At least one Catholic official is regretting the strict message that a church granting organization is giving to its partners about not supporting marriage equality or other LGBT rights issues.
The Boston Globe reports that a local community organizing group, the Chelsea Collaborative, has returned a $40,ooo grant from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), a fund run by the nation’s bishops, because the Chelsea organizers feared that they would be in violation of grant requirements which forbid support of LGBT issues. The news article states:
“Gladys Vega, executive director of the Chelsea Collaborative, said she and her colleagues have long recognized that grants from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the antipoverty arm of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, come with the expectation that recipients not promote activities that contradict Catholic teachings on issues such as gay marriage and abortion. . . .
“But Vega said she and colleagues were taken aback in March when a local representative of the Catholic Campaign came for a site visit, speaking at length to the group about the need to avoid work that conflicted with Catholic teachings, including activities that might ‘support the gay lifestyle.’
“In a follow-up meeting with staff, according to Vega, the representative suggested the Chelsea group should avoid work involving the gay community.
“The episode, Vega said, upset many of the staff and community activists present.
“Two weeks earlier, Vega had received an award from MassEquality, the gay rights organization, for speaking out on behalf of a transgender woman badly beaten outside a Chelsea bar. She feared that sort of advocacy could be considered unacceptable by the church.”
While a spokesperson for the U.S. bishops said the Chelsea Collaborative “took appropriate steps under the circumstances,” a grants specialist from the CCHD had a different take on the situation, realizing that the directives to avoid gay rights issues may have been communicated too strongly:
“Randy Keesler, a grants specialist at the Catholic Campaign, told Vega in an e-mail that there had been a miscommunication and lamented that, given the groups’ longstanding relationship, she had not come to him with her concerns first. The Chelsea Collaborative provided a copy of the e-mail to the Globe.
“ ‘We have relationships and work in partnership with many organizations at the national level which differ from the Catholic church’s teaching’ on gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender issues, Keesler wrote.
“Grant recipients cannot support a gay pride march, Keesler wrote, but ‘were gay people being denied housing, simply because of their sexual orientation, or were they bullied in the schools because of their sexual orientation, organizing to stop this injustice would be supported by church teachings.’ ”
This story illustrates the dangerous implication of church officials speaking negatively about LGBT issues. The negativity in their messages can easily be perceived broadly, and many people will be harmed in the process. Instead of accentuating the negative, why not emphasize the positive in church teaching about LGBT people? Elaborate on the need for protecting and defending people’s dignity and rights. Err on the side of extravagant acceptance, not on restrictive regulations.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry