Priest Asks Church About ‘What Happens Next’ After LGBT People Are Welcomed?

With an increased welcome for LGBT people in the Catholic Church, one priest is asking what comes next after hospitality is shown and doors are opened?

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Fr. Alexander Santora

Fr. Alexander Santora, pastor of Our Lady of Grace and St. Joseph parish in Hoboken, New Jersey, cited as good news both Cardinal Joseph Tobin’s welcome of LGBT pilgrims to the Newark Cathedral and Fr. James Martin, SJ’s new book on LGBT issues. But, in a piece for NorthJersey.com, he raised new questions about “what happens next?”:

“How will the LGBT community come back to a church that has no positive theology on homosexuality and no consensus on how to even begin to fashion one? Even if preachers and priests refrain from repeating the tired shibboleths against gay men and lesbians, what will they hear in church? Where do they find comfort in the Scriptures proclaimed from the pulpit? And how will the local parish minister to them?”

Santora not only asked questions, but provided an initial answer for how hospitality at parishes can evolve into deeper accompaniment. He said parishes need to be holding local community discussions that include both LGBT people and parish leaders. Questions explored could include:

“What are the perceived hurts? What struggles do gays search for help from church? How can they heal the rifts within their families who do not support them?

“But taking Martin to heart, gay men and lesbians need to hear how church leaders search for ways to make sense of the lived gay experience, which are varied and stereotyped. Honest, two-way listening and affirming are needed.”

Pope Francis has said the church must “make sense of the ‘night’ contained in the flight of so many,” and “know how to interpret, with courage, the larger picture” of why Catholics leave the church. This reality must be part of any discussion.

Santora also said evolving parish work on LGBT issues needs to be informed by contemporary theological and scientific research. These insights shed light on how to pastorally implement church teaching in the manner favored by Pope Francis, which emphasizes conscience.

Using the Archdiocese of Newark as an example with its several Catholic colleges, Santora said “[s]urely there are theologians who can lead a summit on where we go in light of the latest scientific research as it applies to the LGBT community.”

Santora recommended that theological research at local levels begin with John McNeill’s The Church and the Homosexual, published originally in 1976:

“Though [McNeill’s] Jesuit superiors initially gave its imprimatur, the Vatican forced them to rescind it and silence McNeill, who eventually was bounced from the Society of Jesus.

“He continued writing, but he also served as a psychotherapist to the gay community up until his death at the age of 90 in 2015. His book tackled the real implications of a fixed orientation, which requires a new moral and theological paradigm. His reasoning offered gay men and lesbians hope and affirmation to lead a moral life.”

Santora’s recommendations are good, and there are certainly more ways by which hospitality becomes walking together in parishes. Such actions, in his words, “put flesh on the vision of Francis.”

It is a hopeful sign that the bridge-building which Catholics began as early as the 1970s, and have continued along the way, is being picked up by church leaders in a new way today. It’s now up to the faithful to act in the ways  Santora and others are advocating, and to help move the church from welcome to inclusion.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 27, 2017

Related articles by Fr. Alexander Santora:

NJ.com:  Bringing gays and the church closer together”

NJ.com: “N.J. cardinal offers historic welcome to LGBT community”

 

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5 thoughts on “Priest Asks Church About ‘What Happens Next’ After LGBT People Are Welcomed?

  1. Clyde Christofferson July 27, 2017 / 9:31 am

    This is good background. I had never heard of John McNeill.

    Father Santora’s question about the need for a positive theology is a good one, and has a straightforward answer. It’s much broader than LGBT folks. We need a theology that begins with the very human way that consciousness apprehends the world. Mind and memory have evolved to discern patterns from experience, and then to conceptualize these.

    The conceptualizations are not the reality to which they refer. The example pertinent to the LGBT community is the idea that “God created them male and female”. Sure, that was the pattern which was discerned and conceptualized. But that concept was a simplification that hid a fuller and more beautiful reality. Worse, most of our ancient ancestors idealized this concept and attributed it to God. This is idolatry. And it is this idolatry that gets passed down from generation to generation as children absorb from their surrounding culture these conceptualized patterns of experience.

    The male/female dichotomy is only one example of a much broader attribute of our humanity. We exclude those who are different — those who are ‘other’ — in a wide variety of ways. We need a theology whose premise is the very human tendency to see as real what is merely a concept. “Tradition” ought not to be the process of handing down idolatries — which is what happens when simplified human concepts are put in the mind of God — but rather of allowing “encounter and accompaniment” — to use the terminology of Pope Francis — to see a much deeper and more beautiful diversity in what God has actually created.

    The LGBT experience is simply a poster child for a theology of emerging understanding of our journey toward the fullness of love.

    • paularuddy July 27, 2017 / 1:11 pm

      Thank you for making this profound point so clearly.

  2. Thomas Smith July 27, 2017 / 10:11 am

    Yes, Fr. Santora’s suggestion of full dialogue and accompaniment is simply a continuation of that began and sustained by pioneers such as Dignity members who refused unnecessary restrictions on their expression of love in the 70’s. Yet Fr. Martin has not even mentioned (and seems to avoid mentioning) the contributions of these courageous prophets. I look forward to the day that Dignity is welcomed back “home” from the banishment of our liturgies to Quaker Meeting Houses and Protestant churches. Rather than a single (symbolic) DAY in the cathedral, a true welcome would include allowing those who have been faithful gay Catholics through decades of exclusion to gather in our TRUE spiritual home for worship and fellowship. People’s lives are at stake. Like all Christians, we crave acknowledgment, support and unconditional love from our Church.

  3. paularuddy July 27, 2017 / 10:28 am

    Thanks to Alexander Santora. Sounds like this basic theological work has to get discussed. Do the US bishops value the work of theologians? One of the organizers of the USCCB Convocation, July 1-4, to revitalize the US Church said that “the beauty” of it was that the bishops didn’t rely on theologians in planning the program. Nevertheless, one of the segments was on “theology of the body” and NFP. Were LGBTQ Catholics welcomed to that convocation?

  4. John Hilgeman July 27, 2017 / 1:11 pm

    “How will the LGBT community come back to a church that has no positive theology on homosexuality and no consensus on how to even begin to fashion one? Even if preachers and priests refrain from repeating the tired shibboleths against gay men and lesbians, what will they hear in church? Where do they find comfort in the Scriptures proclaimed from the pulpit? And how will the local parish minister to them?”

    Those are excellent questions, as is the recommendation to start with McNeill’s book, as revised some years after it’s initial publication. There are many other excellent studies and books as well, that have been published over the last sixty plus years. It is long past time for the discussion in the Church “to be informed by contemporary theological and scientific research.”

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