The Vatican announced last weekend that the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection had been selected to host the 2015 World Meeting of Families, an international program that focuses on the preservation and development of the Catholic family unit. Pope Benedict XVI is scheduled to attend.
This will mark the first time the event has been held in the United States and the first papal visit to Philadelphia since 1979.
The event is organized by the Pontifical Council for the Family, which, according to its website, is charged with pastoral care of the family and “defense of life,” as well as dealing with issues relating to sex education, “ethical and pastoral problems related to AIDS” and marriage-related legislation.
In a statement released after the announcement, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput alluded to the topic of marriage equality playing a role in the event.
“The family is founded on a deep and loving union between one man and one woman for mutual support and the nurturing of children,” Chaput said. “This meeting in Philadelphia will be a wonderful opportunity to highlight the family as the basic evangelizing unit of the church. Every effort to promote marriage and the family serves not only the church, but also the common good.”
Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, a national organization for Catholic LGBTs, said an event that unites Catholic families would ideally be a positive occasion — if it were to include all types of families.
“This meeting is clearly a political gesture that’s part of the Vatican’s and the U.S. bishops’ continuing attacks on the reality of family life,” Duddy-Burke said. “It’s another example of the Catholic Church trying to impose its very-limited and outdated view of what makes a family on the rest of our society. Even in the announcement about this event, they tried to promote the false idea that the hierarchy is under attack by our community’s efforts to gain equality.”
Mayor Michael Nutter was quoted in the press as saying he was “very excited” that Philadelphia was selected as the host city for the event.
Nutter spokesperson Mark McDonald clarified that it is unclear how prominently marriage equality will figure into the event and that the mayor strongly supports LGBT equality.
“With an event three years away, it’s difficult to know what might be on the agenda of the 2015 World Meeting of Families or what positions of a theological or philosophical nature might be taken,” McDonald said. “But it’s also true that there may be any number of areas where reasonable and respectful religious leaders may hold differing views on a variety of topics. Certainly, practicing Roman Catholics who are also in the LGBT community understand that.
“But one thing is crystal clear,” he added. “Mayor Nutter has strong and long-held views regarding the civil and legal protections for the LGBT community, including his support for marriage equality. He is one of the mayors in Mayors for Marriage Equality and spoke very clearly about his views. These views of human freedom are at his core political values and not subject to change.”
Duddy-Burke noted that a true meeting of Catholic families would address the needs of survivors of sexual abuse, those dealing with economic hardships and families grappling with domestic violence, all issues that she said the church is failing to adequately respond to.
While she said Dignity would welcome the opportunity to offer input on the World Meeting of Families, Duddy-Burke does not expect the olive branch to be extended to the LGBT community.
“For more than a decade, any kind of dialogue between Dignity or other progressive organizations and even progressive Catholics and the church hierarchy just hasn’t happened. The hierarchy has closed its doors to any kind of dialogue from anyone it labels as dissenters because it says it ‘confuses’ the faithful,” she said. “The only voices that get heard are those that agree up and down the line with the hierarchy’s positions. We would love to share ideas about how this gathering could truly be representative of Catholic families, who include LGBT people, but I don’t have great hopes that that would happen.”
Jen Colletta can be reached at email@example.com.