- Deseret News - Tuesday, September 22, 2015

When he was elected in March 2013, Pope Francis was a breath of fresh air for the Catholic Church, says Carl Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus and a member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family. His humble approach to leadership earned him praise from Catholics and non-Catholics alike, Anderson said.

In July 2013, the pope famously said, “Who am I to judge?” when asked about the presence of gay leaders at the Vatican, leading many to label him progressive. But he has also condemned the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage, such as when he said it held the potential to destroy the family during his January trip to the Philippines.

Helen Alvaré, a professor at George Mason School of Law who has served as a spokeswoman for the Vatican, said the pope’s messages on family life can appear mixed because he comes at the topic from two different angles.

He insists that the church should reach out to all people, regardless of their situations, while at the same time presenting the traditional family as “an irreplaceable means by which we come to know God,” she said at a panel sponsored by Pontifical University of Santa Croce at last week’s Religion Newswriters Association annual conference.

“We will get to the heart of Francis if we understand these two types of statements about the family in the context of his overarching call to actually encounter Christ on a day like today,” Alvaré noted. “The Creator has designed the (traditional) family as a uniquely effective window to Christ. Those rejecting or failing to understand this are a cry to us for assistance … a cry for all of us to figure out how people in (nontraditional) circumstances can receive, in their current situation of life, the good news of Christ.”

In Catholic doctrine, a family headed by a male and female is understood as the training ground for how humans are meant to interact with each other and all of creation, Alvaré said.

“It’s a place to show equality alongside diversity,” she said, noting that gay or lesbian couples are not diverse in the same way as straight couples.

The pope views the traditional family as “the foundation of coexistence and a remedy against social fragmentation,” Anderson added.

However, rather than ignore the many people in the church touched by single parenthood or homosexuality, the pope urges church leaders to be challenged by their experience and meet them where they are. He’s not compromising the church’s doctrine; he’s bringing more people in contact with it, Alvaré said.

“He’s reaching out to people wherever they are” in order to better call them away from a life of sin, she said.

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