VATICAN CITY -- The Vatican has gotten embroiled in a modern-day, secular version of the Index of Banned Books.
The Holy See press office had to set the record straight on Friday after the Italian media interpreted a formulaic blessing by Pope Francis of a lesbian children's book publisher and her partner as an endorsement of their lifestyle.
Author Francesca Pardi had written to Francis in June complaining about how her books -- some of which deal with children growing up with gay, single and divorced parents -- had been maligned by Catholic groups and politicians.
A half-dozen of her titles, for example, were among the 49 titles that Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro recently banned from public preschools pending a review of their appropriateness because they deal with gender issues.
Thinking that Francis might appreciate the books' inclusive message, Pardi sent him copies of her 30 titles, explaining that they had nothing to do with "gender theory" or even sex but merely conveyed a message of tolerance.
A few weeks ago, an official in the Vatican's secretariat of state, Monsignor Peter Wells, sent her a note in Francis' name thanking her for the gesture, blessing her and her partner, and encouraging her to continue with her "activities in the service to young generations and the diffusion of authentic human and Christian values."
Pardi says she didn't take the letter by any means to be a papal endorsement of her lifestyle -- she and her partner have four children together -- but the Italian media interpreted it as such, prompting the Vatican on Friday to step in.
In a statement, the Vatican's deputy spokesman, the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, said the letter made clear that Francis was encouraging Pardi to pursue activities consistent with Christian values.
"The blessing of the pope at the end of the letter was directed to the person, not at any possible teachings that are not in line with the doctrine of the church on gender theory, which hasn't changed a bit as the Holy Father has repeated even recently," he said.
One of the "banned" titles, "Little Egg," tells the story of an egg about to hatch that goes out in search of a family, and encountering a variety of different ones - two mothers, two fathers, single parents, bi-racial parents, "traditional" parents - concludes that any one of them would be great.
The review of the "banned books" by Venice's mayor sparked outrage among gay and human rights groups, with sometimes Venice resident Elton John calling Brugnaro "boorishly bigoted."
Venice's review harked back to the Vatican's own Index of Prohibited Books, the 16th century list of books deemed heretical by the Roman Inquisition. The Vatican in 1966 officially removed the ban from its law books.