Catholic parents of LGBT children are expressing their sorrow over a teenager’s suicide in New York, as well as their commitment to ensuring Catholic education is safe for all students.
Daniel Fitzpatrick died by suicide on August 11, having faced intense bullying from classmates at Holy Angels Catholic Academy in Brooklyn. He left a note in which Fitzpatrick said, “I gave up. The teachers didn’t do anything. . .I wanted to get out.”
The Board of Fortunate Families, an organization by and for Catholic parents of LGBT children, released a statement on Monday saying it was “saddened to hear” about Fitzpatrick’s death:
“We on the board of Fortunate Families are painfully aware that any child who is badgered and bullied is at greater risk for isolation, marginalization, depression, and sadly, suicide. Catholic Social Teaching holds that all of our children are persons who deserve life, dignity, respect and the freedom to live their potential to the fullest. All our children deserve to be educated in environments that embody that social teaching.”
A board member who lost a child to suicide acknowledged that suicide is the second leading cause of death in young adults and that suicides are deeply painful for the families and communities left behind. As they bury their son and brother, the Fitzpatrick family is considering, too, how to end bullying. A crowdfunding page which sought to raise money for unexpected funeral expenses has now raised more than $120,000. The family said they wish to use these funds to “give Daniel a proper memorial, as well as shine a bright light on the bullying that killed him. . .and allow for his legacy to live on.”
The student’s father, Daniel Fitzpatrick, posted a heart-wrenching video to Facebook. He spoke lovingly about his son, and affirmed his own commitment to intervene against bullying if he encounters it, including against LGBT youth:
“No parent should have to bury their child. No child should have to go through what my son went through. . .Bullying unfortunately is an epidemic. It ain’t right. . .If I ever see any child in my life from now on and I witness them and I see doesn’t matter if its boy, girl, straight, bi, transgender now. If they’re bullied, I will knock them out.”
Though Fitzpatrick did not identify as an LGBT person as far as anyone knew (he was bullied about his weight and his grades), his death is a moment for Catholic educators to reflect on the myriad ways in which schools are made unsafe. This includes problems for students of diverse sexual and gender identities, and students who may be questioning their identities. The Fortunate Families Board continued:
“We call on all involved in Catholic education to re-double efforts to prevent bullying and assist each child to reach their full potential, regardless of physical attributes, academic achievements or other characteristics which may make a student seem ‘different.’
“Although too late for Daniel, we are glad to see that the Brooklyn Diocese is re-examining its bullying prevention policies and training, and we pray that these also apply to students bullied because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.”
Catholic education intends to form young people through faith to live flourishing lives, and to live authentically as themselves in service to others. As such, the church’s educational ministries should be sanctuaries for young people to come to know themselves, discern deep questions, and feel God’s love. Mercy and inclusion should be the hallmarks of every Catholic school. Earlier this week, educator Kevin Welbes Godin of Egale Canada wrote about the work Ontario’s teachers have done to create safer Catholic schools for LGBT students.
That good work is happening elsewhere, but is not widespread enough yet, and it is not happening quickly enough. As another school year begins, and we pray for Daniel Fitzpatrick and his family, let us each consider how we – as parents, as students, as teachers, as alumni, and as the faithful – might contribute so that Catholic education is safer and more inclusive of all God’s children.
World Youth Day 2016 concluded yesterday, ending a crowded week of catechetical programs and prayer opportunities in Krakow.
Frank DeBernardo and I had hoped that Pope Francis would acknowledge gay Holocaust victims during his visit to Auschwitz, or use the week-long program to apologize to LGBT people hurt by the church, but neither occurred publicly. Still, I sense a different and powerful current happening at this World Youth Day through which Pope Francis is leading younger Catholics towards a reforming and renewing church.
Addressing youth at a prayer vigil on Saturday evening, Pope Francis urged attendees to “leave a mark on history” by being active in the world, uninhibited by fear and inspired by prayer. The pope said God seeks to work “one of the greatest miracles we can experience” through people’s own works. He focused specifically on seeking reconciliation and unity:
“[God] wants to turn your hands, my hands, our hands, into signs of reconciliation, of communion, of creation. . .to continue building the world of today. And [God] wants to build that world with you. . .
“Thinking that in this world, in our cities and our communities, there is no longer any room to grow, to dream, to create, to gaze at new horizons – in a word to live – is one of the worst things that can happen to us in life. When we are paralyzed, we miss the magic of encountering others, making friends, sharing dreams, walking at the side of others. . .
“Today, we adults need you to teach us how to live in diversity, in dialogue, to experience multiculturalism not as a threat but an opportunity. Have the courage to teach us that it is easier to build bridges than walls!”
He had made a similar call to radical and hospitable discipleship during the Way of the Cross earlier in the week, too. And at the closing Mass on Sunday, Francis preached about God’s unconditional love and said “that not to accept ourselves. . .means not to recognize our deepest identity” as children of God. His homily on the Gospel story of Zacchaeus and Jesus also spoke extensively about the “paralysis of shame,” which should give way to the courage of living life.
Though Francis did not comment on LGBT issues, they were surely present throughout WYD in personal conversations, catechetical sessions, and, most fundamentally, the lives of attendees. What the pope did emphasize many times are concepts like reconciliation, diversity, encounter, and dialogue. He affirmed young people struggling with questions about life or faith. These words may have challenged some attendees, but they likely confirmed what many young Catholics already know and are living out as they work for a more inclusive and just church for all.
So why and how are Pope Francis’ remarks relevant for LGBT advocates? His remarks to youth are subtly but importantly different from his predecessors’ remarks at youth events. Francis does not want youth to become the next generation of Catholics obsessed with opposing LGBT rights or other culture war issues. He focuses less on these issues and more on being a welcoming church that mediates God’s inclusive love.
But Francis is not just instructing young Catholics. He is reminding them of what they already know and what they are already doing. In many situations, they have already been living Francis’ message in their work for LGBT justice. Young Catholics are, in many regions, the most affirming group in the church. They are demanding that the church’s ministers and leaders be more pro-active when it comes to equality. Young Catholics have led the church by promoting reconciliation in their own families, schools, and communities. They embrace diversity, and they are courageously living out diverse sexual and gender identities in greater numbers than ever before. They are encountering the world with a real openness about LGBT issues, even in conservative regions.
Young Catholics can readily see that the church cannot preach hospitality if it turns away people because of their gender identities. They understand that embracing diversity must include embracing diverse sexual identities and expressions. They understand that not only can the church help reconciliation in the world, but that the church has deep wounds around gender and sexuality which must be attended to as well.
Francis seems unable or unwilling to apply his otherwise wonderful words explicitly to LGBT injustices within the church. The key now is for Pope Francis and church leaders to reverse the process of instruction. Following Jesus’ words, the pope and his staff should instead learn from the children. Such instruction would help church leaders see the new horizons towards which God calls the church. World Youth Day reminded me that young Catholics are cultivating and harvesting the seeds of equality planted by Pope Francis and an older generation of social justice Catholics.
Tomorrow, Pope Francis concludes his visit to World Youth Day in Poland by celebrating a closing Mass. This moment would be perfect for him to act on his call for the church to apologize to LGBT people and other marginalized groups.
There are at least three reasons why World Youth Day is an ideal moment for a papal apology.
First, World Youth Day has in the past been a time for apology and for reconciliation. Pope Benedict XVI apologized to Australian victims of clergy sexual abuse in 2008, saying to attendees in Sydney that he wished to “acknowledge the shame which we have all felt. . .I am deeply sorry for the pain and suffering the victims have endured and I assure them that, as their pastor, I too share in their suffering.” He also met privately with four victims and celebrated Mass with them. Pope John Paul II apologized in Paris during World Youth Day 1997 for the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 1572, where Catholics killed thousands of Protestants.
It would also not be the first World Youth Day during which Francis himself offered reconciling words, including on LGBT issues. In 2013, the pope said his famous “Who am I to judge?” line during an interview on the return flight from Rio. He expanded these words to “Who are we to judge?” in another in-flight interview this past June, in his call for the church to apologize.
Second, church teachings on sexuality and gender are foremost areas with which Catholics wrestle. This is especially for younger Catholics, who are increasingly affirming of LGBT rights and who are coming out in greater numbers. Critics have accused Pope Francis of tailoring messages to his audiences, but in this case, he should do just that. Eve Tushnet, a lesbian Catholic woman, offered insightful comments about what an apology on behalf of the church could and should be. She framed her thoughts around the Act of Contrition, writing at Vox:
“Even attempts to offer nuanced reflections on Christian relationships with gay communities often assume that repentance is the gay person’s role, forgiveness the Christian’s. The pope has overturned this model.
“The pope demonstrates that right relationship with God and others requires admitting fault even, and especially, toward those we have been trained to view as less moral. He has taken the lowest place at the banquet and offered his own moral authority as a mantle to cover gay people who have been harmed.”
Tushnet said, too, that Pope Francis has asked Catholics to “notice our sins” so they can be avoided in the future and amends can be made. An apology to LGBT people would even bring the church closer to God, she wrote, but only if reconciling work is carried out:
“Amends should cost us: our time and money and blood, our comfort and prior assumptions, perhaps our physical safety as we seek to serve LGBTQ people who are targeted for violence. Catholics sometimes worry that supporting gay people in need will be misunderstood as changing church teaching. But what kind of witness does our failure to support God’s LGBTQ children present?”
Acknowledging the church’s mistreatment of LGBT people would be refreshingly honest, would call the Catholic church to encounter and to dialogue with LGBT communities, and might even allow Francis to offer an unqualified and evangelical welcome to LGBT youth worldwide. But if apologizing on behalf of the Catholic church is not desirable or feasible, Pope Francis could also offer a personal apology, suggested Michelangelo Signorile of The Huffington Post:
“One thing, however, that the pope could easily do is apologize for his own harsh and, yes, violence-inciting words about gays when he was Cardinal Bergoglio in Argentina in 2010. As the Argentine government was moving to legalize marriage for gays and lesbians, Bergoglio was quietly lobbying for civil unions instead, having spoken to at least one gay activist, realizing that the rights gays were deprived of were real and knowing that he and the church couldn’t support marriage.
“When that didn’t work, and the government made it clear it was moving forward on marriage. . .He issued an ugly, earth-scorching attack against gays, equating gay marriage and adoption by gay couples with the work of the Devil, and declared that gay marriage was a ‘destructive attack on God’s plan.’ “
It is harsh words like these for which Pope Francis is calling the church to apologize, said Signorile. A personal apology would not only be a powerful sign that Francis is committed to reconciling with LGBT communities, but would be a model for other church leaders to imitate.
Third, apologizing would enact World Youth Day 2016’s theme of the fifth Beatitude, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” In this case, as Tushnet noted, it is not the church which is merciful towards LGBT people but rather recognizes the ways by which LGBT people and their loved ones have tirelessly shown mercy towards a church which victimizes them without remorse.
This reversal and this witness from the pontiff, Latin for bridge builder, not only acknowledges sins but calls Catholics to be converted towards Gospel inclusion. It could radically reorient how LGBT issues are handled in the global church. And if Pope Francis wanted to model even further how all Catholics should act, he could go to the margins of World Youth Day and visit the LGBT Pilgrims’ Haven, which has organized LGBT-related programming throughout the week. Let us pray that Pope Francis will seek to obtain mercy and offer healing words of apology at World Youth Day.
A year ago, the Boy Scouts of America ended its ban on openly gay leaders despite opposition from the Catholic hierarchy and other religious figures. Reports now reveal a Boy Scouts organization that has not been harmed, but, indeed strengthened by the decision. These benefits, however, have been more limited in Catholic contexts.
The Boy Scouts of America’s (BSA) National Executive Board overturned the ban last August, a follow-up to its 2013 decision allowing openly gay Scouts. In the proceeding months, the Albuquerque Journalreported:
“Youth membership is on the verge of stabilizing after a prolonged decline, corporations which halted donations because of the ban have resumed their support, and the vast majority of units affiliated with conservative religious denominations have remained in the fold — still free to exclude gay adults if that’s in accordance with their religious doctrine.”
Outgoing BSA president, Robert Gates, even hoped in a May speech that there would be “positive national growth for the first time in decades.” But one area where Scout numbers have not grown is Catholic-affiliated groups, which have seen a decreased membership since the decision.
As for whether or not openly gay leaders, volunteers, and employees are joining up or coming out, there are not reliable statistics. And there are no numbers on whether and, if so, how many openly gay leaders have been rejected by religiously-affiliated councils, who are allowed to do so because of a religious exemption. But a number of Catholic officials have repeatedly given the impression that gay leaders are not welcome.
Bishop Robert Guglielmone of Charleston, South Carolina, who heads the National Catholic Committee on Scouting, said the BSA “has been wonderfully supportive” of church-affiliated councils and that he “knows of no instances where a Catholic unit — there are more than 7,500 — has taken on an openly gay adult leader since the policy change.”
Last year, Catholic officials criticized the BSA decision publicly, and Bishop David Kagan of Bismarck even disaffiliated the entire diocese from the organization. But, by Guglielmone’s own count, only about 20 Catholic parishes across the U.S. have withdrawn their support of BSA troops.
There is one reported instance where a gay man was rejected from leading a BSA troop. Greg Bourke, initially ejected as a scoutmaster in 2012, reapplied after the ban had been lifted but was again turned down by Louisville’s Archbishop Joseph Kurtz. Bourke, who along with his husband Michael were among the plaintiffs in the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell case which led to national marriage equality in the U.S. The couple was named “Persons of the Year” in 2015 by the National Catholic Reporter for their role in the court case. The couple also help lead Catholics for Fairness in Kentucky. Most recently, they challenged a Catholic cemetery which rejected their tombstone design.
Other religious traditions, including the Mormons, Baptists and some mainline Protestant churches, had warned against the BSA decision, too. But the Journal said, a year out, most churches have chosen to remain affiliated with the BSA, some exercising their religious exemption to continue excluding gay leaders.
Catholic leaders should pay attention to this new reality. After much hand wringing from religious leaders about allowing openly gay members and leaders into the Boy Scouts, none of their fears (often premised on false information) have come true. In fact, the opposite has happened. By becoming more inclusive, the Boy Scouts have become stronger and more capable of enacting their mission. This development has been attractive to many youth, their families, and returning BSA supporters who had withdrawn from the organization because of discriminatory policies.
The principled decision to overturn bans on LGBT people in Scouting has also been the practical one. And Scouting now offers something to the Catholic Church: there are clear parallels for how LGBT issues could impact the rest of parish life, if only church leaders would allow themselves to see new horizons.
A Catholic school in Australia replaced a lecture against marriage equality with a candlelight vigil for victims of the mass shooting in Orlando which targeted an LGBT nightclub. The vigil is but one of many ways by which Catholics have shown their support for the victims and their families, and solidarity with LGBT communities.
Parents at St. Therese School in Wollongong, New South Wales, protested the scheduling of a lecture against marriage equality by the Australian Family Association (AFA), reported the Illawara Mercury. AFA had used harsh language against same-gender relationships in its promotional materials for the event. Parents described the school’s use of its parent email list to promote the lecture as “extremely bigoted” and “totally inappropriate.” Against the school community’s calls for the event to be cancelled, Bishop Peter Ingham had defended the lecture and the hierarchy’s teaching on marriage.
After the Orlando incident, however, the lecture was replaced by a candlelight vigil for victims organized by Emma Rodrigues, an LGBTQI advocate. Perhaps the surprise of the event was when Bishop Ingham showed up and stood side-by-side with Rodrigues. Tim Smyth of Acceptance, a Catholic LGBT group in Sydney, noted:
“While the vigil displaced a planned talk at the school that evening by a group opposed to marriage equality (and those with a more cynical bent might question the sequence of events), postponing the talk to make way for a vigil to remember the Orlando nightclub massacre victims and agreeing to the photo, is a step forward, albeit small.”
Smyth informed Bondings 2.0 of another positive Catholic LGBT development in Australia at the Installation Mass for Bishop Vincent Long, OFM, of Parramatta, a suburb of Sydney. Smyth reported that Long’s homily included “the first public statement by an Australian Bishop calling for spaces in our church for gay and lesbian Catholics.” Smyth continued:
“Bishop Long, a refugee from Vietnam, noted that the Catholic Church has ‘not lived up to that fundamental ethos of justice, mercy and care who have been hurt by our own actions and inactions’. Bishop Long went on to refer to Pope Francis’ call for a Church ‘where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live according to the Gospel’. Bishop Long then stated that ‘there can be no future for the living Church without there being space for those who have been hurt, damaged or alienated, be they abuse victims, survivors, divorcees, gays, lesbians or disaffected members. I am committed to make the Church in Parramatta the house for all peoples, a Church where therein less an experience of exclusion but more an encounter of radical love, inclusiveness and solidarity’.”
In the U.S., more bishops have acknowledged the shooting as targeting LGBT people, though some used language such as “same sex attraction” and “lifestyle” to allude to the LGBT dimension of the tragedy. Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany, New York, reflected more extensively and sympathetically on Orlando in his column for diocesan newspaper, The Evangelist, where he wrote:
“But whatever — or whoever — possessed this man last Sunday morning to enter the Orlando nightclub Pulse, described by its owner as ‘a place of love and acceptance for the LGBTQ community,’ Mateen’s objective seemed clear enough: to put a violent end to defenseless members of a class of human beings simply because they existed and he did not want them to live. . .
“At this time, we must state unequivocally that our respect for the dignity of all human beings includes those who themselves identify or are associated in the judgment of others as members of the LGBTQ community, a class whose vulnerability to acts of terrorism was graphically and shockingly exposed at the massacre in Orlando.”
Bishop Frank Caggiano of Bridgeport said, “There can be no place in our midst for hatred and bigotry against our brothers and sisters who experience same sex attraction or for anyone who is marginalized by the larger society.”
Bishop Felipe Estevez of St. Augustine said a massacre should not be necessary to “recognize our shared humanity, regardless of our lifestyle or paradigm of marriage and human sexuality, and that Catholics must attended to all people including the “gays and lesbians in our families.”
Faith communities and religious congregations have shown their solidarity not only with the victims in Orlando but with LGBT communities suffering in its aftermath.
More than 500 Seattle residents walked through that city’s LGBT neighborhood from the Episcopal cathedral to the Catholic one to honor those people killed, and to call for stronger gun control laws. Fr. Michael Ryan, pastor of St. James Catholic Cathedral, said there was “no better way” to express solidarity and call the community to prayer “in a very dark and painful moment” than this walk, reported the National Catholic Reporter.
In Washington, D.C., Dignity/Washington organized an interfaith vigil that drew hundreds to the city’s Dupont Circle.
In Indiana, the Sisters of Providence hosted a prayer service at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, Terre Haute, to express solidarity with the victims and their families.
A statement from Franciscan provincials in the U.S., reported by the National Catholic Reporter, said the order stands “shoulder-to-shoulder with our LGBT brothers and sisters as they grieve and try to make sense of this tragedy. To them we say clearly: We stand with you.”
Fr. Pat Browne of Holy Apostles Parish in London reflected on the hate-fueled violence which struck down not only 49 people in Orlando last week, but resulted in the murder of British MP Jo Cox. Browne, who is a chaplain to the Houses of Parliament, wrote:
“As followers of Christ it is the mission of all Catholics and Christians to ensure that everyone, regardless of their colour, their creed, their sexual orientation is VISIBLE and VALUABLE. If you want to argue with that and say No, there is an exception…he didn’t mean….then you have got it wrong. Which group have you got a problem with? Gays? Migrants? Beggars on the street? There is no-one Christ omits from the warm embrace of his love. If YOU want to, then best be honest. Leave the Church. YOU ARE NOT OF CHRIST.”
Noting the Scottish church’s continued silence after Orlando, Kevin McKenna wrote in The Guardian:
“I remain hopeful that the Catholic church in Scotland will join with Scotland’s main political parties and the majority of its citizens to express sorrow at what happened in a gay Orlando nightclub last weekend. The victims were children of God and loved by [God] and so are those in the LGBT community who today feel a little more fearful and vulnerable as a result. The church to which I belong must now also reach out to them.”
Despite these positive responses from around the world, problematic responses are beginning to increase. Conservative Catholic outlets have published pieces that suggest church leaders should not be in solidarity with LGBT people or that claim anti-LGBT Christians are being attacked after Orlando. Melinda Selmys responded critically to such notions at her blog, Catholic Authenticity:
“Erasing the fact that the attack on the Pulse was likely motivated, at least in part, by religious homophobia is cowardly. As evidence arises to suggest that the killings may have been sparked by internalized homophobia, the Church really needs to be all the more forceful in communicating that homophobic hatred and violence are unacceptable. . .
“Instead, we have virtual silence from the hierarchy. We are left to grieve alone, unacknowledged by our spiritual fathers. And we have articles, like this one, that use one of the greatest tragedies ever to strike our community as an opportunity to argue that that community is illegitimate, that it must never be accepted, acknowledged, named.”
Earlier this week, Bondings 2.0 explored the religious roots involved in the mass shooting in Orlando that targeted an LGBT nightclub. This reality means faith traditions have a responsibility to respond strongly when violence strikes. Catholic faithful and pastors, by their words and acts, are showing that the church is the people of God, and that God’s people stand in solidarity with LGBT people, especially in their time of need.
To read Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of the Orlando massacre and Catholic responses to it, please click here.
Names and photographs for many of the 49 people killed at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando have now been released, coming as we still grapple with the evil that happened Sunday morning and try to respond to these events.
Akyra Murray, an 18-year-old graduate of West Catholic Preparatory High School in Philadelphia, was among those victims killed. Murray “graduated third in her class just last week, and had just signed a letter of intent to play basketball for Mercyhurst University, Erie, Pennsylvania, reported ABC 6. She was in Orlando with family celebrating her graduation. A statement from West Catholic Preparatory said:
“Our hearts are broken, but together we will mourn Akyra’s loss and provide comfort to one another to honor the memory of such a wonderful young lady.”
A closed vigil is planned for this evening, and the school is providing grief counselors all week for affected community members.
Officials in Catholic higher education have released supportive statements and are offering Masses throughout the week for all those killed in Orlando, noting the LGBT identities of the victims. Fr. Brian Linnane, president of Loyola University Maryland, assured the GLBTQ+ members of the campus community that “we stand shoulder to shoulder with them in condemning this crime and advocating for justice. . .today we are all GLBTQ+.”
In a statement, Dr. Lisa Reiter, director of Campus Ministry at Loyola University Chicago, wrote:
“This shooting is a painful reminder of the injustice and prejudice that afflicts our lesbian sisters and gay brothers on a daily basis. . .In light of the spirit of Jesus Christ, and Church teaching, let us examine how we might more fully extend friendship t our LGBT sisters and brothers, inviting them to share their joys and sorrows with us.”
Religious communities have offered statements of prayer and of solidarity with LGBT communities, too, including the Sisters of St. Joseph of Philadelphia who shared their solidarity on Facebook.
Tragically, not all church leaders have responded well. As Bondings 2.0 reported yesterday, only four U.S. bishops referenced the anti-LGBT roots of this crime in their statements. A fifth, Bishop Gerald Barnes of San Bernardino, a city which suffered a mass shooting itself last year, released a statement which said:
“For those of us in San Bernardino this is especially painful because we also experienced the trauma of an act of public violence in our community not so long ago, at the Inland Regional Center. In that sense, we offer our prayers and our tears in solidarity with the victims of this attack, their loved ones, the Diocese of Orlando and the City, itself. Because of the circumstances of this attack, we also make clear our condemnation of discriminatory violence against those who are gay and lesbian, and we offer our prayers to that community.”
At The Wild Reedblog, Michael Bernard Kelly, who writes on gay Christian spirituality, responded to religious and civil leaders who offered prayers without referencing LGBT people:
“To every politician, and every civic or religious leader, including the Pope, who expressed sorrow and outrage at the Orlando shootings, but so very carefully avoided mentioning Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer people – YOU are part of the problem. Your words are empty and your hearts are hollow. Get back to us when you are ready to put yourself on the line to support and affirm US in the face of hatred and violence. Till then, hang your head in shame and repent of all that your past bigotry and current silence has spawned.”
Finally, television host Stephen Colbert, who is Catholic, offered powerful remarks about the Orlando shooting before his show Monday night:
“Well I don’t know what to do, but I do know that despair is a victory for hate. Hate wants us to be too weak to change anything. Now these people in Orlando were apparently targeted because of who they love. And there have been outpourings of love throughout the country and around the world. Love in response to hate. Love does not despair. Love makes us strong. Love gives us the courage to act. Love gives us hope that change is possible. Love allows us to change the script. So love your country, love your family, love the families of the victims and the people of Orlando, but let’s remember that love is a verb, and to love means to do something.”
Catholic leaders were initially silent about the anti-LGBT prejudices undergirding the mass shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, which has left at least 50 people dead and more wounded. Four bishops have since released statements acknowledging the prejudice behind these attacks. Other organizations and prominent Catholics have also highlighted the anti-gay distinction, as well as the serious omission on the part of some Catholic leaders who have ignored the LGBT dimension of the incident.
Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego released a statement, saying the murders were “rooted in a counterfeit notion of religious faith and magnified by our gun culture.” He continued:
“The shootings in Orlando are a wound to our entire society, and this time the LGBT community has been specifically targeted and victimized. . .
“We pray for the many victims in Orlando who were targeted for death simply because of their sexual orientation, and we grieve with their loving families and friends. This tragedy is a call for us as Catholics to combat ever more vigorously the anti-gay prejudice which exists in our Catholic community and in our country.”
Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich had recognized gay and lesbian victims in his initial statement, and followed up with a letter read at a regularly-scheduled Sunday evening Mass hosted by the Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach ministry. Cupich said in the letter, posted on Twitter by journalist Michael O’Loughlin:
“For you here today and throughout the whole lesbian and gay community, who are particularly touched by the heinous crimes committed in Orlando, motivated by hate, driven perhaps by mental instability and certainly empowered by a culture of violence, know this: the Archdiocese of Chicago stands with you. I stand with you.
“Let our shared grief and our common faith in Jesus, who called the persecuted blessed, unite us so that hatred and tolerance are not allowed to flourish. . .”
Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg responded on his blog, acknowledging forthrightly that Pulse was a nightclub for “Gay, Lesbian, Transgender” patrons. He continued:
“[S]adly it is religion, including our own, which targets, mostly verbally, and also often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people. Attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence. Those women and men who were mowed down early yesterday morning were all made in the image and likeness of God. We teach that. We should believe that. We must stand for that. Without yet knowing who perpetrated the PULSE mass murders, when I saw the Imam come forward at a press conference yesterday morning, I knew that somewhere in the story there would be a search to find religious roots. While deranged people do senseless things, all of us observe, judge and act from some kind of religious background. Singling out people for victimization because of their religion, their sexual orientation, their nationality must be offensive to God’s ears. It has to stop also.”
Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh released a statement which said, in part:
“Our Muslim neighbors are grieving over this tragedy as much as our gay and lesbian neighbors. We are all God’s children. May we love, honor and respect one another as such.”
Meanwhile, in his initial response to the incident, Bishop John Noonan of Orlando did not acknowledge the gay and lesbian dimension of the attack. Preparations for his diocese’s Vigil to Dry Tears, which took place last night, had no evidence that the victims were members of the LGBT community.
Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, also ignored victims’ identities about which David Gibson noted in the National Catholic Reporter:
“That statement contrasted with Kurtz’s statement a year ago after the shooting massacre in a black church in Charleston, S.C. Speaking two days after the attack on Mother Emanuel by a white supremacist, Kurtz repeatedly condemned the ‘racism and the violence so visible today’ and called for efforts to combat both, in personal change and through public policies.”
Michael Sean Winters, in a column in the National Catholic Reporter, wrote about Kurtz’s and other bishop’s failure to identify this incident as having an anti-LGBT dimension:
“If you are so [out of touch] that you do not realize that the refusal to refer to people as they refer to themselves is offensive, especially when that same group of people has just been the object of a violent and murderous attack, stop pretending to any claim to moral leadership in the society and just go away.”
Church organizations and prominent Catholics offered statements about the shooting in Orlando as well. Fortunate Families reacted to “an act of terror and an act of hate” with a statement which said:
“Our children have the right to live, work and celebrate without fear, to create families of their own and worship in peace. We stand in solidarity with our children and all parents of LGBT+ persons as we remember those lost and those in pain. We are deeply saddened by this event, since we abhor violence of any kind, and we hold in prayer all children of God victimized by hatred – both perpetrators and victims.”
Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, contrasted the violence with Pride celebrations and said further in a statement:
“This cruel attack will make many LGBTQ people feel unsafe and experience anxiety. For many, it will awaken memories of the days when gay bar patrons were frequently the targets of violence. . .[W]e hope and pray that our nation will come together to reject violence against LGBTQ people in the strongest possible ways.”
“This shooting directed towards the gay, lesbian and [transgender] community which resulted in injury and massive deaths, is of grave concern to Pax Christi USA. . .No amount of bigotry, fear, anger or hatred ever justifies the senseless taking of lives.”
Across the Atlantic, in London, England, the city’s LGBT Catholic Community, which was gathered for its regular 2nd Sunday Mass at Farm Street Jesuit Parish, responded promptly in prayer by adding the following petition to their liturgy: “We pray for the 50 people who lost their lives this morning in the terror attack on the gay night-club in Florida, for the injured, and for their families and loved ones.”
Jesuit Fr. James Martin released a powerful statement about the Orlando shooting, saying that this time of grief and fear for LGBT communities was a moment for Christians and Catholics to stand with them. Martin criticized the bishops’ silence, saying church leaders would express solidarity if this massacre happened to a particular ethnic group or religious denomination. That so few bishops expressed solidarity with LGBT communities is, in his words, “revelatory.” Martin continued at America:
“This is revelatory. It reveals how the L.G.B.T. community is invisible to much of church. Even in death they are invisible. For too long Catholics have treated the L.G.B.T. community as ‘other.’ But for the Christian there is no ‘other.’ There is no ‘them.’ There is only ‘us.’
“This is a moment to end this ‘us’ and ‘them.’ For there is no ‘them’ in the church, because for Jesus there was no ‘them.’ He consistently reaches out to those on the margins, bringing all people in. Those who are invisible to the community are seen by Jesus. By seeing them, by welcoming them, by loving them, he makes the ‘them’ an ‘us.’
“Catholics are invited to make every person feel valuable and visible, especially at times of loss. Jesus asks us to do this. The church needs to stand in solidarity with all of ‘us’ in Orlando.”
You can watch Fr. Martin’s full statement in the video below or by clicking here.
Finally, another Jesuit, Brendan Patrick Busse, offered sharp words against church leaders who he said “have an allergy to the word ‘gay’ in their statements of condolence.” He wrote on Facebook:
“Something ‘intrinsically disordered’ revealed itself again in Orlando today and it was armed with bad religion and an assault rifle. I fear our government is complicit in one of those causes and our Church in the other. To speak around the particulars of this violence – its inspiration and its target – is to perpetuate it.
“Defending the ‘dignity of all’ in public means very little if we can’t bring ourselves to defend the dignity of our LGBTQ – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, and Queer – family members in particular and in pride.
“Praying for Orlando is prudent. . .Praying for Pulse is prophetic.”
In yesterday’s statement from New Ways Ministry’s Executive Dirctor Francis DeBernardo, he noted that by the end of Sunday, Cupich was the only bishop who had mentioned gay and lesbian people in his reaction to the massacre. It is a relief to know that at least two other bishops have joined him, and that other Catholic leaders are recognizing the glaring omission on other bishops’ part. May Catholic leaders increasingly pray not only for Orlando, but by clearly and proudly naming the LGBT identities that have been targeted, pray for Pulse and by extension all affected LGBT people too.
We will continue to post more about Catholic reactions to and analyses of the Orlando massacre in the coming days.