Pope Francis has continued the Roman Catholic Church’s shift in tone on LGBT issues by calling for the church to adjust its approach to dealing with children of gay and divorced parents, although Vatican officials have taken care to emphasize that doesn’t mean the pope is open to same-sex unions.
"Gay unions raise challenges for us today which for us are sometimes difficult to understand," Pope Francis said in a November meeting with leaders of Catholic religious orders, reports Agence France-Presse, quoting excerpts from the discussion that were published on Italian websites Saturday.
"I remember a case in which a sad little girl confessed to her teacher: 'My mother’s girlfriend doesn't love me,'" he continued. Some English translations of this quote use the term "fiancé" rather than "girlfriend," but the Italian original uses the feminine form of that word, indicating that the pope "is referring to a girl whose mother is in a homosexual relationship," notes the National Catholic Register.
With so many parents in so-called nontraditional relationships, the challenge to the church in ministering to their children is "How can we proclaim Christ to a generation that is changing?" Francis asked. He added, "We must be careful not to administer a vaccine against faith to them."
Vatican officials quickly took steps to deny that the pope was in any way endorsing same-sex relationships. Father Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, denied that Francis even specifically addressed such relationships, Reuters reports, although this appears to be contradicted by the translations of his words. Lombardi also told Vatican Radio that the media had manipulated the pope's words to come up with a "paradoxical" interpretation. Recognition of same-sex unions is under debate in Italy, a nation that offers no legal rights or antidiscrimination protections to LGBT people.
The National Catholic Register, while allowing that Francis did appear to be discussing a child whose mother was in a same-sex relationship, argued that the pope's words did not represent a major shift in attitude toward such unions. "While Pope Francis is calling for additional thought to be devoted to the question of how to Evangelize children in unusual family situations — as well as everyone else in society — it does not appear he's calling for anything as dramatic as the headlines might make you think," wrote Register blogger Jimmy Akin.
Still, the pope — named 2013 Person of the Year by The Advocate — does seem to be continuing to approach LGBT people and their concerns in a more welcoming, less condemnatory way than his predecessors. Last year he said it is not necessary for church leaders to continually emphasize opposition to abortion, contraception, and same-sex marriage, and he stated, "If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?"