Rhetoric on LGBT issues is heated for some Catholics as equality advances. The Church’s calls for “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” are seemingly being replaced with open support for discrimination, highlighted by two incidents in Pennsylvania and Oregon this week. First, a prominent lesbian woman’s photo has caused controversy in one Catholic school and second, harsh language is being leveled against LGBT advocates following marriage equality’s legalization in several states.
St. Andrew Elementary School, Newtown, Pennsylvania, posted flyers for an upcoming Oscars-themed dance that featured Ellen DeGeneres, host of this year’s awards show. While not explicitly criticizing DeGeneres for being gay, principal Nancy Matteo’s email to parents says it was “completely wrong” to include the comedian for living “her life outside the teachings of the Catholic Church” and being a “poor role model.” Philly.com reports further:
“In the email, Matteo says she was ‘obviously NOT thinking’ when she let the invitation to the June 8 dance be distributed with DeGeneres’ photo…
“A role model, as defined by Webster’s Dictionary, is a person who is unusually effective or inspiring in some social role, job, position, etc…This does not describe her at all. We work so hard to be good role models and then I go and do something stupid!’ “
The principal is asking students to return the flyer, so she can “personally destroy them” and reissue information about the dance. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia supported the school’s decision, saying “promotional materials developed by these schools would feature images and themes that correspond with their core mission and identity.”
On the same day, a federal judge struck down Oregon’s ban on same-gender marriages prompting harsh words from the state’s Catholic conference which called the ruling “a travesty of justice.” The Conference’s statement went on to say this decision was “a sad day for democracy” and that people should reject “the flawed notion that a pairing of two people of the same gender constitutes a marriage,” according to the National Catholic Reporter. The news report also noted that bishops in Pennsylvania and Michigan also criticized marriage equality’s advances this week, as well.
It seems that for some in our church, simply showing a picture of a lesbian celebrity is cause for scandal while the use of damaging language against LGBT people is not. Similarly, marriages expressing commitment between two women or two men are cause for scandal while firing LGBT church workers who help educate children and build up God’s kingdom is not. Young women wearing pants for their senior photos is cause for scandal while punishing parents for loving their LGBT children is not.
Jesuit priest James Martin recently wrote about why LGBT people feel the Catholic Church hates them, and offered the following steps that Catholic leaders could take to reverse this reality:
“First, it would mean listening to their experiences—all their experiences, what their lives are like as a whole. Second, it would mean valuing their contributions to the church. Where would our church be without gays and lesbians—as music ministers, pastoral ministers, teachers, clergy and religious, hospital chaplains and directors of religious education? Infinitely poorer. Finally, it would mean publicly acknowledging their individual contributions: that is, saying that a particular gay Catholic has made a difference in our parish, our school, our diocese. This would help remind people that they are an important part of the body of Christ.”
When Catholic institutions will not even allow photos of LGBT people, and when leaders can only condemn through harsh words, we need to ask “Where is the listening, the valuing, and the public acknowledgement of their goodness, and the good ways in which LGBT build up our Church?” More basically, where did the Church leaders’ commitment to respect, compassion, and sensitivity go when dealing with LGBT people and their loved ones?
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry