When Orlando, Florida newspaper columnist Justin Mitchell visited the Pulse Nightclub memorial this past June, it stirred him to remember the 49 victims who were killed there. It also stirred him to reflect on how gay nightclubs and churches can be quite similar spaces.
Mitchell, writing in the Sun Herald, described his journey as a gay man who was raised Catholic. There were positive moments in youth group when church elevated him in prayer, and there was also “the moment I fell out of love with mass” as pastors criticized marriage equality. There was the progressive church in college that welcomed him, and then the rejection by a former parishioner in his hometown. All of this came back to Mitchell as he watched prayer candles burn at the Pulse memorial. He reflected:
“The point of all of this, though, is that I lit that prayer candle and was brought back to my days in church. Because what many don’t realize is that a gay bar is exactly like church in many ways for the LGBTQ+ community. They both are safe spaces where its members can let go and be vulnerable. They can share their most suppressed feelings, whether it’s holding a man’s hand or praying to the man upstairs. It’s a place where, above all, you don’t feel like anything bad is going to happen to you.”
Many people around the world remembered the Pulse anniversary last month. Catholics lamented one bishop’s decree released on that very day which bans married lesbian and gay people from the most important aspects of church life.
As we move forward, these violations (and others that come to mind) of safe and sacred places are our propellants to work even harder so that there will be places like clubs and churches where all are welcome to be who they are.
Weeks after an Illinois bishop announced pastoral guidelines that bar people in same-gender marriages from church life, Catholics continue to object while the bishop has begun responding to critics.
Catholic Church reform organizations sent a letter to Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield to express their disappointment about his decree which would, among other prohibitions, bar Catholics in same-gender marriages from having funerals. The letter read, in part:
“As communities of Catholics, we were shocked and gravely disappointed at the decree you recently promulgated. . .The Church, at its best, is a haven, a source of spiritual nourishment in a sometimes harsh world. In times of confusion, loss and grief, the Sacraments are especially valued for the strength and grace they provide to all who wish to avail themselves of them. It is disheartening to us as Catholics that our family would forego such cherished ideals in favor of mean and unkind policies.”
The organizations wrote they “decry the rancor and derision that has become such a pervasive part of public life and community,” and expect the church to be a refuge in troubled times. The fourteen organizations include Call to Action, DignityUSA, and New Ways Ministry. Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry, who has written an open letter to the bishop which you can read here, commented to WGLT 89.1:
“The reaction has run the gamut from anger to shock to real disgust at such a Draconian prohibition against lesbian and gay people, especially in this era of Pope Francis where more and more Catholic leaders are making gestures of welcome. . .People feel there are so many other areas the church declares as sin that are not included in this prohibition, such as greed, militarism, racism and support for the death penalty.”
Women-Church Convergence, a coalition of Catholic feminist groups, released its own pastoral letter to the people of Springfield to “offer words of comfort” to LGBTQI persons and their families. The letter read, in part:
“The Decree misses the signal importance of public, joyfully celebrated baptisms of babies, young people, and adults as they become part of our community. It ignores the welcome table that is the Eucharist. And, it dishonors the dead who are denied church funerals not because of sin but because of love. Let especially your young people hear us sing atop our voices, ‘All are welcome.'”
In a statement, Deborah Rose-Milavec of FutureChurch said Paprocki’s “harsh tactics defy the Gospel and deny the God’s own people the love, care, and acceptance that we are called to offer one another.”
While the National Catholic Reporter noted that few bishops are willing to offer criticism of another publicly, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego did support San Jose’s Bishop Patrick McGrath who released a communique to pastoral ministers in his diocese that said all Catholics would be welcome to the sacraments. McElroy commented:
“‘I think that is the appropriate policy that I would hope the priests would observe, especially in the times of funerals, but more broadly in the sense of regular pastoral action in support of men and women who are in all states of lives and who have all sorts of challenges. . .Our fundamental stance has to be one of inclusion in the church, especially during a time of burial.'”
In the face of criticism from many quarters, Bishop Paprocki is speaking out in defense of his decree through a diocesan statement, a column in the diocesan newspaper, and an interview. NCR reported about the interview:
“. . .Paprocki states that he was surprised by the attention the decree received as it is ‘a rather straightforward application of existing Church teaching and canon law.’ He also said he has ‘received many supportive comments and assurances of prayer,’ including ‘positive reactions’ from the priests in the diocese.
“When the online news magazine asked about Martin’s Facebook post, Paprocki said, ‘Father Martin gets a lot wrong in those remarks.'”
Paprocki also clarified that his decree applied not to lesbian and gay people generally, but specifically to those persons who had entered into civil same-gender marriages. He added that even someone in such a marriage could be fully admitted to the sacraments “if they repent and renounce their ‘marriage.’ ”
Responding to DeBernardo’s open letter, which suggested people would leave the church because of such exclusive policies, Paprocki told Catholic World Report “the real issue is not how many people will come to church, but how to become holy, how to become a saint.” The bishop added, “It is disappointing when people leave the Church, just as it surely must have been disappointing for Jesus when people walked away from Him.”
Such clarifications are doing little to pacify the bishop’s critics. The look to his lengthy LGBT-negative record for proof that this decree is but one instance among many harmful actions. You can read about Paprocki’s full record by clicking here.
John Freml, a married gay Catholic in Springfield, told WGLT 89.1 he was “disappointed and very hurt” by the decree. But, Freml added, the church is not simply the bishops but the entire people of God. He was supported while coming out at a Catholic high school, and he and his husband have found welcome at their parish where “we didn’t make any effort to hide who we were.”
To read more Catholic reactions to Paprocki’s decree, click here and here.
New Ways Ministry continues to recommend you contact Bishop Paprocki, and we encourage you to communicate honestly, personally, and civilly with him.
This past weekend, I was privileged to be with the DignityUSA community at their conference in Boston. The theme, “A Place at the Table,” lent itself to the power of shared stories, many of which were expressed in the formal sessions and the more informal hallway conversations.
In one session, transgender members of Dignity and one mother of a trans child shared stories of being faithful Catholics. Skylar Kelley, a panelist who uses they/them pronouns, explained what it means to identify as non-binary. They also shared how being assigned female at birth remains a part of their history that should not be erased. In light of the fact that some church leaders have been publicly speaking against trans lives, each panelist’s reflection on “Why stay in the church?” was a powerful testimony of faith.
In another session, Krzysztof Charamsa, a former priest and theologian who worked at at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and who came out as a gay man right before the 2015 Synod on the Family began, spoke personally and theologically. He shared his coming out story as he addressed the institutional church’s treatment of homosexuality. He told those gathered, “When you want your community to change, you must change.” More pointedly, he echoed Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium saying, “We need to confront ideas with Christ, Christ who lived in this world.” Charamsa said clearly that this work is done well when LGBTQI Catholics who remain the church offer their witness.
Stories were central during a Saturday morning plenary which featured Jamie Manson of the National Catholic Reporter, Louis Mitchell of TransFaith who is a Congregationalist minister, and Walter Robinson of the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team which broke open the clergy sexual abuse in the early 2000’s.
Mitchell spoke to the cost of noticing another person’s story, and the vulnerability required to share one’s story. He made a special appeal for attendees to take seriously the stories of transgender women of color who are “not victims, sex toys, HIV statistics, or some bad RuPaul joke,” but human beings with the fullness of dignity.
Speaking about self-care, Manson discussed how the work of seeking justice in the church can be lonely and even lead to despair at times. But, she added:
“What pushes me forward more often than not is that people are suffering, and they’re suffering at the hands of this institution. And they’re suffering in the Global South. . .It is the church that isn’t speaking when our LGBTQ brothers and sisters are being imprisoned for who they are.”
Another story shared was the history of Always Our Children, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Casey and Mary Ellen Lopata. founders of Fortunate Families, led a conversation about how the document came to be and its effect on the church. It is document, they said, that shattered the silence around homosexuality in the church, opened up new possibilities based on the lived experiences of lesbian and gay people, and helped empower parents and pastoral ministers.
These highlighted instances are just a few examples of the many stories shared over the weekend. What kept coming to mind as I listened to speakers and Dignity members was how I wished church leaders could be there, sitting in the back rows, simply listening.
What they would hear are real stories, the grounding realities of LGBT Catholics and their families. While some of these stories were about the trials of being marginalized by church and by society, others were also about how and why faithful Catholics live out their faith in community. All of these are stories that our church very much needs to hear.
1. Non-discrimination laws aimed at protecting LGBT people are “used as a sword by LGBT activists to go after those who disagree with their ideological beliefs on human sexuality,” according to the Nebraska Catholic Conference’s Executive Director, Tom Venzor. Writing in the Southern Nebraska Register, Venzor criticized state bill LB173 that would have made sexual orientation and gender identity protected classes.
2. Dignity/Chicago recently celebrated its 45th anniversary, reported the Windy City Times. Members gathered for Mass and a celebration where DignityUSA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke spoke, and the group honored Lambda Legal. Ramon Rodriguez, Dignity/Chicago’s board president, told attendees, “Our work is far from done. . .we are only as good as how we tackle the current and future needs of our community.”
3. High school student Riley Collins created a radio essay on “My Catholic mom and her two queer sons,” which addressed the tensions in his family between his Filipino mother’s grappling with having two gays sons and the sons’ distanced relationship from the Catholic Church.
4. A film about a Venezuelan transgender activist and legislator was reportedly barred from two church-affiliated colleges: the Catholic University Andrés Bello and the Catholic University Santa Rosa. Producers of the film “Tamara” claimed the schools told them they could not host a screening because it was “transsexual propaganda.” The colleges denied these allegations, reported ArtsFreedom.
5. A Roman Catholic farmer in Michigan alleged that he was barred from a farmers’ market because he does not support marriage equality. Steve Tennes of Country Mill Farms is now suing the city of East Lansing, which operates the market. The city’s mayor, Mark Meadows, said the ban is because Tennes refused to host a same-gender wedding at his facility, and the city does not contract with vendors who discriminate.
Catholics have reacted strongly against Bishop Thomas Paprocki’s decree prohibiting people in same-gender marriages from participating in the church’s life.
Bondings 2.0 reported Thursday on the decree released by the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois. In it, Bishop Paprocki instructs pastors to bar people in such marriages from receiving Communion, participating in liturgical ministries, entering RCIA programs, and being granted funerals. You can find an initial report by clicking here.
Yesterday, Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, released an open letter to Bishop Paprocki that you can find by clicking here. Today’s post highlights from other Catholic leaders.
Fortunate Families, a network of Catholic parents with LGBT children, published its own letter to Paprocki. The Board referred to the decree as “a hard-hearted document” in which the bishop shows “no pastoral sensitivity, no attempt to dialogue about the positions taken and no effort to reach out to our LGBT children.” The letter continued:
“In denying [LGBT people] the reception of Communion and funeral rites you effectively excommunicate them. Your decree indicates that a dying person who is living publicly in a same sex marriage may be given Holy Communion only if he or she repents. Is being in a same sex marriage on the same level as a person who denies the Creed? Imagine someone in a committed loving relationship for his or her entire life having to choose on his or her deathbed whether to discount a life of love and receive the Body and Blood of Christ or continue a commitment of integrity.”
Fr. James Martin, S.J., who recently published a book on Catholic LGBT issues based on an address he first gave upon receiving New Ways Ministry’s Bridge-Building Award, posted on Facebook:
“If bishops ban members of same-sex marriages from receiving a Catholic funeral, they also have to be consistent. . .they must ban anyone who does not care for the poor, or care for the environment, and anyone who supports torture, for those are church teachings too. More basically, they must ban people who are not loving, not forgiving and not merciful, for these represent the teachings of Jesus, the most fundamental of all church teachings. To focus only on LGBT people, without a similar focus on the moral and sexual behavior of straight people is, in the words of the Catechism, a ‘sign of unjust discrimination’ (2358).”
Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, said in a statement:
“It is simply cruel and shameful to refuse burial or Communion to those who seek the grace and comfort that our Church offers at some of the most difficult moments of life. This is reminiscent of the appalling practice of denying Communion, funerals, and burial to people dying of AIDS at the height of the epidemic. . .[The decree] is unchristian and demeaning. It is totally unworthy of our Catholic faith.”
John Freml, a married gay Catholic in the Diocese of Springfield, told The State Journal-Registerthe decree “puts priests and other church workers in a difficult position.” Another Catholic in the diocese weighed in:
“Cindy Carlson Rice, also a Springfield Catholic, said she was implicitly told she couldn’t approach for communion because of her support for her daughter’s same-sex marriage. . .said the decree was ‘a smack across the face’ to those LGBT Catholics who have stayed involved in the church.”
In the same article, Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, said that Bishop Paprocki’s decree goes beyond previous restrictions imposed by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and other prelates. DeBernardo added, “Paprocki is an anomaly and is not in the mainstream of Catholic thought (with this decree).”
Also quoted was Christopher Pett, the incoming president of DignityUSA, who said:
“Bishop Paprocki’s decree makes it very clear why so many (LGBT) people and their families feel unwelcome in the Catholic Church and why so many leave it. . . .
“This document is mean-spirited and hurtful in the extreme. It systematically and disdainfully disparages us and our relationships. It denies us the full participation in the life of our Church to which we are entitled by our baptism and our creation in God’s image.”
Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter told NPR News that he “can’t imagine a cruder thing more at cross purposes with what the Holy Father is trying to do,” and that “privately, 95 percent of other bishops in the U.S. are reading [the decree] and are horrified. Even the ones who are pretty arch on same-sex marriage think this is too far.”
Bishop Paprocki is defending the decree, telling The Washington Post, “These norms are necessary in light of changes in the law and in our culture regarding these issues.”
New Ways Ministry recommends you to send your own letter to Bishop Paprocki, and we encourage you to communicate honestly, personally, and civilly with him.
As Jesuit Father James Martin launches his new book, Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity,” he explained in a Washington Postessaywhy he wrote the book in the first place. Also published in the Post afew dayslaterwas lesbian Catholic writer Eve Tushnet’s review of the book.
Martin began his essay by noting that, after 49 people were killed at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando last year, there was near silence from the United States’ 250 or so bishops about the victims’ LGBT identities. Martin said this silence was “revelatory,” continuing:
“The fact that only a few Catholic bishops acknowledged the LGBT community or even used the word gay at such a time showed that the LGBT community is still invisible in many quarters of the church. Even in tragedy its members are invisible.”
Martin lamented the “great divide” he witnesses in the church between LGBT Catholics and institutions, suggesting his ministry has included ways to heal the divide. He continued:
“But after the shooting in Orlando, my desire to do so intensified. . .So when New Ways Ministry, a group that ministers to and advocates for LGBT Catholics, asked just a few weeks after the Orlando tragedy if I would accept its ‘Bridge Building Award’ and give a talk at the time of the award ceremony, I agreed. The name of the award, as it turned out, inspired me to sketch out an idea for a ‘two-way bridge’ that might help bring together the institutional church and the LGBT community.
“My aim is to urge the church to treat the LGBT community with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” (a phrase from the Catechism of the Catholic Church) and encourage the LGBT community to reciprocate, reflecting those virtues in its own relationship with the institutional church.”
To read about Fr. Martin receiving New Ways Ministry’s Bridge-Building Award last October, where he spoke first about this latest LGBT venture, click here. You can also watch Fr. Martin’s video explanation of why he wrote Building a Bridge below or by clicking here.
But Eve Tushnet, in her review for the Post, says Martin’s work “is not the book I’ve longed for” on Catholic LGBT issues. Her main criticism is that Building a Bridge never addresses sexual ethics, and a corollary critique that there is no mention of lesbian and gay Christians who are celibate. Tushnet wrote:
“For example, why is this conversation so hard in the first place? ‘Building a Bridge’ doesn’t raise the question of why LGBT people and the Catholic Church so often seem like two separate, hostile camps. The Catholic sexual ethic is this book’s embarrassing secret. It’s never mentioned, and so the difficulties the teaching itself poses for gay Catholics in our culture are never addressed.
“I’m deeply sympathetic to the attempt to have a conversation about gay people and the church that never mentions sex or chastity; too often even the most “respectful” statements from the Catholic Church hierarchy have a strong flavor of “Jesus loves you, but here’s how you’ve got to behave.” But I’m not sure it’s wise to write as if all the church is asking is for gay people simply to be nicer.”
While Tushnet may have wanted a book that dealt with sexual ethics and celibacy, that is not the intended scope of Martin’s book. His focus is on the process of dialogue, not theological questions. The relationship needs to improve to even begin to address the thornier questions.
Tushnet does rightly point out that more should be asked of church leaders than just respect and sensitivity. They should offer as well, “repentance and amends for the ways in which they’ve made so many churches hostile to gay members, treating us as problems to be fixed or silenced.”
Having stated these criticisms, Tushnet also acknowledged the value Building a Bridge has for the church. The priest’s “Prayer for When I Feel Rejected,” based on Psalm 139, is very moving for her, and she believes it can help LGBT Christians know God’s love for them more deeply. Tushnet concluded her review:
“If Martin’s book, with its biblical reflections on God’s loving creation of us and Jesus’ unconditional welcome, can help LGBT people and our families experience and trust God’s tenderness, he will have laid the foundation stone for social change and spiritual renewal.”
For more information about Building a Bridge, or if you would like to order a copy, visit Fr. Martin’s website by clicking here.
Today is International Women’s Day. Catholics believe that people are equal in dignity, and that no one should be discriminated against or harmed. These are principles on which all in the Church can agree. But how these principles are lived out concretely is a trickier issue, as the movements for equality in the church for women and LGBT communities have made clear.
New Ways Ministry’s Sr. Jeannine Gramick, SL, explored this challenge in a recent essay for The National Catholic Reporter’sGlobal Sisters Report.She reported on her experiences at an international church reform gathering last fall in Chicago. Sr. Jeannine linked the two movements, saying lessons from efforts to ensure women’s equality can readily inform efforts for LGBT equality.
The gathering in Chicago included priests’ groups and lay organizations from about a dozen nations. She explained that the representatives have had difficulty agreeing on liturgical worship that would be consistent with the values expressed and comfortable for all attendees, The issue of women’s liturgical leadership became a sticking point. Gramick commented:
“Did [the debate about liturgy] have any implications for my particular ministry for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people? The group had easily adopted a resolution ‘to stand against violence in all its forms — physical, emotional, spiritual and temporal — toward LGBT people’ and to ‘encourage the Church’s leaders and individual members to make the same commitment.’ There were some minimal questions about this resolution but not the angst felt in discussing women’s liturgical participation.
“Was equality for women a thornier issue than equality for LGBT people? No, not really. The LGBT resolution was expressed in general terms of equality, without specific actions. The group had also called for, and agreed upon, progress on full equality for women in the church; but the proposal about women, like the one about LGBT people, was broad and did not include particular examples of equality.”
Gramick acknowledged “people of good will can agree on general principles, but it is in specific applications that the rubber meets the road,” thus the challenges at the gathering of church reformers. She continued:
“At the next international conference of priests and reform organizations in 2018, when we discuss concrete actions that affirm the dignity and rights of LGBT people, I need to be prepared for similar resistance, hesitations, and concerns when these human rights and civil liberties are spelled out. . .
“I need to be patient because movement on issues requires time. Just as some who had opposed the proposition in Limerick had moved in their thinking about women’s liturgical role a year and a half later, there will be more movements in the future. I am pondering the words of Ecclesiastes 3:11: ‘God has made everything appropriate to its time.'”
It goes without saying that transforming doctrine and ecclesial practices about gender and sexuality is work that is almost immediately problematized. An event at the Vatican today for International Women’s Day illustrates this difficulty. The Voices of Faith gathering, an annual meeting of Catholic women from across the globe, will find participants sharing their stories around the general theme of uplifting women’s dignity and human rights. But the question of women’s ordination will not be discussed, and, in previous years, speakers have explicitly rejected ordination equality. And there are no openly lesbian, queer, or trans women speaking, despite the urgent need for such voices to be heard in our church.
Equality for women and for LGBT people in the church is, to a certain extent, a unified cause. Bondings 2.0’s Editor Francis DeBernardo, explored this pointin a post this past January. The participants from each movement can learn from one another, and support one another, too. Gramick concluded her piece on such lessons with these words:
“I am convinced that, as a church, we agree on the big picture. Each one of us may have specific ideas about the details in the painting: the colors to be used, the shape of objects, or the size of the canvas, but on the whole work of art we see eye-to-eye. As members of the church, we are united in our faith and belief in Christ and in our desire to follow the greatest commandment: to love God and our neighbor as ourselves.”
Let us then reflect this International Women’s Day on the ways we, as Catholic advocates for LGBT people, can be informed by and contribute to the movement for women’s equality in the church.
What do you think? Is Sr. Jeannine’s assessment correct? What lessons have you learned from other social justice movements that help LGBT equality? How can LGBT and ally communities contribute to women’s equality in the church? Leave your thoughts and suggestions in the ‘Comments’ section below.