Mayor Nutter, if given the chance, plans to speak with Pope Francis during the papal visit to Philadelphia about barriers faced by the LGBT community in the United States and to ask the pope to "end judgment" of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Catholics.
In a statement Friday, Nutter's office summarized the message he hopes to deliver to the pope. The comments, addressed to "Your Holiness," touch on a range of concerns in the LGBT community including alienation from the church, discrimination in housing and employment, and isolation of youth leading to depression and suicide.
"We encourage ending the systematic and institutionalized discrimination against LGBT people through the message of love, hope, and acceptance," the draft remarks from Nutter read. "For the many LGBT individuals who seek the Lord and have good will, we ask that you end judgment of these individuals by those within the church through teaching and pastoral practice currently in place."
Nutter's comments, provided by his spokesman, Mark McDonald, came on the heels of an op-ed published Thursday by Democratic mayoral nominee Jim Kenney that called on the mayor to stand up for the LGBT community if given one-on-one time with the pope.
It is the latest example in a growing debate over LGBT issues as the pope's visit draws near. The divide between church leaders and local LGBT Catholic groups has deepened, most notably after a lesbian teacher was fired by a private suburban Catholic school, a move defended by Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput.
Chaput has said that LGBT people are welcome at the World Meeting of Families, but that the event should not be used as a platform for "lobbying" positions contrary to church teachings.
Kenney, a Catholic who has clashed with the church on LGBT rights, was riled up over last month's news that a coalition of national groups representing LGBT Catholics would not be allowed to congregate in a Center City parish where it had been promised space during the World Meeting of Families. The coalition, known as Equally Blessed, had planned to hold an alternative gathering at St. John the Evangelist Church's parish center at 12th and Ludlow Streets.
Kenney called on Nutter to try to arrange a meeting between LGBT Catholics and the pope, and said the city's principles shouldn't be "sacrificed for the limelight."
"Being a good host doesn't require being a doormat and, more importantly, being a good elected official means fighting for the rights of everyone you represent," he wrote in the op-ed, published by the Philadelphia Gay News and later distributed by his campaign.
In a response Friday afternoon, McDonald said the mayor had already planned to talk with the pope about systematic discrimination the LGBT community faces in the United States.
Nutter, also in a statement, said that if he has the opportunity for "a serious conversation with Pope Francis," he plans to "describe Philadelphia's staunch commitment to equality and inclusion of the LGBT community, our city's long history of support and love of diversity, and the important role that diverse peoples play in making this a great city.
"For 30 years I have stood as an advocate and ally with and for our LGBT communities," he continued, "and if given the opportunity to advance these issues on an international stage, I will certainly seize the opportunity."
Told Friday night of Nutter's comments, Francis DeBernardo, executive director at New Ways Ministry in Maryland and one of the organizers of the Equally Blessed conference, said he was thrilled.
Because Francis is perceived as more open-minded than some of his predecessors, he might take the mayor's words to heart, DeBernardo said.
"Pope Francis is the pope of surprises," DeBernardo said. "And I think it's very possible that he will listen to the mayor and take his ideas into consideration."