Catholic Parents Cope Differently When LGBT Children Are Excluded

April 3, 2013

Mary Jo and Norm Bowers, Catholic parents with a lesbian daughter

The trend of LGBT individuals exiting the Catholic churches of childhood is now expanding to include their parents, too. Many clergy and ministers try to balance pastoral care with doctrinal statements, and some Catholic parents of LGBT children are finding the results inadequate. WBEZ, a Chicago public radio station, profiled several Catholic couples with children of varying sexual orientations and gender identities to understand further the parents’ relationship with the Church.

Toni and Tom Weaver explain how combining their love for their gay son with their strong Catholic identities is an evolving process. Toni describes herself as an active member of her parish in the music ministries and through daily Mass attendance. Their son, Michael came out the day after graduating college, and Toni believes her warm embrace in that moment would not always have been true. WBEZ reports:

“’If he had come out to me 10 years earlier, I’m not sure what my response would have been,’ Toni said. ‘I was definitely very traditionally Catholic and had even been moving in Evangelical circles. I was the first one to preach that homosexuality was wrong.’

“But Weaver said she came to a fuller understanding of homosexuality when she began studying for a master’s degree in theology:

“’Here were people who were gay who were being treated atrociously, and they were being denied their basic rights, and they were the butt of jokes…It finally dawned on me that people don’t choose their sexual orientation. That for me was an absolute turning point, and I attribute it to the work of the spirit.’”

The Weavers welcome their gay son, and then sought to alter the attitudes of Catholics around them, but were harmed when a bishop’s letter condemning marriage equality was read during Mass. This episode triggered the Weavers to permanently leave their Catholic parish:

“’I think that was the first time I felt slapped in the face by my church…I stood up, we were sitting in the middle of the pew. I stood up, and I turned toward the door and walked out. I grieved the church for 18 months. I grieved it. Something had died in my life.’”

Other parents remain split on how to engage Catholic communities, like Norm and Mary Jo Bowers who have a married lesbian daughter with two children baptized in the Church. Mary Jo left the Church, but her husband remains with a highly localized perspective:

“’I’ve told my pastor, I said, ‘To me my whole religion is this parish. It stays within the confines of this parish…I have nothing anymore to do with the hierarchy and what comes out of Rome’…

“Norm Bowers said he was offended by that and by a column in a Catholic paper. A priest wrote that children raised by gay couples might grow up ‘confused.’

“’I said to myself, which Catholic who has a brain isn’t confused in the Catholic church today?’”

Parents who remain, like Norm Bowers, find the positives in their local parishes and maintain hope that, under a new pope, perhaps the tone will change to something more pastorally-inclined. They also benefit from supportive clergy, like Fr. Bill Tkachuk of St. Nicholas Parish in Evanston, Illinois who compliments parishioner’s efforts to create an LGBT-affirming Catholic community:

“[Fr. Tkachuk] said the church needs to be more sensitive to families in the way it talks about gays and gay issues: ‘Speaking in the language that people can hear with their hearts and accept with their hearts, as opposed to a more academic language that can be received as very hurtful, even if it’s not intended that way.’

“His parishioners recently wrote to Cardinal Francis George of Chicago. They objected to a letter in which the cardinal called civil unions a ‘legal fiction,’ and gay marriage ‘contrary to the common sense of the human race.’”

Barbara Marian and her husband now commute over an hour to St. Nicholas each week after having too many negative experiences in her local parish. Barbara has a lesbian daughter, along with three nieces and a nephew who identify as LGBT and sees no plausible way to leave the Catholic Church:

“’We live with love for these neighbors, colleagues and children and we see them as whole persons,’ Marian said. ‘We don’t focus on the small part of their lives that involves their genitalia.’…

“‘I am Catholic through and through and through,’ Marian said. ‘There is no separating me from the church. Although it brings me to my knees with anger and tears when the bishops make a statement and strafe my community, I bleed.’”

As growing numbers of Catholics and parishes support LGBT equality, and as more children feel safe coming out to their families, anti-gay efforts by Catholic bishops will continue affecting long-term parishioners who refuse to remain or stay silent when they watch their children come under attack.

A good resource for Catholic parents of all sorts–those who are struggling with accepting a child’s orientation, those who are struggling with church structures, those who want to become more involved with equality issues–is Fortunate Families, a national network of Catholic parents of LGBT sons and daughters.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


ALL ARE WELCOME: An Open Door Policy for Catholic Schools

July 15, 2012

The ALL ARE WELCOME series is an occasional feature  which examines how Catholic faith communities can become more inclusive of LGBT people and issues.  At the end of this posting, you can find the links to previous posts in this series.

The August issue of U.S. Catholic magazine has an essay entitled “Leave no child behind: Catholic schools should accept everyone.”  As the title suggests, the author is proposing that Catholic schools not refuse admission to anyone, including children who come from non-traditional families.

Fr. Bill Tkachuk, the author, is pastor of St. Nicholas Parish and co-pastor of Pope John XXIII School in Evanston, Illinois.  He uses as starting point the case where the Boston archdiocese overruled a parish school’s exclusion of a child because the family was headed by a lesbian couple.  Fr. Tkachuk rightly praises the archdiocese’s decision and their subsequent policy statement that “Our schools welcome and do not discriminate against or exclude any categories of students.”

The essay makes a beautiful case for inclusion, however, one of its arguments rubs the wrong way.  Fr. Tkachuk uses a Gospel example to make the case for inclusion, which, unfortunately, implies some of the judgmental attitude that he is trying to eradicate:

“The call of the apostle Matthew challenges the status quo of his time (Matt. 9:9-13). Jesus calls Matthew to follow him when he is still practicing the sinful act of collecting taxes for the Romans. Matthew responds by hosting a dinner to which he invites other practicing ‘sinners’; he then brings Jesus to meet the group he has gathered.

“When the religious authorities grumble that Jesus is associating with the ‘unclean,’ Jesus responds by clarifying the mission of God’s kingdom, saying, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Jesus soon names Matthew (still called ‘the tax collector’) as one of the 12 apostles. In the roots of what will become the institutional church, Jesus balances the call to ongoing conversion with tolerance of imperfections.”

Fr. Tkachuk’s heart seems to be in the right place, but the use of this example seems to imply a patronizing approach toward people whose lives are not in accord with the church’s teaching.  I don’t think it is Fr. Tkachuk’s intention to label such people “sinners.”  Indeed he uses the word “sinners” in quotation marks to indicate that while they may be considered so by some people, that may not actually be the truth.  Yet his use of the scriptural example and the term can be offensive to some of his readers.

That said, I think that the main point of his essay–not to exclude any child on the basis of family background–is a good one.  His reasons include:

“Each family who becomes part of a Catholic school community, each man or woman who teaches or volunteers, and every principal or priest who serves in a Catholic school needs God’s healing in each and every moment. We strive to follow the call of Jesus, but we are imperfect witnesses to the faith. The most powerful witness that we offer our children is that we strive to grow in the understanding and practice of our faith and are willing to admit our imperfections and seek God’s grace.

“I am not suggesting that a member of a Catholic school community has the right to contradict church teaching and create disharmony or confusion. I am suggesting that any adult who supports the religious curriculum that is presented in a Catholic school is on a path to holiness, regardless of what I know or presume to know about his or her personal life.”

Importantly, Fr. Tkachuk’s argument offers a way for how church officials can deal with similar situations such as employing a person involved in a public, committed lesbian or gay relationship.  His argument shows that church leaders have to start dealing with such new realities in new ways:

“Some parents have expressed a concern that the lifestyle of a ‘non-traditional’ family will confuse their child. They have asked how to teach tolerance for others while also teaching Catholic values. I believe that learning to deal with these tensions will help in a variety of situations in which the values we teach conflict with the perceived behaviors of relatives, neighbors, friends, and public figures. This is part of being Catholic in a pluralistic culture.

“Those who would attempt to certify parents as ‘sufficiently Catholic’ based on a preconceived list of perceived faults place us all on a very slippery slope. Do we extend this judgment to our business practices, our treatment of neighbors and extended family, our stewardship of creation, our generosity to the poor, or other aspects of our behavior? If so, then who will be left in our Catholic schools?”

Accompanying Fr. Tkachuk’s essay, U.S. Catholic also published an essay by Tina Herman, a parent, describing her reasons why she belieives Catholic schools should be inclusive, including the following:

“A school that discriminates agains gays and lesbians is sending a message to the very children it serves. These are institutions that preach morality and say we’re all God’s children. What does turning away children based on something out of their control say to other kids, who very well might be gay themselves? Thankfully, the events out of Boulder and Boston are isolated incidents.

“I live in a large metropolitan city in a racially, ethnically, and economically diverse neighborhood, and I prefer my son’s future classroom to reflect that makeup. At his current day care, he hangs out with kids who are black and white, Middle Eastern and Hispanic, adopted kids and kids with two dads. That is his “normal;” it’s what he knows. We are surrounded by expensive private schools that tout academic excellence (for preschoolers), but my husband and I think it’s important for our son to be around kids who don’t necessarily look like him, have the same family makeup as he does, or even the same income. We can all learn from each other’s differences–and that’s the best education.”

Catholic schools, like Catholic parishes, should be known for their ability to welcome and accept everyone who comes to their doors.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Previous posts in the ALL ARE WELCOME series:

Say the Words, December 14, 2011

All in the Family , January 2, 2012

At Notre Dame, Does Buying In Equal Selling Out? , January 25, 2012

A Priest With An Extravagant Sense of Welcome,  February 13, 2012

Going Beyond the Boundaries, April 11, 2012

St. Nicholas Parish Celebrates 10 Years of LGBT Ministry, May 24, 2012

When Homophobes Attack, June 7, 2012

 

 


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