PHILADELPHIA -- Pope Francis -- who has largely avoided directly speaking of controversies over LGBT rights despite heavy lobbying from conservative and liberal Catholics -- made his most concrete reference to gay marriages that are now legal on American soil when he spoke Sunday morning to bishops gathered at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
In the the seminary’s chapel, the pope spoke of the “unprecedented changes” that are having “social, cultural and, unfortunately, now juridical effects on family bonds.” Until recently, the pope said the similarities “between the civil institution of marriage and the Christian sacrament were considerable and shared."
But the pope -- who did not say the word “gay” as he has before in his papacy, or use the word “homosexuality” as his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, preferred -- told bishops the solution to responding to a society that no longer agrees with church doctrine is not to rehash the church’s views, but instead reach out to spread their faith through friendship.
“Gratitude and appreciation should prevail over concerns and complaints,” Francis said.
He later added that “a Christianity which ‘does’ little in practice, while incessantly ‘explaining’ its teachings, is dangerously unbalanced. I would even say that it is stuck in a vicious circle.”
The pope likened the changes in families to the differences between supermarket chains and local stores.
“Business is no longer conducted on the basis of trust; others can no longer be trusted. There are no longer close personal relationships. Today’s culture seems to encourage people not to bond with anything or anyone, not to trust or let others trust in them.”
Francis railed against consumerism, connecting it to contemporary relationships.
“The most important thing today seems to be to follow the latest trend or activist. Consuming relationships, consuming friendships, consuming religions, consuming, consuming … Whatever the cost or consequences. A consumption which does not favor bonding, a consumption which has little to do with human relationships. Social bonds are a mere ‘means’ for the satisfaction of ‘my needs.’"
Francis, who has been hailed by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics and progressives for some of his remarks on gay people, such as his famed “Who am I to judge" response on gay priests, has also previously spoken out against gay marriage during his 2-and-a-half-year papacy. But while he’s criticized the "ideological colonization that tries to destroy the family,” for example, he’s also previously said the church is “obsessed” with speaking out against abortion, contraception and gay marriage.
The pope encouraged bishops to not give up on young people who often don't hold the same values as the church on family and marriage.
"Are today’s young people hopelessly timid, weak, inconsistent? We must not fall into this trap," he said.
The pope prefaced his address with remarks on the church's ongoing sex-abuse crisis, after initially speaking about it earlier in his trip while in Washington, D.C., and being criticized by victim advocates on the issue.
"God weeps for the sexual abuse of children. These cannot be maintained in secret, and I commit to a careful oversight to ensure that youth are protected and all responsible will be held accountable," he said.
Vatican officials had earlier refused to confirm if the pope would meet with abuse victims, but the pope announced on Sunday that he had met with victims earlier tht morning.