The Dilemma of Pope Francis: The 2018 World Meeting of Families

The Dilemma of Pope Francis: The 2018 World Meeting of Families

[Comment from CatholicCulture Phil Lawler’s Quick Hits for Mar 21, 2018]
A few months after that referendum, Pope Francis will visit Ireland to participate in the World Meeting of Families. Father Regis Scanlon, OFM Cap, in the Homiletic and Pastoral Review, explores the key issue in the preparation for that meeting: “This meeting is a ‘full court press’ attempt to pressure Pope Francis into welcoming the LGBT into the Church as a legitimate type of family.” Father Scanlon sees this as potentially a battle of apocalyptic importance, with “intimations of the final struggle.”

By now everyone — especially Catholics — should know that the 2018 World Meeting of Families, sponsored by the Vatican Congregation of Marriage and Family Life, will gather in Dublin, Ireland this August.

In recent months, stories about the gathering have multiplied. Videos have been made about the scheduled participants. Organizers have been interviewed. The program’s title has been explained that “Gospel of the Family, Joy for the World,” is inspired by Pope Francis’s Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia.1

What is less obvious is that this meeting presents a serious problem for Pope Francis and the Church.

Why? Because the themes of the interviews and stories are clear: This meeting is a “full court press” attempt to pressure Pope Francis into welcoming the LGBT into the Church as a legitimate type of family.

The most blatant example is the recent statement of Katherine Zappone, the Irish Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, who has a dual American and Irish citizenship, and was educated at the Catholic University of America. She was legally married to her lesbian partner, Anne Louise Gilligan, until Gilligan’s death last year.2

Not only is Zappone a prominent advocate for homosexual rights in Ireland and the U.S., but she recently took it upon herself to actually demand how the Catholic Church should present its own World Meeting of Families: “There should be a welcome for all,” she said. “And never again should public statements or remarks which seek to isolate certain families be tolerated.” Zappone continued her “intolerance” manifesto to say that she hopes that the world meeting will “not be used as a platform for remarks which exclude, isolate, or hurt any family.” “The eyes of the world will be on Dublin,” she continued. “The World Meeting of Families is a unique opportunity to confront such inequality, discrimination, and hate. It can provide global leadership on inclusion.”

She concluded, “Pope Francis has given hope to many.”3

Well, we shall see.

Few events could be more significant today than a world-wide gathering of families “that would help to strengthen the bonds between families, and bear witness to the crucial importance of marriage and the family to all of society.” This was John Paul II’s goal for the First World Meeting of Families in 1994.4

However, the message of St John Paul II, made 24 years ago about marriage and the family, has been completely overrun in our times by the enthusiasm, even inside the Church, for furthering gay rights.

Welcoming” the LGBT movement to the meeting
Today, a number of the Church hierarchy are openly expressing a “welcoming” attitude to the presence of the LGBT movement at the 2018 World Meeting of Families.5 In fact, as one reads the list of Cardinals, bishops, and others slated to speak at this meeting, half (9 out of 18) of the speakers are recognizable as those who have publicly expressed their support for “welcoming” the LGBT into the Church as family.6

Moreover, there is a clear political goal to the 2018 World Meeting of Families by the LGBT, and their religious and civil supporters. “Promotional materials meant to prepare Catholics for the gathering, suggest that the event is making a special outreach to LGBT people and their families at a time of rapid social transformation in Ireland.”7 Among the most disturbing changes is the country’s approval of same sex marriage. And this May, Irish voters will consider whether or not to approve of abortion.8

But let’s be quite clear about the goal of the LGBT, and their Church, and Irish supporters. It is not to get Pope Francis to explicitly approve of homosexual activity. They know he will not do this. They just want him to remain silent about the evil of homosexual acts, and not object to the inclusion of LGBT into the Church as a type of legitimate family.

Cardinal Kevin Farrell, one of the organizers of the World Meeting of Families, has already made it clear that the event should revitalize family life, and will not exclude anyone. He recently stated that: “This encounter… is to promote the Christian concept of marriage, and the Catholic concept of marriage, and will focus on that. All people are invited, we don’t exclude anybody.” 9 So, as it stands now, LGBT couples are invited and “welcomed” as family.

Thus, if Pope Francis remains silent, the LGBT, along with their Church and Irish state supporters, will have their victory. The old Latin phrase still holds: “Qui tacet consentire videtur” (He who is silent seems to consent). The whole world will conclude that gay couples are now a welcomed, and accepted part of Catholic family life in the Church, and that their marital/civil union “bonds” should be “strengthened.”

Should the Church convert the LGBT of Ireland, or vice versa?
When the Second Vatican Council addressed the sanctity of Marriage and the family in no. 48 of Gaudium et Spes, it pointed out that “marriage was established by the Creator” and is held together by a “sacred bond” through which the family becomes holy (Gen. 2:24). Marriage and the family are sacred. Therefore, the intention of the 2018 World Meeting of Families should be to help families throughout the world to rediscover and “strengthen” this sanctity which was intended for both marriage, and families, from the very “beginning” (Mt. 19:8).

The Church has protected and promoted this divine plan throughout her history. Marriage was universally and naturally understood to be a sacred bond between a man and a woman. The union of man and woman and child reflects the unity of the Trinity, and the cooperation between God and human beings (man and woman) to create new life. Homosexual unions are an affront to this unity, and to the possibility of bringing forth new life, and, therefore, are a rebellion against God.

In August, this rebellion against God will have a prominent platform in Ireland, formerly the most Catholic of nations.

By the same token, this also represents a great opportunity for the Church, and for Pope Francis, to bear witness to the true nature of marriage and family, and to proclaim the truth in Ireland, a country which tragically has taken the lead in “social change” with laws that favor abortion rights, homosexual marriage, and stifling the teaching authority of the Church.

While we can pray that Pope Francis takes up the challenge to proclaim the truth, a great danger lies ahead in the form of the controversial papal document, Amoris Laetitiawhich has already caused a great deal of dissension and confusion in the Church. The danger is that the proponents of gay rights at this World Meeting of Families will use the popular themes of this puzzling document to either silence Francis, or mute his message. Those popular themes stress absolute respect for every individual’s moral choice (especially if the person is coming from a place of hardship) rather than promoting the teaching of the Church on the absolute, and unchanging, moral law. This theme is a product of the preceding Synods on the Family which took place in Rome in 2014 and 2015, and appears in paragraph 291 of Amoris Laetitia as:

The Church must accompany, with attention and care, the weakest of her children, who show signs of a wounded and troubled love, by restoring in them hope and confidence, like the beacon of a lighthouse in a port, or a torch carried among the people to enlighten those who have lost their way, or who are in the midst of a storm.

So, there is a grave danger that some members of the Church hierarchy, involved in the Irish event, will try to say that the principles of Amoris Laetitia are in harmony with the LGBT movement. It is even possible that the event is being positioned to acclimate and conditionthe Catholic Church to accept this new “rapid social transformation in Ireland.”

Sound farfetched? Just look at the early promotional materials of the 2018 World Meeting of Families:

One multimedia program is entitled, “Amoris: Let’s Talk Family! Let’s Be Family!” It states: “While the Church upholds the ideal of marriage as a permanent commitment between a man and a woman, other unions exist which provide mutual support to the couple. Pope Francis encourages us never to exclude, but to accompany these couples also, with love, care, and support.”10 The implication is clear that even if they don’t represent the “ideal” of marriage and family, nevertheless couples of the LGBT movement are a type of marriage and family and, therefore, deserve “support” in “strengthening their bond” as a family by the Church.

The materials explain that couples of the LGBT movement have been invited to the 2018 World Meeting of Families primarily to “celebrate the joy” of being a “family” within the Church. It is primarily an announcement that LGBT couples are already a part of our Church family, and must be accorded all the rights and privileges that goes with this newly discovered relationship. (This does not appear to be an opinion to be considered for discussion at the 2018 World Meeting of Families, but rather a fait accompli.)

Nothing in the materials suggests that the Church hierarchy is seeking “to enlighten those who have lost their way” as Amoris Laetitia suggests. Nothing in these cheery publicity documents even gives a hint of the clear truth, taught from the beginning of the Church, that sodomy and homosexual actions are gravely sinful. But what an opportunity (so far not taken) for the Church to make a loving but firm outreach to the LGBT movement — and to activists like the Catholic-raised Katherine Zappone — to help them understand that their actions could condemn them to an eternity separated from God. The World Meeting of Families could be that proverbial “line in the sand” which clearly proclaims that, of course, homosexual persons are loved by God and the Church, but they must repent of their sins (as every one of us must repent) in order to be “accompanied” into full participation in the life of the Church.

Instead, it’s clear that the organizers are neutral, if not openly supportive, of the moral choices made by practicing homosexuals.

So, we must ask: What does this Church-sanctioned event in Ireland say about the present confusion among the hierarchy of the Church? We already know one of the explicit goals of the LGBT movement is to abolish all laws forbidding “sodomy” in human society.11 Of course, they would like to portray their goal purely as a matter of human rights and acceptance, but the fact is, their practices are the antithesis of the Church teaching on marriage, and human sexuality, and Divine Revelation itself.

But the promulgation of Amoris Laetitia has made Church teaching far more difficult. Recall Pope Francis’ famous phrase: “Who am I to judge.”12 The line has a magnanimous ring to it, but it doesn’t offer much guidance for navigating the moral confusion of our times.

In fact, Pope Francis would do well to consider a warning issued by his predecessor, John Paul II, at the 1976 Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia. The warning got little media attention at the time, and even little notice among Catholics. John Paul II stated that the world was entering a new, and historic era that would be dangerous to the faith:

We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has gone through. I do not think that wide circles of American society, or wide circles of the Christian community, realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-Church; of the Gospel versus the anti-Gospel. 13

Today, hindsight helps us to appreciate his prophecy.

But most Catholics still do not comprehend the powerful forces at work today. The anti-Church, and the anti-Gospel, are on the march, and the 2018 World Meeting of Families is a dramatic example of that.

However, the meeting will be a great success if Pope Francis takes the challenge, and publicly proclaims the sanctity of man-woman matrimony. It would be an act of great love and charity to share with LGBT members that homosexual actions are anathema to God, and an insult to His design for the human family. It’s time for the Church to state clearly, and strongly, that human beings can never be truly happy in this life if their actions are bringing them closer and closer to the loss of eternal life.

On the other hand, if the August meeting passes into history as a great triumph for homosexual rights, it leaves behind the message that the Church is willing to please the world by showing how progressive it has become, and that the Church has no intention of publicly correcting the grievous act of sodomy. If this happens, woe to the Church leaders who bring this about! An uncritical “welcoming” of the LGBT movement logically implies a rejection of the infallibility of both the Old and New Testament of Sacred Scripture, especially the Divine Revelation condemning “unnatural sexual relations” or “sodomy” in Genesis 18, Romans 1, 1 Cor.6:9, and Jude 1:7.

Which will it be? Will this formerly great Catholic nation of Ireland become associated with a great revival of Catholic Christianity, or will it go down in history as a triumph of anti-Church, and anti-Gospel, forces within the Church?

If it’s the second, then I think it’s pretty clear that the Catholic Church is entering what John Paul II called “the final confrontation,” and it is likely we are witnessing the beginning of the End Times.

The dilemma of Pope Francis
How can Pope Francis avoid this trap? He can’t very well ignore the LGBT participants, because that would appear uncharitable. If he acknowledges their presence with a positive attitude, he has furthered confusion in the Church.

Here is what we must hope and pray for: that the Pope will, first, welcome the LGBT participants to the World Meeting of Families by telling them how much Our Lord and His Church loves each of them. But, then he must also inform them, prayerfully and firmly, that they must renounce a life based on sodomy, which grievously offends and dishonors both God, and their partners, and brings down the “wrath of God” upon themselves (Rom 1: 18-26). This message would take a great deal of courage on the Pope’s part. Statistics reveal that 29 nations have already approved of gay marriage, and more nations are likely to be following suit.14

Clearly, the Pope will need the grace of God to withstand this historic assault. While many LGBT members may renounce their lives, and return to the Church, the movement itself is determined to conquer the Church. Consider what happened at the World Meeting of Families two years ago. The LGBT movement was invited if it agreed to abide by the “no lobbying” policy.15 However, at the event, during a scheduled talk by a celibate homosexual person,  gay couples from the “Equally Blessed” community publicly protested the Church’s insistence that “celibacy is the only option.”16 By ignoring the rules set by the Church at that 2015 meeting, the movement set a precedent that will be difficult to resist in 2018.

Ominously, this year Church organizers have even strengthened the language of acceptance. In 2015, they simply permitted the LGBT community to come to the world meeting under certain conditions. In 2018, it is being stressed that they are a “welcomed” presence at the World Meeting of Families.

What better way to increase the confusion in the Church than this? Many Catholics, not to mention other Christians, the media (and even history itself), will have good reason to believe that the Church is developing a fundamental change in its teaching on human sexuality. The implication will be that the Church plans to sanction the breakdown of man-woman marriage, and sexual license, because it must keep pace with secular society.17

That’s why it is imperative to understand the importance of Ireland. Blessed with the fullness of the Catholic faith, Ireland’s approval of homosexual marriage, abortion, and completely secular values, insults God more deeply than the actions of any other nation. It is the equivalent of a Father being rejected by his favorite daughter.

Let us begin to pray with great intensity that Pope Francis will take a firm and public stand if — and when — he comes to the 2018 World Meeting of Families in Dublin. He must emphasize that the punishment for corrupting the Christian family does not just occur here in this life. This is the Sacred Tradition of the Catholic Church as proclaimed by first century St. Ignatius of Antioch, bishop and martyr, when he said:

Make no mistake, my brothers: those who corrupt families will not enter the kingdom of God. If those who do these things in accordance with the flesh have died, how much worse will it be if one who corrupts, through evil doctrine, the faith of God for which Jesus Christ was crucified. Such a person, because he is defiled, will depart into the unquenchable fire, as will anyone who listens to him.18

To proclaim this truth in 21st century Ireland, with a hostile world watching and waiting to tear him to pieces, will require great courage from the Pope. But he can take heart from the words of his predecessor, St. John Paul II: “Be not afraid!”

  7.; Michael J. O’ Laughlin, “Global meeting of Catholic Families in Dublin to include outreach to L. G. B. T. people,” America, Oct. 20, 2017. 
  18. St. Ignatius of Antioch, found in Liturgy of the Hours (New York: Catholic Bk. Pub. Co., 1976), Vo. III, Second Week of Ordinary Time, Office of Readings, Monday, p.85. 
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