We’re halfway through Pope Francis’ visit to three East Coast cities and there’s been a flood of news about the pontiff’s meeting with President Obama, his appearance on the White House’s South Lawn, his canonization Mass at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and his Thursday morning speech to Congress on that brought up illegal immigration, redistribution of income, the death penalty and climate change. There were less-publicized actions, such as his visit to the Little Sisters of the Poor. There were the gestures that were intended to make a point in favor of the disposessed; the visit to Catholic Charities, the blessing of the girl in the wheelchair at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and even a blessing for Sandra Lee, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s longtime partner who has been fighting breast cancer.
Who knows what Francis may have up his sleeve for the World Meeting of Families this weekend in Philadelphia, but one thing he’s steered clear of so far is anything explicitly dealing with gay marriage, or just gay issues.
However, that’s not from the lack of trying by GLAAD, the homosexual advocacy group that that “rewrites the script for LGBT acceptance,” according to its site. Most informative is GLAAD's new resource guide: “The Papal Visit: A Journalist’s Guide to Reporting on Pope Francis and the LGBT Community.” Here are some of the “best practices” they advise journalists to take up:
Give voice to the unheard: Perhaps the impact of the Pope’s words on LGBT issues is most directly felt by those who are Catholic and LGBT. Often, news coverage focuses on pundits or hierarchy, without including the voices of those who are most affected. Hearing from everyday LGBT-identified people is critically important. Offering these perspectives presents a more accurate representation of the attitudes that exist within Catholic congregations…
Tell the story of everyday LGBT Catholics and families: LGBT people live rich and complex lives, and reporting on them should reflect that reality. Ask for personal stories about community activities, faith involvement, and organizational membership. Ask about their families -- both their families of origin, and the families they have created. They can also discuss both the joys and challenges of being LGBT and Catholic…
And for journalists uncomfortable with the existence of doctrinally defined non-profit groups:
Tell stories of people being fired for being LGBT or accepting: Make note of the employment conditions that are placed on employees at Catholic institutions…
Note that statements from the hierarchy are out of step with Catholics: Coverage of the Roman Catholic Church and its religious progress should make note of the Vatican policies and statements that have had a negative impact on LGBT Catholics whenever possible. Omitting information about this community may give the impression that a news outlet is overlooking the safety of LGBT Catholics or condones the Catholic Church’s anti-LGBT doctrine and policies.
I know I’ve included a large chunk of their material, as I wanted to make sure GR readers saw this last paragraph.
That final sentence: Omitting information about this community may give the impression that a news outlet is overlooking the safety of LGBT Catholics or condones the Catholic Church’s anti-LGBT doctrine and policies (italics mine). Is that a threat?
Journalists don’t like being told how to cover their beat by anyone, conservative or liberal, which is why I was surprised to see such terminology. Continuing on, journos are told “how to get past anti-LGBT talking points;” terms to avoid and “pitfalls to avoid.”
I couldn’t help wonder what the response would have been if the Mormons had put out a similar “playbook” for how to cover their church during Mitt Romney’s run for president, complete with accounts of Mormons have been persecuted. Name a group: Jews, evangelical Protestants, Muslims; imagine the furor if any of those groups had tried to hijack a religious event with their own narrative.
Thus, we haven't seen anything yet in terms of fireworks on this papal tour. GLAAD promises its people will be in the City of Brotherly Love pushing their side of the story, detailed on their site as “Catholic LGBT families introduce themselves ahead of the Pope’s visit.” The GLAAD folks aren’t alone in this. The Womenpriests movement is doing the same thing and I’m sure there are many other causes I’m missing. The conference on families is a great place for any group to try to gain visibility, quite frankly.
So far, GLAAD's strategy appears to be working. There’s this story from the CBS affiliate in Boston about a local gay family visiting the Philadelphia event; a story on a Catholic site about how the mayor of Philadelphia plans to bring up gay rights with the pope and a New York Times story on how gay Catholics are urging the pope to “take a stand.” As the Times warns us:
The hallmark of his papacy has been his pastoral approach to those living at the margins -- especially the poor, immigrants and prisoners. But it is unclear whether he includes sexual minorities among those in need of justice, and Catholic groups of all kinds are demanding answers, and discussion. … With gay Catholics clamoring to be heard, and the pope expected to address a crowd of more than one million in Philadelphia to close a landmark Catholic event on family life called the World Meeting of Families, the stage for a reckoning is set.
Yes, "reckoning." That may mean the end of the Pope Francis media honeymoon?
GLAAD no doubt sees this papal visit as a gift that may keep on giving. They have photos of “GLAAD at the White House” during the South Lawn event on their site, but the big money is on this families conference in Philadelphia. It's already started and as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports, homosexuality is already a big topic there.
Which is not to say that the organizers haven’t also read the GLAAD playbook. The Washington Post ran a piece last month about homosexual Catholic groups being disinvited from being hosted by local Catholic parishes once the archdiocese got wind of their presence.
So whether LGBT groups will get their 15 minutes of fame is yet to be seen but this pope seems to be going out of his way to avoid headline-friendly statements on certain social issues. That is, here he was on in front of Congress Thursday morning just before the Senate was going to vote on whether to defund Planned Parenthood. And he sidestepped the issue, only addressing “life issues” in the most general terms.
I’d be surprised if he waded anywhere close to the LGBT scene but stay tuned on Saturday and Sunday. If any pope can surprise us, this one will.