Pope Francis Welcomed at LGBT-Inclusive White House Reception

Pope Francis and President Obama

The White House ceremony welcoming Pope Francis today went smoothly — and the presence of LGBT guests proved to be no problem, contrary to the dire predictions of conservative politicians and commentators.

“The White House crowd of about 11,000 ticket holders couldn’t have been more polite,” reports Mother Jones in a story headlined “Gay People, Liberal Nun Fail to Embarrass Pope at the White House.”

The guests who raised the ire of American conservatives and even Vatican officials included Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church; Mateo Williamson, a transgender Catholic activist; and Sister Simone Campbell, a (presumably) straight nun who has publicly supported the Affordable Care Act, which has been denounced by some Catholics because it mandates coverage of contraceptives. There were several other attendees who differ with Catholic teachings on LGBT rights and other issues, but these were the ones singled out for criticism.

“Welcoming a pro-life, pro-marriage leader at the White House with a crowd of abortion and gay rights activists is as classy as hosting an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting with an open bar. President Obama should be ashamed of himself,” Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee wrote on The Daily Caller, a conservative website, and he made similar comments in an interview with Megyn Kelly on Fox News. 

Hot Air blogger Ed Morrissey wrote, “The White House wants to deliberately embarrass the Pope by sticking a thumb in his eye, and by sticking their noses into Catholic doctrine and teachings.” And some Vatican officials worried that if Pope Francis had his picture taken with LGBT activists or dissident Catholics, it might appear that he endorsed their views.

However, there were no confrontations at the event on the White House’s South Lawn. A few guests wore rainbow flag pins, Mother Jones reports, but the pins were small and not visible to the pope from any distance. “The only real outburst from a guest came as the pope was leaving, when a man yelled, ‘We love you, Pope Francis!’” the magazine reports, adding, “A Twitter jokester attributed this to Vice President Joe Biden.”

At the ceremony, the pope praised President Obama’s efforts to address climate change; the pontiff also voiced support for immigrants and stressed the need to reduce income inequality, CNN reports. “While some of these themes were sure to please the left, he also delivered a firm defense of traditional values, warning that the institution of marriage and family needed to be protected at ‘a critical moment in the history of our civilization,’” the network notes on its website.

“He said that it was right that society was ‘tolerant and inclusive’ but warned that American Catholics were ‘concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society respect their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty. That freedom remains one of America’s most precious possessions,’” CNN’s report continues. In response, “Obama gently — but pointedly — argued, ‘here in the United States, we cherish religious liberty,’” the network notes.

After the event, Bishop Robinson told CNN reporter Chris Cuomo he “didn’t feel very controversial” standing far away from the pope in such a big crowd, and called the controversy over some of the guests “a bit of a tempest in a teapot.” He was “honored and humbled to be invited,” he said. Robinson’s denomination is part of the global Anglican Communion, whose “mother church,” the Church of England, broke off from the Roman Catholic Church nearly 500 years ago.

While the Catholic Church continues to oppose same-sex relationships, Francis has changed the church’s tone toward LGBT people, Robinson said, adding, “What I hope is that over the course of his ministry, as he meets with gay and lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people — as he’s already begun to do — his own views about our families will change.” (Watch the interview below; the clip is from a right-wing site that objected to CNN giving Robinson a platform, but it includes none of the site’s editorializing.)

LGBT Catholics and their supporters made their views known at venues outside the White House reception. In Washington, the Human Rights Campaign headquarters was draped with a banner reading, “We are your children, your teachers, your faithful. Welcomed by God, dismissed by our bishops. Pope Francis, will you welcome us home?” As his motorcade went past the building today, Mashable reports, “dozens of LGBT advocates and Catholics stood out front, welcoming him with cheers, as well as flags and signs imploring him to embrace the LGBT faithful.”

The pope’s visit to the U.S. continues with stops planned in New York City and Philadelphia.

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