A Catholic school in Australia replaced a lecture against marriage equality with a candlelight vigil for victims of the mass shooting in Orlando which targeted an LGBT nightclub. The vigil is but one of many ways by which Catholics have shown their support for the victims and their families, and solidarity with LGBT communities.
Parents at St. Therese School in Wollongong, New South Wales, protested the scheduling of a lecture against marriage equality by the Australian Family Association (AFA), reported the Illawara Mercury. AFA had used harsh language against same-gender relationships in its promotional materials for the event. Parents described the school’s use of its parent email list to promote the lecture as “extremely bigoted” and “totally inappropriate.” Against the school community’s calls for the event to be cancelled, Bishop Peter Ingham had defended the lecture and the hierarchy’s teaching on marriage.
After the Orlando incident, however, the lecture was replaced by a candlelight vigil for victims organized by Emma Rodrigues, an LGBTQI advocate. Perhaps the surprise of the event was when Bishop Ingham showed up and stood side-by-side with Rodrigues. Tim Smyth of Acceptance, a Catholic LGBT group in Sydney, noted:
“While the vigil displaced a planned talk at the school that evening by a group opposed to marriage equality (and those with a more cynical bent might question the sequence of events), postponing the talk to make way for a vigil to remember the Orlando nightclub massacre victims and agreeing to the photo, is a step forward, albeit small.”
Smyth informed Bondings 2.0 of another positive Catholic LGBT development in Australia at the Installation Mass for Bishop Vincent Long, OFM, of Parramatta, a suburb of Sydney. Smyth reported that Long’s homily included “the first public statement by an Australian Bishop calling for spaces in our church for gay and lesbian Catholics.” Smyth continued:
“Bishop Long, a refugee from Vietnam, noted that the Catholic Church has ‘not lived up to that fundamental ethos of justice, mercy and care who have been hurt by our own actions and inactions’. Bishop Long went on to refer to Pope Francis’ call for a Church ‘where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live according to the Gospel’. Bishop Long then stated that ‘there can be no future for the living Church without there being space for those who have been hurt, damaged or alienated, be they abuse victims, survivors, divorcees, gays, lesbians or disaffected members. I am committed to make the Church in Parramatta the house for all peoples, a Church where therein less an experience of exclusion but more an encounter of radical love, inclusiveness and solidarity’.”
“But whatever — or whoever — possessed this man last Sunday morning to enter the Orlando nightclub Pulse, described by its owner as ‘a place of love and acceptance for the LGBTQ community,’ Mateen’s objective seemed clear enough: to put a violent end to defenseless members of a class of human beings simply because they existed and he did not want them to live. . .“At this time, we must state unequivocally that our respect for the dignity of all human beings includes those who themselves identify or are associated in the judgment of others as members of the LGBTQ community, a class whose vulnerability to acts of terrorism was graphically and shockingly exposed at the massacre in Orlando.”
Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport said, “There can be no place in our midst for hatred and bigotry against our brothers and sisters who experience same sex attraction or for anyone who is marginalized by the larger society.”
Bishop Felipe Estevez of St. Augustine said a massacre should not be necessary to “recognize our shared humanity, regardless of our lifestyle or paradigm of marriage and human sexuality, and that Catholics must attended to all people including the “gays and lesbians in our families.”
Faith communities and religious congregations have shown their solidarity not only with the victims in Orlando but with LGBT communities suffering in its aftermath.
More than 500 Seattle residents walked through that city’s LGBT neighborhood from the Episcopal cathedral to the Catholic one to honor those people killed, and to call for stronger gun control laws. Fr. Michael Ryan, pastor of St. James Catholic Cathedral, said there was “no better way” to express solidarity and call the community to prayer “in a very dark and painful moment” than this walk, reported the National Catholic Reporter.
In Washington, D.C., Dignity/Washington organized an interfaith vigil that drew hundreds to the city’s Dupont Circle.
In Indiana, the Sisters of Providence hosted a prayer service at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, Terre Haute, to express solidarity with the victims and their families.
A statement from Franciscan provincials in the U.S., reported by the National Catholic Reporter, said the order stands “shoulder-to-shoulder with our LGBT brothers and sisters as they grieve and try to make sense of this tragedy. To them we say clearly: We stand with you.”
Fr. Pat Browne of Holy Apostles Parish in London reflected on the hate-fueled violence which struck down not only 49 people in Orlando last week, but resulted in the murder of British MP Jo Cox. Browne, who is a chaplain to the Houses of Parliament, wrote:
“As followers of Christ it is the mission of all Catholics and Christians to ensure that everyone, regardless of their colour, their creed, their sexual orientation is VISIBLE and VALUABLE. If you want to argue with that and say No, there is an exception…he didn’t mean….then you have got it wrong. Which group have you got a problem with? Gays? Migrants? Beggars on the street? There is no-one Christ omits from the warm embrace of his love. If YOU want to, then best be honest. Leave the Church. YOU ARE NOT OF CHRIST.”
Noting the Scottish church’s continued silence after Orlando, Kevin McKenna wrote in The Guardian:
“I remain hopeful that the Catholic church in Scotland will join with Scotland’s main political parties and the majority of its citizens to express sorrow at what happened in a gay Orlando nightclub last weekend. The victims were children of God and loved by [God] and so are those in the LGBT community who today feel a little more fearful and vulnerable as a result. The church to which I belong must now also reach out to them.”
Despite these positive responses from around the world, problematic responses are beginning to increase. Conservative Catholic outlets have published pieces that suggest church leaders should not be in solidarity with LGBT people or that claim anti-LGBT Christians are being attacked after Orlando. Melinda Selmys responded critically to such notions at her blog, Catholic Authenticity:
“Erasing the fact that the attack on the Pulse was likely motivated, at least in part, by religious homophobia is cowardly. As evidence arises to suggest that the killings may have been sparked by internalized homophobia, the Church really needs to be all the more forceful in communicating that homophobic hatred and violence are unacceptable. . .
“Instead, we have virtual silence from the hierarchy. We are left to grieve alone, unacknowledged by our spiritual fathers. And we have articles, like this one, that use one of the greatest tragedies ever to strike our community as an opportunity to argue that that community is illegitimate, that it must never be accepted, acknowledged, named.”
Earlier this week, Bondings 2.0 explored the religious roots involved in the mass shooting in Orlando that targeted an LGBT nightclub. This reality means faith traditions have a responsibility to respond strongly when violence strikes. Catholic faithful and pastors, by their words and acts, are showing that the church is the people of God, and that God’s people stand in solidarity with LGBT people, especially in their time of need.
To read Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of the Orlando massacre and Catholic responses to it, please click here.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry