When Francesca Pardi sent Pope Francis her children’s book, “Why do you have two moms?” she probably wasn’t expecting a response from one of the most influential people in the world. Imagine then how she must have felt when she received a letter in reply from the pontiff himself.
In her letter, sent on June 19th, Pardi expresses respect for Catholics as a group and says that many have treated her well. If this were all that happened then there is nothing more to be said here, however Pardi also says that representatives of the church have been disrespectful to her same-sex partnership and family, and she asks the Pope if he could “check this behaviour”. Her response, when translated from Italian to English says, “Several Catholic organizations have lowered themselves to unworthy behaviours, deliberately deforming reality, the very ones who are meant to demonstrate a superior moral fiber: I would really like for you to stop them.”
Pardi also sent the Pope a package of children’s books about ‘untraditional’ families from her publishing house, Lo Stampatello. This included the afore mentioned “Why do you have two moms?” as well as two of Pardi’s other books, which have been banned from Venice’s Kindergarten libraries.
The pontiff’s reply was sending a friendly, though cautious, letter postmarked July 10th. On her Facebook page, Pardi posted a picture of the envelope addressed to her by the Holy See. She did not post the Pope’s letter itself, considering the words themselves to be meant for her, but she summarized it. Again this is a translation from the original Italian into English, “He thanks me for the kind gesture and for the sentiment that motivated it, and hopes for an always more fruitful activity at the service of young generations and sharing authentic human and christian values.”
The Pope concludes the letter with his “apostle’s blessing”,a special benediction, for Pardi, she said, “together with Ms Maria Silvia Fiengo”, her same-sex partner and the other mother of her four children.
Pardi and others in Italy’s LGBTQ community in Italy took the Pope’s message as a sign of acceptance, a seemingly deliberate misunderstanding based on the Vatican’s previous stance on gay rights. In particular, his saying her work is “at the service of young generations” and the fact that he imparted a blessing upon her and her same-sex partner were the catalyst for this belief.
Francesca Pardi would clarify with a post on twitter saying, “@jonibisoni ho detto solo che il messaggio del Papa mostra la capacità di dialogare con rispetto anche con la pensa diversamente.” This tweet was published on August 28th, and when translated reads, “I only said that the Pope’s message shows capacity of respectful dialogue with those with different way of thinking.”
The Vatican did not deny Pardi’s account of the Pope’s letter, but it made a deliberate point to state that the leader of the Catholic Church was offering encouragement or even an accepting message about LGBTQ lifestyles.
Father Ciro Benedettini, the Vatican spokesperson, published a note asserting that in no way is the letter “meant to endorse behaviors and teachings unfit to the Gospel.” Benedettini went on to say that the Pope’s blessing was meant for the individual, and was “not in line with the church’s doctrine on gender theory, which has not changed in the slightest.” Stated without the media spin, the Pontiff is willing to bless individual members of the LGBTQ community on a case by case basis potentially but would not endorse a lifestyle which the Vatican feels is in conflict with the word of the bible.
While the church’s official position is that homosexual acts are a sin, the current Pope has at times hinted at a more tolerant view that have led many to hope for a change in stance, one of the reasons for this was the Pope famously saying two years ago that, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”. Ironic since one of the main things the Catholic Church does is judge.
Italy remains a pretty inhospitable place for members of the LGBTQ community. It is one of the few countries in Europe that doesn’t allow any form of same-sex unions, and the Italian government has gotten an ultimatum from the European court of human rights to work on a law that allowed gay unions.
Many publicly still express hostility towards LGBTQ rights, and among them is the mayor of Venice, Luigi Brugnaro, whose first act as mayor of the Grand City was the banning of several children’s books from the city’s Kindergarten libraries, including Pardi’s Little Egg, What’s dad’s secret, and Why do I have two moms?
Several groups, mostly Catholic, have attacked the authors of the books, which media have dismissively called “gay fairytales,” claiming they try to “indoctrinate” kids to prefer gay unions. Again apparently the Catholic Church is running short on their irony.
But that was never the intention, Pardi said in her letter to the Pope. “Maria Silvia and I opened the publishing house for the love of our kids,” she wrote. “The book Why do you have two moms? is simply our (their) story. It’s not ideology,” she would insist, “but love for a neighbor.”