In an essay for Crux, Passionist Father Edward Beck expressed the sentiment that many LGBT Catholics and supporters felt after hearing of Pope Francis’ call for apologizing to lesbian and gay people two weeks ago: words are empty unless followed up by actions. In a separate essay for Religion News Service, John Gehring, Catholic program director for Faith in Public Life, suggested some actions that bishops can take to make the apology more substantial.
In “Saying ‘sorry’ to gays a good step, but change still needed,”Beck, an author and commentator, shows how Vatican documents, and even statements from the pope when he was Argentina’s Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, have time and again offended lesbian and gay people, particularly around the issue of marriage equality. Beck noted that, despite the pope’s call for an apology, “Church opposition to same-sex unions and marriage remains intact.”
Apologies entail more than words, though, Beck observes:
“Apologies are a good thing. They imply a realization that we have wronged someone and are sorry for our words or actions that have offended.
“In our Catholic tradition however, forgiveness is also dependent upon a commitment to strive not to offend in the same way again. In the Act of Contrition recited during the Sacrament of Reconciliation the penitent states: ‘I firmly resolve, with the help of Your grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin.’
“Is it evident that the Church (or Pope Francis, for that matter) has made that kind of commitment with regard to gays?”
Noting that his concluding question is still an open one, Beck, nonetheless, points to the example of Munich’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who almost a week before the pope’s announcement, not only called on the church to apologize, but actually did so. And Beck showed how Marx backed up his words with action:
“Marx has gone so far as to speak against opposing gay civil partnerships in Germany: ‘We have a moral position and that is clear, but the secular state has to regulate these partnerships and to bring them to a just position, and we as Church cannot be against it.’
“This is an example of the concrete action that many gays are seeking from the Catholic Church. While they appreciate the overture of asking for forgiveness, they also feel that the real process of reconciliation and healing can only begin when there is a firm commitment not to continue the patterns of discrimination and oppression that have been fostered by insensitive language and a seemingly intractable theological perspective.”
Beck suggests that the Church needs to go further still, if it wants is apology to be credible:
“For many, a truly conciliatory praxis would entail an updating of the Catholic Catechism and a commitment to banish dismissive and patronizing rhetoric from all official Church documents. It would also mean that legal civil unions are supported as a means of protecting human rights and privileges.”
If the U.S. bishops and pastors are looking for ways to apologize in a way that is substantial, they should take a look at John Gehring’s Religion News Service essay entitled “What Pope Francis can teach US bishops about reaching out to LGBT community.” Like Beck and others, Gehring notes that “Words are not enough to heal the wounds many LGBT Catholics have suffered in the face of indifference and exclusion,” but he also suggest that Pope Francis’ candor “offers a unique opportunity for Catholic clergy in the United States to hit the reset button.”
Gehring outlines a number of ways that U.S. church leaders can turn themselves around in their attitudes and approaches to LGBT issues. At the top of his list is dialogue:
“Pastors in the 195 Catholic dioceses across the country could take a first step by hosting listening sessions with gay Catholics and LGBT leaders. There would be disagreement and room for civil debate, but this posture of humility and respect would send a powerful signal that the nation’s largest church wants to learn from the varied experiences of gay, lesbian and transgendered people.”
But standing up for the rights of LGBT people would send an even stronger signal:
‘Catholic leaders could also be doing more to speak out against discrimination on the job and in housing. Gays and lesbians can now marry legally, but in more than half the states it’s legal to discriminate against a gay person in the workplace or in housing. . . .
‘Catholics should be at the forefront of fighting these injustices. When the U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan Employee Nondiscrimination Act in 2013, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said that it wanted to ‘work with leaders and all people of good will to end all forms of unjust discrimination’ but then opposed the legislation on the grounds that it undermined marriage and threatened religious liberty.
‘Catholic leaders in the U.S. can and must do better.’
And the U.S. bishops could simply be softer in their messages:
“The U.S. bishops’ conference should lower the rhetorical temperature, and act more like pastors than lawyers. Whether it’s decrying President Obama’s 2014 executive order that prohibited federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity as ‘extreme,’ or blasting the U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding the right to a same-sex civil marriage as a ‘tragic error,’ the bishops’ approach has done little to persuade most people to their side and only pours salt on old wounds.”
Gehring points out that all these measures could be accomplished by U.S. church leaders without changing anything about church teaching. In fact, they would be a way of highlighting an often neglected part of church teaching:
“In his headline-grabbing comments, Francis quoted the catechism of the Catholic Church, which teaches that gays and lesbians ‘must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity,’ and that ‘every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.’ Those are unambiguous words. But they are only words on a page unless the church puts them into practice.”
Gehring offers great suggestions for backing up the words of apology with substantial actions. If the U.S. bishops are still looking for more ideas on how to reach out to the LGBT community, they can just call up New Ways Ministry. We got a million of them.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
Religion News Service: “What does the pope mean when he says ‘apologize’?”