“We need to acknowledge the great variety of family situations that can offer a certain stability, but de facto or same-sex unions, for example, may not simply be equated with marriage,” said Francis. “No union that is temporarily or closed to the transmission of life can ensure the future of society.”
The document notes the bishops “discussed the situation of families whose members include persons who experience same-sex attraction, a situation not easy either for parents or for children.”
“We would like before all else to reaffirm that every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, while ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ is to be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression and violence,” said Francis. “Such families should be given respectful pastoral guidance, so that those who manifest a homosexual orientation can receive the assistance they need to understand and fully carry out God’s will in their lives.”
Francis in the document describes the allocation of foreign aid to countries based upon whether they extend marriage rights to same-sex couples as “unacceptable.” The pontiff also writes an “ideology of gender” that “denies the difference and reciprocity in nature of a man and a woman and envisages a society without sexual differences” poses an additional challenge to the family.
“This ideology leads to educational programs and legislative enactments that promote a personal identity and emotional intimacy, radically separated from the biological difference between male and female,” said Francis.
LGBT rights advocates were quick to criticize the document.
“I don’t think anybody was expecting a celebration of same-sex marriage in this document,” Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, a group for LGBT Catholics, told the Washington Blade on Friday during a telephone interview. “But there’s just a tremendous disconnect in how LGBT people and others are seen by church officials, up to and including the pope himself.”
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, a Maryland-based group that ministers to LGBT Catholics, expressed a similar sentiment.
“The disappointment comes from the fact that the only times he was specific on LGBT issues were negative comments,” he told the Blade.
Kieran Rose, chair of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, an Irish LGBT advocacy group, in a statement described the document as “a missed opportunity to reflect and embrace the very positive changes in attitudes towards lesbian and gay people that have come about over the last 20 years in Ireland and across many parts of the world.” LGBT Federation of Argentina Vice President Esteban Paulón described the document as “a new lost opportunity.”
Paulón told the Blade from the Argentinian city of Mendoza the Vatican released the document a day after Colombia’s highest court issued a landmark ruling that extended marriage rights to gays and lesbians. The first same-sex wedding at an Argentinian synagogue took place earlier this week.
“Pope Francis ratified the Vatican’s line that is contrary to the expansion of rights,” Paulón told the Blade.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl of the Archdiocese of Washington also responded to Francis’ document.
“Pope Francis affirms that the common life of husband, wife and children can be steeped in and strengthened by sacramental grace,” wrote Wuerl in a blog post. “For those in irregular situations, continues the pope, Christ inspires the church to turn to them with love and affection to assist them in overcoming the trials they face.”
Vatican remains silent on anti-gay Dominican cardinal
Francis was the then-archbishop of Buenos Aires before he became pope in 2013.
The Vatican’s tone towards homosexuality, marriage rights for same-sex couples and other social issues has become more moderate under Francis’ papacy. LGBT Catholic organizations and their allies are nevertheless quick to note that church doctrine has not changed.
Francis and Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill in February expressed their opposition to marriage rights for same-sex couples in a joint declaration they signed during their historic meeting in Cuba.
A number of LGBT people have claimed they have been fired from Catholic institutions because of their marital status in the wake of last June’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that extended marriage rights to same-sex couples across the country. The Vatican has yet to publicly respond to Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez of the Archdiocese of Santo Domingo’s repeated use of homophobic slurs to describe gay U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster.Duddy-Burke told the Blade that she had hoped Francis’ document would have “gone further in clearly renouncing any kind of anti-gay rhetoric or public opposition to equality measures.” DeBernardo noted the pontiff did not make any “specific” statements about laws that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.
Special U.S. Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons Randy Berry last November during a visit to the Vatican dismissed claims that foreign aid to African countries depends upon whether they allow gays and lesbians to legally marry.
DeBernardo pointed out to the Blade that Francis “repeated” this claim in the document he released on Friday.
“That’s just not true,” said DeBernardo.