Are Philly Liberals Ready for the Pope?

Three reasons feminist, gay-loving lefties can learn to stop worrying and enjoy the World Meeting of Families.


As Philly this week celebrated the long-awaited news that Pope Francis will indeed be visiting us for next year’s World Meeting of Families, this Tweet came across the transom:

Well, goodness. That’s not fun to think about, is it? But that means it’s probably a question worth confronting: How should those of us who are feminist gay-loving liberals react to the forthcoming (temporary) takeover of our city by a church that doesn’t share our values?

My suggestion: Treat the event like it’s family coming for Thanksgiving. Smile! Try to be a good host! Avoid unnecessary arguments! And if you can’t do those things, well, remember: The guests will only be here a few days — and then they’ll leave. This too shall pass.

Having given that advice, though, I can’t bring myself — as a feminist gay-loving liberal — to get too worked up about the the World Meeting of Families and accompanying papal visit. It doesn’t mean my own values don’t matter to me (they do) but because this seems to be a unique moment in the church, and I’m eager to see it up close.

Three reasons why:

This pope: What can I say? I look at folks I know in and out of the church — gay friends, in particular — folks long since alienated from the Catholic Church, and many of them have found hope in the ascendancy of Francis. It’s not that he’s not Catholic, somehow: The differences between him and his predecessors are probably much smaller than what they share, theologically. But he does seem animated by a different and more welcoming spirit than other popes of recent vintage, and that difference appears to be having a thunderous effect on the church.

The church is more than the sum of its disagreeable positions: In fact, the Catholic Church holds a few positions I find agreeable. A lot of its resources go to help the poor and the sick; Francis and his predecessors have generally warned against war and tried to promote peace. They’ve not been blind to capitalism’s occasional faults.

Of course, the World Meeting of Families isn’t really about those topics. (There will be no lessons in liberation theology.) Peruse the speaker list and you’ll find those who insist that “true feminism” embraces the old patriarchy, who inveigh against “redefining marriage,” and who — no matter how loving they intend to be — still see homosexuality as wrong and something to be repressed. (You’ll also find speeches on families with disabilities, and the value of eating dinners together.) The Catholic Church is still the Catholic Church, after all.

Then again…

The church, even at its most hierarchical, is composed not just of rules and tradition, but of its people and their lived experiences. And let me tell you: There are a lot of Birth-Control-Taking Catholics. A number of Divorced Catholics. Many Feminist Catholics. Even a few Gay Catholics. And they will be among the throngs crowding the Parkway next September for a chance to hear and see the pope.

Consider this: Philadelphia is both very Catholic and very gay friendly. How can that be? Easy: We are large. We contain multitudes. An awful lot of folks in favor of gay rights in this town graduated from the city’s  parochial schools. Life’s weird that way.

Point being: We feminist, gay-loving liberals shouldn’t preclude the possibility that the World Meeting of Families will bring us the opportunity to make contact — and perhaps even friendships with — Catholic allies from all over the world and nation.

The World Meeting of Families will shine the light of Catholic evangelization right on Philadelphia. That’s fine. We’re Philadelphia. We can shine our own light right on back. And if we’re our best selves, we’ll do it while being respectful, cheerful hosts. Bring on the pope. 

Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.