"Confusing and dangerous," some say – a "big step forward" others see. Just before U.S. election, pope's call for legal protections for gay couples causes stir.
Pope's words on gay partnerships cause mixed reaction among U.S. Catholics. The bishop of Tyler, Texas, Joseph Edward Strickland, condemned the pope's recent remarks as "confusing and very dangerous". The papacy lacks clarity, explained Strickland, who is among the most vocal papal critics in the U.S. bishops' conference.
"The pope's statement is in clear contradiction to long-standing teaching of the Church," said Thomas Tobin, bishop of Providence in the state of Rhode Island. Francis has "overstepped his bounds," said conservative pastor Gerald Murray, who is often interviewed in the U.S. media and leads a parish in New York. He expected the pope's plea to "exacerbate divisions in the church".
"Marriage is enshrined in natural law"
Robert Royal, editor of the Catholic Thing website, also condemned the remark. Now, he said, anyone can tell their bishop who represents Catholic teaching on the ie "that the pope disagrees with it".
Catholics who live by the Church's teachings "are convinced that marriage is enshrined in natural law," commented Brian Burch, president of the conservative group CatholicVote. The pope's stance is "in direct contradiction to the teaching of the Catholic Church," according to Catholic University of America sociologist Donald Paul Mullins.
The president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the largest Protestant church in the U.S., Albert Mohler, accused Francis of undermining the truth, doctrine and moral logic of his own church. Measured against the Catholic Church's influence in the world, he said, this will "weaken the Christian witness on marriage and sexuality and gender".
Approval from Jesuit side
Francis, on the other hand, received approval from the editor-in-chief of the Jesuit magazine "America," James Martin. This is a "big step forward in the Church's support of LGBTQ people," best-selling author says. Martin had advocated for a rapprochement between the church and lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer persons in the book "Building a Bridge".
Francis has highlighted "the inclusive, accepting nature of Christianity," praised Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons of the liberal think tank Center for American Progress. Carolyn Woo of the Catholics for Biden campaign team said the emphasis on "human dignity" in Francis' words fit with the values "that Democrats espouse".
How will Francis respond?
Manhattan College religious studies professor Natalie Imperatori-Lee expressed hope that the church would now end kidnappings of LGTBQ employees. "Cautiously optimistic" Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of the Catholic LGBTQ group DignityUSA, said she is waiting to see how the Vatican responds to Francis.
In a scene from the film "Francesco," released Wednesday in Rome, the pope advocates – more clearly than ever – registered civil partnerships for gay couples. "Homosexuals have the right to live in a family," Francis says in documentary by Russian director Yevgeny Afineyevsky. They, too, are children of God and should be protected by law. "What we need is a law that allows for civil partnership," the church leader said. This is something he has advocated before, he said.