Reactions divided to Pope’s message on gay marriage

LGBTQ Catholics and their allies in the U.S. welcomed Pope Francis’ endorsement of same-sex civil unions, the first time he’s done so as pontiff, while some prominent members including a bishop said Wednesday that he was blatantly contradicting church teaching.

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October 23, 2020 - 3:17 PM

Pope Francis

LGBTQ Catholics and their allies in the U.S. welcomed Pope Francis’ endorsement of same-sex civil unions, the first time he’s done so as pontiff, while some prominent members including a bishop said Wednesday that he was blatantly contradicting church teaching.

Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, was one of the first conservative Catholic leaders to go public with criticism.

“The Pope’s statement clearly contradicts what has been the long-standing teaching of the Church about same-sex unions,” Tobin said. “The Church cannot support the acceptance of objectively immoral relationships.”

In contrast, Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry, hailed the pope’s comments as a “historic” shift for a church that has a record of persecuting gays.

“It is no overstatement to say that with this statement not only has the pope protected LGBTQ couples and families, but he also will save many LGBTQ lives,” DeBernardo said.

The pope’s comments came midway through a feature-length documentary, “Francesco,” that premiered Wednesday at the Rome Film Festival.

“Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God,” Francis says in the film. “You can’t kick someone out of a family, nor make their life miserable for this. What we have to have is a civil union law; that way they are legally covered.”

The comment came in the final lap of a U.S. election campaign in which both President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden have avidly courted Catholic voters. It’s not yet clear whether it could indirectly benefit Biden, a lifelong Catholic.

“Pope Francis’ words will highlight the inclusive, accepting essence of Christianity that so many people care about,” said Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons, a fellow at the Center for American Progress think tank.

“The way conservative Christians … distort this message of love and justice that Jesus proclaimed” can have an alienating effect, he said.

Carolyn Woo, former president of Catholic Relief Services and a co-chair of Catholics for Biden, said Francis’ emphasis on the “dignity of people,” without any conditions, aligns well with values Democrats espouse.

“Overall the Democratic platform is: We’ve got to help people where they are at. We’ve got to protect their rights, we’ve got to help them flourish,” she said, emphasizing the importance of Catholics using “prudential judgment in how we honor life.”

That view holds little sway, however, with more conservative Catholics who already take a dim view of Biden over his support for abortion rights in stark contrast with a fundamental teaching of their faith.

Another teaching confines the institution of marriage to a man and a woman — and that remains intact regardless of the pope’s remarks on same-sex unions, said Brian Burch, president of the conservative group CatholicVote.

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