A top member of the European Parliament yesterday handed over a symbolic gift to Pope Francis – a rainbow patterned scarf.
Ulrike Lunacek, head of delegation of the Austrian Green party, said she offered the Pope the present "for gays, lesbians, and for peace" during the European Parliament meeting in Strasbourg.
Lunacek is co-president of the European Parliament Intergroup on LGBT Rights, and is the first openly lesbian politician in the Australian Parliament. She was reportedly attacked with butyric acid as she was giving an interview during the annual Rainbow Parade in Vienna earlier this year.
No one was injured in the attack, but Lunacek said: "These kinds of isolated cases [show] that the fight for tolerance, acceptance and respect in Austria [is] not over. People who spread fear and hate [need] to be opposed.
"Homosexuals and transgender people [need] to combat fear and show that they are not only part of society, but at the centre of it," she added.
A photo from the moment Lunacek offered the scarf to the Pope appears to show Francis graciously accepting the gift. At the Synod on the Family last month, there was speculation that the Catholic Church was softening its approach to homosexuality and divorce. A mid-term report issued part way through the conference appeared to signal that traditional teaching was being relaxed, which caused outrage among conservatives.
However, though the Pope has stressed the importance of a more caring and pastoral approach to gay people, he said during his opening address at the Humanum conference last week that "children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother".
"It is fitting that you have gathered here in this international colloquium to explore the complementarity of man and woman. This complementarity is a root of marriage and family," he told those gathered.
"For the family grounded in marriage is the first school where we learn to appreciate our own and others' gifts, and where we begin to acquire the arts of cooperative living. For most of us, the family provides the principal place where we can aspire to greatness as we strive to realize our full capacity for virtue and charity."
He continued: "Children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child's development and emotional maturity. That is why I stressed in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium that the contribution of marriage to society is 'indispensable'; that it 'transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple.
"I pray that your colloquium will be an inspiration to all who seek to support and strengthen the union of man and woman in marriage as a unique, natural, fundamental and beautiful good for persons, communities, and whole societies."
The Pontiff was in Strasbourg yesterday on a short, four-hour trip to speak on migration. As well as speaking up for the rights of immigrants, he used his address to condemn "throwaway culture and uncontrolled consumerism" which he said was causing European leaders to exploit people.