On Orlando: Why Can’t Catholic Bishops Say ‘Gay’ ?

This past week, I have been in London, England, for New Ways Ministry connections, and so I feel somewhat disconnected from the grief and anguish that folks in the U.S. are experiencing these past couple of days.  I make the qualification “somewhat” because the news of Orlando is still very much in the forefront here.  For one thing, it’s Pride Week in London, and people are gearing up for their big parade on Saturday, though this year security will be beefed-up because of the Orlando tragedy.

Londoners rally in support of Orlando’s victims and the LGBT community.

Londoners’ hearts are very sensitive to the Orlando news, not only because they have experienced political terrorism, but also because they know the pain of an attack on a gay nightclub.  On April 30, 1999, a member of a neo-Nazi organization set off a nail bomb in a Soho neighborhood gay pub, The Admiral Duncan. The bomb killed three people, one of whom was a pregnant woman.  That event galvanized the LGBT community here in London. Networking with the LGBT Catholic community in England, I’ve learned that one of the positive outcomes of the renewed resolve for equality that emerged from the 1999 tragedy was the establishment of an outreach ministry to LGBT Catholics by the Westminster diocese.

I find it very hard to read news accounts of the shooting, and I don’t even dare attempt to look at any online video. So I’ve busied myself checking out Catholic responses to this tragic event.   New Ways Ministry’s initial response noted that the Catholic bishops’ first reactions were totally unsatisfactory.  Despite the fact that almost every headline reported the event as having taken place in an LGBT venue, statements from the Vatican, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the bishop of Orlando, and several other U.S. prelates, glaringly omitted any reference to the LGBT character of this event.

Were such omissions intentional?  Did the issuers of the statements go out of their way not to mention that the victims were predominantly members of the LGBT community and that the site of the shooting was an LGBT club?   Were they all so oblivious to the prominent details of the news that they did not detect what people around the world noticed about this event?  Last night, here in London, thousands of people marched in solidarity with Orlando. Rainbow flags were everywhere.

Perhaps the Catholic bishops’ omission of LGBT references was not intentional because their eyes have become blinded.  Are they so isolated from LGBT lives that they don’t even recognize the pain of these communities when it is staring them in the face?   Are the bishops so used to seeing LGBT people as opponents that they could not muster the most basic forms of Christian charity in the face of such a horrific event?   Have LGBT issues become so politicized in the bishops’ minds that it prevents them from seeing such a basic human tragedy? Or are  they so ignorant of church teaching condemning violence against LGBT people that they simply forgot to apply this official teaching to such an obvious case?

One of the most disappointing responses came from San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone.  As leader of the church in one of the most populous LGBT communities of the U.S., one hopes that he would have shown better awareness of LGBT issues. His response did not refer to the LGBT lives lost.  Instead, trying to be sensitive, the Archbishop stated that “regardless of race, religion, or personal lifestyle, we are all beloved children of God.”

“Personal lifestyle”?  His advisors should have informed him that no one uses such language to refer to the lives of LGBT people because it is inaccurate and misleading; it wrongly implies that sexual orientation is a matter of choice and a matter of sexual actions.  He should have been warned that using such a term would push people further away, instead of drawing them closer to the Church and the love of God during this time of deep need.

At the London rally to support Orlando and the LGBT community.

Cordileone’s statement shows that bishops need much better education about LGBT issues than they have.  Without the simple knowledge of basic terminology, they cannot be pastorally sensitive in a crisis of any size, let alone one of such enormous and historic proportions.  Lack of education does not make someone a bad person.   But becoming aware of this lack makes it incumbent upon a person–especially a bishop–to seek better knowledge, especially knowledge of the Church’s teaching that sexual orientation is not a choice and is not just a series of actions.

In the Catholic world, this incident will be remembered not just for the sheer horror and tragedy of lives lost, but for the fact that it highlighted that so many church leaders still have a long way to go in being aware and sensitive to even the most basic human needs of LGBT people.

Thankfully, there have been a handful of bishops whose statements have offered condolences to the LGBT community.  We reported one on Monday,  three more yesterday, and today, the latest bishop to join this small band is Bishop Gerald Barnes, of San Bernardino, California, who noted in his statement that he wanted to “make clear our condemnation of discriminatory violence against those who are gay and lesbian, and we offer our prayers to that community.”

Finally, I am truly saddened that the hierarchy’s LGBT omissions separate them not only from the LGBT community, but also from an overwhelming majority of the laity and the wider world.  In this moment of tragedy, people are banding together to support the LGBT community in a global expression of solidarity.  Catholics, people of other faiths, and people of no faith at all are finding common ground of compassion and witness because of this tragedy.  By ignoring the important LGBT character of this unique moment in human history, the bishops are excluding themselves from the many ways that God’s beloved children are building up the reign of justice and peace, as a way to counter the forces of terror and hate.  It is truly sad that our Catholic bishops are missing out on such an opportunity.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

25 Responses to On Orlando: Why Can’t Catholic Bishops Say ‘Gay’ ?

  1. Will says:

    I live in London and had planned to come along to Farm street on Monday evening – however I went to Old Compton St of course. There were thousands there and the atmosphere was strong, determined and mature.

    I am not the least bit surprised that many senior Catholics omit reference to LGBT people in this awful context. For so long we have been seen as the enemy attacking the church by our very existence and refusal to hide. And they have labelled us as damaged and dangerous.

    I used to work closely with many clergy in a Catholic Religious community but eventually the condescension and patronising distaste for my gay nature drove me away. This was not from all of them but certainly from all in positions of authority – and it was extended to many other gay people, including young people.

    From the list of names of the victims it would seem that many are from Latino backgrounds, and very possibly that means that many of them and their families might have connection to the Catholic Church. This cognitive dissonance between a suffering laity and an insensitive hierarchy will continue to drive away people from the Church. Now who are those who are really damaged and dangerous?

    Sorry to have missed the chance to meet you on Monday!

  2. lynne1946 says:

    Archbishop Cordileone is noted for not being sensitive to his own LGBTQI flock. That he is Archbishop of San Francisco is disappointing to say the least.

  3. Paula Mattras says:

    I, too, have been searching in vain for a consoling statement from the bishops – silence and evasion of the obvious are deafening. Our GLBT loved ones are in pain as are their families and friends. I am reminded that faith in the Civil Rights movement never faltered – we shall overcome some day still applies. Keep the faith.

  4. Terry says:

    Haven’t the bishops strategically adopted the position that LGBT people don’t exist – rather only sinful people making bad choices or people in the grip of false gender ideologies? If we don’t exist as LGBT people we can’t make demands on the church as LGBT people. This allows the bishops to avoid revisions to gender-based metaphors about the nature of the church and other teachings, but we see the terrible consequences for LGBT people.

  5. Bishop Carlos A Florido, osf says:

    I am sad beyond words, not due only to the horrible event in Orlando, but also for the silence of most of the RC hierarchy. Are the LGBT persons not children of a loving and compassionate God? I deeply thank those bishops and priests who have spoken lovingly in favor of the Orlando victims.

    It seems that the terrorist was a closeted homosexual, so are a large number of Clergy, whether Roman or otherwise.

  6. […] On Orlando: Why Can’t Catholic Bishops Say ‘Gay’ ?  (Bondings 2.0) […]

  7. Drew Conneen says:

    You can add Cardinal O’Malley of Boston to the list of hierarchy not mentioning LGBT but he wasn’t shy about addressing the gun issue. It would be so easy to show some compassionate connection to the LGBT community as a result of this obvious hateful act.

    I am happy to report that on Sunday, as part of his homily, our Mexican, asst. pastor did address how judging people can lead to violence as was shown in the “gay” nightclub shooting.

  8. Chris Nunez says:

    You should try to stay in touch Francis, Pope Francis issued a statement the very morning of the massacred, and I read his statement at a Vigil in Santa Cruz, CA that very same day. But it’s also likely that the USCCB saw his statement because I saw their statement the very same time I saw Pope Francis official statement.
    And then, I read over a period of about two days further comments by bishops in Florida, and I forget where else. My own bishop emailed me and said that they had offered up their own prayers as they gathered in Southern California that day. Really, I wish you’d drop the negative style. I feel I’m between the fire and the frying pan with you and your ‘tude’ on one side, then the truly hostile bishops who are usually covered by the media. This is probably one of the few times that the media has covered the positive and affirming statements by some of our friendly bishops. Forward momentum is dependent upon ‘hopefulness’ not ‘hopelessness’… give me a break!

    • Eugene O'Neill says:

      Chris, I am not sure how old you are but forward momentum requires a lot of pushing back and calling people out when they don’t respect you. Saying we are praying for those affected by this tragedy and not mentioning that it was directed at gay people is like asking the gay community to please go back in the closet. For all our gay brothers and sisters- please grow a pair! Don’t take their scraps. Don’t let them call it a “personal lifestyle”. It is not a decision like living in the city or in the suburbs. This was a massacre of LGBT people and those that love them. Some of that hate directed at gays is due to religion and we need to change the attitude of these bishops and the church. If we don’t, more kids will be thrown out into the streets, more kids will commit suicide, more people will think that killing gays is just fine. Think of what happened when the world looked the other way when Hitler tried to eradicate the Jews. We can not be complicit in this.

    • Chris, Thanks for your comment. I do try to be balanced and reconciliatory in my rhetoric. In fact, I hear more feedback that I am too SOFT than that I am too STRIDENT. One correction to your comment. Pope Francis did not issue a statement–the Vatican spokesperson issued a statement saying that Pope Francis was saddened. That is actually a big distinction. If the pope thinks something is serious enough, he makes a statement in his own name, not through a spokesperson. Moreover, though the statement was quick in response, it did not mention the LGBT dimension of the shooting. I have been collecting statements from indidividual bishops who mention LGBT issues in their responses. They’ve been included in every post we have done so far on this topic. We will continue to promote LGBT-positive responses. If you know of any that we have not yet reported on, please send them along. The handful of under 10, who’ve mentioned LGBT issues is really a very small amount, considering the national scope of this event and that there are over 300 bishops in the U.S.

      Keep reading and commenting! I thank you for your input to make sure that we are reasonable in what we post here.

      Francis DeBernardo

  9. This is a throwback to the linguistic battles between the hierarchy and gay activists in the 80’s. I thought these battles were long over. But, in those days, it was imagined that use of the term GAY IMPLIES support of the gay lifestyle, as they term it. It was the excuse, here in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, used to bar the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus from singing at St. Ignatius Church on the Campus of the University of San Francisco. This silliness ended, or so I thought, when Archbishop Quinn used the word Gay during the 40 Hours Devotion at Holy Redeemer Church in the Castro sometime in the 80’s. Now, Cordileone of San Francisco, still can’t use the words “sexual orientation;” he calls it a “personal lifestyle.” So mealy mouthed! We are left, again, without a prophetic voice in our leadership.

  10. Martin says:

    As Will says above, many of those killed at Pulse were Hispanic. That’s because that night was a scheduled Latino-night at the club with a Puerto Rican cabaret performer. So their Catholic links will be obvious and I was moved by one survivor who praised God for his survival in a BBC News interview. We are currently considering whether the Mass welcoming LGBT Catholics, parents and families, taking place on Sunday, 26 June, 17.30 (London’s Pride Weekend) at Farm Street Jesuit Church will be offered for Orlando’s victims.

  11. Joe Sacerdos says:

    The Catholic Church in the U.S. is dying. The bishops are presiding over a wake, and they just haven’t closed the lid on the casket yet.

  12. Brian Kneeland says:

    I think we should feel sad that most bishops ignored the LGBT nature of this crime – but we cannot be surprised. Our bishops have their heads buried so far in the sand it isn’t even funny! Luckily the media is reporting this for what it is – a hate crime! I suggest that their omission of the pain caused to the entire LGBT community is not lost – the media is reporting it for what it is – and being rather supportive

  13. brgeem says:

    The one problem I have with this item is that the term Catholic is so sweepingly used. If a writer means the Church of Rome, the Latin Church, then they should use the term Roman Catholic. There are many Catholic churches that responded well to recent events – and not just Orlando. And when such statements are used against Catholics, please remember a great many Anglicans refer to themselves as Catholic – indeed ARE Catholic – as are many of their bishops. So when such sweeping statements are used, the writer insults some of my brothers and sisters who are Catholic bishops.
    And as the previous contributor, Chris, reminds us, some bishops of the Church of Rome have spoken out. They are not all closet queens!

  14. ermadurk says:

    This article is both accurate and necessary. I have grown old thinking, working, and praying for a Just and Christian ministry toward GLBTQ persons, and their families – especially in the Catholic Church. It is not sufficient for individual Priests, or Bishops to practice an earnest inclusion of GLBTQ persons into their flocks.
    I am waiting for the USCCB to come out with a very clear statement acknowledging the horrendous, mass murder of GLBTQ persons, in a GLBTQ club in Orlando, Fla., many of them Baptized Catholics!
    Who continues to fuel these fires of hatred toward persons with a homosexual orientation? And, why?

  15. Billy Wonka says:

    A thoughtful and conciliatory article.

  16. Magna Carta says:

    A thoughtful and conciliatory article.

  17. […] sharply contrasts with responses from many of their episcopal counterparts in the U.S. who failed to recognize the Orlando shooting as targeting LGBT […]

  18. Valerie says:

    I think Archbishop Cordileone was sent to San Francisco for penance. He sure seems like a fish out of water.

  19. […] even the most basic knowledge of LGBT people’s realities, as my colleague Francis DeBernardo noted in his commentary on the U.S. bishops’ failings after the massacre at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando last […]

  20. […] bishops identified the victims as LGBT people, but the vast majority including the Vatican could not even utter the word “gay” in their […]

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