The following is a statement of Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director, released on June 12, 2016, in response to the mass shooting at a gay and lesbian nightclub in Orlando, Florida, earlier that day.
Words truly cannot express the horror, anguish, anger, and revulsion at the news of the mass murder of at least 50 people at a gay and lesbian nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Such an action should instill in all people around the globe a commitment to end gun violence and to protect the lives of LGBT people.
Adding to the anguish of this tragedy is the response of most Catholic leaders. The Vatican’s initial statement expressed sorrow and condemnation, and hope “that ways may be found, as soon as possible, to effectively identify and contrast the causes of such terrible and absurd violence . . .” But the Vatican did not refer to the fact that this violence was directed at the LGBT community.
Similarly, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, made no direct reference to the LGBT community in his statement, noting only that the incident should call people to “ever greater resolve in protecting the life and dignity of every single person.”
While individual bishops have reacted publicly to the violence, the only statement thus far from a Catholic leader which mentions the gay and lesbian community is Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich. In sympathy, Archbishop Cupich stated that “our prayers and hearts are with. . . our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.” Such simple words should not be difficult for Catholic leaders to mention in the face of such vicious horror. Archbishop Cupich is to be praised for being a light in the darkness.
Clearly the targeting of a gay nightclub shows that, homophobia is a major factor which causes “terrible and absurd violence.” This attack highlights the fact that around the globe, every day, LGBT people face oppression, intimidation, and violence. Homophobic and transphobic attitudes and behaviors are carried out all-too-commonly in the form of discriminatory practices, verbal abuse, bullying, imprisonment, physical and sexual abuse, torture, and death. In many cases, this brutality is sanctioned by governments and religious leaders who propagate homophobic and transphobic messages. The Vatican and other church leaders have yet to speak clearly and definitively on these contemporary issues despite the fact that official church teaching would support condemnations of these hate-filled messages, practices, and laws.
As we pray for an end to gun violence and an end to violence directed against LGBT people, we also include in our prayers the hope that Muslim people will not become victims of a backlash against them because of the shooter’s religious background. Such a response is as vicious and senseless as the violence perpetrated against the nightclub victims.
The Orlando murders should move all Catholic leaders to reflect on how their silence about homophobic and transphobic attitudes and violence contributes to behaviors which treat LGBT people as less than human and deserving of punishment. This sad moment in our history should become a time when Catholic leaders speak loudly and clearly, with one voice, that attacks on LGBT people must stop.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry