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Pope Francis caused some confusion and disappointment on Monday for those who been holding out hope regarding his stance on same-sex marriage and LGBT equality. That’s when, during a speech at the Complementarity of Man and Woman conference in Rome, the Pope made the following declaration to a room packed with religious leaders: “Children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother.”
However, at the end of his speech, the pope announced plans to make his first visit to the United States in September, where he will attend Philadelphia’s World Meeting of the Families. That Catholic conference, held to strengthen family units worldwide, will ironically host many gay and lesbian families.
Although the pope has always maintained that “matrimony is between a man and woman,” and has stated his opposition to same-sex adoption (even being “shocked” by the notion, according to a local paper in Malta), LGBT activists have maintained hope regarding his opinions: He has indicated that he would support some civil unions in the event that one partner needed medical care, for example, and has warned against the church becoming “obsessed” with gay issues.
“On the one hand, Pope Francis is a hopeful pope — he doesn’t come from Vatican bureaucracy, he entered priesthood later than most men, he’s grounded in his ministry, and seems comfortable discussing gay issues,” Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity USA, an organization for LGBT Catholics, tells Yahoo Parenting. “It’s hard to put a traditional label on him. However, he is not as focused on social issues, such as abortion, gay rights, and contraception, and that’s not in line with how the world is evolving.”
Regardless, the media erupted with speculation about whether Monday’s remarks indicated that the pope was supporting traditional families or simply emphasizing their primary place in society.
Pope Francis, who has been dubbed the “cool pope,” already has a history of causing a stir. Back in January during a service at the Sistine Chapel, he encouraged all mothers to breastfeed in public — even in church— saying of babies, “If they are hungry, mothers, let them eat, no worries, because here, they are the main focus.” He’s also acknowledged the importance of female religious leaders, saying that the church should “investigate further the role of women” and that “the feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions.”
And despite his seemingly rockstar image — the former nightclub bouncer has nearly 5 million Twitter followers and, in 2013, Time magazine named him “Person of the Year” — Pope Francis leads a simple life. He resides in the Vatican guesthouse instead of a fancy papal apartment, and he drives a 1984 Renault instead of using a chauffeur. Earlier this week, it was announced that three showers for homeless people would be installed in public restrooms in Vatican City. And the pope recently made headlines for inviting “Godmother of Punk” Patti Smith to perform at the official Vatican Christmas Concert in December — and she accepted.
Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, who is retiring due to his cancer diagnosis, acknowledged on Monday that the pope has a history of creating confusion about his opinions. “Does he not realize the repercussions? Perhaps he doesn’t,” Cardinal George told the Catholic website the Crux. “I don’t know whether he’s conscious of all the consequences of some of the things he’s said and done that raise doubts in people’s minds.”
Duddy-Burke agrees. “No one really knows the Pope’s stance on gay marriage,” she says. “It’s disappointing and confusing, however unfortunately consistent with what we’ve been hearing from the Vatican for the past 30 years.”