June 18, 2018. Just weeks before World Meeting of Families 2018, a Vatican event that has been plagued with mixed messages about whether same-sex couples and families of LGBTQI people will be welcome, Pope Francis projected a very narrow view of what family is. In remarks to the Italian group Forum delle Famiglie, the Pope is reported to have said, “It is painful to say this today: People speak of varied families, of various kinds of family,” but “the family [as] man and woman in the image of God is the only one.”
Leaders of DignityUSA, the organization of Catholics working for justice, equality and full inclusion of LGBTQI people in the church and society, reacted to this statement with anger and disappointment. “Once again, the Pope is making a sweeping statement that is not grounded in reality, or even in good theology,” said Marianne Duddy-Burke, DignityUSA’s Executive Director. “Humans form families in a myriad of ways. For the Pope to say that only one model can reflect the Divine image is wrong and damaging to countless people all across the globe.”
“Furthermore,” Duddy-Burke continued, “we are mystified by the sudden turns in the tone and content of statements by Pope Francis on LGBTQI people and issues. Recently we heard reports that he told a Chilean survivor of sexual abuse that God made him gay and loves him as he is. These reports have not been denied by the Vatican. If true, how is it then wrong for an LGBTQI person to form a family rooted in love and care for its members, which may also include children?”
Duddy-Burke stated, “We are left to wonder: Are there power struggles going on within the Vatican between those who want greater acceptance for LGBTQI people and those who do not? Do statements like the Pope’s most recent one indicate a calculated and willful intention to remain ignorant of our lives? Do the Pope and the bishops truly want to learn about the realities of LGBTQI lives and families? When will the Vatican acknowledge the need to confront and change its tremendously damaging and contradictory teachings and language about LGBTQI people? Whatever the case, it is LGBTQI people and families around the globe who are paying the terrible price for the statements and actions of the Pope and the Vatican.”
Duddy-Burke elaborated, “Anything Pope Francis says has implications far beyond his immediate audience. Comments like this are used to ban people who could be loving, stable, generous parents from caring for the hundreds of thousands of children in foster care. They are used by some to justify discrimination towards families and individuals they do not understand. They divide families by labeling some as outside of God’s plans. We continue to call for the Pope and other church leaders to set aside their belief that they hold exclusive knowledge of God’s heart and mind, and to listen deeply and with humility to the ways the Divine is revealed in the lives of God’s people.”
Duddy-Burke continued, “Families take all kinds of forms. How many single women and men are raising children, for a host of reasons? There are divorced or never-married couples who work to co-parent children. Same-sex couples and single LGBTQI people have children from heterosexual marriages, through adoption, or through giving birth. Some have taken in the children their heterosexual siblings are unable to raise. There are multi-generational extended families. There are couples, straight and gay, that are caring for aging loved ones. There are people who have no legal or genetic bond that are family to one another. Can God not be reflected in the love and commitment these people have for each other?”
Duddy-Burke said Pope Francis’ comments hit close to home. “As a married lesbian raising two adopted children, I am reacting very personally. I hear the Pope as saying my family—and millions of others—lack sacredness and validity. That is painful and wrong. I welcome the Pope to spend a single day in our home, and I truly believe he would experience a ‘real’ family,” she said.
Meanwhile, as it has done for nearly 50 years, DignityUSA will continue to demand change in the Vatican’s damaging teachings and practices concerning LGBTQI people. In addition, it will provide positive and affirming initiatives featuring the real lives and voices of LGBTQI people, while challenging our allies in the pews to take action, too. To that end, DignityUSA is launching a petition called “We Are Family” that will enable people to tell Pope Francis about their families and send him photos of their families. The petition can be found at https://www.dignityusa.org/civicrm/petition/sign?sid=2 .
DignityUSA is the organization of Catholics working for justice, equality and full inclusion of LGBTQI people in our church and society. Founded in 1969, the group has chapters and members across the country.