In a recent posting on America’s blog, Michael O’Loughlin writes about dealing with his anger at “the Church” because of Cardinal George’s recent comparison of the LGBT movement to the Ku Klux Klan. He thoughtfully reflects on the notion that while statements like George’s do raise angry reactions from people (both Catholics and non-Catholics), the anger that he and many others feel is really directed toward an increasingly more rigid hierarchy, and not “the Church,” more accurately imaged by his hometown parish’s worshiping community:
“My younger sister and I have attended Mass here on Christmas Eve for the past several years, and though we lack a formal connection to the parish, we appreciate the diverse congregation, the avuncular pastor, the thoughtful decorations, the talented choir, and the general sense of welcome and joy that the parish emulates each year. I left Mass with an appreciation for my faith, a better understanding of the consequences of Christmas, and a sense of peace to carry me through the holiday.”
The blog post and the numerous thought-filled comments responding to it show what I have seen throughout my ministry across the nation, meeting and working with Catholics who want a church that is inclusive of LGBT people. People constantly testify that their primary experience of “the Church” is a local experience. People are happy with the church if they have a good and supportive local community, and they are not happy with the church if that local community is not welcoming. While nasty messages from the hierarchy may get people angry, these messages are not often the proximate cause of why people decide to leave or stay in the church.
Witnessing the ever-widening acceptance of LGBT people by mainstream Catholics is what keeps us folks at the New Ways Ministry office so optimistic about the future of the church. This optimism is fueled not only by what we see, but also by what we believe: that acceptance by the faithful, not doctrinal arguments, is what will make the Catholic church a welcoming place for LGBT people and their families.
News reporters and other observers often ask me: “Why do LGBT people remain Catholic?” It’s a hard question to answer, not because its content is challenging, but because the answers are so diverse. Everyone has a different reason for staying Catholic or not. I tell reporters of a common theme that I have heard in so many different stories told to me over the years: people stay Catholic because they have a great experience of the church at the local level.
I see this split between identifying “the Church” with the local community and not the hierarchy as a good and natural occurrence. It means that people are living out Vatican II”s definition of the church as the entire People of God.
More importantly, it means that Catholics are acting more as adults and trusting their faith experience over the messages of an impersonal authority. Another way to put it is that Catholics are trusting faith in action over harsh words. This trend shows that people are actively growing in faith, not just passively receiving what they are told. More importantly, it shows that human relationships are a much more effective vehicle of teaching the faith than any verbal argument, no matter how logically or eloquently expressed.
By the way, yesterday the National Catholic Reporter editorialized on the Cardinal George incident, and the editors point out that hierarchy’s nasty comments are only effective at making the hierarchy less relevant:
“But a cardinal who assesses a conflict at the time and route of a Gay Pride Parade and a Catholic Mass with the line, “You don’t want the gay liberation movement to morph into something like the Ku Klux Klan, demonstrating in the streets against Catholicism,” diminishes any standing the church might still have in the public arena. The important issues get buried beneath the understandable outrage such comments invite.”
The Catholic Church is certainly alive and well in the welcoming spirit that is active in so many local communities.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry