Just How Controversial Are Celibate Gay and Lesbian People?

December 18, 2014

This past Sunday, The Washington Post printed a story about the growing movement of celibate lesbian and gay Christians.  One of the leaders of this movement is Eve Tushnet, a convert to Catholicism who recently published a book on celibacy and friendship entitled Gay and Catholic.

Eve Tushnet

For the record, I have not read Tushnet’s book yet, but I have read other things that she has written and heard her speak. In some ways, I find her to be a very credible spokesperson for celibacy because, while embracing the orthodox Catholic position for lesbian and gay people, she never insists that everyone embrace this option.  She remains non-judgmental about lesbian and gay people who choose to be part of a committed sexual relationship.  Her primary form of argument is to explain why celibacy is a life-giving option for herself.  I applaud both her free decision to choose celibacy and the first-person way in which she addresses the topic.

The Post article seemed to be trying to search for a controversy in this topic.  For example, the reporter, Michelle Boorstein, seems to want to make it seem that celibate gay and lesbian people are not accepted by non-celibate ones.  She writes:

“. . . [T]hey are also met with criticism from many quarters, including from other gays and lesbians who say celibacy is both untenable and a denial of equality.

“ ‘We’ve been told for so long that there’s something wrong with us,’ said Arthur Fitzmaurice, resource director of the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry. Acceptance in exchange for celibacy ‘is not sufficient,’ he said. ‘There’s a perception that [LGBT] people who choose celibacy are not living authentic lives.’ ”

I have been working in the field of LGBT Catholic ministry for over 20 years, and I honestly do not ever remember anyone ever disparaging someone’s free choice for celibacy.  I disagree that a perception exists that those “who choose celibacy are not living authentic lives.”   It is true that many Catholics–gay, lesbian, heterosexual–perceive forced celibacy as a person’s only moral option to be not just inauthentic, but potentially damaging.  But that is different from people who freely choose celibacy as the way that will bring them most happiness and deepest connection to others and God.

Fitzmaurice’s statement that acceptance in exchange for celibacy is not sufficient is, however, a very important idea.  Celibacy should never be seen as something required for adults, and it certainly shouldn’t be an “admission ticket” for church participation.  I don’t disagree with Fitzmaurice here, but I do disagree with Boorstein seeing this part of his statement as an indication that celibacy is controversial.

Commenting on Boorstein’s article, Autumn Kunkel, writing at TheBGNews.com criticized this notion of celibacy as a requirement for acceptance into a faith community:

“. . . [T]here is absolutely nothing tolerant about someone saying, ‘I accept gays and lesbians as members of the Christian faith as long as they don’t have sex.’

‘This ideal, in and of itself, is homophobic and prejudiced. It’s dehumanizing.

‘It’s saying, ‘You can be an active member of this faith as long as you abide by special rules which no one else is required to follow.’

‘People who are born a certain way shouldn’t have to follow special rules just to be accepted. If they do, then they’re not really being accepted, are they?”

The controversy about celibate gay and lesbian Christians seems to come not from progressive Christians rejecting them but with conservative Christians being uncomfortable with their sexual orientation.   Boorstein quotes Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who while praising the option of celibacy, also is leery of self-identified gay and lesbian people:

“. . . Mohler said he believes that sexual orientation can change ‘by the power of the Gospel.’ He said he is not comfortable with the way in which some celibate gay Christians proudly label themselves as gay or queer.”

The article notes that there has been more opportunity for people to come out as gay and lesbian people in their faith communities, and that this new social phenomenon has encouraged those who are celibate to be a part of those revelations.

Billy Hallowell, writing about Boorstein’s article at TheBlaze.comsees that the celibate Christian movement forces people to rethink their ideas:

“Consider that embracing celibate gays forces some to concede that homosexuality might not be a choice after all; likewise, it also forces some critics to abandon the notion that it’s possible to change one’s sexuality.”

Hallowell, however, also oversteps the evidence and tries to make it seem that sexually active gay and lesbian people are at odds with those who are celibate:

“The dynamic tends to also frustrate gays and lesbians who are fighting for a level of marriage equality that would allow them to be in same-sex relationships, while also participating in church communities. To these people, celibacy simply isn’t an option.”

Again,  I don’t know any gay or lesbian people who feel that sexual activity is compulsory.  Quite the opposite.  Having been castigated so long for their sexuality, lesbian and gay people are usually more accepting than others of a person’s freedom to live a sexual life that is most life-giving for the individual.

Celibacy, like homosexuality, is not something that a majority of people experience.  As a result, like homosexuality, it can often be misunderstood, and even railed against.  Let’s pray for a day when all people are comfortable expressing their sexual identities and life choices in both church and society.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related posts

Bondings 2.0: Is Celibacy the New Form of Reparative Therapy for Lesbians and Gays?

Bondings 2.0: Mandating Celibacy for Gay People Reveals Deep Incoherence in Church’s Teachings

 


New Ways Ministry Builds Bridges with Archbishop Cordileone

December 16, 2014
Sister Jeannine Gramick, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, Francis DeBernardo at New Ways Ministry

Sister Jeannine Gramick, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, Francis DeBernardo at New Ways Ministry

Fulfilling a promise he made last summer, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco met with New Ways Ministry’s Francis DeBernardo and Sister Jeannine Gramick on Monday, December 15, 2014, to help enrich understanding of each other’s approaches to marriage equality and LGBT issues.

In June of 2015, New Ways Ministry joined a group of LGBT equality organizations in an open letter asking Cordileone, who heads the U.S. bishops’ committee on the Promotion and Defense of Marriage,  not to speak at the March for Marriage rally in Washington, DC, organized by groups which oppose marriage equality, some of which were known to have a strong record of statements and actions that were harmful to LGBT people.  In response, Cordileone issued an open letter explaining why he would speak, and also agreed to meet with any of the signers of the original letter as a way to better understand one another.

Two groups took Cordileone up on his offer for a personal meeting: New Ways Ministry and DignityUSA. Earlier this autumn, Cordileone met in San Francisco with representatives from Dignity. New Ways Ministry’s meeting occurred on December 15th at our offices in Mount Rainier, Maryland, while the Archbishop was in the Washington, DC area on other church business.

DeBernardo met Cordileone and drove him to our offices. Gramick introduced herself, while Matt Myers and Bob Shine, two New Ways Ministry staff members, were also on hand to greet the archbishop and serve a light lunch of sandwiches. After the archbishop opened with a prayer, Cordileone, DeBernardo, and Gramick shared some of their life stories and experiences. Both Cordileone and DeBernardo have similar backgrounds, sharing an Italian heritage, and having attended public schools while being very much involved with the Catholic Church. Gramick talked about her Polish roots as an only child in a non-practicing Catholic family, but surrounded by Catholics until graduate school when she was first introduced to the gay community.

As the conversation progressed, they discussed how Catholic groups with opposing views on marriage can better understand and speak with one another. Cordileone mentioned Pope Francis’ idea of “encounter,” of meeting people where they are and beginning a dialogue with them. Cordileone stressed the importance of breaking down stereotypes on each side of the issue. He noted that both groups sometimes say things that cause harm to the other side, and that the harm is often not intended.

New Ways Ministry asked for advice on how LGBT Catholics and their families can initiate dialogues with their local bishops.  He noted that bishops often have many demands on their time and many requests for appointments.  A more practical route may be for people to request meetings with directors of diocesan ministries, such as family life, or with other chancery officials.

New Ways Ministry asked how a lesbian or gay person could speak to the U.S. bishops at one of their meetings. Cordileone mentioned that a member of the Courage ministry group, which promotes celibacy for lesbian and gay Catholics, has spoken to the bishops’ conference in the past. New Ways Ministry asked if other lesbian and gay persons could speak to the bishops. He considered this and seemed receptive to hearing the perspectives of gay and lesbian parish members.  Cordileone also noted that there is a great need to find ways to reach out to lesbian and gay people who are not close to the Church, including those who have been alienated from the institution.

New Ways Ministry spoke about six Catholic parents who met with Archbishop Chaput in Philadelphia in April to tell their stories about their gay and lesbian children. The parents were enthused and delighted with Archbishop Chaput’s warm reception and invitation to meet again. Cordileone was interested in learning more about the meeting from Chaput.

Gramick mentioned that, although she and Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, differed on the issue of same-sex marriage, she and Paprocki had a delightful luncheon together as they shared their common ethnic backgrounds. She asked Cordelione to give her warm regards to Paprocki when they next meet.

Cordileone expressed genuine concern for how to speak about lesbian and gay people in ways that would not compromise his concern for church teaching or would harm lesbian and gay people. New Ways Ministry suggested that he elaborate more on church teaching concerning the human dignity of LGBT people and to show interest in their lives beyond the question of sexual ethics.  DeBernardo and Gramick shared a list of suggestions that were published on Bondings 2.0 in the summer of 2012.

Knowing that he often serves meals as part of the supper ministry of Most Holy Redeemer parish, a gay-friendly church in San Francisco, New Ways Ministry encouraged him to celebrate liturgy with the community, too, and he responded positively.  We also discussed with him some of the other ways that gay-friendly parishes across the nation are reaching out to LGBT people.

The hour-and-a-half meeting was very warm and friendly, and personal respect for one another was very evident throughout the time together. New Ways Ministry appreciated the opportunity to dialogue with Archbishop Cordileone.

The meeting shows that dialogue can happen in our church when both sides are willing to speak with one another honestly and respectfully.  We were edified by this personal encounter which revealed a man who seeks to learn how the Gospel can be proclaimed more effectively. May more bishops follow his lead in personally learning more about Catholic LGBT people and advocates.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


LGBT Homes Should Open Their Doors to the World Meeting of Families

December 15, 2014

The World Meeting of Families, an international Catholic gathering focused on family life which will be held in Philadelphia in September 2015, has already caused some controversy concerning LGBT issues.

7f826-archbcharleschaputArchbishop Charles Chaput of the Philadelphia Archdiocese said that everyone would be welcome to the meeting, but he also announced that “neuralgic sexual issues that seem to dominate the American media” would not be on the agenda.  Many people interpreted this to mean that questions about same-gender marriage would be avoided.

Additionally, advance materials for the Meeting seem to indicate that where LGBT issues are noted, they are done so in basically negative language.

Two Philadelphia area commentators recently called on Chaput to be more open in his approach to LGBT issues at the upcoming meeting, at which Pope Francis will be making a visit.

In a short essay on Philly.com, Mark Segal, publisher of Philadelphia Gay News noted the different approaches that Chaput and Pope Francis seem to be taking toward LGBT issues. Remarking on the pope’s recent interview in which he supported families with LGBT members, Segal wrote:

“The pontiff’s comments came a day after he urged church officials to pay attention to the ‘signs of the times.’ This is groundbreaking, especially since he was speaking in regard to a meeting of American bishops, who, to say the least, have not been so kind to LGBT Catholics. And sadly enough, while other bishops see a church attempting to join the 21st century, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput now seems to be leading a campaign of opposition.

“While the pope noted it is important to welcome gay Catholics, he still is opposed to same-sex marriage. But he said his views on LGBT youth were in part formed from personal experiences.

“ ‘We come across this reality all the time in the confessional: a father and a mother whose son or daughter is in that situation. This happened to me several times in Buenos Aires…. We have to find a way to help that father or that mother to stand by their son or daughter,’ he said in an interview with Argentina’s La Nación.”

Segal offered a practical suggestion to help fix the discrepancy between Pope Francis’ view and Chaput who seems to oppose him:

“. . . [W]e need to help U.S. bishops learn more about our community. Chaput will be among the hosts of the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia next fall, which Pope Francis will attend. Chaput has stated that thousands of Catholic households should offer to house some of the visitors who will be coming from around the globe. With that in mind, I’d like to suggest that LGBT Catholic families meet that calling and call the Archdiocese to offer their homes. Let us help His Holiness with his mission.”

Stephen Seufert, the state director of Keystone Catholics, a new social-justice advocacy organization in Pennsylvania dedicated to promoting the common good, penned an essay in Philadelphia Gay News, in which he criticized Chaput’s approach to marriage, while arguing for the benefits that families headed by lesbian and gay couples offer society:

“Chaput, like many other traditionalist Catholics, seems to have a ‘Leave It to Beaver’ mentality of the family. He believes any marriage not between one man and one woman is evil and sinful. Trying to define marriage and the family in such limited terms makes the church seem obtuse to a diverse and complicated world. . . .

“Opponents of same-sex marriage argue that, because LGBT couples can’t procreate, they’re not equal to heterosexual couples. I completely reject that argument. LGBT people promote life by caring for and loving those around them, whether it be family, friends or coworkers. Too often, marriage-equality opponents forget about the life and dignity of an LGBT person.”

Segal’s proposal for LGBT families to open their doors to World Meeting of Families participants is a wonderful, grassroots idea that would promote understanding on a very personal and basic level. It would probably work best if parents of LGBT people would offer such hospitality since many participants might be reluctant, unfortunately, to stay in the home of a gay or lesbian couple.  And New Ways Ministry knows that the Catholic parents of LGBT people in the Philadelphia area are a strong, welcoming, and committed group!

The best way for people to learn about LGBT issues is through one-on-one conversations.  Even though the World Meeting of Families won’t be addressing LGBT issues positively, let’s hope and pray that there will be many opportunities for participants to witness the loving and live-giving qualities that LGBT families offer the world and the church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


John the Baptist’s Humble Example for LGBT Folks

December 14, 2014

For the four Sundays of Advent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections on the day’s Scripture readings by two New Ways Ministry staff members:  Matthew Myers, Associate Director, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder.  The liturgical readings for the Third Sunday of Advent are Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11; Luke 1:46-50, 53-54; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28.  You can read the texts by clicking here.

St. John the Baptist

I always imagined John the Baptist as a rather strident and coarse fellow, complete with his camel hair clothing, locust diet, apocalyptic message, and his uneasy relationship with authority (things didn’t end well with Herod).  I can’t imagine John being a person with whom I’d like to have coffee and a chat.  But, unpleasant or not, today’s Gospel presents John as a profoundly humble person who was deeply aware of his own identity and mission.  And I think we can learn a lot from him in this regard.

John the Baptist was an itinerant preacher who became famous enough for the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem to take notice and send priests to find and listen to him.  He was a celebrity.  So when the priests asked “Who are you?”, John demonstrated profound humility and integrity when he replied that he was not the Christ, Elijah, or the Prophet, but simply a voice crying in the desert. John could have easily claimed the mantle of any of these very important persons and thereby increase his own celebrity among the people.  Can you imagine the flocks of would-be followers if he said (or even obliquely suggested) that he was Elijah or the Messiah? Perhaps that might have been a fleeting temptation for him.  But John chose to remain faithful to his own identity and to speak his own truth as he understood it.

I think John’s example to us, particularly for LGBT folks and those who advocate for them, is “I am my own person, with my own truth to proclaim in this world.  My story may be quite different from others,  but it is mine, and I must live it with integrity.”  Thomas Merton wrote a powerful reflection on this theme:

“A tree gives glory to God by being a tree… The more a tree is like itself, the more it is like [God]… This particular tree will give glory to God by spreading out its roots in the earth and raising its branches into the air and the light in a way that no other tree before or after it ever did or will do.”

We have many reasons to rejoice on this Third Advent Sunday, known as Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday, not least of which is the mystery of God becoming human in the person of Jesus. But I suggest we also take time to revel in our own uniqueness, the knowledge that each of us is utterly special in this world because no one can witness to God’s love in quite the same way.  Each of us can contribute to a more humane and compassionate world, not by living by the narratives of others, but by sharing our own unique stories, just as John the Baptist did.  By leading lives of integrity and openness, LGBT folks can give glory to God as only we can — and we should rejoice for the opportunity!

–Matthew Myers, New Ways Ministry


Was Synod 2014 a “Turning Point” or “Clash of Factions”? What Will Synod 2015 Be?

December 13, 2014

The upcoming synod on marriage and family to take place at the Vatican in 2015 was in the news this week because the discussion document was released, and bishops around the world were once again asked to consult with the laity about matters pertaining to the synod’s topic.

Pope Francis

But this week there was also a looking back towards the October 2014 synod.  At his general audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis spoke about the recent meeting and said that the meeting did not include a “clash of factions,” as media reports indicated.  Religion News Service provided excerpts from the pope’s comments on the past synod:

“ ‘Some of you have asked me if the synod fathers fought,’ Francis said. ‘I don’t know if they “fought,” but they spoke forcefully. This is freedom. This is just the kind of freedom that there is in the church.’

“In a bid to set the record straight, the pope acknowledged the extensive media coverage of the global gathering in October and likened it to ‘sports or political coverage.’

“ ‘They often spoke of two teams, pro and con, conservatives and liberals,’ the pope told thousands of pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square.

“ ‘There was no clash between factions … but a dialogue between the bishops, which came after a long process of preparation and now continues, for the good of the family, the church and society. It’s a process.’ ”

Jesuit commentator Father Thomas Reese had a different interpretation of the meeting.  He stated that differences of opinion clearly existed among the synod participants, making this synod very different from those in recent memory.  Reese said:

“Rather than advising the pope, these earlier synods often simply quoted the pope to himself. They were a way of bishops showing their loyalty. Francis gave the bishops freedom to speak.”

Indeed, in the document that was released this week, that landmark meeting in October was described as a pastoral “turning point” for the Church, the Associated Press noted.

Both New Ways Ministry and DignityUSA criticized this week’s document because of using the term “homosexual tendencies,” and because of lack of focus on families headed by gay and lesbian couples. In addition to each group’s statements, an Advocate.com article contained additional comments from the leaders of these two organizations.

 

Ryan Denson, writing at AddictingInfo.com has a different point of view, though, about the document and the upcoming synod.  He sees the identification of a “turning point” as significant, and that the Catholic Church may be on the road to becoming more open to LGBT people and those who are divorced and remarried.  Denson wrote:

“Baby steps are turning into leaps as Pope Francis and the Vatican urge the world’s bishops to be guided, not just by doctrine, but by the Pope’s compassionate message which includes a ‘turning point’ inspired by meetings at the Vatican. The new message seeks to provide better pastoral care for gays and divorcees across the globe . . . .

“[I]n other words, the Vatican is asking the bishops and other clergy members to act like Jesus, who loves and respects all, and not act like arrogant, judgmental religious zealots. Instead of focusing on outdated dogma, Pope Francis is truly teaching the Gospels, and with the ousting of several prominent homophobic priests, the Vatican is starting to realize that he means business.

“The bottom line is this: the Pope is currently facing vocal opposition from those who view the church as an exclusive club where the unsaved and unworthy are not welcomed. He wants to change this. And he has made it very obvious that he does.”

ThinkProgress.com also looked on a more positive side to the survey released.  They quoted several progressive Catholic leaders, who have a more optimistic view of the synod, the questionnaire, and the process.  Bob Shine of New Ways Ministry was one of those more optimistic voices:

“ ‘Language about tendencies is problematic,’ Shine, who oversees young adult ministries for New Ways, told ThinkProgress in an email. ‘That said, I think the intentions of reaching out to and providing pastorally for LGBT people and their families is what is really guiding this process … Pope Francis has encouraged genuine dialogue during this whole synodal process.’ ”

Other Catholic leaders said likewise:

“ ‘Regardless of the wording, the survey itself is a step in the right direction towards providing better pastoral care of LGBT people, as is the Vatican asking for wider inputs from ‘all levels’ for the 2015 synod on the family,’ Stephen Seufert, state director of the progressive Catholic group Keystone Catholics, told ThinkProgress. ‘Both the survey and the Vatican document released yesterday relating to the 2015 synod are indications of a church that wants to focus less on rigid, uncompromising doctrine and more on providing greater pastoral care.’

“James Salt, executive director of the left-leaning advocacy group Catholics United, echoed Seufert.

“ ‘The fact that they are explicitly asking this question is a sign of progress,’ he said. ‘Rather than retreating to a position of doctrine, they are reflecting the changing world that we live in.’ ”

Clearly, marriage and family are high on Pope Francis’ agenda.  This week, he announced that he will be speaking on these topics in a series of talks at his weekly general audiences at the Vatican.  Bondings 2.0 will keep an eye on important messages, especially those relating to LGBT people.

So, what do you think?  Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the upcoming 2015 synod?  What did you think of the document that was released this week?  Are you surprised to hear Pope Francis say that the 2014 synod was not a contentious discussion?  Leave your thoughts in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Elphin Bishop, Bert & Ernie, Gay Priests, and Colin Farrell Are All Involved in Ireland’s LGBT Debates

December 12, 2014

Earlier this week, we posted about the marriage equality debate happening now in Ireland, and the role of Catholic bishops and laity on both sides of the issue.  Today we will look at some other Catholic LGBT issues in both the Republic of Ireland and the six counties which comprise Northern Ireland. These issues include marriage benefits, adoption, religious liberty, and gay priests.

Bishop Kevin Doran

In the heavily Catholic Republic of Ireland, where the marriage equality debate is occurring, Bishop Kevin Doran of the diocese of Elphin, a strong advocate against marriage equality has also spoken in opposition to lesbian and gay couples adopting children.  In a talk in the city of Roscommon, Doran spoke about the importance of procreation in marriage and the idea of complementarity of the the sexes being important for child-rearing.

But Doran did make some concessions.  Gay Star News  reported:

“Although slamming gay marriage and adoption, Doran did say that the state should ensure gay couples in committed relationships should have inheritance and visiting rights in the event of illness or death. He also said that the church, ‘condemns without reservation words or actions which are intended to injure, ridicule or undermine homosexual people.’ “

Catholic opposition to adoption by gay and lesbian couples was also in the spotlight in the more Protestant Northern Ireland, where the Catholic bishops have chosen to sever ties with an adoption agency which has agreed to let such couples adopt.  Gay Star News provided details:

“The agency in question is The Family Care Society NI. The agency was originally founded by the Church and has offices in Belfast.

“Adoption laws were changed in Northern Ireland in 2012 to allow same-sex couples to adopt. . . .

“In a statement. . ., the Catholic Bishops of Northern Ireland said, ‘It is unreasonable for legislators to oblige faith-based organizations to act against their fundamental and reasonable religious beliefs in the provision of services that contribute to the common good.

” ‘As a result the Family Care Society is now legally obliged to receive and process applications in accordance with the new and wider interpretation of adoption law established by the High Court decision.

” ‘Since the provision of adoption services in Northern Ireland now also involves acting against the Church’s teaching and ethos, we too have no option but to end the long established relationship between the Church and The Family Care Society NI.’ “

It is curious that when discussing adoption and Catholic teaching, these bishops only focus on the sexual relationship of the couple, and not the importance of a child being raised in a loving household.

Muppets Bert and Ernie

In a related story, Paul Givan, a politician with the heavily Protestant Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, has called for “reasonable accommodation” for religious conscience as part of his Freedom of Conscience Amendment Bill which he is proposing.  The bill was in response to a case in which a Christian baker refused to make a cake of the Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie, with the slogan “Support Gay Marriage” and including the logo of Queerspace, an LGBTQ organization in Belfast.

The Irish nation has also had an inside view into the lives of some of its gay priests through the publication of a sociological study of priesthood by former seminarian Dr. John Weafer.

Entitled Thirty-Three Good Men: Celibacy, Obedience and Identity, the book examines the lives of a sampling of priests in the context of a variety of their life struggles.  The parts about gay priests have been receiving the most press attention.  The Huffington Post report on the book discussed one gay priest, known as Fr. L, who went on to have a sexual relationship with another priest:

“Fr L went on to discover a ‘clerical gay scene in Ireland,’ saying he believed there were ‘quite a lot of gay guys in the priesthood’ and during one visit to a gay bar in Dublin recognized at least nine priests in the venue.

“Weafer said he did not believe the church hierarchy would be surprised to read these revelations.

” ‘There is a support group for gay priests in Ireland and one respondent said a number of bishops had been invited and met with them in an informal setting,’ Weafer told The Huffington Post over the phone.”

In a story about the book in The Belfast Telegraph, the author noted the difficult situation gay priests live in:

“He believes that there are ‘quite a lot of gay guys in the priesthood’ and on one occasion when he went into a gay bar in Dublin, he recognised at least nine priests in the bar. . . .

” ‘As long as priests don’t go public and don’t flaunt those actions that don’t correspond with being a celibate priest’ they turn a blind eye, he claimed. . . .

“According to Dr Weafer: ‘If a priest was to say in the morning “I am gay,” he would be fired. Priests have learned to keep their heads down.’ “

Actor Colin Farrell and his gay brother, Eamonn Farrell

Given the marriage equality debate and these other controversies which have emerged, Ireland, north and south, seems poised for some lively national dialogues about LGBT people and religion. One news story noted that at least 20,000 students in Ireland have registered to vote to participate in the marriage equality referendum in the spring.  Irish celebrities such as actor Colin Farrell have also become involved in the discussion, making public statements in support of marriage equality.

It would be wonderful if the bishops would relax their defensive posture somewhat and listen to the stories of LGBT people, even their own gay priests. They would learn so much about life, love, and faith.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

The Independent: “Bishop supports inheritance rights for gay couples”


How LGBT Catholics Helped Resurrect a New York Parish

December 11, 2014

In this blog’s All Are Welcome series, we try to assist parishes and faith communities that want to do outreach to LGBT people and their families.  Often in that series, we highlight some steps parishes can take to make that welcome known, and sometimes we highlight the gifts that LGBT people bring to a parish.

This blog post fits into a whole different category.  It is the story of how LGBT people have been part of helping a parish in New York City to thrive in life and attendance, thus helping to save it from being closed or merged in the recent archdiocesan cutbacks there.

St. Francis de Sales Church

NYPress.com recently profiled St. Francis de  Sales parish on East 96th Street in Manhattan, focusing on the incredible growth the parish has witnessed in recent years.  The reporter observed:

The Catholic archdiocese of New York has recently made some tough decisions about consolidating churches throughout the five boroughs, due to lack of resources, declining Mass attendance and difficulty maintaining older facilities. But despite the desolate picture presented to some parishes, St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church on E. 96th St. is thriving and growing, bringing in younger parishioners and catering to the changing populations of Yorkville and East Harlem.

Pastor Philip Kelly speaks about his congregation with a touch of awe for their enthusiasm and willingness to get involved in the parish community, and he credits them with helping to grow the parish from a few hundred weekly Mass attendees to about 600 today.

The pastor and pastoral associate Jayne Porcelli began a program of reaching out to young single people in their neighborhood.  The pastor noted, ““I’d say the average age is 28-30 years old. On Sundays you have to dodge the baby strollers [in the church aisles] – and the scooters.”

But it was the LGBT community in particular played an important role in the parish’s re-birth:

“One of the programs at St. Francis that Porcelli and Fr. Kelly credit with helping to keep the congregation young and vibrant is their LGBTQS Catholic Alliance – a gay-straight alliance group that bills itself as “an inclusive and welcoming fellowship.”

“ ‘I had a very positive experience with my faith and coming out when I was younger,’ said Jay Malsky, who is 29 and the coordinator for the group. ‘When I moved to 102nd and Lexington, [I came to St. Francis], and the message is so clear and welcoming.’

“He said that he wants to help other gay and lesbian Catholics experience the same positive feelings of support and community that he acknowledges they may not have gotten elsewhere. Asked if it truly is an alliance – do straight people join, too? – Malsky laughed. ‘Last night, we were outnumbered,’ he said. Many parishioners join because they have gay family members, or just want to be part of a social group that also shares Scripture readings during their wine and cheese nights.”

St. Francis de Sales statue in parish.

On this blog, we never get tired of noting that the younger generation of Catholics is much more acclimated to LGBT people than any previous generation before them.  For these younger people, the issues of gender identity and sexual orientation pose no problem–even for religious inclusion.  The St. Francis de Sales shows that if a parish wants to attract the younger generation of Catholics, many of whom were alienated from church by previous negative pastoral experiences, the pastoral staff must include LGBT support and spirituality on the parish’s agenda.  As theologian Father Bryan Massingale said at a Pax Christi conference in 2013:

“For the young people I teach, equality for gays and lesbians is their civil rights issue. . . . For young people, the litmus test of the credibility of a religious institution is their stances on LGBT rights.”

The St. Francis de Sales story has another lesson, too.   It shows that LGBT people want to be part of their church and will respond positively to an invitation and signs of authentic concern for them.  And the entire parish can benefit from their gifts and presence.

In many parishes across the nation, participation in parish life by LGBT people has not only been a spiritual boon, but has also helped to re-animate the entire community and often encouraging welcome to other diverse groups.  Pastoral leaders should consider not only the Gospel call to welcome all, but also take note of the benefits that such welcome could have for the entire faith community.

Does your Roman Catholic parish welcome LGBT people?  How has your community benefited by their presence, in practical and spiritual ways. Contribute your answers to the “Comments” section of this post.

To learn more about gay-friendly parishes, click here to read all the posts in our All Are Welcome series or click the “All Are Welcome” button in the “Categories” box on the right-hand side of this page.  You can also visit New Ways Ministry’s list of gay-friendly parishes and faith communities by clicking here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article

Crux.com: “Finding the right parish for gays”


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