Praise goes to Pope Francis for his refreshingly humble and warm-hearted remarks about treating gay people as children of God. What a breath of fresh air. How inspiring to Catholics such as me. I am the mother of a married gay son with two children. It has pained me greatly to hear the constant drumbeat of demeaning words for my beloved family from the leaders of the Catholic Church, the church I was raised in. The church I raised my children in.
My experience growing up in the ’50s was thoroughly Catholic. Religious rituals marked the year for my family and everyone else we knew. We fasted scrupulously during Lent, went to Mass every week and attended special devotions. I fondly remember the novenas my mother made in St. Joseph’s Cathedral, taking me along on those bus rides downtown for nine weeks. On Holy Thursday, we would all pack into Dad’s Chevy and make prayerful visits to seven different churches. On Good Friday, we spent most of the somber day at our parish, All Saints.
When my husband and I started our family, we continued practicing our faith with our children. We even added some new touches. During Advent we had a special wreath, with candles to light each week. On Christmas Eve we went to midnight Mass, then came home to cookies and punch. One of our sons, who took piano lessons, would play Christmas carols on the old upright in our family room as we sang off-key.
But life has a way of taking a swerve. When that same son came out as a gay man, when he married his husband and when he adopted two beautiful children, our family and many others were sensitized to the constant disparagement promoted by the previous pope and by the American bishops. Our son’s conduct was labeled “gravely disordered.” (An astonishing choice of words while these same bishops seemed to protect renegade priests who violated children.) Gay-identified support groups, like Dignity, were barred from meeting in Catholic venues. People who identified as gay were and still are being fired by Catholic schools. Even children of gay parents have been asked to leave Catholic schools. Not all Catholic institutions behave in this manner, but enough to make headlines and to give pain to families such as mine.
Francis’ words give me hope, but my hope is tempered with caution. I am waiting to see what his actions are. I am waiting to see if he includes gay people in the sacraments of the church. If the pope wants the flock to emphasize the message of love in the New Testament, then he needs to stop such discriminating language and policies directed at a segment of the population who just happen to be gay. On the very day Francis’ interview was published, Providence College in Rhode Island withdrew an invitation to an academic because he was known to favor marriage equality.
More importantly, the pope has to stop the U.S. bishops from their energetic political efforts that work to prevent a basic human right, the right to marry the person you love. Such energy and such determination, to say nothing of funds and organizational skill, might be better spent on reducing poverty and violence. These are worthy goals more in line with the message of Jesus. Not till then will my family, like so many other families, be fully embraced by the church that so fundamentally shaped us.