Ahead of the visit from Pope Francis II next week to the United States, progressive activists are embracing his views on climate change and income inequality. LGBT rights, however, are a different story.
After touching down at Joint Base Andrews on Tuesday, Francis — who’s making his first trip ever to the United States — is set to meet Wednesday with President Obama at the White House. On Thursday, Francis will address a joint session of Congress from the House floor, where his remarks will be broadcast on the West End of the U.S. Capitol to allow onlookers to watch on the National Mall.
According to guidance from the White House, Obama intends to continue discussions with the pope on shared commitments, including care for the marginalized and the poor; being good stewards of the environment; protecting religious minorities and promoting religious freedom around the world; and welcoming and integrating immigrants and refugees into our communities. The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment on whether LGBT rights would be on the agenda.
Climate change and income inequality are major issues that progressive activists are highlighting ahead of the visit. Francis has called climate change a “principal challenge” for humanity and inequality the “root of social ills.”
Nearly 100 U.S. House members led by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) draw on these issues as well as the continued plight of the poor in an Aug. 12 letter to the pope ahead of his visit.
“The fact is we find ourselves struggling with a broad range of economic and social issues as a nation,” the letter says. “These policy issues range from health care, the widening gap between the rich and the poor, climate change, immigration, and increased racial tensions, just to name a few.”
But no where in the letter do LGBT rights come up, even though the missive was signed by openly gay members of Congress, including Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Mark Takano (D-Calif.), as well as other LGBT allies.
Francis has a reputation for striking a moderate tone on LGBT rights and once said “who am I to judge” when asked about gay priests, but the bottom line is the church remains opposed to LGBT rights. An opponent of same-sex marriage, Francis endorsed a referendum against gay nuptials in Slovakia, although the referendum failed. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has opposed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, saying it rejects the biological basis of gender, equates sexual orientation with race, undermines marriage and threatens religious liberty.
Sally Steenland, director of the faith and progressive policy initiative for the Center for American Progress, said it’s hard to say whether Francis will bring up LGBT issues during his visit.
“I think we look at what he’s done in the past to say that probably he will continue to be non-judgmental, inclusive,” Steenland said. “He’s not going to change doctrine next week, but we know that change in tone and actual language has had real changes in terms of welcoming LGBT folks back into the church and perhaps changing policy.”
Steenland is moderating an event at the Center for American Progress ahead of the pope’s visit on his shared values with progressives, such as the importance of the climate change issue.
Although she noted the pope has struck an inclusive tone, she said she doesn’t think it’s wise for progressives to pick and choose which of his positions to highlight.
Rev. Rodney McKenzie, faith work director for the National LGBTQ Task Force, said he wants Francis to follow up with his “who am I to judge” comment with “substantial changes” to Catholic doctrine impacting LGBT people — in addition to going further and changing policy on reproductive rights.
“We hope Pope Francis will move from kind words to real actions — and that he transforms the church into a force for welcoming LGBTQ people and affirming the realities of our lives,” McKenzie said. “He has opened a crack in the Church door around a number of significant issues but the need is to swing that door wide open.”
On Wednesday, the Human Rights Campaign announced it will hang a banner on the side of its D.C. headquarters bearing the message “We Are Your Children, Your Teachers, Your Faithful. Welcomed by God. Dismissed By Our Bishops. Pope Francis, Will You Welcome Us Home?” The intent of the banner is encourage the pope to welcome LGBT people back to the Catholic Church.
“Sadly, many in our community are still being fired from their jobs at Catholic schools, and shunned by their church communities simply because of who they are,” Griffin said. “So while we join in welcoming the Pope to the United States, we will also be urging him to continue to move toward greater acceptance and embrace of members of our community who are longing to hear that their Church welcomes them — and their families — fully. We are all God’s children.”