ALL ARE WELCOME: Going Beyond the Boundaries

The ALL ARE WELCOME series is an occasional feature  which examines how Catholic faith communities can become more inclusive of LGBT people and issues.  This is the fifth installment.  At the end of this posting, you can find the links to previous posts in this series.

Do you participate in your local parish or have you needed to find another Catholic faith community outside the boundaries of your neighborhood, town, or geographic area?  If you are a Catholic for whom LGBT justice and equality are important, you may fall into the second category.

A recent New York Times article, “A Parish Without Borders,” focuses on St. Boniface parish, in downtown Brooklyn, NY, which attracts parishioners outside of its surrounding neighborhood.  Not surprisingly, the parish’s welcoming approach to LGBT people and families is part of its wide appeal.  Indeed, the reporter also notes that a similar welcome of LGBT people has attracted many to another “intentional parish” in New York City:

“St. Boniface is an example of an intentional parish, a phrase some members of the clergy use to describe a destination church that attracts people from beyond its geographic boundaries. Many gay and lesbian Catholics travel to the Church of St. Francis Xavier in Chelsea [Manhattan].”

(Incidentally, both of these parishes are included on New Ways Ministry’s “Gay-Friendly Parish” list, which catalogs over 200 parishes around the country with an explicit welcome of LGBT people.  Many, though not all, of these faith communities could be described as “intentional parishes.”)

Indeed, the article uses homosexuality as the touchstone for defining the accepting pastoral approach that St. Boniface has adopted:

“ ‘Meeting them where they are’ is a mantra among St. Boniface’s five priests and a lay brother, who make it a point to invite new faces to monthly home-cooked lunches in the rectory.

“But the inclusive philosophy has a stickier side. While the priests hold true to and convey all the church’s teachings, whether from the Vatican, the United States Conference of Bishops or the Diocese of Brooklyn, they accept that not everyone in the pews does.

“When a lesbian couple approached one of the priests, the Rev. Mark Lane, about baptizing their child, they were afraid he would turn them away, he said. But they were welcomed. For Father Lane, 55, the parish’s openness simply reflected Christ’s teachings to love everyone. Even if that could be taken as an implicit critique of the church’s position on homosexuality, the parish did not make the family occasion into a cause.

“ ‘The danger is, you turn that into a platform and forget about the persons involved, and I think that’s wrong,’ Father Lane said. The two mothers stood at the font with their child along with everyone else. ‘The symbol is visually powerful, but that’s enough.’ ”

“The priests prefer to address controversial issues like same-sex marriage and the death penalty outside of Mass, and while anti-abortion marches are listed in the church bulletin, they are not announced after services.”

The question that comes immediately to mind is:  “Since these parishes are so successful, why aren’t other communities following their example?”  If these intentional parishes are able to attract people who must travel some distance to get there every Sunday (and to participate in non-liturgical activities during the week), they must be doing something right.  It seems obvious that a big part of the attraction they offer is the extravagant sense of welcome described above.  “Meeting people where they are” is key to that welcome, and something that all parishes could adopt with no additional cost, other than an intentional effort on the part of parish staff.

The notion of an intentional parish is not without controversy, however.  While the article states that none other than New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan recently gave an endorsement to the idea of Catholics seeking out parishes where they feel welcome, stating:

“I don’t mind telling you to be rather mercantile. If the particular parish that you’re in does not seem to be listening, there are an abundance of those that are.”

Yet the Brooklyn diocese’s Monsignor Kieran E. Harrington holds a different opinion:

“The church is about growing where you’re planted. . . .It’s like a family. . . .You don’t choose your family.”

What do you think?  Which is more important:  worshiping locally or worshiping in an inclusive setting?    Whatever you may have decided, what have you had to “trade-off”?  What benefits do you receive?  How did you find the community in which you feel welcome?  Do you have any advice for others?

Please submit your answers to these questions in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Previous posts in the ALL ARE WELCOME series:

Say the Words , December 14, 2011

All in the Family , January 2, 2012

At Notre Dame, Does Buying In Equal Selling Out? , January 25, 2012

A Priest With An Extravagant Sense of Welcome,  February 13, 2012

Evangelization: Truth and Reconciliation

Cathleen Kaveny has an excellent post on the dotCommonweal blog on re-evangelizing Catholics alienated from the church, in the wake of a news report that 16% of Boston Catholics are attending weekly Mass.

While Kaveny applauds this outreach effort, she also offers some words of warning:

“. . .I wonder if the poor Catholics staying on the edges of the community are going to be feeling a bit of whiplash. On the one hand, in Massachusetts, most Catholics voted Democratic, support gay marriage, and endorse the broad availability of contraception. On the one hand, a cursory examination of one segment of the Catholic blogosphere —-vociferously says, ‘If you dissent –on anything–get out.  If you use contraception  and support its public availability, if you don’t oppose gay marriage, if you supported health care reform, if you voted for Obama–well, go away.  You’re not a good Catholic.’ “

Later in her post she asks:

“Why invite people back just so you can kick them out again?”

Part of the problem is that too often Catholic evangelization does not acknowledge that the reason people leave the church is because they were driven out by negative messages, hurtful gestures, and pastoral insensitivity.  People leave because their relationship with the church has been damaged.  And like many damaged relationships, both sides have to be willing to acknowledge what went wrong  and why they decided to disengage. I have met way too many LGBT people and their families who felt that their Church relationship had become abusive, and that the only healthy and holy thing to do was to walk away.

Catholic leaders can learn a lesson from South Africa.  When apartheid was dismantled in that country, the leaders were faced with the immense problem of having to form a nation among people who had been so long at odds with one another.  As in any system of injustice, both oppressor and oppressed had been the victims.  Both needed to be able to tell their stories, to hear apologies, and to move forward into the future.  South African President Nelson Mandela established  the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  As the title emphasizes,  both truth AND reconciliation are needed for healing to occur.

12-Step spirituality follows a similar model.  People need to be able to speak their truth in a safe space before they are able to make amends with those they may have hurt–which is a necessary part of the recovery.

In Boston, the epicenter of the clergy sex abuse crisis,  truth and reconciliation, along with apologies, seem to be sorely in need.  Otherwise, only a band-aid is applied to a wound that needs major medical care.

New Ways Ministry has often called for church leaders to dialogue with LGBT people.  We’ve also called on church leaders to apologize for any harm that church representatives may have caused LGBT people.  We’ve called on LGBT people to respectfully tell their stories to church leaders so that the truth of their lives can be known.

For effective evangelization to occur, our church needs a new model which allows for real growth, real change, real relationship to develop.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry