Pope’s religious liberty speech sidesteps marriage equality

Public opinion of the church’s stand on religious freedom has been colored by several firings of gay employees at Catholic institutions who were married or openly supported gay marriage, including Margie Winters, a married gay teacher dismissed in June by a Catholic school in Philadelphia.

Archbishop William Lori, who leads religious freedom advocacy for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said it was important to look at all the pope’s references to religious liberty in his speeches so far, not just one particular set of remarks. Francis raised the issue at the White House and before Congress. He also made a surprise visit in Washington to the Little Sisters of the Poor, signaling support for the religious order that runs homes for the elderly and is suing over the birth control coverage requirement in President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. The Obama administration provided an opt-out for religious objectors, but the Little Sisters say the accommodation isn’t broad enough.

“The Holy Father talked at the level of principle, but he talked exactly as we had been teaching as bishops,” said Lori, in a phone interview from the World Meeting of Families, the Vatican event that drew the pope.

But Paul Vallely, author of “Pope Francis, The Struggle for the Soul of Catholicism,” said the pope’s speech Saturday should be seen as part of Francis’ emphasis throughout his visit of the broad issue of the common good.

“That speech is not what they would have been expecting in a talk about religious liberty,” Vallely said. “The pope is saying these rights have to call you to conversation and reconciliation. It’s about balancing.”

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