The parents were members of an Italian group called Tenda di Gionata (or “Jonathan’s Tent" in English) which welcomes LGBTQ Christians.
The Pope told the parents that God loves LGBTQ children "as they are" and that "they are children of God.”
Following his weekly general audience in the San Damaso courtyard of Vatican City on Wednesday September 16, Pope Francis held a brief meeting with parents of LGBTQ children, and used the opportunity to send a positive message to the queer community.
According to America Magazine, the group of about 40 Italian parents who met with the Pope were members of Tenda di Gionata (“Jonathan’s Tent” in English), an association formed in 2018 to welcome and support LGBTQ Christians. During the meeting Pope Francis told the parents that “God loves your children as they are” and that “the church loves your children as they are because they are children of God.”
Pope Francis—who has previously made headlines for increasingly progressive and public stances on issues like climate change, compassion for refugees, racism, and more—has a complicated history with LGBTQ rights. In 2013, the Pope made waves when he said "who am I to judge?" when asked about gay priests, and in addition he told a Spanish journalist that homosexual tendencies "are not a sin." However, he has also spoken out against gay marriage, noting in 2014 that he believed "marriage is between a man and a woman" and suggesting in 2015 that gay marriage threatens traditional families.
Regardless of these mixed signals in the past, the parents present felt reassured after their encounter with Pope Francis. Mara Grassi, the vice president of the Tenda di Gionata association and mother of four, told America Magazine that they had the chance to present the Pope with a booklet documenting the experiences these parents had with the church as well as their request for acceptance for LGBTQ Christians.
"We consider ourselves fortunate because we had to change the way that we had always looked at our children. We found a new way of looking that enabled us to see in them the beauty and love of God," Grassi told the Pope, according to the publication. "We wish to create a bridge to the church so that the church too can change its way of looking at our children, no longer excluding them but fully welcoming them.”
Noting that her eldest child is gay, Grassi explained to the Pope that her son "left the church because he did not feel accepted in his diversity," and that after some difficult times she came to realize that "faith and homosexuality are not in opposition, and that God loves my son as he is."
Apparently the Pope was on the same page as Grassi, further reassuring her that "the church does not exclude them because she loves them deeply.” As they said their goodbyes, the association of parents gifted Pope Francis a rainbow T-shirt with the words “In love there is no fear” on the front.
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