Editor’s note: This article was first published in the Washington Blade, an LGBTI news outlet based in Washington DC, US. Michael K. Lavers is the Blade’s International News Editor and this story was reproduced with his permission.

LGBT Catholics and their allies who gathered in Philadelphia last weekend used Pope Francis’ visit to the city as an opportunity to highlight their efforts to make the church more inclusive.

Equally Blessed Families, a coalition of groups within the church that support LGBT-specific issues, and New Ways Ministry, a Maryland-based organisation that advocates on behalf of LGBT Catholics, held a series of workshops at Arch Street Methodist United Church on Saturday that coincided with Pope Francis’ arrival to the city.

[showads ad=MREC]The event was originally scheduled to take place at a local parish, but the Archdiocese of Philadelphia last month announced it would not allow the church to host the event.

Keystone Catholics, a group that describes itself as an “online advocacy organisation dedicated to promoting social justice and the common good,” organised a picnic that took place at the John C. Anderson Apartments, a housing complex in Center City for LGBT seniors.

Former Philadelphia City councilman Jim Kenney, who is running for mayor, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, were among those who spoke at the event.

Margie Winters, a former teacher at a Catholic school in suburban Philadelphia who lost her job in July because she married her partner, said she hopes Francis will publicly speak out against the way she and other LGBT educators have been treated by church officials.

“My firing, as too many others like it, has touched the core of who we are as people of faith,” Winters said.

“We’re Catholic. It’s about Catholic identity within the church.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity USA, a group of LGBT Catholics, during an interview with the Washington Blade expressed disappointment that Francis did not speak out against anti-LGBT violence and the criminalisation of homosexuality while addressing the UN General Assembly in New York.

Duddy-Burke also criticised the Argentine-born pontiff for referring to “ideological colonisation” and “behaviours that are not human” and “unnatural” during his speech.

“I don’t think that LGBT people heard the message of greater inclusion that we were looking for,” she told the Blade.

Sister Jeannine Grammick, co-founder of the Maryland-based New Ways Ministry, speaks to Michael Tomae from Owning Our Faith, left, and Stephen Seufert of Keystone Catholics at the John C. Anderson Apartments in Philadelphia on Sept. 26, 2015. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Sister Jeannine Grammick, co-founder of the Maryland-based New Ways Ministry, speaks to Michael Tomae from Owning Our Faith, left, and Stephen Seufert of Keystone Catholics at the John C. Anderson Apartments in Philadelphia on Sept. 26, 2015. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Vatican spokesperson: Marriage “unites” man and woman

FRANCIS repeatedly highlighted the family in his homilies and public statements during his five-day trip to the US that began on September 22.

The pontiff during his speech to Congress said the “very basis of marriage and the family” is being “called into question.”

On Sunday during the mass he celebrated on Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway, he referenced “the alliance between one man and one woman… generates life”.

On September 22 during a meeting with a group of families in the Cuban city of Santiago de Cuba, Francis said spaces for families “are shrinking”.

Maykel González Vivero, an independent Cuban LGBT rights advocate and journalist, expressed concern over the meeting. He told the Blade that Archbishop Dionisio Guillermo García Ibáñez of the Archdiocese of Santiago de Cuba made a reference to “other” families.

“(The meeting) had unfavourable implications for families headed by same-sex couples,” González told the Blade.

Francis on September 23 called for a “tolerant and inclusive” society as he spoke on the South Lawn of the White House. Retired New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson was among more than 10,000 people who were on hand for the event. The pontiff in 2013 told reporters that gays and lesbians should not be marginalised.

“The vision of the Pope and of the church of the family is the family that is built by a man and a woman,” Rev Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesperson, told reporters on Sunday in response to a question about why the pontiff chose not to focus more time on highlighting the church’s definition of family while in the US.

“The Christian family has the sacrament of marriage that unites the man and the woman.”

Francis “reminding us of the basics”

Delfin Bautista, a transgender man who attended the Equally Blessed Families workshops on Saturday, largely welcomed Francis’ tone and focus on economic justice and other non-LGBT issues.

“Jesus didn’t get bogged down about teachings or in doctrine,” Bautista said.

“Jesus talked about love and the pope is reminding us of the basics.”

Bautista wore a skirt to the World Meeting of Families that coincided with Francis’ visit, which created “issues of safety, emotionally” because people were staring. Bautista also stopped attending mass on a regular basis, in part, because of the Vatican’s anti-trans rhetoric.

“Sometimes we take a step forward, then two steps back and then sideways,” Bautista told the Blade.

Duddy-Burke said several of the speakers who took part in the World Meeting of Families engaged in “fear-mongering” to attack marriage rights for same-sex couples and gays and lesbians who are raising children.

She told the Blade that men with the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Families and Property, a Pennsylvania-based group, who were collecting signatures for a petition in support of “traditional marriage”, began yelling at her wife on the street after telling them she would not sign it.

Two men from the same group were collecting petition signatures on Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Sunday ahead of Francis’ mass.

They plan to present them next month during a gathering of Catholic bishops in Rome during which a vote on a document that specifically addresses the family will take place.

LGBT organisations have sharply criticised the Vatican over leaked drafts of the document that reiterate its opposition to unions between same-sex couples.

“It’s (been) a very intense week,” Duddy-Burke told the Blade on Saturday.

To read the full story from the Washington Blade, click here

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