VATICAN CITY — An international family rally the Catholic Church is hosting in Ireland will feature workshops on hot-button issues facing Catholic families, including protecting children from clergy sexual abuse, weathering divorce and ministering to lesbian and gay faithful.
Pope Francis will join the Aug. 21-26 World Meeting of Families for the last two days and preside over the final Mass in Dublin.
Organizers on Monday unveiled the pastoral program leading up to Francis' arrival, and it includes some surprising entries. Perhaps none is more surprising than the inclusion of the Rev. James Martin, an American Jesuit scheduled to deliver a presentation on welcoming LGBT Catholics and their families into parishes.
Martin, author of "Building a Bridge," about Catholic outreach to the LGBT community, has had several talks canceled in the United States in recent months because of pressure from conservative groups who oppose his call for the church to better accompany gay Catholics.
Martin told The Associated Press it was "immensely significant" that a Vatican-backed meeting would include his presentation, saying it showed "that LGBT Catholics and their parents are an important part of our church."
"The message from the Vatican to LGBT Catholics is this: you belong," he said.
Martin recalled that during the previous World Meeting of Families, held in Philadelphia in 2015, the only official event about gay Catholics featured a gay man and his mother speaking about chastity.
Martin's talk is not the only meeting event indicating that organizers were keen to follow Francis' lead and reach out to some of the most marginalized Catholics. Other workshops are on Catholics suffering from addiction and domestic violence, coping with family members in prison and homelessness.
Others are perhaps addressed to a broader audience: how to find time to pray in a digital age, women in leadership, teenagers in the digital world.
One of the major panels is on child protection, and features the pope's top adviser on sexual abuse prevention, Cardinal Sean O'Malley. Joining him is Marie Collins, an Irish survivor of abuse who resigned from O'Malley's panel last year in frustration over the Vatican's resistance to listening to victims.