All Politics Is Local. So Is LGBT Pastoral Care.

Frank Bruni, a columnist for The New York Times offered an interesting observation in an essay entitled “The Worst (and Best) Places to Be Gay in America” that was published in last Sunday’s edition.    Noting the fact that equality for LGBT people varies widely across the vast and diverse 50 states of the U.S.A., Bruni notes:

“There’s no such thing as L.G.B.T. life in America, a country even more divided on this front than on others. There’s L.G.B.T. life in a group of essentially progressive places like New York, Maryland, Oregon and California, which bans government-funded travel to states it deems unduly discriminatory. Then there is L.G.B.T. life on that blacklist, which includes Texas, Kansas, Mississippi and South Dakota.

“The differences between states — and between cities within states — are profound, and while that has long been true, it’s much more consequential since the advent of the Trump administration, a decidedly less ready ally of L.G.B.T. people than the Obama administration was.”

Bruni, a gay man, gets even more local later in the essay, stating:

“We’re at the mercy of our ZIP codes: Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are often affected most by their municipality, not their state.  . . . Our cities and our states often dictate how easily we can be our true selves at work, buy wedding cakes, construct families — even die.”

How does this relate to the world of Catholic LGBT issues?  I think Bruni’s analysis of the political sphere very accurately reflects the ecclesial sphere, as well.   In other words, I think that Catholic LGBT people are more affected by local church attitudes and practices concerning sexual orientation and gender identity than they are by the same influences that are expressed or enacted by higher levels in the Church.  In other words,  what matters most for LGBT Catholics is not what the hierarchy says or does but what their local pastor and parishioners say or do.

When a pope or bishop says something offensive or damaging about LGBT people or issues, harm certainly is done.  Yet, from what I have heard time and again from Catholic LGBT people–whose faith and resiliency are amazingly strong–is that hierarchical slights do not motivate them to leave their parishes.    An offensive remark from a pastor, pastoral minister, or even a parishioner, however, can have an LGBT Catholic running for the exit doors.

The flip side works as well.  It may be great to hear Pope Francis make a positive statement of welcome to LGBT people, but what really touches people’s hearts is when their local pastor asks them to be a part of a parish committee because he wants the perspective of LGBT people to be heard as the parish develops a new program.

All politics is local.  So is all pastoral care.

Throughout my years in Catholic LGBT ministry, the most frequent question that I have been asked by reporters or others not involved in the Catholic LGBT community is “Why does an LGBT person stay in the Catholic Church?”   If I had a nickel for each time it was asked, New Ways Ministry would be funded forever!

The presumption behind that question is that the Catholic Church is an oppressive place for LGBT people.   However, as Bruni’s analysis shows for the political world, which I suggest is true for the Catholic world,  everything depends on where a persons lives and prays.

This reality makes it all the more urgent to develop LGBT-friendly Catholic parishes.  New Ways Ministry has been promoting and supporting such communities since our creation 40 years ago. It is exciting to see the growth and vibrancy of these communities across the U.S., and, indeed, across the globe.  Bondings 2.0’s “All Are Welcome” series chronicles developments in parish LGBT ministry and it also includes posts containing advice and resources for parishes on how to start or further develop LGBT ministry programs.   You can review the posts in this series by clicking here.

This year,  New Ways Ministry has inaugurated a special afternoon or evening program on transgender pastoral care for parishes, schools, and religious communities of men or women. If you are interested in learning more about this program or about transgender issues generally, please contact New Ways Ministry at info@NewWaysMinistry.org.  Please let us know if you would like to host such a program.

Additionally,  New Ways Ministry offers a program called “Next Steps:  Developing Catholic LGBT Ministry” which aids pastoral ministers and volunteers envision a plan for proceeding in regard to LGBT ministry in parish settings.  The “Next Steps” program is ideally conducted over the course of a weekend, but can also be done in the course of a day, or even an afternoon (though obviously the material is abbreviated in the shorter versions).  If you, your parish, or a group of parishes are interested in hosting a “Next Steps” program in your area, please contact New Ways Ministry at info@NewWaysMinistry.org.

You can look for an LGBT-friendly parish or faith community near you by looking at New Ways Ministry’s catalogue we have been maintaining for over 20 years.  If you have a recommendation for a parish to be included in this list, please contact us at info@NewWaysMinistry.org.

Of course, many reasons beyond local efforts at welcome exist as to why LGBT Catholics remain in the Church.  Personal spirituality, family history, cultural identity, faith commitment are all part of the equation.  But the power of a local welcome (or sadly, a local rejection) cannot be overestimated.  Such a welcome can heal many deep and long-held wounds.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, August 31, 2017

 

 

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AIDS Memorial in New York May Be Dismantled Due to Parish Closing

A Catholic parish in New York City that contains the one of the first public memorials to HIV/AIDS victims is being closed, and there are questions about what will happen to the church building which contains this memorial as well as other historic artifacts.

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AIDS Memorial in St. Veronica’s Church

Michael O’Loughlin of America reported on St. Veronica’s Church in Greenwich Village, which is scheduled to close this year. The church was, in O’Loughlin’s words, an “unlikely focal point” for gay men and their loved ones in the 1980s. The relationship between the gay community and the Catholic Church at the time was almost non-existent. He continued:

“But three decades later, with the AIDS crisis under control and changes in attitudes toward religious practice, about 200 people gathered inside that building on July 23 to bid farewell to the Church of Saint Veronica. Even as the church prepares to shutter for good, questions remain about what will happen to its many artifacts, including a humble AIDS memorial that historians say is one of the first public memorials to victims of the plague years in New York.”

Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation, said St. Veronica’s location on Christopher Street positioned it at “the center of the L.G.B.T. community in New York,” and therefore it was “impacted quite heavily by the AIDS crisis.”

Berman described the parish’s evolving response to the crisis surrounding it. In 1985, Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa’s nuns, opened one of New York’s first AIDS hospice centers in the rectory. In 1990, Monsignor Kenneth Smith, pastor, connected with the local gay community to see what support he could offer. He shared with America that few clergy would accompany people dying from AIDS, but that did not stop his ministry:

“‘It was like to ministering to anyone else who’s dying from a disease. If you were a priest, you’d understand what I mean. . .They’d go to a hospital. I visited them in the hospital. I administered the sacraments. I’d be with them when they died. I would celebrate their funerals.'”

According to parishioner Terri Cook, St. Veronica’s efforts stood out because elsewhere the institutional church in the city “had shut out most of the AIDS victims.” She added that “[t]he cathedral was sealed to them.” Even at the Greenwich Village church, parishioners were not universally accepting of the Missionaries’ and Monsignor Smith’s ministries. Continuing to accompany people with HIV/AIDS against harsh critics was “extremely difficult,” Smith said.

The AIDS memorial opened in 1991, accompanied by an interfaith prayer service for people dying from AIDS that happened each year until 2015. O’Loughlin wrote:

“A few years later, in 1991, the church installed the memorial, a series of plaques with the names of men who died from the disease drilled into the choir loft. A small table with fresh flowers and a lone candle completed the memorial.

“For many, this out-of-the-way memorial, somewhat hidden up in a choir loft, was one of the few places where they could grieve the deaths of loved ones. Ms. Cook said she often witnessed individuals climbing the rickety wooden steps leading up to the memorial.

“‘It was the saddest thing you’ve ever seen. You just wanted to cry,’ she said, recalling the mothers, in particular, mourning the loss of their dead sons.”

Because it has protected status as an historic landmark, the church building will remain largely as it is but there is no clear vision about what happens to it besides preservation. Local Catholics “are appealing to the Vatican to keep St. Veronica’s open as a worship site,” and this would hopefully include retaining the AIDS memorial. If the church does close entirely, Joseph Zwilling of the Archdiocese said of the memorial’s items, “items of sacred, historical, or financial value are assessed and stored for possible future use in other churches.”

The parish is terrific model for what Pope Francis has called for the church to practice: encounter and accompany marginalized communities. Fr. Smith and parishioners observed the immense AIDS-related pain around them in the 1980’s and 1990’s, and then responded with compassion and without judgement to what was most needed.

The HIV/AIDS memorial has both historical and spiritual value that should be preserved. More widely, the people of St. Veronica’s witness remains instructive for our church today. This model is precisely how every parish and every Catholic institution should be responding to the needs of LGBT communities today. Whether or not St. Veronica’s closes, there is no reason Catholics elsewhere should not learn from the Gospel work that had been done there and enact it in their own communities.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 25, 2017

Scottish Bishop Says ‘Chaste Life’ Must Be Part of Gay Ministry

A Scottish bishop has asked his priests to include the church’s regulation of celibacy for lesbian and gay people in any ministry that is directed toward them.  The bishop’s guideline comes after a parish in his diocese publicized an extravagant welcome to gay and lesbian people on its Facebook page.

The Catholic Herald reports:

“The Bishop of Motherwell [Scotland] has asked his priests to encourage those experiencing same-sex attraction to ‘lead a chaste life.’ “

“Bishop Joseph Toal issued his statement after a diocesan priest published a Facebook post that was subsequently widely shared. The priest, Fr Paul Morton of St Bride’s Church in Cambuslang, wrote: ‘We must do everything we can to redress the harm that has been done in the past by the negative stance we seem to have taken up [about gay people].’ “

Bishop John Toal

“Bishop Toal said he had been asked about the subject by a number of priests. ‘One such approach commended to me is to make available the Courage ministry/programme,’ he said.”

” ‘This encourages those who live with same-sex attraction to live a chaste life – which is also expected of all heterosexual Catholics who are not married – supported by the sacramental and prayer life of the Church.’ “

This kind of pastoral approach is not only demeaning to gay and lesbian people, it is also ineffective and goes against a principle which the Vatican itself promoted in its 1986 “Letter to the Bishops on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.”  That document states, in part:

“The human person, made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation. Every one living on the face of the earth has personal problems and difficulties, but challenges to growth, strengths, talents and gifts as well. Today, the Church provides a badly needed context for the care of the human person when she refuses to consider the person as a ‘heterosexual’ or a ‘homosexual’ and insists that every person has a fundamental Identity: the creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life.”

In promoting pastoral ministry whose main focus is chastity, Toal not only looks at gay and lesbian people as primarily homosexual, but also assumes that the main struggle that they have is with sexual activity.  This is a demeaning assumption.

Gay and lesbian people show up to church for myriad reasons.  They come with an equal amount of challenges, struggles, strengths, and joys as their heterosexual counterparts.  They come as children of God seeking to deepen their relationship with God.  Pastoral ministry with them must begin with their particular issues and not assume that sexuality is a focus for them.

Most–or I daresay, all–gay and lesbian people who come to a Catholic parish already know the magisterium’s prohibition about sexual activity.  It’s not a secret.

This phenomenon is mirrored by their heterosexual counterparts who know that contraception, masturbation, and pre-marital sex are equally forbidden by the magisterium.  Yet, no one is proposing that pastoral ministry to heterosexual people start with and focus on the church’s sexual teaching.  That simply is not good pastoral ministry, especially in the age of Pope Francis who has been urging accompaniment, encounter, and dialogue as the more effective modes of pastoral care.

The Courage ministry which Toal seems to recommend is a flawed pastoral approach in that it understands a homosexual orientation as a flaw which can be controlled by a 12-step addiction model.  In the U.S., a number of bishops have explicitly rejected such a model.

Bishop Toal needs to look at the flourishing movement of LGBT-friendly parishes who use a more holistic model of ministry that emphasizes welcome, acceptance of gifts and blessedness, and encourages integration of sexuality and spirituality.  He could start by looking at New Ways Ministry’s list of LGBT-friendly parishes by clicking here.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, August 6, 2017

 

Scottish Parish Announces “All Gay Catholics Are Accepted and Welcomed”

A Catholic parish in Scotland made a splash on social media recently when it posted a statement that “all gay Catholics are accepted and welcomed” by the church.

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St. Bride’s Catholic Church

St. Bride’s Church in Cambuslang posted its welcoming statement on Facebook late last month, reported The HeraldThe statement began by saying the welcome contained within it was one that pastor Fr. Paul Morton wanted reiterated. The post continued:

“In God’s house all are welcome and are the blessed and loved children of God. There should be no place in our language or our attitude which allows for prejudice or exclusion.

“Anyone who is gay and who wishes to share or discuss this with Fr Morton please feel free to come to the parish house. Also any family member who wishes to discuss or share this please come along.

“We must do everything we can to redress the harm that has been done in the past by the negative stance we seem to have taken up. We must join with others who are seeking to build a more inclusive society.”

In May, the parish posted a statement acknowledging that lesbian and gay people often feel excluded, and saying the parish wants “to emphasise in the strongest terms that we are a welcoming and inclusive parish.”

Not surprisingly, the parish’s statements have been well received and shared widely. Yet being a parish that openly affirms LGBT people can also be risky. It seems the people of St. Bride’s are willing to take a risk because they understand the realities of harm and exclusion which too many lesbian and gay people face. Fr. Morton’s recent homily on the Gospel story of the pearl of great price (Matthew 13: 44-46) offered insight into the relationship between risk and faith:

“Jesus tells a slightly risky story here in this parable and maybe it wasn’t lost on his listeners. . .Cautious, conservative, narrow is sometimes things that people say about people who have faith. But this parable seems to saying something different: that we are reckless, that we are gamblers, that we are risk takers, that we fly high, not content with what life offers we are looking for something more, the peril of great price, the hidden treasure. . .

“The parables very often give us not answers but leave us often with more questions than answers. Here is a question: are we a Church of the comfortable or a Church of risk takers?”

Over time, more Catholic parishes have chosen to take risks. They have taken intentional, public steps to become welcoming spaces for LGBT people and their families. Bondings 2.0 recently reported on how much New Ways Ministry’s list of gay-friendly parishes has grown in the last two decades, reflecting the movement’s growth.

In this age of Pope Francis and a reinvigorated conversation about Catholic LGBT issues, let us hope and pray more parishes will follow St. Bride’s parishioners in their eagerness to share messages of unconditional welcome.

The ALL ARE WELCOME series is an occasional feature on this blog that highlights Catholic parishes and faith communities that support and affirm LGBT people. To keep up to date on this and other Catholic LGBT news, subscribe to Bondings 2.0 by entering your email in the upper right hand corner of this page.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 3, 2017

 

CATHOLIC LGBT HISTORY: Gay-Friendly Catholic Parishes List Is Published

“This Month in Catholic LGBT History” is Bondings 2.0’s  feature to educate readers of the rich history—positive and negative—that has taken place over the last four decades regarding Catholic LGBT equality issues.  We hope it will show people how far our Church has come, ways that it has regressed, and how far we still have to go.

Once a  month, Bondings 2.0 staff will produce a post on Catholic LGBT news events from the past 38 years.  We will comb through editions of Bondings 2.0’s predecessor: Bondings,  New Ways Ministry’s newsletter in paper format.   We began publishing Bondings in 1978. Unfortunately, because these newsletters are only archived in hard copies, we cannot link back to the primary sources in most cases. 

Gay-Friendly Catholic Parishes List Is Published

Twenty years ago this month,  New Ways Ministry published its first list of “Gay-Friendly Parishes,”  Catholic faith communities that had begun the process of becoming welcoming of gay and lesbian people.

The list had 33 parishes named in 14 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.  Also included in that list were seven colleges whose Catholic student communities were known to be gay-friendly.  Today there are well over 200 parishes listed, and a separate list for “Gay-Friendly Catholic Colleges and Universities” contains over 100 schools.

The late Father Robert Nugent, SDS, New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, initiated the list based on the contacts he had around the country with pastors and pastoral associates who were doing outreach to the LGBT community.  Many of those parishes were communities who had attended gay/lesbian ministry workshops offered by Fr. Nugent and Sister Jeannine Gramick, New Ways Ministry’s other co-founder.  Fr. Nugent, who had worked many years in parish ministry, was eager to make parishes places where gay and lesbian people felt welcome and could participate openly in community life.  Developing the list was one way of letting the Catholic community know that a movement was growing.

Other motivations also existed to start the list.  It allowed gay-friendly parishes to know that they were not alone in their outreach efforts.  Additionally, it allowed them to network with one another, supporting one another in this new ministry.  Finally, it also helped LGBT Catholics know about communities where they would be welcome.

The gay-friendly parish list received a couple of “boosts” recently when Fr. James Martin, SJ, publicized our list on his Facebook page, asking his followers to suggest parishes they knew of.  Similarly, The National Catholic Reporter featured New Ways Ministry’s gay-friendly parish list on their “Field Hospital” blog, which chronicles contemporary parish life.

Fr. Nugent’s method of collecting parishes was by “word of mouth.”  Twenty years later, New Ways Ministry still learns about new gay-friendly parishes in much the same way.  In the National Catholic Reporter story, New Ways Ministry Executive Director Francis DeBernardo explained how he learns about new additions to the list:

“People tell us.”

DeBernardo went on to explain the composition of the list:

“To be listed, parishes must welcome gay Catholics in a public way, via a bulletin announcement or a project or support group that invites gay Catholics and their families to participate.

” ‘We know our list is not comprehensive,’ DeBernardo said. There are many more parishes where gay Catholics are made to feel welcome. But the criterion used for admission to the list requires a public welcome. ‘It has to be more than a known feeling.’ “

He also acknowledged that while the list is not foolproof, it is very close to being so:

“DeBernardo cannot guarantee that the list is 100 percent accurate. But he claims that it is nearly so. Occasionally, a pastor, director of religious education or social justice minister will leave a parish and that church will become a less welcoming place as a result.

” “But it’s 95 percent accurate,’ said DeBernardo. ‘Once there has been public acknowledgement, it’s hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube.’ “

DeBernardo believes that the recent increase in parishes becoming gay-friendly is likely a result of the influence of Pope Francis:

” ‘I see a lot of parishes being a lot more courageous,’ said DeBernardo. ‘Anecdotally, people are telling me they are freer to do ministry than before.’

 “The pope, he said, ‘has empowered by his lead and example.’ Being a gay-friendly Catholic parish is now much less likely to be seen as a contradiction.”

When New Ways Ministry first published the list in the Summer 1997 edition of its newsletter, Bondings, it was accompanied by an article reprinted from The Maryland Gazette about St. Bernadette’s parish, Severn, Maryland, which had inaugurated a gay outreach ministry.  The founder of that ministry was quoted about the group’s purpose:

” ‘We see ourselves as a welcoming community opposed to discrimination,’  said Ann McDonald, pastoral associate at St. Bernadette Catholic Church.

” ‘We don’t feel like we’re doing anything radical,’ Ms. McDonald said.

” ‘The (Catholic) church has made strong statements against injustice,’ she said.  ‘Yet this is a population we’ve ostracized.’ “

Twenty years later, the ministry at St. Bernadette’s is still alive and well, and, like many parishes on the list, they are still welcoming LGBT people, overcoming the past ostracization.

If you know of a gay-friendly parish, please let us know by providing the parish name, city and state, and website.  Send the information to: office@NewWaysMinistry.org or phone 301-277-5674.  To view the current list, click here.

For Bondings 2.0’s series “All Are Welcome” which chronicles developments in Catholic LGBT ministry as well as providing resources, click here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, July 29, 2017g

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”

 

On Martin Luther King Day: A Parish’s Work for LGBT and Racial Justice

Today is the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., the great African-American leader of the civil rights’ movement of the mid-twentieth century.  He would have been 88. In the United States, tomorrow is the legal holiday for this occasion, but today is the actual birth date.

Rev. Martin Lutlher King, Jr.

Therefore, it seems like an appropriate time to reflect on the connections between the African-American civil rights movement and the LGBT civil rights movement.  Perhaps there is no better place to start than St. Vincent de Paul parish in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia. It’s a parish where a painting of the 17th-century St. Vincent hangs alongside a photograph of Martin Luther King, Jr.

In December, The National Catholic Reporter featured the parish’s emphasis on social justice, which covers the gamut of issues.  A partial list of those issues was included in the newspaper’s story:

  • An emergency food pantry;
  • Participation in the “New Sanctuary” movement, assisting immigrants to gain legal status;
  • Welcoming to gay, lesbian and transgendered Catholics;
  • A twinning relationship with a parish in El Salvador;
  • A program focused on racial reconciliation;
  • Assistance to poor parents who send their children to Catholic schools;
  • Shelters for the long-term homeless, those transitioning to work, and for former convicts;
  • A Catholic school whose enrollment has increased from 225 students to 425 over the past four years, drawing parents — many non-Catholics — seeking an alternative to the hard-pressed Philadelphia public schools;
  • Active membership in Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild (POWER), an ecumenical organization devoted to social justice concerns, such as minimum wage legislation and racial justice.
At St. Vincent De Paul Church, Philadelphia, pastor Sylvester Peterka (left), exonerated death-row inmate Harold Wilson (center), and other participants in a prayer rally against capital punishment join hands and sing.

This parish that prides itself on being known as “the social justice parish” understands welcoming LGBT people as part of its broader agenda.  Interestingly, this social justice focus seems to be a response to a history that has not always been exemplary.   The article states:

Begun in 1851, it began as an Irish parish, attacked early on by Know-Nothing mobs in anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant actions. In the style of many ethnic-centered Philadelphia parishes, African-Americans and, later, Italians and other later immigrants were discouraged from joining. One parishioner, Joy Wuenschel, was baptized in a nearby parish because her family was told that St. Vincent would not baptize those who were not Irish. Her background is half-Italian.

Working on the issue of racial and ethnic prejudice seems to be at the root of the parish’s justice-oriented focus.  The article described a recent program about racial reconciliation held in the parish:

“African-American parishioners told stories about the historical struggle of being black Catholics in Philadelphia, including accounts of being spat upon by white Catholics going to Mass, as well as recollections of rules that forbade black Catholics from many parishes. There were also the bright spots in Philadelphia Catholic history, such as St. Katharine Drexel, who ministered to both black and white Catholics in early Philadelphia.

” ‘It was one of the most moving experiences,’ said Browning, who noted, ‘We have the resilience of black folks who have endured.’ It’s a lesson, she said, appropriate for those discouraged by this year’s elections.

“The discussion process, which lasted over weeks, provided a safe space for all to share concerns, said Wiley Redding, co-chair of the parish council. ‘When you mention race, the room becomes quiet’ in many places, but not so at St. Vincent.”

A lesson that I take from reading about St. Vincent parish is how important it is to recognize that working against injustice on one issue often paves the way for the ability to see injustice operative in other issues.  In our interconnected, globalized world, we must remember that we need to be aware of justice issues beyond our own personal connections.  If we work on LGBT justice issues, we should also be open to working on justice issues concerning racial minorities, migrants, refugees, the urban and rural poor.

The parishioners and staff of St. Vincent recognize what Martin Luther King, Jr. said decades ago: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

St. Vincent de Paul parish is listed in New Ways Ministry’s catalogue of LGBT-friendly Catholic parishes.  To find a parish near you, click here

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, January 16, 2017