Are LGBT Catholics At Home In the Church?

David Gibson of Religion News Service

This spring, several Catholic bishops made positive comments about LGBT people within Catholicism, including remarks by Cardinal Timothy Dolan on Easter and several Vatican officials endorsing civil unions.

In light of actions contradicting the welcoming message, David Gibson of Religion News Service poses an interesting question to several Catholics in recent headlines, “Can gay Catholics find a home in the Catholic Church?” He writes of the tensions:

“It’s still not clear what the second step [after Dolan's positive remarks] in this fraught process might be, or even if there is a second step. And there are signs that things may only get more complicated…

“Moreover, as Americans — and American Catholics — grow increasingly accepting of homosexuality, and as foes of gay rights grow increasingly determined, conflict at the parish level seems inevitable. The uneasy ‘Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell’ policy that once allowed gay and lesbian Catholics to take church positions is clashing with their increasing visibility in the form of marriage licenses or wedding announcements.”

Francis DeBernardo
Francis DeBernardo

Gibson details the firings of Nicholas Coppola and Carla Hale, while Bondings 2.0 has reported on these and several other cases in recent months that are making LGBT-Catholic relations strained. Gibson quotes Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, who questions how these actions fit with other Catholic principles about justice.

“’How just is it to fire someone whose life or practices are not in accord with official church teaching?’…

“’Where do you draw the line?…Do you get fired if you have remarried without an annulment? Do you get fired if you don’t attend Mass on Sunday regularly? Do you get fired because you are a Protestant who does not recognize the Catholic hierarchical structure?’”

Yet, not only are LGBT advocates within the Catholic Church worried, priests and others in ministry recognize the increasing frequency of these conflicts at local levels:

“’The fact is that it is going to get worse,’ said the pastor of a large Midwest parish who has had to fend off complaints about a lesbian member of his staff. As critics become more insistent, and as gay and lesbian Catholics become more public, he fears the resulting controversies will take a serious toll on the church.

“’We have to come to some kind of pastoral accommodation,’ he said.

Fr. Joe Muth

New Ways Ministry hosts a listing of gay-friendly parishes, which has grown to over 200 from just 20 a decade ago that are making pastoral accommodations. One parish with extensive experience doing LGBT ministry is St. Matthew’s in Baltimore, led by Fr. Joe Muth

“Gays and lesbians ‘just move into the regular life of the church’ at St. Matthew’s, Muth said, as he believes is perfectly normal.

“But he also said they are aware of the ‘sensitivity’ of their presence, so they have made a concerted effort to reach out to other groups in the parish, and the parish has also made sure to include one of Baltimore’s bishops in meetings.

“That dialogue has been invaluable, he said, and he has received few complaints or protests.”

Fr. Muth acknowledges that the framework is troubled, and limitations on engaging marriage equality or having LGBT ministers in public relations remain due to the bishops’ pressure. Gibson continues:

“In fact, the patchwork nature of the responses is part of the problem, say gay advocates. ‘It’s not that there is a witch hunt out there,’ said DeBernardo. ‘But there are witch hunters. … For the most part I don’t think bishops go after these folks. They don’t create controversy; they only respond to controversy.’

“At the moment, there are no guidelines to help pastors and parishioners deal with these issues, and there doesn’t seem to be an effort to develop anything comprehensive’…

“’Right now it’s a step-by-step process of helping people to be church,’ said Muth, of St. Matthew’s in Baltimore. ‘That’s the way I see it.’”

This piecemeal approach to solving the increasing number of parish conflicts does not seem sufficient to some, and leaves us asking LGBT Catholics, family, friends, and allies the very same question with which Gibson titled his article: Can gay Catholics find a home in the Catholic Church?

Share your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below about if it is possible, and how you remain Catholic.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

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12 Responses to Are LGBT Catholics At Home In the Church?

  1. Mark Clark says:

    Gibson’s question really ought to be turned around to ask whether the leaders of the Catholic Church, which defines its main role as continuing the redemptive mission of Jesus Christ on earth, have made enough of an effort to ensure that gay Catholics feel the hospitality of Jesus. LGBT Catholics, along with the rest of Catholics, already have a home in the Church and do not need to go searching. The trouble is that, typically, with a few notable exceptions like Bishop Gumbleton and Fr. Muth, our bishops and priests have failed to facilitate the appropriate Christ-inspired spirit of welcome. Among the people in the pews, though, there is far more hospitality and has been for a long time. Lay-led Catholic movements such as New Ways Ministry and Dignity, have given the official leaders of the Church examples of how to make the institution more LGBT friendly without heresy or schism or other “horrors” apparently feared by those bent on denying some of the faithful a place at the table. Thankfully, recent comments from Pope Francis, Cardinal Dolan and others are hinting that the men (!) in charge can see the wisdom of creating an atmosphere more in line with what Jesus told us. If there is a theme in the Gospels that ranks second only to love, it’s hospitality. Our good shepherds need to brush up on how that works.

  2. The question should be, “Can all Catholics find a place in the church?” Of course gays who are out are the most vulnerable. “There may not be a witch hunt, but there are witch hunters.” However, does it really matter to the fired gay person that there are many who oppose that treatment? The person is still fired, still marginalized. It is so important to realize that every Catholic who oppose discrimination is victimized. We are left in the position that to be Catholic, we tacitly approve and participate in the discrimination. How does one reconcile this? I am 57, straight, monogamous, married 35 years, educated at the University of Notre Dame. Two of my three children and my husband also attended ND. Catholicism is a big part of my identity. I have lived with the sexism, the lack of support for family planning, the sexual abuse by priests. How much is too much? I have come to think that I am Catholic, but my church is leaving me behind. I choose to think it is certain individuals in the church (“witch hunters”) who are stuck in extremely petty dogma, and that, eventually, things will work themselves out. But the church does not move very quickly. And in the meantime, so much pain, so much sadness is experienced by individuals and families–all in the name of Catholicism. Is there a way to be Catholic and reject the dogma? How do we move forward if the righteous path is only “allowed” at the whim of the parish priest or the bishop? How do we allow the nuns to be called “radical feminists” (this is an insult, by the way). My 87 year old aunt who is a nun says, “They are just being macho.”

    There have been many times in the life of the church where the “macho” dogmatic hierarchy has wreaked havoc in the lives of many. The Inquisition, etc–there are many historic examples. In my own life, the fact that the woman who graduated first in our ND Arts and Letters class, then attended Stanford Law and the Yale Divinity School cannot be a priest, but a pedaphile can– has caused me no end of stress for over 35 years. My aunt was one of the first divorced Catholics I knew. She suffered immense pain, and many former friends shunned her. My mom had early onset breast cancer, went through chemo and radiation, and then (at age 40), thought she was pregnant. She was told by her doctor NOT to have the baby, that there was zero chance of the baby being normal–and she went through the darkest night of the soul I have ever witnessed. Every Catholic has examples. We live with it. The difference now is that, while by a very dogmatic reading of the Catholic rules, many of us should not receive sacraments, it is now that the “witch hunters” are insisting on a particular kind of discrimination as dogma. While my divorced aunt, my mom, or my nun Aunt were told to “use their consciences,” there is no way to “use my conscience” to reinstate the gay teachers, musicians, and faithful who are being harmed. I can hold myself to a personal standard, with the faith that the majority of Catholics want to end the discrimination. But every time someone is fired, gays are called “intrinsically disordered,” are told to “wash their hands” before entering church (Cardinal Dolan), it makes me want to do something like the Hells Angels do when Westboro people try to disrupt a funeral–surround the gay person with a shield of love and support against the hate.

    The question is, how does one stay Catholic? Just as hard a question is, how do you leave? I am Catholic, like it or not. I truly believe that it is my obligation as a Catholic to stand for what is right. What do we do when it is the letter of the law, the dogma that is harmful? Stay? Go? Go where? The whole thing is very stressful.

  3. Just as official Church got terribly lost in its handling of clerical child sex abuse, I have the sense it is equally if not more lost on the LGBT issue(s). Church could cope with closeted, silent, mortified, guilt-ridden, sick, criminal, sinful homosexuals. A thousand one-night-stands was, and still is, eminently forgivable. Committed relationships could nearly be tolerated, provided they were clandestine. With gay pride and, worse, the total integration of homosexuality as just another aspect of LGBT people’s wholeness – beyond the toleration or grudging acceptance of yore – the Church could not cope with this new-found confidence and wanted us all back in the closet again where it had complete power over us. Indeed, the power struggle of priestly child abuse – where the Church could do no wrong, or certainly couldn’t admit to it, even while it wreaked horrendous damage – has a parallel on the LGBT front. With their burgeoning new-found dignity, the Church began losing much of its power over LGBT people. And it doesn’t like it one little bit! The witch hunters, of course, can play their nasty little games that can still cause huge turmoil in the lives of those affected – to the great unwitting loss of the Church. The significant roles LGBT people gladly played in Church over the centuries, albeit weighed down by the enormous burden of their ‘extra’ sinfulness, can now be taken away from them for the effrontery of being known to be who they are. We all lose!

    My own long troubled spiritual journey some time ago brought me to an important point of realisation, for me, that ‘we are Church’. The previously longed for development in official Church teaching on homosexuality no longer mattered that much. Informed conscience – no small thanks to Fr John McNeill’s writings – served to give me a viable morality to aspire to live by that Church simply wasn’t able to do. Yes, I can still feel unwelcome and alienated from Church; having for so long felt left out, though, more and more I have the sense that I may not be the one that’s being left behind.

    Maybe the question should have been: Is the hierarchy at home in the Church?

  4. Rosa G. Manriquez, IHM says:

    As the adult child of an alcoholic parent, I recognize this situation. The RCC is my home. And all the members of it are my brothers and sisters. But it is a dysfunctional home where emotional, physical, mental and spiritual abuse is a common occurrence. Members of the family are bullied for things they cannot change or for daring to be independent and/ or critical. Some of us make excuses for the oppressors. Some of us are enablers. Some of us look away and hope things will get better. Some of us would rather be in exile than deal with the painful dysfunction. But this is still my home. And the bully is still my brother or sister. And the bullied is my brother or sister. I remain. And I refuse to leave. And I will continue to use the mind, the spirit, the conscience and the voice that God gave me. I must. It is my hope that we will heal this broken home. And today, I personally ask for forgiveness from my brothers and sisters for the times I witnessed the brutality inflicted on you and I did nothing.

  5. […] to stay away from communion. The pope is preaching words of welcome, just as many are asking, “Can LGBT Catholics find a home in the Church?”  This question can be answered positively if bishops around the world are listening to Rome, and on […]

  6. […] Papa está predicando las palabras de bienvenida, al igual que muchos se preguntan, “¿Puede LGBT católicos encontrar un hogar en la Iglesia?”  Esta pregunta puede ser respondida positivamente si los obispos de todo el mundo están […]

  7. […] priests who positively minister to the LGBT and ally community within the Church. We also know of Fr. Joe Muth in Baltimore who leads a gay-friendly parish and Bishop Thomas Gumbleton who urges all Catholics to receive […]

  8. […] Are LGBT Catholics At Home In the Church? (newwaysministryblog.wordpress.com) […]

  9. […] Are LGBT Catholics At Home In the Church? (newwaysministryblog.wordpress.com) […]

  10. […] Faced with criticism of a parish LGBT outreach ministry, Fr. Joe Muth’s homily in early Julysent a message relevant for all Catholic parishes about welcome, diversity, and the Gospel. The pastor heads up St. Matthew’s Parish, Baltimore, Maryland, which recently particiapted in their city’s Pride parade.  Fr. Muth was also recently quoted in the news for his support of gay and lesbian Catholics. […]

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