What's behind the White House's invite to Catholic dissenters

Credit: Diego Cambasio via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).
Credit: Diego Cambasio via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0).

.- The White House will host a welcoming ceremony for Pope Francis next week, but it has invited several LGBT activist allies who are working to target Catholic beliefs and to influence the Synod on the Family.

On Sept. 23, the White House will host hundreds of people on the South Lawn for a welcoming ceremony for Pope Francis’ first visit to the U.S. as Roman Pontiff. The Pope and president Barack Obama will then have a private meeting.

The White House directly invited some guests to the ceremony, including former Episcopal Bishop V.  Gene Robinson. His election as the first openly gay Episcopalian bishop helped split the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.

The White House also invited the LGBT activist group GLAAD to the reception. GLAAD’s Sept. 16 announcement of the invitation asked its allies to “Help send a message to Pope Francis” by taking part in an advocacy campaign.

GLAAD has released a media guide for the papal visit that encourages journalists to consult dissenting Catholic groups. It also portrays negatively several Catholic bishops and Catholic commentators and researchers who are opposed to LGBT political aims. Its guide seeks sympathetic press attention for employees of Catholic institutions fired for violating Catholic moral standards.

The media guide criticized Catholic groups such as Courage, which supports people with same-sex attraction to live chastely. The GLAAD guide contended that Catholic teaching can be “extremely harmful” to young people who identify as LGBT.

Other guests to the reception were invited by other leaders or groups.

GLAAD said that they would be joined at the White House by Frank DeBernardo, executive director of the dissenting Catholic activist group New Ways Ministry, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, S.L., the organization’s co-founder. New Ways Ministry received a specific rebuke from the Vatican in 1999, when the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith permanently barred Sister Gramick from any pastoral work involving homosexual persons. In February 2010, then-president of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference Cardinal Francis George of Chicago said the group rejects central aspects of Catholic teaching.

The dissenting group Call to Action in a Sept. 14 blog post said an unnamed staffer had been invited to the reception. Mateo Williamson, a past transgender caucus co-chair with the dissenting group Dignity USA will also attend, CNSNews.com reports.

GLAAD has also invited a former intern, Nicholas Coppola. Coppola had volunteered at his New York parish and continued as a catechist after he contracted a same-sex marriage. The matter was brought to the attention of the Diocese of Rockville Centre in 2013.

Auxiliary Bishop Robert Brennan of Rockville Centre voiced concern to Coppola’s pastor that he was teaching religion to children. Coppola was removed from his position; he then launched a petition campaign protesting the action, with the aid of several activist groups.

Sean Dolan, director of communications for the Rockville Centre diocese, told the New York Times in 2013 that the Church “has the right to have people in public positions who accurately represent its teachings” and that someone who decides to enter such a union appears not to understand or follow Catholic teaching.

The papal visit comes ahead of the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia and the 2015 Synod of Bishops on the role of the family in the new evangelization. Both events have been the focus of well-funded activism.

The Arcus Foundation, which has poured millions into LGBT advocacy and efforts to counter religious freedom protections, has dedicated hundreds of thousands of dollars to projects that support LGBT activists to counter the synod. The foundation’s grantees include the Equally Blessed Coalition, whose members include New Ways Ministry, Dignity USA and Call to Action. New Ways Ministry and Dignity USA are also involved in a global network of LGBT Catholic activists which is holding an assembly and advocacy conference in Rome ahead of the synod.

In February, New Ways Ministry touted its presence at a Wednesday papal audience as unprecedented and won news headlines claiming the group had received VIP treatment. In fact, the organization took advantage of a ticketing process available to almost anyone. New Ways Ministry did not present itself as an organization, but rather identified as “a group of lay people accompanied by a Sister of Loretto.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) invited Sister Simone Campbell to attend the White House reception for Pope Francis. Sister Campbell is executive director of NETWORK Lobby. She addressed the Democratic National Convention and was a keynote speaker at the 2015 Dignity USA convention.

NETWORK Lobby helped undercut the U.S. bishops’ concerns about abortion in the 2010 health care bill backed by President Obama and other Democrats. Sister Campbell helped organize the Nuns on the Bus campaign, whose partners include the media group Faith in Public Life. That organization conducted a media campaign against the U.S. bishops’ efforts to defend religious freedom in the ongoing controversy over mandated insurance coverage for drugs and procedures that violate Catholic morals.

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