Pope Francis will meet with a gay rights activist in Paraguay in July, in what will be the first time the leader of the Catholic Church has publicly engaged with LGBT activists.
Recognizing the “large impact of your organization on Paraguayan society,” Simón Cazal, executive director of SOMOSGAY, was invited to send a representative to meet with the pope at a group gathering on July 11, according to a letter obtained and posted by Buzzfeed.
SOMOSGAY lobbies for better protections and legal rights for those in the LGBT community in Paraguay — where there are no legal protections at all for gay people. Ahead of the pope’s expected visit and this invitation, SOMOSGAY launched a campaign pressing the Catholic Church to accept gay people.
“One can be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender AND a Catholic at the same time; there is no contradiction between being an LGBT person and being a religious person. Respect for personal beliefs is inherent in democracy,” Sergio López, a SOMOSGAY activist and Cazal’s husband, said in a press release.
The invitation is the latest effort by the pope to soften the church’s approach and reach out to communities normally shunned by the Catholic Church, like divorced Catholics and gay people.
Francis famously said “who am I to judge?” about a celibate gay priest. Earlier this year, he lunched with gay and transgender inmates in a prison.
Still, Francis has made it clear he opposes gay marriage. In January, on a visit to the Philippines he lashed out at same-sex marriage, arguing that the “the family is threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life.”
Late last year, the church considered softening their rhetoric on gay people. They “have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community,” the Vatican said in a document released in October, asking Catholics if they can welcome them into the church. The bishops eventually reversed course on this softening, but the conversation alone marks a distinct and dramatic shift towards tolerance and change.