Matt Drudge recently linked a story with the headline “Pope calls for fresh Church approach to children of gay parents.”
Does this mean that Pope Francis is insisting on a sweeping revision of the Church’s policy on how to handle such children?
Here are 8 things to know and share . . .
1) What did the news report say?
The original story, published by the Agence Frances-Presse (French Press Agency), stated:
Pope Francis has called for a rethink in the way the Catholic Church deals with the children of gay couples and divorced parents, warning against "administering a vaccine against faith". . . .
"I remember a case in which a sad little girl confessed to her teacher: 'my mother's girlfriend doesn't love me'," he was quoted as saying.
The pontiff said educational leaders should ask themselves "how can we proclaim Christ to a generation that is changing?" . . .
Though the Church has often been in conflict with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community over its opposition to same-sex marriage and to homosexuality, Francis has drawn praise for attempts to be inclusive.
This—together with the headline the story ran under—seeks to convey the impression of some kind of dramatic change in regard to the Church’s pastoral practice concerning the children being raised by homosexual couples.
2) What is the story quoting from?
It’s quoting from a 3-hour discussion that Pope Francis had with the Union of Superiors General of religious men about religious life.
The discussion was held back in November, but an extensive account of it was only published recently by the Jesuit journal La Civila Cattolica.
It is not on the Vatican web site at the time of this writing, and may not be published there as it was an informal discussion.
The piece that has been published—authored by Antonio Spadaro, S.J.—is not a transcript of the interview but a narrative summary of the event with substantial quotations from Pope Francis.
Because it is not a true transcript, it must be approached with some caution.
3) What does it say Pope Francis said regarding the children of homosexual couples?
He does not have a section devoted to this subject. He makes only brief reference to it in the context of a larger discussion of Christian education.
According to Spadaro:
The pillars of education according to the Pope are:
"convey understanding, convey ways of doing things, convey values. Faith is conveyed through these. The educator should be up to being a person who educates, he or she should consider how to proclaim Jesus Christ to a generation that is changing."
He insisted, therefore:
"Education today is a key, key, key mission!"
And he recalled some of his experiences in Buenos Aires regarding the preparation necessary to welcome children in an educational context, little boys and girls, young adults who live in complex situations, especially family ones:
"I remember the case of a very sad little girl who finally confided to her teacher the reason for her state of mind: 'my mother's fiancé doesn't like me.'
The percentage of children studying in schools who have separated parents is very high.
The situation in which we live now provides on with new challenges which sometimes are difficult for us to understand.
How can we proclaim Christ to these boys and girls? How can we proclaim Christ to a generation that is changing?
We must be careful not to administer a vaccine against faith to them.”
4) This translation has “my mother’s fiancé,” not “my mother’s girlfriend.” Could that indicate he’s talking about a heterosexual couple?
The AFP story used the translation, “my mother’s girlfriend,” as we saw above.
The English translation we are quoting from here was produced by Fr. Donald Maldari, S.J., who used the term fiancé.
If the translation “fiancé” (a man engaged to be married) were correct, Pope Francis would be referring to the daughter of a woman who is planning marriage with a man (presumably after divorce, annulment, or widowhood).
If the translation “girlfriend” is correct, it would indicate the daughter of a woman who has a lesbian lover.
The Italian original has “la fidanzata,” which is feminine, as indicated by the “la” form of the definite article and the “-a” ending.
The masculine form for fiancé would be “il fidanzato.”
While “la fidanzata” does literally mean fiancée (a woman engaged to be married), it may have a broader, slang meaning that includes “girlfriend,” for this is given as a meaning in some sources (e.g., Google Translate).
Either way, Pope Francis is referring to a girl whose mother is in a homosexual relationship.
5) Is the Pope calling for a dramatic re-think of how the Church deals with the children of homosexual couples?
It doesn’t look like it to me.
He’s certainly calling for people to devote thought to the question of how the Faith and authentic Christian values can be imparted to the children of this generation, which finds itself in a very different position socially than previous generations.
As examples of how its situation is different he mentions the case of the girl whose mother was in a lesbian relationship and the fact that many children have parents who are separated.
But society in general has many situations in which there are new challenges to presenting the Gospel to people.
So 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.
6) He’s not suggesting that the Church should change its teachings on homosexuality or divorce?
No. He’s talking about how to present the Church’s teaching to children in a way that ultimately leads them to embrace the fullness of Christian teaching.
He’s not talking about lopping of bits of that teaching that are inconvenient in a modern setting.
Because many children have parents today that are publicly living in unions contrary to Christian teaching, there is a real problem in terms of how to communicate Christian teaching to them in a way that does not alienate them from the Church.
This is what he means when he says: “We must be careful not to administer a vaccine against faith to them.”
7) How do we do that?
That’s precisely what he’s saying educators should devote thought to.
And it’s a tricky question.
When parents or guardians are living in a situation that publicly contradicts Christian teaching, it creates a very difficult problem of how to communicate the fullness of Christian truth to them without putting them in a situation where they must choose between their parents and the Faith and end up turning against the Faith.
Pope Francis is not proposing a concrete solution here (and the best solution will depend on the individual child, his living circumstances, and his age and level of intellectual and theological maturity), but he is stressing the need to think about the question.
8) So he’s not calling for a sweeping policy change?
No. It’s also not like the Church has a written policy on how these situations are to be handled.
If you look in the Code of Canon Law, you won’t find a section titled “Handling Children of Divorced or Homsexual Couples: A Step-By-Step Guide.”
Education is too complex for a single, one-size-fits-all policy.
The Church has always relied on educators and pastors to figure out the best way to present Christian teaching to children.
The goal is to get them to embrace the fullness of Christian teaching—including its teachings on marriage and sexuality—but who gets taught what, when, and how is a different question.
Even Jesus told the apostles:
“I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” [John 16:12].
Rather than proposing sweeping revisions to a non-existent policy, Pope Francis is urging educators to think about the best way to bring children to accept Christ and his teachings.
All of them.
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