In the name of “religious freedom,” Miami’s Archbishop Thomas Wenski has criticized commentators, including one of his brother bishops, who have pointed out that religious leaders and institutions have fueled the hateful attitudes that resulted in the Orlando shooting at a gay nightclub earlier this month.
During an archdiocesan Mass opening the “Fortnight for Freedom,” a two-week campaign by U.S. bishops to promote their view of religious liberty, Wenski said in his homily that “Christians who support traditional marriage did not kill 49 people. Omar Mateen did.” Mateen was the Orlando shooter who died at the scene of the massacre. [You can read Wenski’s full homily by clicking here.]
Wenski went on to say “one bishop who should know better even opined, and I quote: ‘It is religion, including our own which targets…and often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgendered people.’ The quotation is from Bishop Robert Lynch, head of the neighboring Florida diocese of St. Petersburg, who after the Orlando shooting gave one of the more powerful statements by a U.S. prelate, acknowledging the religious roots of homophobia.
Wesnki disputed Lynch’s approach:
“Where in our faith, where in our teachings — I ask you — do we target and breed contempt for any group of people? In today’s second reading, St. Paul teaches us: ‘Through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus. There is neither Jew nor Greek… there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ Our faith, our religion gives no comfort, no sanction to a racist, or a misogynist, or a homophobe.”
Clearly, the Miami archbishop does not know the impact that the hierarchy’s negative teaching, messages, and language about LGBT people have had on society. It is naive of him not to see that some people have seen the hierarchy’s condemnation of marriage equality and other civil rights as permission to further discriminate against and even harm LGBT people. His claim of innocence rings hollow when for decades, a number of bishops, including Vatican-level members of the hierarchy, have used such strong and ultimate language to decry same-sex relationships and gender transitions. Does he not see how such negativity and condemnation can infect the minds of people who already have a prejudiced view of LGBT people? Does he not see that even his own omission of naming the LGBT character of the Orlando event sends a message of invisibility about the group of people targeted?
I do not believe that church teaching was written with the intention of harming LGBT people. But as an editor and former writing instructor, I know very well that language does not always reflect all of the author’s intentions, and that sometimes the words used can have a detrimental effect, even when no such effect was intended. Church language about homosexual people, same sex relationships, gender identity and transition is not good writing or communication. The harsh and negative words that are used instill values which promote discrimination and prejudice. As was noted, many times at the 2015 synod, the language of church teaching needs to be revised.
Call To Action, a U.S. Catholic justice organization, has organized a petition to ask the church hierarchy to change its language about LGBT people, especially the damaging terms “objectively disordered” and ‘intrinsically evil.” New Ways Ministry encourages you to sign the petition by clicking here.
Reforming language is only the first step, though. Theologically, magisterial documents about LGBT people need to be updated in light of new understandings of gender, sexuality, and human relationships.
Another important change that needs to happen is for bishops like Wenski to come to realize that when people criticize church language and teaching, they are not hampering the church’s freedom or the liberty of believers to practice their faith. Many of these critics are indeed faithful Catholics whose faith instructs them to work for the safety, dignity, and equality of their LGBT friends and family. Instead of claiming to be the victim, Wenski needs to come to realize that the real victims are those people who suffer because church language and teaching propagates hateful attitudes. 49 of those people died in Orlando two weeks ago.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry