The Vatican has clarified in a statement that despite a recent news story of Pope Francis blessing Italian author Francesca Pardi, a lesbian who has written a children's book with positive depictions of gay families, the Roman Catholic Church's doctrine opposing gay marriage has not changed.
"The blessing of the pope at the end of the letter was directed to the person, not at any possible teachings that are not in line with the doctrine of the church … which hasn't changed a bit as the Holy Father has repeated even recently," said Vatican spokesman the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, according to Religion News Service on Monday.
Pardi, who lives in Milan, said that she wrote to Francis and was surprised when she received a letter back, in which the pope's staff conveys his blessing.
"It's not that I think that he's for gay families, because there's the Catholic doctrine, but we mustn't think that we don't have rights," the author said, according to The Guardian.
The children's book in question, called Piccolo Uovo, tells the story of various animals and includes different family types, including gay couples who successfully bring up their families, which has stirred controversy in Italy.
Venice's Mayor Luigi Brugnaro even banned the book, along with 50 other titles from public schools, which led to 250 Italian authors demanding their own books be pulled from the city's shelves in protest.
Pardi says that in the letter she received, Peter B Wells, a senior official at the Vatican secretariat of state, writes:
"His holiness is grateful for the thoughtful gesture and for the feelings which it evoked, hoping for an always more fruitful activity in the service of young generations and the spread of genuine human and Christian values." A closing blessing accompanies the statement.
The author had shared with Francis the attacks she has come under in recent months.
"Many parishes across the country are in this period sullying our name and telling falsehoods about our work which deeply offends us," Pardi wrote. "We have respect for Catholics. ... A lot of Catholics give back the same respect, why can't we have the whole hierarchy of the church behind us?"
Although Francis has come out in support of the Catholic definition of marriage between one man and one woman, he has been called, such as in a petition signed by over half a million people, to clarify the "widespread confusion" in society over the Catholic stance on issues such as gay marriage and divorce.
The petition, started by American conservative group Tradition Family Property Student Action, says that Catholics see "widespread confusion arising from the possibility that a breach has opened within the Church that would accept adultery — by permitting divorced and then civilly remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion — and would virtually accept even homosexual unions when such practices are categorically condemned as being contrary to Divine and natural law."