September 27, 2015 at 9:47 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Papal visit prompts calls for LGBT-inclusive church

Jeannine Grammick, New Ways Ministry, Dignity, Catholic Church, gay news, Washington Blade

Sister Jeannine Grammick, co-founder of the Maryland-based New Ways Ministry, speaks to Michael Tomae from Owning Our Faith, left, and Stephen Seufert of Keystone Catholics at the John C. Anderson Apartments in Philadelphia on Sept. 26, 2015. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

PHILADELPHIA — LGBT Catholics and their allies who gathered in Philadelphia this weekend used Pope Francis’ visit to the city as an opportunity to highlight their efforts to make the church more inclusive.

Equally Blessed Families, a coalition of groups within the church that support LGBT-specific issues, and New Ways Ministry, a Maryland-based organization that advocates on behalf of LGBT Catholics, held a series of workshops at Arch Street Methodist United Church on Saturday that coincided with Pope Francis’ arrival to the city. The event was originally scheduled to take place at a local parish, but the Archdiocese of Philadelphia last month announced it would not allow the church to host the event.

Keystone Catholics, a group that describes itself as an “online advocacy organization dedicated to promoting social justice and the common good,” organized a picnic that took place at the John C. Anderson Apartments, a housing complex in Center City for LGBT seniors. Former Philadelphia City Councilman Jim Kenney, who is running for mayor, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, are among those who spoke at the event.

Margie Winters, a former teacher at a Catholic school in suburban Philadelphia who lost her job in July because she married her partner, said she hopes Francis will publicly speak out against the way she and other LGBT educators have been treated by church officials.

“My firing, as too many others like it, has touched the core of who we are as people of faith,” said Winters. “We’re Catholic. It’s about Catholic identity within the church.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity USA, a group of LGBT Catholics, during an interview with the Washington Blade expressed disappointment that Francis did not speak out against anti-LGBT violence and the criminalization of homosexuality while addressing the U.N. General Assembly in New York. Duddy-Burke also criticized the Argentine-born pontiff for referring to “ideological colonization” and “behaviors that are not human” and “unnatural” during his speech.

“I don’t think that LGBT people heard the message of greater inclusion that we were looking for,” she told the Blade.

Vatican spokesperson: Marriage ‘unites’ man and woman

Francis repeatedly highlighted the family in his homilies and public statements during his five-day trip to the U.S. that began on Sept. 22.

The pontiff during his speech to Congress said the “very basis of marriage and the family” is being “called into question.” Francis on Sunday during the Mass he celebrated on Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway referenced “the alliance between one man and one woman…generates life.”

Francis on Sept. 22 during a meeting with a group of families in the Cuban city of Santiago de Cuba said spaces for families “are shrinking.”

Maykel González Vivero, an independent Cuban LGBT rights advocate and journalist, expressed concern over the meeting. He noted to the Blade that Archbishop Dionisio Guillermo García Ibáñez of the Archdiocese of Santiago de Cuba made a reference to “other” families.

“(The meeting) had unfavorable implications for families headed by same-sex couples,” González told the Blade.

Francis on Sept. 23 called for a “tolerant and inclusive” society as he spoke on the South Lawn of the White House. Retired New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson was among more than 10,000 people who were on hand for the event. The pontiff in 2013 told reporters that gays and lesbians should not be marginalized.

“The vision of the pope and of the church of the family is the family that is built by a man and a woman,” Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesperson, told reporters on Sunday in response to a question about why the pontiff chose not to focus more time on highlighting the church’s definition of family while in the U.S. “The Christian family has the sacrament of marriage that unites the man and the woman.”

Francis ‘reminding us of the basics’

Delfin Bautista, a transgender man who attended the Equally Blessed Families workshops on Saturday, largely welcomed Francis’ tone and focus on economic justice and other non-LGBT issues.

“Jesus didn’t get bogged down about teachings or in doctrine,” said Bautista. “Jesus talked about love and the pope is reminding us of the basics.”

Bautista wore a skirt to the World Meeting of Families that coincided with Francis’ visit, which created “issues of safety, emotionally” because people were staring. Bautista also stopped attending Mass on a regular basis, in part, because of the Vatican’s anti-trans rhetoric.

“Sometimes we take a step forward, then two steps back and then sideways,” Bautista told the Blade.

Duddy-Burke said several of the speakers who took part in the World Meeting of Families engaged in “fear-mongering” to attack marriage rights for same-sex couples and gays and lesbians who are raising children. She told the Blade that men with the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Families and Property, a Pennsylvania-based group, who were collecting signatures for a petition in support of “traditional marriage” began yelling at her wife on the street after telling them she would not sign it.

Two men from the same group were collecting petition signatures on Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Sunday ahead of Francis’ Mass.

American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, Philadelphia, Pope Francis, gay news, Washington Blade

Two men with the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, a Pennsylvania-based organization, stand on Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia on Sept. 27, 2015, with a petition that urges Pope Francis to call for the church to defend ‘traditional marriage.’ (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

They plan to present them next month during a gathering of Catholic bishops in Rome during which a vote on a document that specifically addresses the family will take place. LGBT organizations have sharply criticized the Vatican over leaked drafts of the document that reiterate its opposition to unions between same-sex couples.

“It’s (been) a very intense week,” Duddy-Burke told the Blade on Saturday.

Pontiff meets with sex abuse victims

Francis’ trip to the Americas began in Havana on Sept. 19.

The pontiff faced criticism for not meeting with Cuban dissidents, especially after authorities on Sept. 20 detained a member of the Ladies in White and three other critics of the island’s government who had approached his Popemobile before he celebrated Mass in Havana’s Revolution Square. Francis’ comments about the sex abuse scandal within the church also sparked outrage among advocates and their supporters.

Pope Francis, gay news, Washington Blade

A sign in Havana welcomes Pope Francis to Cuba. (Photo by Pedro Luís García Macías)

Francis on Sunday met with three women and two men who were sexually abused by what a Vatican spokesperson described as “clergy, family members or teachers.”

Emails leaked to a Chilean newspaper earlier this month show two cardinals from the South American country conspired to prevent Juan Carlos Cruz, a gay man who is among the hundreds of people abused by a local priest over more than three decades, from being named to the commission that Francis created in response to the crisis.

Cruz, who now lives in Philadelphia, described Francis’ meeting with victims of sex abuse as a “gesture.”

“But he called bishops courageous on how they have dealt with this scandal,” Cruz told the Blade in an email. “Victims are an after thought.”

Lombardi on Sunday during his daily press briefing declined to comment about the cardinals who blocked Cruz’s nomination to the sex abuse commission when the Blade asked about it.

Papal visit placed Philadelphia under ‘martial law’

Another issue surrounding Francis’ visit to Philadelphia that caused criticism was the level of security.

Large swaths of Center City were closed to vehicular traffic.

Jersey barriers, 8’ high security fences, metal detectors and barricades were placed throughout the area. Banks, drug stores and other businesses along Market Street were either closed during the papal visit or changed their hours because of the security measures.

One person with whom the Blade spoke on Saturday said Philadelphia was under “martial law” during the papal visit.

Philly Cupcake, which is on Chestnut Street in Center City, is among the myriad businesses that placed signs in their windows that welcomed the pope to Philadelphia. A man a few blocks away on Saturday afternoon was selling “pope soap-on-a-rope” to passersby.

Eric Jaffe, a performer at Tavern On Camac, a gay bar in Camac Street in Center City, is among the Philadelphia residents who celebrated Francis’ visit.

Jaffe on Saturday wore a papal miter and a gold cape to the bar. He also blessed patrons as they walked up the stairs leading to the dance floor.

“The city is overcome by the pope,” Jaffe told the Blade. “I decided to set a little something together.”

Philadelphia, Pope Francis, gay news, Washington Blade

People gather outside Philadelphia City Hall on Sept. 27, 2015, to watch Pope Francis’ Mass on the nearby Benjamin Franklin Parkway from jumbotrons that had been set up. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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