Parents of LGBT children are some of the most committed Catholics seeking equality in the Church and society. Sr. Camille D’Arienzo of the National Catholic Reporter recently interviewed one parent, Erma Durkin, who has been a longtime advocate for LGBT justice and friend of New Ways Ministry.
Erma details her life to Sr. Camille, including her childhood growing up in Baltimore in a home where “anyone who dropped by was greeted warmly and offered a treat freshly baked in the big iron coal stove.” The family’s life was deeply connected with their Catholic parish, where Erma attended school and daily Mass. She still describes Mass as the most meaningful aspect of her faith and a source of joy, saying:
“To be part of a eucharistic liturgy where the community is truly inclusive and members are invited to do one of the readings then enjoy a meaningful homily afterward. Where members of the laity bring the gifts to the altar and recite the offering prayer. Where at Communion time, the priest announces that the wine is alcohol-free and the bread is gluten-free, and everyone is welcome to the table.
“And where almost everyone knows one another’s name.
“This is what gives me a special joy.”
You can read the full interview here.
When later in life, Erma and her husband, Dick, had a gay son, she was introduced to the LGBT community and ministry. Forty years later, Erma speaks fondly of the many people and organizations, including New Ways Ministry, which have been companions on her journey:
“Because one of my sons is gay, my concern for him brought me into the enjoyable company of wonderful men and women who, as parents or friends of lesbian or gay children, were in active ministry to LGBT members of their parish…I made an effort to participate in New Ways Ministry’s many consciousness-raising events.”
Erma also singled out Fortunate Families, a national network of Catholic parents of LGBT people, for their support, guidance, and encouragement.
Most recently, Erma was involved with the successful marriage equality campaign in Maryland and you can read about her work in the ‘Related Articles’ section below. When asked what advice she would offer other parents, she told Sr. Camille:
“Parents know and love their child better than anyone else…My advice would be to get in touch with a reputable group that ministers to parents who have LGBT children. Many faith communities, including Catholic communities, have resources that are immensely helpful to parents and their adult children alike.
“It’s up to parents to make the first move to help themselves be supportive of their children. They need to be positive and never, never go negative on their children. Disowning a child, forcing change by reparative therapy, public shaming in a church never changed a person with a homosexual orientation to one with a heterosexual orientation. Only horror stories result from the mental suffering caused by those who attempt to ‘heal’ LGBT people.”
Erma’s greatest offering in the interview, and in her life, is the profound Catholic faith underlying her advocacy for LGBT people. Of her faith, she says:
“Christianity offers me the basic story of a person, Jesus, whose teachings on fidelity to the love of God and the practical love of neighbor inspired many to live unselfish lives…
“From Catholicism, I want a church that thinks globally but prepares pastors, whether bishops or priests, to be well versed in the language and culture of the people in the church they serve…
“From Catholicism, I want a more mature church, and I’m seeing it emerge here and there. Just as from the earliest days of Christianity, the church saw its conflicts give birth to saints, philosophers, mystics, and theologians who attempted to meet and defeat by their writings the errors that troubled her, so today we have the many publications of scholarly, ethical and faithful women and men to help us mature in our spiritual lives. They move us along from the imaginings and understandings of the faith stories of our childhood to a more mature understanding. I thank God for them.”
As for the state of the Church today, Erma is distressed by injustices in Catholic structures like the firing of LGBT church workers and the ban on discussing topics deemed controversial. These actions make the church “look small-minded, vindictive, and unable to dialogue.”
However, there are positive signs for Catholics. Erma says though she is encouraged by Pope Francis, what gives her most hope are:
“All the loving people I have met in my lifetime who take seriously their call to do justice while trying to create peace and harmony in their little orbits — and beyond!”
Surely, Erma Durkin is counted foremost among those loving people committed to seeking justice in the Church and beyond. For her LGBT advocacy and deep Catholic faith, New Ways Ministry is most grateful!
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry
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