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Pope Francis Addresses Priest Sex Abuse While in Philly

Pope Francis Addresses Priest Sex Abuse While in Philly

Pope Francis
AP Photo

Queer Catholics, marriage equality supporters, and allies also gathered in the City of Brotherly Love, where the pope arrived Saturday for the last stop of his U.S. visit.

LGBT Catholics and supporters of marriage equality were among the one million people in Philadelphia this weekend for the third and final leg of the first pilgrimage by Pope Francis to the United States. While there are no sessions scheduled in which Pope Francis is to meet any lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender Catholics, Philadelphia Mayor Micheal Nutter vowed he would "seize the opportunity" when he met the pope to take a stand for the LGBT faithful.

Of special note is the fact that, after he received criticism for praising American bishops for their handling of the sexual abuse scandal, Pope Francis addressed it directly while in Philly. He revealed that he had met in private with a group of sex abuse victims, and that all would be held accountable, according to the New York Times. On Sunday, he added remarks to the start of a scripted address in the chapel at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia. The translation from Spanish:

"God weeps" at the sexual abuse of children, "I commit to the careful oversight to ensure that youth are protected. I commit to the careful oversight to ensure that youth are protected."

The pope celebrated mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul on Saturday, and in his sermon called on the faithful to honor the church's legacy by ministering to the disadvantaged: "the impoverished, imprisoned, immigrants and invalids," reported Delaware Online.

Pope Francis spoke of the "immense contribution" of women in the church. In remarks referring to the 150-year-old brownstone cathedral, the pope said the "history of the Church in this city and state is really a story not about building walls, but about breaking them down."

He arrived at the Roman-Corinthian style cathedral carrying a bouquet of white flowers and was welcomed by a children's choir.

The church is not far from Logan Square and Benjamin Franklin Parkway, where crowds gathered throughout the night. Delaware Onlinereported some slept near the traffic barriers erected along the route Pope Francis traveled in his plain, demure black Fiat.

However, what greeting the Pope will give LGBT Catholics and supporters of marriage equality isn't clear.

"To many, the Catholic church is not a warm place," said Janet Smith, a professor of moral theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. She is co-editor of the new anthology Living the Truth in Love: Pastoral Approaches to Same-Sex Attraction, which adheres to the church's traditional teachings about sexuality.

In years past, Catholics lived in neighborhood and ethnic parishes, Smith said, "and there was a sense of community. Now people live away from home, and go to large parishes and don't feel greeted or at home."

The lack of community may feel particularly acute to LGBT Catholics, she told the National Catholic Reporter. Some may feel "condemned to a life of loneliness. No Christian should ever feel condemned -- particularly if they are following church teaching," which requires gay Catholics to remain celibate to receive the sacraments.

LGBT Catholics who don't adhere to the those teachings experience even more separation from the church community, and want that to change.

"We're Catholics who love our faith," said Ryan Hoffmann, a Catholic representing the Equally Blessed advocacy group for gay, bisexual and transgender people. The group is a coaliton for those who believe celibacy is not required to be faithful. "For a lot of us, we can't not be Catholic. We love our church, but we think it can be better."

Polling by the Pew Research Center in July found that 57 percent of Catholics support same-sex marriage, an increase from 40 percent in 2001. And in September, another Pew survey found a majority of American Catholics are open to same-sex couples raising children, and are just as good as any other family arrangement.

"This is a family issue, so it's important," Hoffmann told the Columbus Dispatch.

Although group members disagree with certain teachings of their church, they are committed to working for change from within, Hoffmann said.

"We ask the church to reflect on its own identity, an identity now associated with the discriminatory treatment of the LGBT community. We are your sisters and brothers in faith," said Margie Winters, who lost her job at a suburban Philadelphia Catholic private school, Waldron Mercy Academy, after two parents of students objected to her same-sex marriage. She attended the White House welcoming ceremony on Wednesday and spoke Tuesday at a news conference held by Equally Blessed, a coalition of several groups supportive of LGBT Catholics who are not celibate,

After being denied a booth at the World Meeting of Families, and then barred from using a nearby Catholic Church by Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, Equally Blessed set up shop in a Methodist church around the corner from the Pennsylvania Convention Center, the main venue for the event.

According to reports, the four-day schedule of the World Meeting of Families held only a single session devoted to gay families on Thursday.

Hoffman said Equally Blessed was frustrated that this was just one of the dozens of World Meeting of Families discussions specifically focuseing on homosexuality and featured a man living a celibate life. Some of the other sessions discuss sexuality, the complementarities of the sexes and the covenant of marriage, reported the Columbus Dispatch.

Reports say the session was moved at the last minute and without explanation from the main hall, capable of seating at least 10,000, to another room capable of seating only about 1,000. Hundreds of people were turned away, and convention center officials barred them from entering, citing fire code regulations.

So who did the conference organizers welcome? Courage, a ministry that provides support for gay Catholics who practice chastity, were permitted to have a booth in the exhibition hall.

Father Philip Bochanski, an associate director of Courage, says his interactions with members of Equally Blessed, the group that does not mandate celibacy of gay Catholics, have been friendly, he told NCR.

Bochanski said even though Francis isn't aiming to make changes in church teaching on sexuality, believers need to defend those who are being bullied or ostracized because of their orientation.

"We all need to practice compassion and be brothers and sisters to one another," said Bochanski.

Sister Jeannine Gramick, who has spent more than 40 years working with the LGBT community, told NCR that she doesn't think the pope cares much about doctrine. "The bishops are preaching the old law, which is doctrine and teaching. It's the old law that binds people, while Pope Francis is preaching the Gospel of love."

Sister Gramick said she's held many conversations with Catholic LGBT activists about the pope, and witnessed new excitement, even elation. "Some say that while he says wonderful things, there hasn't been any change in doctrine. I say, he's not interested in doctrine. Changes in doctrine come way down the line and that's not as important."

Watch a timelapse video from Delaware Onlineshowing the crowds gathered along the route Pope Francis traveled, below:

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