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: St. Nicholas Parish Celebrates 10 Years of LGBT Ministry

May 24, 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.

St. Nicholas parishioners bless those of their community who are involved in the parish’s Gay, Lesbian, Families and Friends Ministry, on the occasion of the ministry’s 10th anniversary. (Photo by Emily Bradfield)

St. Nicholas Parish, Evanston, Illinois, recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of their Gay, Lesbian, Families and Friends Ministry.  You can read a history of the ministry here. As part of the celebration, David Phillipart, parish director of liturgy, wrote the following blessing prayer for those involved in the ministry.  It’s beauty speaks for itself.  Parishioner Debbie Winarski commented, “It really was a beautiful moment–the kind that gives one strength to keep going.”

St. Nicholas Parish is on New Ways Ministry’s list of gay-friendly Catholic parishes, where folks can find a local Catholic community which welcomes LGBT people.

To St. Nicholas Parish’ outreach ministry, we say: “Ad multos annos!”

St. Nicholas Parish Prayer of Blessing

For ten years now, our parish’s Gay, Lesbian, Families and Friends Ministry has worked to provide a place for Catholics who are gay and lesbian, their family members and friends, and our parish as a whole to grown in faith, hope, and love. Today we want to bless the members of this ministry, so I ask you to come now to the place of the blessing before the altar.
You are nurturers and prayers,
Preachers and prophets,
healers and photographers,
you are parents,
you are sisters and brothers,
you are Catholics and you are treasured parishioners.
We honor the decade of your lives spent in this ministry.

[As is our custom I now invite others who wish you join these sisters and brothers to come forward and place a hand on them in blessing, and let us all stand and extend our hands.]

Holy God,
in love you created us: men, women, and children
In your own divine image and likeness
enlivening the universe with our variety of gifts, traits, abilities, skills, and circumstances—
faults and foibles, too.
You created us to love you and to love one another
in many and wonderful ways.
So the love of Abraham and Sarah
brought to birth your people,
Ruth and Naomi’s loving faithfulness
to each other shines as a sign of your love for us,
and the deep devotion of David and Jonathan
to each other reveals how complete
is your commitment to us.
Rising from the tomb and ascending to you,
Christ makes new our capacity to love each other.
No longer merely Jew nor Greek, slave or free,
male or female,
we love each other
as heirs to your promise,
your daughters and sons,
sisters and brothers of Jesus.

Bless all the members of our parish Gay and Lesbian, Families and Friends Ministry.
Give wisdom to their search for ways to tell of your goodness and understand our humanity.
Grant success to their long labors to call your church
to be an ever-more inclusive community.
Magnify their joys and heal the hurts
that prejudice and oppression have wrought.
Empower us to draw all your children
into your loving embrace,
made real in our community and in our commitments.
We ask this in the name of the One
who taught us that you are love,
and what when we live in love, we live in you,
through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

–David Philippart

–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


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