a choice for people.
The conference at the Vatican was already controversial even before Pope Francis spoke because of the line-up of speakers strongly opposed to same-gender marriage. The most shocking invitation was Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, a notoriously anti-LGBT organization. Perkins was invited to attend, but not give a speech.
In an Associated Press account of the story, Nicole Winfield framed the pope’s talk within the context of appealing to Church traditionalists:
“Pope Francis is seeking to reassure the church’s right-wing base that he’s not a renegade bent on changing church doctrine on family issues — weeks after a Vatican meeting of bishops initially proposed a radical welcome for gays and divorced Catholics.”
Similarly, British journalist Nick Squires said he thought the pope “appeared to bow to pressure from Catholic conservatives.”
I disagree with Winfield and Squires. I think that what we are seeing is what Pope Francis has been doing for a long time: defending traditional doctrine, but avoiding angering those who oppose it. Is this a strategy that can work for the long haul? How long will it be before people start asking for more specifics?
Specifics might be something he will need to work on when he visits the U.S. next September to participate in the World Meeting of Families, an appearance that he confirmed yesterday. The event in Philadelphia is expected to draw over 1.5 million people. No other details were given about any other stops the pope might make on his U.S. visit.
This pope has done more for engendering good will among LGBT people than any other Catholic leader. He would do well to learn how his statements, which seem to be intended not to offend, actually cause harm to the people he is supposedly trying to welcome to the Church.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
The Telegraph: “Pope: children need mother and a father”
Religion News Service: “Philadelphia gets ready to host Pope Francis following official papal announcement”
Bondings 2.o: “Pope Francis Needs to Speak Clearly on LGBT Issues,” April 12, 2014