For gay Catholics, pope's U.S. visit a chance to get closer

Sat Sep 19, 2015 8:59am EDT
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By Laila Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - For months, gay Catholics have laid out plans for Pope Francis' visit to the United States: They will fly rainbow flags, wear rainbow prayer cloths, carry rainbow rosaries. A Tumblr page is being set up, an online petition will circulate.

More telling, perhaps, is what they won't do.

Gay rights activists say they have no intention of staging protests, sit-ins or large-scale demonstrations during the September 22-27 visit over the treatment of gay Catholics by Church leaders, who have lobbied against same-sex marriage and forced the firings of gay workers from their institutions.

It's an intentionally low-key approach that gay rights leaders hope will improve relations with the Roman Catholic Church, without the risk of offending a pope who is both popular and has offered a more merciful message.

The pontiff's first-ever visit to the United States comes just months after a seminal moment for gay Americans, when the Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal across all 50 states.

"We're not looking for a confrontation opportunity," said Lisbeth Melendez Rivera, head of Latino and Catholic initiatives at Human Rights Campaign, which works for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender, or LGBT, equality. "We're looking for dialogue that leads to the full inclusion of our people in the Church."

Gay Catholics have been energized by comments made by Francis, who famously replied, "Who am I to judge?" when asked about gay men serving in the clergy the first year of his papacy. More recently, the pope encouraged parents to be more accepting of their gay and lesbian children and met privately with a transgender man at the Vatican.

While openly pushing for a more inclusive church, Francis has nevertheless stuck to Church doctrine, like when he indicated in January that the Church was threatened by same-sex marriage. Change in doctrine, gay activists know, is likely to come slowly, if at all.   Continued...

People march in the annual NYC Gay Pride parade in New York City in this June 28, 2015 file photo. REUTERS/Eric Thayer/Files