The Waldron Mercy teacher fired earlier this year after news of her same-sex marriage became more widely know has scored a ticket to Pope Francis’ White House reception.
“I’m ecstatic,” said Margie Winters. She and her wife, Andrea Vettori, received two of six tickets held by the Human Rights Commision, a group that bills itself as “America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality.”
“Andrea and I are so excited about going, and we believe that President Obama’s invitation is wonderful and symbolic,” she said.
The event is by no means intimate — some 15,000 people will flood the White House’s South Lawn Wednesday. A number of LGBTQI leaders from various Christian backgrounds will attend. Among them are Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, and Marianne Duddy-Burke, the executive director of Dignity USA, a group that supports gay and lesbian Catholics.
Winters became a prominent figure in that community after she was let go from her position as director of religious education at Waldron Mercy in Lower Merion. She had held the position for eight years and was out to the school’s administration. Only after a parent complained about a curriculum decision did her same-sex marriage become a consideration for her employment.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has repeatedly denied any involvement in the decision to fire Winters, but praised the Sisters of Mercy, the social-justice driven order behind Waldron, for their decision.
At a press conference for the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, Archbishop Charles Chaput distanced himself and the Vatican from Winters’ invitation to the White House.
“Who the president decides to invite to the White House is up to him,” he said. “I certainly don’t think the Holy Father makes comments on those kinds of things.”
At the same press conference, Archbishop of Rome Vincenzo Paglia was unequivocal when asked about the church’s stance on same-sex marriage, which activists hope the Pope will help shift.
“Each person is a saint because [they are] loved by God. But family is man and woman, as God at the beginning of creation established,” he said. “And we have to obey.”
Conservative media outlets have inveighed against the White House guest list and said members of the Vatican leadership had complained. In response to The Atlantic, English language spokesman for the Vatican Father Thomas Rosica stated, “There is absolutely no statement or comment from the Vatican on the president’s guest list.
“The Vatican never comments on those invited by a head of state to be present for a welcoming ceremony of the pope,” Rosica’s statement continued. “The stories you have read are inaccurate.”
Whether Pope Francis will address — or even acknowledge — the LGBTQI supporters in his audience remains to be seen. Church leadership has downplayed remarks by Francis that could be construed signalling a change in how the institution views same sex marriage. They say he is offering human sympathy, not indicating doctrinal revolution.
Winters said she is just hopeful the pope will be open to stories of marginalized Catholics.
“As a person, he is very open to encounter.” Listening to those stories, she said, “could open his heart and his mind toward being more inclusive.”