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”


ALL ARE WELCOME: Parish Programs Make Sure LGBT People Have a Place at the Table

November 3, 2014

The ALL ARE WELCOME series is an occasional feature on this blog which highlights Catholic parishes and faith communities that support and affirm LGBT people. 

Though we report and comment a lot on this blog about bishops and the Vatican and politics and theology, for the vast majority of Catholics the deepest experience of “church” is not at the hierarchical level, but about what happens in their local communities and their day to day lives.  That’s why parish life is so important–and so important that it be a community life where LGBT people and their parents feel welcome and affirmed.  Although there are no statistics about it, I think more people decide whether to stay in or to leave the Church based on what their local pastor or fellow parishioners say to them than anything that is said by the pope or the bishops.

News reports recently from different parts of the country gave a close-up view of the work that several parishes are doing to make sure that LGBT people and family members know they have a place at the table.

The Journal-Sentinel of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, reported on a vibrant program that began ten years ago at Good Shepherd parish, Menomonee Falls, and has since expanded to at least three more nearby parishes.   “Gay and Straight in Christ” was founded by Ann Castiglione, a parishioner whose godson is gay, and since that time she has planted seeds for programs at St. Mary parish, Hales Corners, St. Joseph parish, Grafton, and Our Lady of Lourdes parish, Milwaukee.

The programs at each parish vary, but all share the common threads of prayer, support, sharing stories, and discussing topics that are relevant to LGBT people, such as raising a family as a same-gender couple.  The effectiveness of these programs is evidenced by the testimony of participants and observers. For example, the newspaper article reported:

“John still feels welcome in the church. That’s due in part to his parish priest, but also to a cadre of faithful who gather regularly to pray and explore what it means to be part of the body of Christ, regardless of one’s sexual orientation. . . .

” ‘The Gay and Straight in Christ ministry has been a huge help for me,’ said John, who asked to be identified only by his first name in deference to his wife, who has struggled with the revelation that he is gay. ‘They make you feel that you can still be part of the church and that there are people who are supportive, even if the hierarchy and individual people aren’t.’ “

A local theological expert also praised this type of pastoral program:

“These kinds of ministries are consistent with church teachings on human dignity and conscience, and efforts by Pope Francis to balance church doctrine with mercy and compassion for the ‘messiness of people’s lives,’ said the Rev. Bryan Massingale, who teaches moral theology at Marquette University.

” ‘They are witnessing to the totality of our Catholic teaching, not just teachings on sexual acts … but on the dignity of the person who is loved by Christ regardless of their behavior.’ “

The tension between church teaching on sexual abstinence vs. the individual’s conscience is certainly present in such ministries, but , as Deacon Sandy Sites of  Good Shepherd stated:

“What we are saying is that you are welcome here. Your story is between you and your confessor and God. I don’t care who you are. When it comes to the teachings of Christ, it’s not about the sin, it’s about the person.”

In Baltimore, Maryland, St. Matthew parish has been leading the way in that archdiocese by proclaiming a welcome to LGBT people through their LEAD ministry (LGBT 
Educating and Affirming Diversity), which recently hosted a panel of LGBT people and parents telling their stories so that the wider parish community could learn more about them.  The Catholic Review, the archdiocesan newspaper, reported on the event:

“About 50 people attended the two-hour event, which included a question-and-answer session. Attendees asked for advice on personal situations, including navigating conversations with family members.
“ ‘People find themselves in a confusing place because they have a faith that allows them to be strong in the face of adversity, but they sometimes have a church that’s been challenging them about how they should see their family members who are gay,’ said Father [Joseph] Muth [pastor] in an interview after the event.”
Fr.  Muth also emphasized the healing and reconciling role that panel presentations of personal testimonies can have:
“I think through that storytelling, people begin to see how hurt people have been and how they’ve turned away from the church. With the church’s whole emphasis on this new evangelization, this is a real opportunity to reverse the attitude – to have a more welcoming, compassionate, listening attitude, to tell people they can be included.”
The panel took place while the Synod on Marriage and Family was taking place in Rome, but Fr.  Muth noted that pastoral outreach is not dependent on whether or not the Church changes its teaching on gay and lesbian relationships.  He stated:
“The church teaching may or may not change at some point down the road – that’s not something I can do anything about – but the initial step to people who have felt rejected and put aside for many years is to create an atmosphere of welcome.”
These ministry examples from Wisconsin and Maryland are great models for the increasing number of parishes across the country who are opening their doors to LGBT people. You can find such parishes by checking out New Ways Ministry’s list of gay-friendly parishes and faith communities by clicking here.   You can read more about the LGBT-friendly parish movement by reading the blog posts in Bondings 2.0’s “All Are Welcome” series by clicking here.
If you want information on how your parish can start an LGBT ministry program or develop an existing one, contact New Ways Ministry by email, info@NewWaysMinistry.org, or by phone, 301-277-5674.  We’ve helped scores of parishes expand their outreach in ways that suit their particular situations.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Catholic and LGBT: Which Is the Harder Coming Out Process?

September 6, 2014

If you are an LGBT Catholic, which is the harder thing to do:  telling Catholic people you are LGBT or telling LGBT people that you are Catholic?  In over 20 years working with the Catholic LGBT community, I’ve more often heard people say that the latter is much harder than the former.

In U.S. Catholic this past summer, Jeffrey Essman examined why it is so difficult to “come out” as a Catholic in today’s world.  He notes that despite the recent change in tone on gay issues that Pope Francis has inaugurated, too many LGBT people still see religion generally, and Catholicism particularly, as the enemy.  The statistics bear this out:

“A recent Pew Research Center survey of LGBT Americans found that 48 percent of the respondents—more than twice the national average—consider themselves atheist/agnostic or simply have no religious affiliation. Of the 51 percent who do have a religious affiliation, 26 percent are Catholics, and two thirds of that 26 percent consider their own church to be unfriendly toward them. When respondents were asked to list the religions they considered most unfriendly, 8 in 10 put the Catholic Church on the list, along with the Mormon Church and Islam. “

Essman, who took a spiritual hiatus from religion for a while, notes how important it is for gay people to share their spirituality with one another.  In his case, it was another gay Catholic who helped to bring Essman back to the faith:

“. . . [T]he irony here is that it was a former boyfriend, a convert to Catholicism, who got me back into the church. I remember him telling me about his conversion experience, and I had never heard anyone, certainly not a gay man, talk so happily, so assuredly, so emphatically about his faith. Being in a relationship with him was an important layer of coming out for me, but it’s the moment of spiritual honesty that resonates with me still. I’m a Catholic. I’m a gay Catholic. And it grieves me to think that two thirds of my brothers and sisters don’t feel welcome in their own church. No one should feel unwelcome in a church—and certainly not in the church. “

Essman belongs to a New York City parish (which he doesn’t name) which has aided him on his spiritual journey by including him in the community in a way that is both unique and commonplace:

“. . . [G]enuine welcome goes far beyond acceptance and tolerance. Welcome is a joyous absurdity of openness and love, of oneness, and what I love most about my parish is that I’m not a gay Catholic there. I’m just a Catholic. There’s nothing special about me. On the contrary, I am appreciated but otherwise wonderfully taken for granted. It’s a genuine welcome that doesn’t just welcome you to church; it welcomes you to the baptism that made you church in the first place. “

And he reminds us that being part of the Catholic community is really so much more than doctrine:

“when I remember that, I remember why I’m in the church, why I’m one of the 26 percent. I’m not in the church for the catechism, I’m in it for the creed. I’m in it for the light and beauty I experience at the heart of Catholicism, far from any politics—far, even, from a good deal of theology. I’m in it for the spirit of the Eucharist, of scripture, and most of all for the spirit of the people I worship with every Sunday. A couple weeks ago I was sitting next to one of the older members of the parish and was in tears at the simplicity, intent, and quiet joy with which he sang the psalm response. No catechism can touch that. And it’s this experience of the church on the local level—which I think is the important one—that gives me hope for the church at large.”

(Editor’s note:  If you are seeking a local gay-friendly Catholic parish in your area, check out New Ways Ministry’s list of welcoming parishes and communities by clicking here.)

And finally, for Essman, as for so many other LGBT Catholics, reconciliation means coming to terms with both one’s weaknesses and strengths, and in healing one’s past:

“I’m a sinner just like everyone else at my parish, but my sin isn’t my homosexuality. The sinfulness of my being gay is that it tempted me, allowed me—encouraged me, really—to think that I was somehow set off from the rest of society, that I wasn’t really part of the world. The sin of my homosexuality is that it led me to believe lies—deadly, soul-killing lies—a sin for which I am indeed heartily sorry. But by the grace of God I’ve forgiven the people who told me those lies, and I’ve forgiven myself for believing them. And by the grace of the people I pray with every week, by the love they give me and the love I return, I move forward with them into the truth: I am part of society. I am part of nature. And I am very happily part of the church.”

So, how about you?  How did you reconcile being LGBT and being Catholic?  What is it about your faith that you treasure and that keeps you going?  What steps on your spiritual journey have helped you see yourself as a loved child of God?  What is the relationship between your sexuality/gender identity and your spirituality.  Feel free to share your reflections in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Parish Bulletin Tells the Story of a Lesbian Couple’s Commitment

August 25, 2014

Parish bulletins often tell a person a lot about the atmosphere of a Catholic community.  Even in many gay-friendly parishes, pastors and lay leaders are sometimes reluctant to mention, in print, their welcome of LGBT people. A recent example shows how one parish is working at breaking that wall of silence.

St. Francis Xavier Parish, Manhattan, N.Y., has long been known as a welcoming and affirming community.  They have marched in NYC’s Pride Parade many times, and they have two strong spirituality programs in the parish, one for gay men and one for lesbian woman.  LGBT people are integrated intimately in all aspects of parish life.

Earlier this summer, in the June 22nd, 2014 bulletin of St. Francis Xavier parish, a lesbian couple told the story of their relationship over the course of more than four decades.  Entitled “Forty-Four Years of Love and Commitment,” the short piece by Maria Formoso and Joan O’Brien, describes the difficult early years of their closeted relationship:

“We had the lucky fortune to meet in 1968 when we were employed as teachers in a Catholic high school in New York City. We became a couple in 1970 but we never disclosed it to our parents. It was difficult enough for ourselves to accept this relationship since we had been brought up Roman Catholic in Pre-Vatican II. We tried hard to reconcile our faith and our sexuality.

“Other people whom we suspected were gay were secretive and closeted as well, but we were eager to meet folks with whom we could openly share our lives and our values.”

Little by little, they began to reach out to others for support, including other Catholics:

“. . . at Dignity New York, we met Karen Doherty and Christine Nusse, who started the Conference for Catholic Lesbians in 1983. We were astonished and astounded to meet people from all over the United States who were struggling just like us to live their lives as Catholic lesbians.”

After praising a number of Catholic leaders including Sister Jeannine Gramick, Mary Hunt, Sister Theresa Kane, Father John McNeill, Barbara Zanotti, for their assistance in helping them to reconcile their lesbian and Catholic identities, the couple ended their essay with praise for St. Francis Xavier parish:

“Finally, Christmas Eve 1994, we, accompanied by Maria’s brother José, who also was gay, went to the Church of St.
Francis Xavier. Our good friends Anne and Frank Sheridan invited us. We had not attended mass in a number of years because, as lesbians, we did not feel welcome. The church was packed with people, many standing in the back. Sister Honora Nicholson came to our rescue, and we found ourselves seated on the left side of the altar. The service was beautiful. We were home! “

It was so refreshing to read such a positive piece about a lesbian relationship in a parish bulletin.  It’s quite an example of acceptance and affirmation, and also a wonderful way to educate the entire community about the lived reality of lesbian lives.  It’s a perfect way to let the rest of the parish benefit from the spiritual journey of two of their parishioners.

May other parishes do likewise!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Catholic Pastor: ‘I am not the bedroom police.’

May 6, 2014

How do LGBT people fare in Catholic parishes?  How welcoming are Catholic communities to gay and lesbian couples in committed relationships? How important is it to offer a welcome to LGBT people?

Fr. Peter Daly

These are the types of questions that one Catholic pastor has tackled in a recent column in The National Catholic Reporter Fr. Peter Daly, pastor of St. John Vianney parish in Prince Frederick, Maryland (Archdiocese of Washington), offers a frank assessment of how his parish responds to the presence of gay and lesbian people in their midst.

While happy that gay and lesbian couples are welcomed by his community, Fr. Daly admits that the welcome may be as complete as it could be.  He describes the parish as “a fairly typical middle-class, mostly white, English-speaking, American parish.” It is located in a suburban-to-rural community not far from the Chesapeake Bay, which is predominantly politically conservative and Republican.  Yet, he notes that the topic of gay people and relationships has been coming to the surface more commonly in the past few years, due to the greater acceptance and discussion of these issues in the larger society.   Fr. Daly offers the following appraisal of how his parish has responded, noting that it is not the ideal:

“I also think it would be fair to say that our approach to same-sex couples, including marriage and adoption, is evolving. One might characterize our approach as public silence and private acceptance.

“In public, we are silent about the fact that some of our fellow parishioners are gay, even though some people are aware of their relationships.

“In private, we are accepting their relationships so long as we don’t have to acknowledge them.

“Such a modus vivendi is not really an ethical resolution to the question. In fact, it is merely a strategy for avoidance.”

Fr. Daly’s analysis sounds a little like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the former policy of the U.S. military in regard to gay and lesbian service people.  While it allows for some acceptance, it is acceptance that is only partial, not full, and worse, it is acceptance that is only conditional.  Such conditional, partial acceptance should not be the standard for a Catholic community, and Fr. Daly is aware that while it may be the present reality, it is not a healthy one or a helpful one.

Fr. Daly has been trying to move his parish past this type of impasse. Many parishes that welcome LGBT people do so because the parish leadership has fostered a  climate of acceptance and welcome in the community.  From several opinions expressed by Father Daly in his essay, it is obvious that he has been in the forefront of setting an example of acceptance and welcome.  He states:

“The hyperbolic and harsh language of the church will have to change. It is not accurate, and it is not charitable. . . .So long as gay relationships are truly loving and committed, I cannot see how they are intrinsically disordered. . . .

“For more than 40 years, the language of the magisterium said that all same-sex acts are ‘intrinsically disordered’ and may never be approved in any way. But that certainly is not my experience as a pastor of souls.”

The priest’s approach to offering a welcome has been influenced, or perhaps “supported” is a better word, by Pope Francis’ example of first seeing the whole person, as opposed to individual personality traits.

But Fr. Daly also provides his own theory on how parishes, and particularly priests, can be more welcoming.  Of his role as pastor, he says:

“I am not the bedroom police. I do not quiz people on their private lives. I do not know who is sleeping with a boyfriend or girlfriend. I do not know who is cheating on a spouse.  But one thing I know for sure: One hundred percent of the people who come to Communion at every Mass in the history of the world are sinners; redeemed sinners.”

Whether or not individual parishioners are accepting of lesbian and gay people seem to be determined by two characteristics, according to Fr. Daly:  age and familiarity.  Younger people are more accepting than older people.  Those who count a lesbian or gay person among their friends or family are more accepting than those who think they do knot know one.

Welcoming LGBT people in a parish helps far more than only the LGBT people.  They are also sending a message to another population segment that also doesn’t always feel welcome in Catholicism:  young people. Because of the growing strong acceptance of LGBT people by the younger generation, many will not want to stay within a church that only offers condemnatory edicts.  As Fr. Daly states, for young people, welcoming LGBT people “determines whether or not they will remain Catholics.”  This issue should then become a major demographic warning for church leaders:

“As the older Catholics die off, the church will find very little acceptance of its current negative position on gay relationships. We will find ourselves culturally marginalized in countries like the United States.”

The other group that will similarly be affected are parents and family members of LGBT people.  Fr. Daly states:

“Two of my friends who go to other parishes left the Catholic church when their children came out. They simply could not accept a church that judged their children to be ‘intrinsically disordered.’ If someone is put in the position of choosing between his or her child and the church, they will obviously and quite rightly choose their child.”

Fr. Daly’s comments offer sound pastoral advice to other Catholic parishes who want to welcome LGBT people.  New Ways Ministry maintains a list of LGBT-friendly Catholic parishes around the country.  For more information on how to make a Catholic parish more LGBT-friendly, click on the “All Are Welcome” box in the “Categories” section to the right of this post.

What does your parish do to make LGBT people feel welcome?  What effect has this welcome had on the parish as a whole?   Write your responses in the “Comments” section of this blog post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related posts about past Fr. Daly essays:

US Catholics Praise Pope Francis in Polling and Words

The Pastoral Dimension of the New Boy Scout Policy on Gay Youth

Message of Hope: ‘No one should feel excluded from God’s love. . . .Ever.’

 

 


More and More U.S. Congregations–Including Catholic Ones–Are Welcoming LGBT People

November 17, 2013

Regular readers of Bondings 2.0 will know that we like to promote the growing trend in the Catholic Church of parishes opening their doors to LGBT people and their families.  New Ways Ministry maintains a list of gay-friendly Catholic parishes and intentional eucharistic communities which has grown from its origin in 1997 with 20 listings to currently having well over 200 listings.

A new report from Duke University’s National Congregations Study confirms that this trend of gay-friendly faith communities has been growing rapidly across denominational lines in recent years.  The Association of Religion Data Archives’ website reports on some of the major findings from the study, noting that overall the changes seem to be connected to changes in society generally:

“The massive cultural changes in attitudes toward gays and lesbians in American society are also being reflected in religious sanctuaries, the study indicates.”

Some of the major findings from the study show a definite trend in acceptance:

“Twenty-seven percent of congregations in the 2012 study allowed gays and lesbians in committed relationships to hold volunteer leadership positions, up from 19 percent in the 2006-2007 study.

“Nearly half, or 48 percent, of congregations in 2012 reported that gays and lesbians in committed relationships may be full-fledged members; in the 2006-2007 study, 38 percent of congregations allowed such membership privileges.

“Seventeen percent of congregations reported having openly gay and lesbian worshipers. But those congregations were also relatively larger, so 31 percent of people in congregations are part of communities with gays and lesbians who are open about their orientation.”

The study’s director, Duke University’s Mark Chaves, a sociologist noted that the study shows that the perception that faith and LGBT equality are opposed is not, in fact, a reality:

“Chaves notes that an analysis of the 2006-2007 study found that religious communities who were politically active on the issue were about evenly split on both sides.

“And the latest study shows an increasing acceptance that is consistent with cultural changes in the nation.

“ ‘It’s not right to think of religion in an organized way … as being only on the conservative side of the gay-rights issue,’ Chaves said.”

While the study does not single out data on Catholic congregations, it’s clear that the Catholic community is definitely part of this growing trend.  Many recent studies have shown that Catholics are often ahead of the general U.S. population when it comes to societal acceptance of LGBT people (including support of marriage equality).   Hispanic Catholics, in particular, show strong acceptance.  (To learn more about these past studies, click on “Statistics”  under the “Categories” heading  in the right-hand column of this page.)

Why is Catholic acceptance so strong?  I think this has less to do with the general growing acceptance of LGBT people in the wider culture, and more to do with Catholic people living out their church’s social justice teaching with emphasizes the equality and dignity of all people, and that all people must be treated respectfully and fairly.  I think the Catholic emphasis on family also contributes to this strong acceptance.  Catholics are concerned with keeping their families together, and they want to make sure that all families are protected in society.

Whatever the reasons, it’s important to remember that the U.S. Catholic bishops, who speak strongly and loudly against LGBT equality, do not reflect the voice of the Catholic people in this matter.

If you are interested in helping your own Catholic parish or community become more LGBT-friendly, you can start by looking at the installments of Bondings 2.0’s occasional series “All Are Welcome” by clicking on that title under the “Categories” heading in the right-hand column of this page. You can also contact New Ways Ministry by phone, 301-277-5674, or email, info@NewWaysMinistry.org, to obtain additional resources and consultation.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article

November 13, 2013:  “Gay-Friendly Churches And Houses Of Worship Growing, According To National Congregations Study” (HuffingtonPost.com)


ALL ARE WELCOME: Lesbian Young Adult Balances Faith and Exclusion

February 10, 2013
Kate Childs-Graham

Kate Childs Graham

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.

For most Catholics, experiences of inclusion in our local parishes during liturgy or various social events are central elements tying us to the faith. A supportive, positive local community can build us up in the face of a wayward hierarchy or, alternatively, tear us down with its rejection.

Kate Childs Graham writing in National Catholic Reporter highlights the experiences of one young adult struggling to find welcome in the faith she loves. Kate narrates the story of Danielle, a college student in Texas who grew up in the same parish, St. Phillip’s, where she now mentors as a peer educator. Kate continues:

“Danielle came out of the closet at 15. The director of religious education at St. Philip’s was one of the first people to accept her.

“She told me, ‘That’s cool,’ Danielle recalled. ‘Just don’t be too gay.’

“So she continued to educate and walk with ‘her kids’ — as she calls them — in the confirmation class. But then, the parish got a new priest and a new director of religious education.

“’He said that being gay is bad,’ Danielle said. ‘I never heard any priest I knew talk like that.’”

After finding welcome, Danielle suffered rejection as a Catholic lesbian due to parish staffing changes. Motivated by fear that she would be asked to stop peer education or be unable to assume leadership of the mariachi choir her family ran since 1969, Danielle went back into the closet.

Danielle’s new personal ministry to attend Mass with LGBT young people who were thrown out of  Confirmation class for their identity, and then plays music at four separate parishes on Sundays. For now, Kate writes:

“Danielle knows the church she loves has a long way to go, but her prayer is pretty simple: ‘I just want my parish to be a bit more accepting.’”

Positive parish-level responses to LGBT individuals and families are sometimes the simplest acts with the greatest effect we can have for our communities. New Ways Ministry maintains a national Gay-Friendly Parishes and Faith Communities list in attempting to identify those communities who strive for welcome and inclusion.

Bondings 2.0 is curious about our readers’ experiences.

  • Is your Catholic parish accepting of LGBT individuals and/or families?
  • What do professional ministers and lay leaders enact that creates a better atmosphere?
  • In your experiences, what are common obstacles to changing a parish’s culture?
  • What are good strategies?

We welcome you to leave your answers to these questions and more below in the “Comments” section.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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