At the end of June, Pope Francis made headlines when he called on the church to apologize to lesbian and gay people for the harm that they have experienced. In the six weeks since the pope made that call, no church leader or organization has accepted the pope’s challenge. Until today.
What is likely the first public apology to LGBTIQ people in response to Pope Francis’ statement, an Australian Catholic parish and a Catholic LGBT coalition will be hosting a “An Apology Liturgy to LGBTIQ People” today, in which the two groups will ask pardon of the sexual and gender minority community, and seek to chart a more just course for the future.
The Mass is being sponsored by St. Joseph’s Church, Newtown (a suburb of Sydney), and the Rainbow Catholics InterAgency for Ministry, an umbrella group for several Australian Catholic groups that work for LGBT equality.
“We are taking Pope Francis’ words to heart, along with all the other positive things he has had to say over the years, not only about gay people, but also about Jesus’ words to welcome, heal relationships and show mercy” said Father Peter Maher, pastor of St Joseph’s, in a press statement.
Francis Vroon, a Rainb0w Catholics Interagency for Ministry spokesperson noted the innovative and unique experience this Mass will be:
“Perhaps for the first time in Australia, and possibly the world, we have a Catholic Church respond to these words, where we are inviting people of goodwill to community prayer in recognition of our church’s and collective failure to keep LGBTIQ people safe from discrimination and hurt. More importantly, we pledge that we do better from here on.”
Vroon noted that in hosting the Mass, the group was joining with Pope Francis and the newly appointed Bishop of Parramatta, Vincent Long, in acknowledging the ways that the church has harmed or failed to protect LGBTIQ people.
Noting that just over 25% of the Australian population identifies as Catholic Vroon added:
“It may be also be possible that one in four people in the LGBTIQ community has come from a Catholic background, church or school. Many have left our church, some have remained, finding peace in reconciling both their sexuality and faith.”
The groups’ press statement offered an explanation of the purpose of having a Mass of Forgiveness, not just issuing a statement:
What can our humble prayer service do? In our Catholic tradition, we have a saying ‘lex orandi, lex credendi’ which is a fancy way of saying that what we pray informs our beliefs. As we pray for forgiveness, we resolve to change our hearts and be part of the healing process for those we have hurt or failed. One of our saints has been quoted as saying ‘Pray as if everything depended on God, Work as if everything depended on you.’ Some might say that words are empty without action, and perhaps we need the LGBTIQ community to keep us accountable, in positively encouraging ways. We have to start somewhere, and we hope our prayers are a beginning, as we start to walk with our LGBTIQ siblings in relationships that lead to a change of hearts towards each other. And then who knows what good fruits will be born of this?”
The Mass will be held at 8:00 p.m. on August 12th at St. Joseph’s, whose mission statement says is “to provide a safe place for all people to pray regardless of age, race, creed, gender, cultural background or sexual orientation.” The parish was featured last year in a Bondings 2.0 post because of the rainbow banners which are a permanent fixture in the church building.
The Rainbow Catholics Interagency describes itself as a “coalition of Catholic organisations whose primary purpose is to build relationships, to pray, and to educate, in advocating for justice and the full inclusion of LGBTIQ Catholics and their families in the Australian Catholic Church and our larger community. Their members include parents, clergy, religious and pastoral leaders from various parts of the Australian Catholic community.”
New Ways Ministry will be praying with these groups, and we encourage all of our friends to do the same. We will also be praying that other leaders, parishes, and church organizations will follow their example and make some public statement or action of apology, as Pope Francis has asked.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry