The World Meeting of Families, the central religious event of Pope Francis’ first visit to the United States, is intended to convey a message of love and joy as it seeks to promote church teaching on marriage. Yet four weeks away from its opening in Philadelphia, friction is mounting as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Roman Catholics lobby for a broader role in the event and organizers move to limit them.
The tensions surrounding the gathering will pose a real-world test of the pope’s approach that emphasizes compassion and welcome while upholding Catholic doctrine that marriage is only between a man and a woman.
The only speakers specifically addressing LGBT issues at the Sept. 22-27 conference are a celibate gay man and his mother. Gays and lesbians can attend the meeting as individuals, but groups supporting gay marriage were denied exhibit space and other official options for presenting their views.
“We don’t want to provide a platform at the meeting for people to lobby for positions contrary to the life of our church,” said Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, the meeting’s host.
Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry, an advocacy group for LGBT Catholics, said Chaput and other U.S. bishops “are putting their heads in the sand.”
“They see LGBT issues as a problem to contain rather than to explore,” DeBernardo said. “The entire Catholic community in the U.S. is having a discussion on this now. Why can’t the World Meeting of Families?”
To counter the official message, New Ways Ministry and several allied groups have scheduled various programs — including a workshop on gender identity — to coincide with the Meeting of Families. The initial plan called for the programs to be held at a Catholic church in Philadelphia, but the LGBT groups said the church’s pastor rescinded the invitation at the urging of Chaput’s office. The LGBT groups said the events will be relocated to a nearby Methodist church.
Another area of contention is the status of openly gay employees at Catholic institutions in the U.S. Dozens of people have reported losing their jobs at such workplaces since 2010 over their same-sex relationships or support for gay marriage and gay rights, including Margie Winters, a married gay teacher dismissed in June by a Catholic school in Philadelphia.