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Conservatives outraged at gays on White House guest list for Pope Francis! (Vatican, not so much)

Sister Simone Campbell speaks during 2012 Nuns on the Bus tour. Photo courtesy of NETWORK
(RNS) President Obama met Pope Francis at the Vatican and Wednesday (Sept. 23) will welcome him to the White HouseOfficial White House Photo by Pete Souza.

Photo by Pete Souza, courtesy of the White House via Flickr

(RNS) President Obama met Pope Francis at the Vatican and Wednesday (Sept. 23) will welcome him to the White HouseOfficial White House Photo by Pete Souza.

(RNS) Do we have our first full-blown diplomatic incident marring the carefully-orchestrated visit of Pope Francis to the U.S.?

Did the Obama White House muff what should have been a slam dunk in welcoming the pontiff to what is essentially a Washington photo op?

It sure sounds that way judging by the conservative outrage over invitations dispersed by the White House to a number of gay Catholics and LGBT advocates, an openly gay Episcopal bishop, and to a nun who is a prominent social justice activist.

They are among the nearly 15,000 people taking part in a reception for Francis on the South Lawn on Wednesday (Sept. 23) before his private meeting with the president.

But these particular guests are “a rogue’s gallery” of dissenters and their inclusion is “a stunning show of political indecorum” designed to “test just how far Pope Francis’ notorious tolerance will go,” Thomas Williams wrote last Wednesday (Sept. 16) in at the rightwing news site,

In his article, Williams described Sister Simone Campbell, one of the guests, as the “pro-abortion executive director of the social justice lobby NETWORK.”

Campbell, who is known as the organizer of the “Nuns on the Bus” tours, says she is “pro-life, not just pro-birth.” She has also said that while her work does not focus on abortion issues per se, she believes that her mission to address economic injustice and promote health care for all Americans helps reduce the number of abortions.

Williams also pointed to the invitation to Aaron Ledesma, a 23-year-old gay Catholic who said he recently returned to Mass because he was inspired by Francis’ message of inclusivity; and Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican Communion who’s now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a think-tank with ties to the Democratic Party.

Williams is a vulnerable messenger for such a critique: he was a priest of a secretive and influential religious order, the Legionaries of Christ, a longtime favorite of the Catholic right, which the Vatican has been trying to overhaul following revelations of lurid sex and money scandals.

Williams himself later left the priesthood to marry a woman – the daughter of Mary Ann Glendon, a conservative Catholic law professor and ambassador to the Holy See under President Bush – with whom he’d secretly had a child while he was still a cleric.

Whatever the source, the Breitbart story was given further momentum when the Wall Street Journal on Thursday ran an article saying “the Vatican has taken offense” at the guest list. That story cited an unnamed “senior Vatican official” as the source of the offense.

That really got the ball rolling, and in a cascade of tweets and blog posts, conservative Catholics and their allies voiced outrage at the “childish dig at the pope” and the “juvenile” and “deliberate insult” to American Catholics.

“(T)he White House wants to deliberately embarrass the Pope by sticking a thumb in his eye, and by sticking their noses into Catholic doctrine and teachings,” Ed Morrissey wrote at

Even the editorial page of the Washington Post got into the act on Saturday (Sept. 19), writing that the Vatican “has raised objections” (a Vatican spokesman in fact noted that the Holy See does not as a matter of course comment on such matters) and criticizing the Obama administration for being willing to offend a kindly soul like Pope Francis while kowtowing to oppressive governments like China, Saudi Arabia and Cuba.

The president would never invite dissidents to receptions for those countries’ leaders, the Post said. (It did not mention that Francis is also being criticized for not meeting human rights activists while in Cuba this weekend.)

The Post also said inviting Campbell insulted Francis because she criticizes church policies on euthanasia; Campbell said in an email she has never raised the issue or criticized the Vatican over it.

“While I won’t have the opportunity to meet Pope Francis directly, I’ll be carrying in my heart many of the people that I’ve met on our Nuns on the Bus tours across this great country,” said Campbell, who is currently on a bus tour with other nuns to promote Francis’ teachings ahead of his visit.

“These are the people Pope Francis cares about,” she wrote, referring to the struggling Americans she has met in various cities on the current trip. “These are the people we care about. Pope Francis knows the type of work we Catholic sisters do as we walk with the people, and we are grateful for his leadership bridging divides and transforming our political and economic systems.”

Sister Simone Campbell speaks during 2012 Nuns on the Bus tour. Photo courtesy of NETWORK

Sister Simone Campbell speaks during 2012 Nuns on the Bus tour. Photo courtesy of NETWORK

On further review, it looks like American conservatives and Obama critics are more upset than the pope they say they are defending.

While the guest list apparently irked at least the one Vatican official who spoke to the Wall Street Journal, several other church officials in the Vatican and the U.S. said privately they didn’t consider the issue a problem or worth coverage.

They said there are far more important issues to think about in connection with the pope’s Sept. 22-27 trip to Washington, New York and Philadelphia, and they noted that the guests in question represented a handful of people out of many thousands.

Administration officials also said that the White House worked with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Archdiocese of Washington, Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities to distribute invitations to guests from around the country.

Leading evangelical Protestants and representatives of other faith groups were also invited, and many guests were told they could bring friends of their choosing.

(Jewish representatives will be absent because the event falls on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the end of the High Holy Days; that timing was the source of scattered complaints, though most Jewish leaders dismissed such grousing and said they understood scheduling was difficult. Francis is to formally meet with Jewish leaders and leaders of faiths on Friday in New York.)

It seems unlikely that Francis would have a major problem with Campbell.

He has gone out of his way to praise the work of American nuns, whose social justice outreach seems to mirror his own priorities, and he ended a Vatican investigation of U.S. sisters launched under his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

Moreover, Francis last week named Sister Maureen Kelleher, who was a founding member of NETWORK, as a special delegate to a major Vatican summit on families next month.

The pope has also welcomed gay people to the Vatican and invited a transgender man from Spain to meet with him at his private residence. He has met with advocates for LGBT Catholics, and appointed a German bishop to next month’s Vatican synod who has suggested that the church bless gay couples.

Just last week, a New York priest who ministers to gay and lesbian Catholics, revealed that after celebrating Mass with Francis at the pontiff’s chapel in the Vatican he gave the pope a DVD which tells stories about LGBT Catholics and their relationship to the church.

“This is from the gays and lesbians of the United States,” the Rev. Gil Martinez, pastor at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle, told Francis, according to Martinez’ interview with the Huffington Post.

In chatting in the pope’s native Spanish about his upcoming U.S. visit, Francis told Martinez: “I would love to visit and talk to gay and lesbian people. And please tell the gays to pray for me, and I shall pray for them.”

On Wednesday at the White House, the pope may be able to deliver that message in person – if he can find them in the crowd.

(Editor’s note: David Gibson assisted Sister Simone Campbell in writing her 2014 memoir, “A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change, and Community.”)

About the author

David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series.


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  • As a practicing Catholic and a US citizen, I am not at all bothered by my sisters and brother Catholics (and the others) whom the White House has invited to greet the pope. In fact, I am very happy for them!

  • I’m willing to bet good money the Mass at the National Shrine, where the Church was in total control of the ticketing, will have among the thousands present at least two lgbt persons, a gay Episcopalian and a nun that has been falsely slurred as being pro-abortion simply because of advocacy for the poor.

    That certain elements of the right wing would invent such a false story speaks more about them than about anything else.

  • seriously, you”re basing your opinion on Breitbart? I’m pretty conservative and I don’t have a problem with it. I do have a problem with people who stereotype and are lazy writers.

  • It makes perfect sense for these folks to meet with the Pope as they share in common a commitment to create belief and practice out of human philosophy rather than just remaining in conformity with the Bible. However, I do think the question has to be asked that in a country that celebrates the separation of church and state, why is the leader of a Christian church being accorded this kind of honor? Will the White House receive every leader of every Christian church in the US, and every faith in the US now as well? If not, it sure looks like one faith group is getting preferential treatment. Then one has to ask why? Why does the White House go to such extremes? Why would the Pope care about the President? It is in the interest of Roman Catholics to support the President’s agenda to fill the voting rolls with former illegal immigrants as this will Catholicize the US. And it fits Obama’s agenda to leverage to pope for climate change actions. They both hope to use the other.

  • There’s no real controversy here. Obama’s extreme (more accurately, extremist) devotion to the Gay Marriage Cult is now well-known across the world, and dominates the American landscape.

    So it’s only natural that he invited his gay activist pals to the Pope’s big party. The only shocker would have been if Obama had NOT invited them.

    At any rate, it’s a foregone conclusion that Pope Francis will be freely meeting with various Gay Activists and their allies during his big visit, and he will NOT be trying to debate against them. He’s not going to challenge them in any of his public speeches.

    So during his upcoming visit, do NOT look for Francis to openly say ANYTHING against the monstrous Legalized Gay Marriage movement in America,

    (At most, Francis may offer a very low-key, no-challenge “personal opinion” that he personally believes marriage should be between a man and a woman. But he is NOT going to rock any boats on the Gay Gestapo’s lake.)

  • This is classic Obama. He has always been one to take the low road, and then scream when it is pointed out. As for these people, well, I hope the pope challenges them to take their Christianity a little more seriously. And I say that in the sense that nobody on this earth has reached perfection, so we all need to continue to strive for God, His Ways, and Him alone. That requires us to embrace one another, and help each other in our walk to the Kingdom. Repentance is never easy, but if we all do it, it is workable. Hopefully our Lord will touch Gene Robinson and urge him to return. Our lives are a passing moment, and the sooner we ready ourselves for eternity, the better.

  • Doc,

    Great post. Conservatives would do better to rid their own enclave of other gross sinners and reprobates. The hateful anti-Christian LGBT squad (redundancy alert) that Obama has supported are much easier to see that’s all.

    Just preach the Gospel, live by it and just let the dead marry the dead.

    Read Jude. He describes our times as if he was an Evangelical running a mega Church.

  • It is you, not the Holy Father, who has all sorts of problems with folks who are not like you. You wee I’ll be a better person if you take to heart what Pope Francis says.

  • “Holy Father?”

    Francis is a man and nothing more. He may or may not be a Christian, that will be uncovered on the day he stands before The Holy Father. Or in actuality, the Holy Father’s Son.

    But like Francis, I don’t care what kind of people parade around religious ceremonies. It has nothing to do with who is and who isn’t a follower of Christ.

    If Jesus could tolerate the woman at the well, I’m sure Francis can tolerate a few other sexual miscreants surrounding him. No matter what Obama does in his political time here on earth, it won’t change Christian truth in the slightest.

  • Breitbart and related elements of the extreme right are not and never have been conservative. Breitbart is a business whose business plan is to stoke outrage among the rubes. Doing this makes them a beaucoup of money.

    Conservatism, in its classic sense, is little different from liberalism. What is called “conservatism” by the corporate media is merely the articulation of racism, sexism, and heterosexism.

  • Do you ever practice saying such silly things in front of a mirror? “Gay gestapo”? “Gay marriage cult”? Seriously? You, my friend, are living in a world of your own making which refuses to recognize reality.

  • The Pope “may or may not be” a Christian? Excuse me? This man is the CEO of the world’s largest affiliated group of Christians. If he were not a Christian, he would not hold that office. Reality, my friend. It would do you good to become acquainted with it.

  • Robinson “should be urged to return”? From what and to what? This has got to be among the top 100 silliest, most pompous statements ever on the internets.

  • More dissembling from papal lapdog Gibson. WSJ: “The Vatican has taken offense at the Obama administration’s decision” etc. One Vatican official is all that is needed. The pope is anti-gay human rights but couches his remarks in euphemisms like “sanctity of the family”, “gender identity”, “ideological colonizaton.” In 1997, Ratzinger single-handedly changed the Catechism to read: “This [homosexual] inclination is objectively disordered.” So the pope can change this any time he wants but he won’t.

  • George, homosexuality is listed among the grave sins that will keep a soul from heaven after death: “do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who have sex with men” (1Cor 6:9). What good is Francis’ visit, if it does not encourage those who are far from God to return. We delude ourselves when we call “grave sin,” moral action.

  • George,

    Your responses to stimuli are carefully orchestrated by the propaganda of cunning entities that Paul very accurately points out is darkness personified. “Powers and principalities in high places.” That the word “heterosexsm” can be used without its author realizing it is a manipulative and evil neologism shows that Christians are perfectly rational in their fear of their sexually perverse adversaries. One of which was elected president and has done all he can to define Christian life as Jesus and the Apostles taught it should be lived . . . as an enemy of mankind.

  • George,

    You used the propaganda neologism “heterosexism.”

    Your brain is so washed you cannot even comprehend the darkness that has taken control of it.

  • BB, it’s almost comical when a fanatical Christian talks about propaganda from others . . . because there is no propaganda that can begin to match the volume, frequency, and absurdity of the propaganda relentlessly generated by people to validate and propagate their religion.

  • “Your brain is so washed . . .”

    BB, could you possibly be any less self-aware? There is simply no brainwashing that can begin to match the magnitude and intensity of the brainwashing inflicted on people to propagate religion.

  • “We delude ourselves when we call “grave sin,” moral action.”

    More accurately, we delude ourselves when we talk about “the kingdom of God” as if it were real.

  • And, as always, you can leave out the revolvers and the slanderers who will also not get to go to heaven.

    That’s you, BB, BQRQ, Dommy, Doc, and quite a few others.

    Meanwhile BB slanders your pope, says your faith is a fake, and you say not a word about it.

    Why, someone would think you are actually, and simply, antigay.

  • Yeah, what Richard said. The hyperbolic insults of the advocates of repression are by no means rational or moral.

  • Our president in an enemy of mankind. Right. One more time, you are showing just what your heart and soul are made of. But it’s fine with me. I’m not the one that has to live with a heart and a soul like that. And we both know where reviling and slander will have you end up? And so it remains fine with me. Though I’d pay good money to see the horror on your face in that situation. And if I believed your mythology.

    Christians are perfectly rational in their fear of their sexually perverse adversaries? 1000 characters cannot unpack all of the lies, absurdities, and prejudice contained therein.

    Christians– just some of them, the ones obsessed with sex and other people’s sins, anything but actually living according to your beliefs.

    Perfectly rational? not on this subject.

    sexually perverse? We prefer differently oriented.

    adversaries? and there you reveal the fear, paranoia, and projection that comprises the virulently antigay worldview,

  • “Neologism” as used here = a weak response typical of a bully that’s been bested. If all the Divine is to you is harm to those whom you believe are less than you, I pity you.

  • This assertion our LGBT Brothers and Sisters are somehow “unrighteous” is reprehensible. The scripture cited has no application whatsoever to the issue at hand. The writer should be sorely ashamed for his angry outburst at those who have done him no harm.

  • Of course it’s the subject matter. We’re talking about who won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Corinthians 6. Specks and beams.

    What you mean is that you don’t think it applies to you…Or ought to.

    That’s why we call it Christian hypocrisy and Christian exceptionalism. That’s why Kim Davis is dangerous to all people’s freedom in our country.

  • So now, anatomy is destiny.

    According to the very anatomy of mammals, masturbation is disordered behavior. So is sex for pleasure, obviously. So if you have ever had sex with your wife for any reason but intending to create a baby, why you’ re been a nagging in disordered behavior. And circumventing pregnancy, my god, that is so very very disordered. Even the rhythm method!

    You are very, very depraved. Pray don’t deny it!

  • It’s just doc. He uses words like that all of the time. It’s the only way he can maintain his unwarranted belief in his wholly imagined superiority as a heterosexual, a human, being, a moral person, and a Christian.

  • The pope is not merely the leader of a Christian church. He is also the he’s of at.ate of an independent nation. As such, it is perfectly appropriate for Nr. Obama to invite him .

    Billy graham was certainly invited in to the councils of many American presidents.

    Filling the roles with illegal immigrant voters to ensure a catholic majority. honey, this isn’t 1958, and you’re no JFK. Anti catholic paranoia is no prettier than any other political philosophy based up paranoia.

  • Reality is nothing of concern to BB. He judges everyone who is not exactly the same kind of Christian he is. I wouldn’t want to call him a religious bigot, but I can say You don’t really see his type in polite society all that much any more.

    I’m old enough to remember when we Jews were the object of Christian love. “God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew!” said SBC president F. Baily Smith in 1978, I think. shocking to hear that kind of base anti-semitism in the modern age, but there you have it. Smith was surprised that it didn’t fly quite so well as he thought it would, and that there was actually pushback. But the sentiments were quite common at the time.

    It’s just amazing the things these religious bigots tell themselves about the people they Despise. You would almost think that they didn’t actually follow the beliefs that they claim to follow.

    But far be it from me to question those who are certain that God has them on speed dial.

  • If you think our LGBT Brothers and Sisters are somehow included in that group, but you yourself somehow are not, that is your hubris talking there.