From HuffPost Italy
08/31/2015 07:40 pm ET Updated Aug 31, 2015

Pope's Letter To Gay Children's Book Author 'Uses The Language Of Respect'

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The Vatican issued a statement on Friday reiterating the church's stance against same-sex relationships and gender fluidity after news broke that the pope sent a letter to Francesca Pardi, author of a children's book with gay themes.

Monsignor Peter Wells, the Vatican's secretariat of state, sent the letter to Pardi on behalf of Pope Francis, thanking her for a package of books she sent him that included Piccolo Uovo, her book that was banned in Venice. The book traces the journey of an unhatched egg in search of a family. Along the way, it encounters different family structures, including two lesbian rabbits raising a family, a pair of gay penguins, and more.

Anti-gay sentiment appears to be gathering steam in Italy, where an event dubbed "The Family Day" brought hundreds of thousands of protesters to the streets of Rome in June to protest same-sex families. The event prompted Pardi to send the pope copies of 30 books from her publishing house with a letter asking for his support in the face of anti-gay contingents of Italian press and politics that claim "gender theory" is ruining the family structure. Conservative Catholic groups in the country, such as the organizers of Family Day, believe "gender theory" instills in children the notion that gender does not necessarily correspond with one's biological sex.

“When I found Pope Francis’s letter in my mailbox I was about to faint from all my emotions,” Pardi told HuffPost Italy.

Precisely on the occasion of Family Day, Pardi and her partner Maria Silvia Fiengo -– who were married in Barcelona and have five children -– wrote to the pope and included a catalogue of all the books that had been indicted. “I would so like you to read them,” Pardi wrote. “You would not find, in these pages, so much as a shadow of the gender theory that they are accused as being an instrument for. Where do we tell the children that they can choose their own gender? Where do we speak to them about sex?”

Pope Francis's letter did not respond directly to these questions.

“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," the letter read.

Francesca Pardi in a photo on Facebook:

For Pardi, whom HuffPost Italy reached by phone, this letter is “a very important sign.”

“The pope is opening up a dialogue about a topic that many people disagree over, but he’s doing so with a respectful tone, far from the distortions of truth and aggressions of extremists like Mario Adinolfi,” Pardi said, referring to a conservative Catholic journalist and former Italian politician.

Below is the rest of the interview:

Why did you write to the pope after Family Day in June?

My letter was about the libelous and aggressive tone toward my alleged use of “gender theory” and toward gay people in general, used by the conservative Catholic group called “Manif pour Tous” and circles of people associated with Mario Adinolfi. I was asking Pope Francis to put a halt to these tones, to intervene, not so much by saying someone was right or wrong but rather by calming people’s nerves and impeding these people from continuing to sully our work and our existence as gay people with children.

And so you included the catalogue of your publishing house’s works, one of which was the children’s book Piccolo Uovo (“Little Egg”), illustrated by Atlan and banned by Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro, who deemed it dangerous for children in preschool — an act that has reverberated internationally.

Yes, I wanted the pope to open Piccolo Uovo and to look through it so that he could realize that it’s respectful and simply teaches children that many [different types of] families exist, in a way that does not put a higher or lower value on any types of families. In his response, Pope Francis expresses his hope that I continue fruitful work; he doesn’t get into the content but neither does he say that it shouldn’t be read. I think his message is: Let’s open these books, let’s even critique them, but let’s read them.

Do you think this is a powerful yet indirect message to the extremist Catholics who, in sounding a continuous alarm about gender theory, sometimes resort to homophobia?

I don’t want to give a political meaning to the letter. Nevertheless, it seems to me that there is a clear difference in the tone of the pope’s words and the tone of certain people from Family Day. This letter gives us dignity and respect back after a year of ideological and blatant attacks against us by extremist Catholics, after Mayor Brugnaro decided to censure our book without even bothering to read it. So far nobody has agreed to make a real comparison — except for Pope Francis, who did so while still holding onto his principles. For us, this is so very important because it gives light to a common ground; all it takes is to read Piccolo Uovo to see how it has values that anyone can share.

Do you hope that this unexpected gesture can change the minds of the many people that deem you as being messengers of a gender ideology that is unnatural and dangerous for children?

I’m convinced that Mario Adinolfi and the other leaders of these organizations are not doing a good job in partaking in this debate because they present the topic in a distorted light to those who place their trust in their words in a naïve way. Hence the many appeals made by upset parents, as they don’t know how things really are nor can they adequately inform themselves.

Are you going to send this letter by the pope to Brugnaro, at least to provoke a reaction?

It’s not my intention to debate with the mayor of Venice; he doesn’t have my experience in and sensitivity for evaluating children’s books, and I don’t want to set myself up to be insulted. His choices remain incomprehensible: He’s banned two books from Venetian preschools that were deemed as being messengers of the gender theory ideology (Piccolo Uovo and Jean ha due mamme, or “Jean Has Two Mommies”), yet he has left five short books oriented toward children of homosexual couples. I prefer to converse with the pope, who, as we’ve seen, uses the language of respect.

Update: After the publication of this interview, Father Federico Lombardi wanted to specify that “in no way does the letter of the Secretary of State intend to endorse behaviors or teachings that are not consistent with the Gospel. Manipulation of the content of the letter is completely out of place.” The Vatican Press Office has also specified that the blessing of the pope “was towards the person and not any teachings out of line with the Church on Gender Theory.”

The letter that Francesca Pardi wrote to the Pope last June:

IL PAPA MI HA RISPOSTO!In occasione del family day, prima del "fattaccio" del sidaco di Venezia, scrissi una seconda...

Posted by Francesca Pardi on Giovedì 27 agosto 2015

This article first appeared on HuffPost Italy and was translated into English.

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