A reporter once asked me what I thought of bishops who protest that their statements against marriage equality were not homophobic. I answered that I thought the bishops sometimes don’t realize how demeaning their statements about marriage are to gay and lesbian people. Because they often don’t know the experience of gay and lesbian couples, they often make vicious statements about marriage equality, and often make legal and political statements and not pastoral ones. I think that many of them don’t even recognize how damaging their words and thoughts are.
Last week in Louisiana, a federal judge upheld the state’s definition of marriage as being only between a man and a woman, thus ruling out any possibility of marriage equality (without changing that law first). While Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, chair of the U.S. bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, gave a response based on legality, it is interesting that Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans instead used the opportunity to stress the idea of pastoral ministry to LGBT people.
Although Aymond supported the decision, in an interview he stated that
“It is my hope that through our pastoral ministry to the Catholic LGBT community we can minister to their spiritual needs and walk with them through their life journeys because as our brothers and sisters and children of God they must be loved and respected and always treated with dignity.”
What’s remarkable about this statement? Well, first of all Aymond refers to “LGBT Catholics,” a term that few bishops would even dare breathe. Instead of “LGBT,” they usually say “those with same-sex attractions.” That, in itself, is a step forward.
Second, he stresses the idea of pastoral ministry focusing on spiritual needs and accompaniment, not on requiring celibacy. That, too, is a step forward.
Aymond seems to have an awareness that there is more to LGBT people’s lives and experiences than just sexual matters. He also seems more concerned about pastoral ministry than about politics.
The archbishop did support the decision, but he did so using very low-key rhetoric:
“The redefinition of marriage is a moral one for us as Catholics. We as Catholics believe marriage is defined in the Bible and through our Catholic Church teaching as a union between a man and a woman.”
My sense is that Archbishop Aymond has had some pastoral experience with LGBT people, and that he recognizes the consequences of any language that he might use. It is not the first time since he has been archbishop of New Orleans that he has done something positive in regard to LGBT issues. In 2013, he apologized for the Church’s silence in 1973 after 32 people were killed and dozens wounded in an arson fire at a New Orleans gay bar. Also that year, he expressed openness to welcoming all to the Church, noting: “Part of respecting people is respecting their freedom.”
The U.S. bishops should learn from Aymond’s example, which seems to be very much in the mold of Pope Francis. Yet, just recently the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops joined with other religious organizations to petition the U.S. Supreme Court to make a decide against the states’ constitutional right to enact marriage equality laws. According to an Associated Press story:
“The religious groups urged the Supreme Court on the basis of tradition and religious freedom to uphold a state’s right to disallow gay and lesbian couples to wed.”
The Supreme Court has not said yet if it would hear the case or not.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry