Alberta’s Catholic Laity Supports GSAs; Alberta’s Catholic Bishops Do Not

December 20, 2014

A controversy over a gay-straight alliance (GSA) bill in the legislative assembly of the Canadian province of Alberta has become a classic example of how Catholic leaders and lay people take different approaches to LGBT issues.

Students demonstrate in support of GSAs.

According to CBC.ca, Bill 10 was introduced by the province’s conservative political party “to counter a private member’s bill making gay-straight alliances mandatory in all schools.”

CTVNews.ca provided a succinct history of the complicated progress of the bill:

“In its original form, Bill 10 gave the final say for GSAs to the school boards and told students to go to court if they wanted to challenge it. [Alberta Premier Jim] Prentice said this was the best way to balance the rights of kids, schools and parents.

“When public outrage grew on social media and elsewhere, the Tories on Wednesday passed an amendment allowing the government to set up GSAs at unwilling schools, but with the option of putting the clubs off school grounds.

“Critics pounced on the amendment as institutionalized segregation of gays akin to ‘separate but equal’ Jim Crow laws used to debase African-Americans more than a generation ago.”

As a result of the political controversy the bill has been placed on hold by the Premier of the province to allow for further discussion and debate.

Alberta’s two largest cities, Edmonton and Calgary, already have 94 GSAs in schools, but the province has none in rural areas or in faith-based schools.  In Canada, Catholic schools receive state funding, and so are affected by state education laws, though they are governed by local Catholic boards of trustees.

Tony Sykora

The local Catholic trustees seem to be split about Bill 10.  The Edmonton Journal  cited one trustee’s opinion:

“Tony Sykora, president of the Alberta Catholic School Trustees Association, said Catholic school boards provide a wide array of other initiatives and organizations to live up to the Education Act’s mandate to protect all students and believe the decision on gay-straight alliances should be left up to local trustees.”

But when the province’s Catholic school boards agreed to hold off on encouraging GSAs, some trustees and parents became angry. MetroNews.ca reported on the reaction of  one of Edmonton Catholic Schools (ECS) trustees to the idea that “inclusive clubs” be instituted instead of GSAs:

Patricia Grell

“. . . [A]ccording to ECS trustee Patricia Grell, that’s not fair to the district’s LGBTQ students. . . .

“ ‘Appalled was the word that the majority of people used as a description,’ said Grell, referencing the reaction from the community about comments made by ECS board chair Debbie Engel to media about GSAs.

“Grell, who recently penned a blog post about the clubs, said the district needs to reconsider their stance on GSAs to consider what’s best for vulnerable students.

“ ‘I… learned that they are not sex groups or dating clubs but “identity clubs” for students who identify as LGBTQ and their straight friends,’ Grell wrote on her website.”

The two leading Catholic prelates of Alberta have weighed in on the bill, in separate letters, though both encouraged support of the measure.  The bishops express concern for LGBT students, but oppose the idea of GSAs as the way to support youth. Calgary’s Bishop Fred Henry stated:

“It enshrined parental rights, recognized the autonomy of local school boards and the students rights regarding diversity clubs without mandating Gay-Straight Alliances.”

Edmonton’s Archbishop Richard Smith provided a similar message:

“We fully support the government’s laudable goal of fostering safe environments in schools. In fact, we already have policies for this very purpose. Any legislation aimed at this objective should demonstrate to all vulnerable students that they are embraced by the province’s concern.”

(You can read the full texts of the bishops’ letters by clicking here and scrolling to the end of the article.)

Yet, a recent poll of Alberta’s Catholics shows that lay people significantly disagree with the bishops’ position.  The Edmonton Journal reported:

“. . . [T]he University of Alberta’s Institute for Sexual Minorities Studies and Services released data from a Leger Marketing poll showing more than half of Alberta Catholics support allowing the alliances in schools.

“The online survey of 1,002 Albertans, conducted last week, found 18 per cent of Catholics were strongly opposed or opposed. Fifty-two per cent were in support or strongly in support. The poll numbers are considered accurate to within 6.5 percentage points 19 times out of 20.”

And one Catholic priest has spoken out against the bishops’ position, too. GlobalNews.ca reported:

“Calgary Reverend John Pentland said on Sunday that Bishop Henry’s comments are not helpful to Catholics who support GSAs and object to Bill 10.

“ ‘I’m sure it’s confusing for people, for friends, and our Catholic faith to have their leader say such a thing. I hope they use their own mind and conscience and let their [political representatives] know.’ ”

Marni Panas

In the same article, Marni Panas, a transgender Catholic woman in Edmonton, was also quoted opposing the bishops’ stand:

“I’ve come to believe that when left to the people of my church, the ‘average’ Catholics, the true teachings of my faith will prevail.

“We do not need the ‘permission’ of certain leaders to be kind, welcoming, compassionate and loving.”

While this controversy still is not finished, there is already one “casualty” of the debate.  The Edmonton Journal followed up with Trustee Grell, quoted above, about her support for GSAs.  The article reported a new development:

“On Monday, she said she no longer wanted to speak publicly on the issue, worried about breaking rank with the archbishop. ‘I promised the archbishop I wouldn’t do this anymore,’ she said, citing canon law that gives him the authority to grant an educational institute the right to call themselves Catholic.”

Bondings 2.0 will keep you informed on further developments in this story.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

Edmonton Journal: “Bill 10 ‘supports homophobia’ says former Catholic high school student”

CBC.ca: “Amended Bill 10 could push GSAs off school grounds: opposition”

CBC.ca: “Gay-straight alliance bill put on hold, says Alberta Premier Jim Prentice”

Times Colonist: “Alberta amends bill, opens door to segregation of gay youth clubs”

 

 


Bishops Oppose Trans-Inclusive Athletic Policy While H.S. Student Supports It

December 19, 2014

Opposing voices who attended the early December board meeting

High school athletics in Minnesota became more transgender-inclusive last week despite opposition from the Minnesota Catholic Conference and other groups.  Yet, a brave student at a Catholic high school in the Twin Cities editorialized in the school paper in favor of the new policy.

The board of the Minnesota State High School League voted 18-2 for a new student policy that makes trans women eligible for female athletics at almost 500 schools in the state. Guided by a “consistent or sincerely held gender-related identity, the policy sets forth a process for determining a given student’s eligibility and adds appropriate language to existing eligibility policies. This policy is being lauded by LGBT organizations, according to the Star Tribune:

“Monica Meyer, executive director at OutFront Minnesota, which advocates for transgender issues, said, ‘All students want is a safe place to just be who they are. That includes in the classroom, on the court or field.’…

“OutFront Minnesota Communications Director Jean Heyer said, ‘We have heard trans kids are playing sports right now, and we have heard that there are kids who will try out now that the policy is in place.’ “

However, religiously-affiliated schools are exempt from the new policy and Christian groups led opposition to the anti-discrimination measure. The Minnesota Catholic Conference teamed up with the Minnesota Family Council and others in a campaign, claiming the policy would cause great harm to students and athletic competition. There were also ads employing the now-common tactic of discussing restroom use. One email from the Minnesota Catholic Conference, reported by The Column said:

” ‘The Policy will potentially cause more harm to the very students it purports to help because it enables a false understanding of gender that does not promote physical or psychological well-being.’ “

In further letters from the Catholic Conference to the Minnesota State High School League board, executive director Jason Adkins said the now-approved policy supports “gender confusion” and because it is not required by state or federal law, is really “propaganda” for a “harmful ideology.”

Parker Breza, the In-Depth Editor of The Knight Errant, the student newspaper of Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School, St. Louis Park, Minnesota, wrote an essay for the paper supporting the new policy. Breza explained the problems that trans students experience in school:

“Transgender and gender nonconforming students are faced with a binary––a male/female gender spectrum––defined world every second of everyday. For the majority of students, this is not an issue: this two-sided way of thinking has been ingrained in us from a young age, leading us to accept it without much thought. For some, however, being forced to conform to the gender binary, or not allowing them to identify where they actually belong, causes stress, anxiety, depression, and sometimes, much more.

“But this is such a small minority of individuals, so many do not even pause to think about the consequences of an unwelcome environment for trans* (the asterisk denotes the vast spectrum of terms and identities that fall under the trans* umbrella) identified students.”

Breza goes on to make an important Catholic argument in support of the new policy:

“As a Catholic school, we know the importance of breaking down systems of oppression and fighting the marginalization of historically underrepresented groups. No matter how small a group, no community deserves to be subjected to exclusion, harassment, or violence. By not taking a stand for trans* students and their rights, you are condoning trans*phobia.”

That Catholic officials in Minnesota are disappointing in their public advocacy is not new, given the 2012 referendum around marriage equality. Their arguments rely on debunked science, while ignoring or even attacking the real experiences of transgender people and their allies. Their campaigns against equality under the law rely on fear rather than truth, turning to anti-LGBT agendas rather than the Gospel to inform their efforts.

As more trans youth are liberated to come out and live authentically, Catholic leaders at all levels should forgo the political fights and instead figure out how the church’s schools can provide welcome and inclusion for all.  Catholic leaders need to listen to students like Parker Breza, whose faith defines a path of acceptance, justice, and equality.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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

 


Gay Veterans to March in Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade Next Year

December 17, 2014

OUTVETS marching in Boston’s 2014 Veterans Day Parade

Exactly three months from today, St. Patrick’s Day in Boston will be a little more bright and gay with the inclusion of an explicitly LGBT group in that city’s parade for the first time.

A participation application was filed by OUTVETS, a new group highlighting LGBT veterans. It was narrowly approved by the Allied War Veterans Council in a 5-4 vote. OUTVETS was established this fall “as a nonpolitical outfit created to honor the contributions and sacrifices of LGBT veterans,” according to the Boston Globe, and welcomes all.

The vote reverses a long-standing ban on gay participants, a Veterans Council policy which was upheld in a 1992 US Supreme Court decision that said the right to discriminate was protected by the First Amendment. However, recent pressures like Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s refusal to participate in the 2014 parade and the pulling of major beer sponsorships may have given parade organizers pause.

Veterans Council commander Brian Mahoney affirmed the decision in an interview with the Globe:

” ‘To other people, it will be a big thing…But to us, it’s a group of veterans that wanted to march and deserved to be honored…We weren’t thrilled last year that the mayor didn’t march…But we always kept open a courteous conversation.’ “

The Globe also noted that though OUTVOTE is the first explicitly LGBT group to march, two contingents last year were LGBT-themed while ostensibly marching as community groups from South Boston.

GLAAD’s blog also noted that this decision comes the same year as changes in New York’s parade are occuring:

“As of September, however, organizers of the NYC event announced that for the first time in its 253-year history, an LGBT organization would be allowed to participate in the parade. The new policy will go into effect in 2015 with OUT@NBCUniversal, a group for LGBT employees with the broadcast company.”

In recent years, these St. Patrick’s Day parades and other Catholic-affiliated civic events have drawn increased attention for their inclusion or lack thereof of LGBT representation. It is good to see parade organizers recognizing what the vast majority of American Catholics know: that people of all gender identities and sexual orientations should be fully welcomed and accepted.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of the parade controversies, click here.

–Bob Shine, 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


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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