Evangelization: Truth and Reconciliation

Cathleen Kaveny has an excellent post on the dotCommonweal blog on re-evangelizing Catholics alienated from the church, in the wake of a news report that 16% of Boston Catholics are attending weekly Mass.

While Kaveny applauds this outreach effort, she also offers some words of warning:

“. . .I wonder if the poor Catholics staying on the edges of the community are going to be feeling a bit of whiplash. On the one hand, in Massachusetts, most Catholics voted Democratic, support gay marriage, and endorse the broad availability of contraception. On the one hand, a cursory examination of one segment of the Catholic blogosphere —-vociferously says, ‘If you dissent –on anything–get out.  If you use contraception  and support its public availability, if you don’t oppose gay marriage, if you supported health care reform, if you voted for Obama–well, go away.  You’re not a good Catholic.’ “

Later in her post she asks:

“Why invite people back just so you can kick them out again?”

Part of the problem is that too often Catholic evangelization does not acknowledge that the reason people leave the church is because they were driven out by negative messages, hurtful gestures, and pastoral insensitivity.  People leave because their relationship with the church has been damaged.  And like many damaged relationships, both sides have to be willing to acknowledge what went wrong  and why they decided to disengage. I have met way too many LGBT people and their families who felt that their Church relationship had become abusive, and that the only healthy and holy thing to do was to walk away.

Catholic leaders can learn a lesson from South Africa.  When apartheid was dismantled in that country, the leaders were faced with the immense problem of having to form a nation among people who had been so long at odds with one another.  As in any system of injustice, both oppressor and oppressed had been the victims.  Both needed to be able to tell their stories, to hear apologies, and to move forward into the future.  South African President Nelson Mandela established  the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  As the title emphasizes,  both truth AND reconciliation are needed for healing to occur.

12-Step spirituality follows a similar model.  People need to be able to speak their truth in a safe space before they are able to make amends with those they may have hurt–which is a necessary part of the recovery.

In Boston, the epicenter of the clergy sex abuse crisis,  truth and reconciliation, along with apologies, seem to be sorely in need.  Otherwise, only a band-aid is applied to a wound that needs major medical care.

New Ways Ministry has often called for church leaders to dialogue with LGBT people.  We’ve also called on church leaders to apologize for any harm that church representatives may have caused LGBT people.  We’ve called on LGBT people to respectfully tell their stories to church leaders so that the truth of their lives can be known.

For effective evangelization to occur, our church needs a new model which allows for real growth, real change, real relationship to develop.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry