VATICAN CITY (Christian Examiner) – Pope Francis told the leader of the Swedish Lutheran Church at the Vatican May 4 that fraternal communion between the churches is possible, but he warned against avoiding "urgent" issues such as marriage, family and human sexuality to achieve it.
Lutheran Archbishop Antje Jackelén, who was born in Germany, is the first female head of the 6.4 million-member Lutheran Church in Sweden. She presides over a church that has for the past decade struggled with adjustments to its theology in order to accept homosexual bishops, same-sex partnerships, and even gay marriage.
Jackelén's church was until 2000 a state church when it was disestablished, but it remains closely tied to the national identity of most Swedes. When the government approved same-sex marriage in 2009, the church adopted policies allowing same-sex marriages among its congregations. The church also ordained its first lesbian bishop, Eva Brunne, as the bishop of Stockholm in the same year.
While Francis has taken a somewhat conciliatory tone toward homosexuals individually, the Catholic Church remains firmly opposed to same-sex marriage.
In January, the Catholic News Service reported that Francis told a large gathering of Catholics in the Manila that the family is "threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage." Those forces, Francis said, want to "disfigure God's plan for creation."
In February, Francis also supported a referendum in Slovakia prohibiting same-sex marriage and the adoption of children by gay couples.
Jackelén brought a letter of greeting for Francis from the lesbian, gay and transgender (LGBT) community in the Swedish church, but she told a Swedish newspaper that the pontiff did not respond to the letter.
"He did not answer that," Jackelén told a Swedish newspaper. "He stands in his context and I stand in mine."
Francis told Jackelén there are ways in which the two churches could work together, such as forming efforts to alleviate poverty, working in relief for persecuted Christians worldwide and dialoguing over the upcoming commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in 2017. Francis said, however, that there would be no compromise on traditional Catholic teachings on marriage and sexuality in spite of "the signs of the times," The Catholic Herald reported.
The issues, he said, "cannot be silenced or ignored for fear of jeopardizing the ecumenical consensus already achieved."