When Pope Francis urged Catholics to "find a new balance," saying that the Catholic Church had grown "obsessed" with abortion, gay marriage and contraception, he might have been talking about Maggie Gallagher, co-founder of the National Organization for Marriage, a group that has long led the American opposition to legalizing same-sex marriage.
But Gallagher, who stepped down from the board of NOM two years ago and has been referred to as "gay marriage's top foe," had an unexpected reaction.
"I think he's magnificent," she wrote in an email to The Huffington Post.
It is no surprise that gay and lesbian Catholics celebrated these words, published in an extensive interview with the pope this week. They suggest a startling shift from Francis' recent predecessors, and the church's often hostile history with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community over the past several decades.
In an interview on Friday, Gallagher reflected on what the pope's words mean for the opposition to same-sex marriage and for her own life.
Where did you read the interview, and what was your first reaction to it?
I find Pope Francis exhilarating and radiant. Personally, I have taken to heart his call for an examination of conscience. In my case: What am I doing to help the poor and the suffering? What can I do in my personal sphere to do more?
I'm just a lay Catholic, and trust me, a bigger sinner than the pope. But each of us can do more.
Do you see yourself as "obsessed" with gays?
No. I am obsessed with marriage because I think its demotion from the foundation of the family to an intense romantic connection is a demotion, one that is doing harm.
What do you think this interview, along with his other recent statement about gay Catholics, "who am I to judge," means for the American forces opposed to same-sex marriage?
What I find most exhilarating about Pope Francis, is the possibility that we can reach out to those with whom we disagree without surrendering principle. I will say I have not found that true generally. I have found the gay rights community -- the activists anyway, not the ordinary folk -- is mostly asking for one thing: Agree, or be judged a hateful bigot.
But when you are in the fray of battle, it is easy to become fragile and to lose sight of possibilities. Maybe the pope can do things I cannot imagine. Imagine that!
Do you worry that funding and support for these opposition groups, like the National Organization for Marriage, will slip once it becomes clear that the church is shifting focus?
I stepped down from NOM's board now two years ago, so you should direct this to NOM.
[Ed note: NOM did not respond to request for comment]
But no, I'm not worried. I see us being in the next phase, because I believe the courts are going to shut down the marriage debate -- unfairly and without constitutional legitimacy, in my opinion, but that is what [Justice] Anthony Kennedy clearly signaled. The next phase is: Now that the view of marriage I hold dear is "privatized," how do we sustain in a new way to protect as many children (and men and women) as we can? That's where my energies are now.
Do you worry if religious leadership, in general, shifts away from the cause of opposing-same sex marriage, there will still be a case against it? In other words, do you think there is still a viable secular case to be made against same-sex marriage, and if so, what is it?
My case against same-sex marriage was always entirely secular. I believe we need a social institution that is about directing the passions of men and women attracted to the opposite sex -- 98 percent of people -- so that our sexual acts do not hurt the children our bodies create in passion. To me, that's the heart of "civil marriage" and the explanation for why the government is involved.
I don't see that changing. I hope I am wrong that gay marriage will change that as the public idea of marriage, but the evidence is pretty strong that I am right: It is very hard to see two men as a marriage, and still see marriage as integrally involved in procreation and family structure.
Would love for you to prove me wrong. I would love nothing more than to be wrong about this.
Some progressive Catholics I've spoken with see [the pope's] interview as a tentative step toward a real change in the church's stance towards same-sex relationships. Do you see it that way?
Pope Francis has been very clear he's not calling for a change in doctrine, which was not created by the church (we Catholics believe) but handed down by Jesus, but the reduction of Catholicism to its stance on sex.
One can believe the latter is important, without believing Catholicism, which is about our salvation before God, can be reduced to one set of teachings.
Do you think the pope is acting out of character for how a pope is supposed to behave?
I think he's magnificent.
If you could meet with the pope, what would you say to him?
How can I help?
Do you ever worry you have wasted your life being on the wrong side of history?
No, not at all. History doesn't need my help. I'm a writer. I see my mission as telling the truth, within the limits of my insight. That's the only way I can make a contribution, to people living today certainly, much less to history. I'm very satisfied I've done my best to tell the truth about the good as I see it. One cannot do anything better with one life, as far as I'm concerned.