I generally don’t like to criticize other bloggers, but when a gay-friendly Catholic parish has been wrongly accused of anti-LGBT behavior, I think it is important to set the record straight (so to speak). Such is the case with a blog post by John Becker, who writes at The Bilerico Project. I often find Mr. Becker’s commentaries challenging and thought-provoking, but in a recent post, he oversteps the mark by making a claim that needs to be corrected.
Becker’s June 17th post is entitled “Catholic Church’s ‘Pride’ Event Smells Like False Advertising.” In it he creates suspicion that the LGBT outreach ministry at St. Ignatius parish, Baltimore, may not be as welcoming as it makes itself out to be.
Becker became aware of an event advertisement on the Archdiocese of Baltimore website that stated:
“Embracing God’s Gifts, St. Ignatius’ Gay & Lesbian ministry, is inviting you to join us on Friday, June 13th at 7 PM in the Chapel of Grace, where we will give thanks to God for the gift of family. Through music, readings, prayer and a spirit of gratitude, we will gather to celebrate being members of God’s family. Please contact Gordon Creamer… if you are interested in participating in the planning process. All are welcome and please bring a friend! A light Reception will follow in Ignatian Hall.”
Becker noted that a link on the site led to a page which included the following description of the parish ministry:
“As members of the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church, we are called to celebrate and share the gifts of diversity of sexuality in our church today. Our organization, Embracing God’s Gifts, has been formed as an instrument for recognizing these gifts and incorporating their goodness and use into the life of our parish. Our mission is to create opportunities for the spiritual enrichment, support and inclusion of all diverse individuals, while being informed by church teaching, and to promote awareness and community building among them. We will accomplish this through a variety of endeavors that foster support, communication and social activities. We invite all to participate in this group with open-mindedness and compassion.”
These two announcements aroused Becker’s suspicion, particularly the phrase about “church teaching.” He stated:
“Now I realize that the flyer says the group is informed by church teaching, not that it necessarily upholds it. I contacted Gordon Creamer, the aforementioned Embracing God’s Gifts organizer at St. Ignatius Parish, and left a message asking him what exactly the program tells gay and lesbian Catholics about themselves and their sexuality. I also asked whether it has any affiliation with Courage, the Catholic ‘ministry‘ that uses a 12-step program similar to Alcoholics Anonymous to encourage LGB Catholics to suppress their sexuality and live totally celibate lives. If Creamer responds, I’ll let you know.
My skepticism, however, is further reinforced by the fact that this so-called ‘Pride’ event was advertised on the archdiocesan website. The head of the Baltimore Archdiocese is none other than William Lori, a high-profile opponent of marriage equality who has spoken at events sponsored by the Family Research Council anti-gay hate group and chairs the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. If his name looks familiar it’s because he’s the prelate who said, just last week, that the American bishops would fight same-sex marriage for generations, if necessary.”
I can understand Becker’s surprise and confusion, especially since he wasn’t able to be in touch with Gordon Creamer, who leads St. Ignatius’ LGBT ministry. I wish Becker would have postponed writing about the announcement until he did learn more about the ministry. The parish has long been a welcoming and accepting home for LGBT people in Baltimore. Run by the Jesuits, they hosted a Dignity chapter there for many years, even after Dignity chapters had been expelled from Catholic property in most other dioceses.
Gordon Creamer is an excellent minister and someone who has taken many courageous steps to reach out to LGBT people to let them know that there are segments in the Catholic Church that welcome and affirm them.
Becker’s comparison of Creamer’s ministry to Courage is totally wrong. That is not what St. Ignatius’ parish ministry is about. Courage views a gay or lesbian orientation as a defect. Nothing about the Courage model of ministry would include “Embracing Our Gifts,” as St. Ignatius identifies its ministry. Moreover, I don’t know of any parish ministry that uses the Courage model as a form of outreach, unless, of course, it is a parish that explicitly advertises itself as such. Finally, no Courage group would mask one of their events as a Pride activity, even surreptitiously.
Becker was not the only blogger who was suspicious of this announcement. Joe Jervis at “Joe. My. God.” pondered:
“There’s no mention of celibacy or ‘ex-gay’ therapy at either of the two links above, but it’s entirely possible that either or both are part of the ministry at St. Ignatius.”
I acknowledge that Archbishop Lori has a strong record of opposing marriage equality on both the local and national levels, and so seeing an event advertised on the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s website might cause one to raise an eyebrow. But, again, further digging would have revealed what I have learned from many Catholic LGBT advocates in Baltimore: that Archbishop Lori seems to be open to pastoral ministry that integrates LGBT people into the parish community.
The fact that Gordon Creamer and the St. Ignatius community were able to have this event advertised on the archdiocesan website is a sign of a major step forward that needs to be celebrated, not an indication of pastoral deceit lying in wait.
I sympathize somewhat with Becker’s befuddlement. Catholic leaders have for so long been so opposed to positive LGBT initiatives that it is difficult for us to change our expectations when something good actually does happen. Witness the incredulity that many people experience with the positive statements Pope Francis has made. Unfortunately, it’s a sad commentary that so many people think that Catholic=anti-gay. Understandable, but sad. And it’s an image that we must work hard to correct.
Indeed, the untold story for decades now is that Catholic parishes across the U.S. have been welcoming LGBT people and benefiting from their presence in the faith community. Few journalists and political LGBT advocates are aware of this quiet growth on the grassroots level of the church. I often tell people that one of the greatest joys of my work at New Ways Ministry has been that I have been privileged to witness and experience the courageous work of so many Catholic pastoral ministers and communities as they affirm and advocate for LGBT people and their families.
You can see the varied communities who do this outreach by checking out New Ways Ministry’s list of gay-friendly Catholic parishes. If you know of any other parishes that pro-actively welcome LGBT people, please let us know about them through the “Comments” section of this post.
So, let’s say a “Hallelujah!” for the sign of progress that the archdiocesan website announcement indicates. And let’s say a prayer of thanksgiving for people like Gordon Creamer and the St. Ignatius community who do the important and courageous day-to-day outreach to LGBT people to let them know that God, and their faith community, loves them.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry