How do LGBT people fare in Catholic parishes? How welcoming are Catholic communities to gay and lesbian couples in committed relationships? How important is it to offer a welcome to LGBT people?
These are the types of questions that one Catholic pastor has tackled in a recent column in The National Catholic Reporter. Fr. Peter Daly, pastor of St. John Vianney parish in Prince Frederick, Maryland (Archdiocese of Washington), offers a frank assessment of how his parish responds to the presence of gay and lesbian people in their midst.
While happy that gay and lesbian couples are welcomed by his community, Fr. Daly admits that the welcome may be as complete as it could be. He describes the parish as “a fairly typical middle-class, mostly white, English-speaking, American parish.” It is located in a suburban-to-rural community not far from the Chesapeake Bay, which is predominantly politically conservative and Republican. Yet, he notes that the topic of gay people and relationships has been coming to the surface more commonly in the past few years, due to the greater acceptance and discussion of these issues in the larger society. Fr. Daly offers the following appraisal of how his parish has responded, noting that it is not the ideal:
“I also think it would be fair to say that our approach to same-sex couples, including marriage and adoption, is evolving. One might characterize our approach as public silence and private acceptance.
“In public, we are silent about the fact that some of our fellow parishioners are gay, even though some people are aware of their relationships.
“In private, we are accepting their relationships so long as we don’t have to acknowledge them.
“Such a modus vivendi is not really an ethical resolution to the question. In fact, it is merely a strategy for avoidance.”
Fr. Daly’s analysis sounds a little like “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the former policy of the U.S. military in regard to gay and lesbian service people. While it allows for some acceptance, it is acceptance that is only partial, not full, and worse, it is acceptance that is only conditional. Such conditional, partial acceptance should not be the standard for a Catholic community, and Fr. Daly is aware that while it may be the present reality, it is not a healthy one or a helpful one.
Fr. Daly has been trying to move his parish past this type of impasse. Many parishes that welcome LGBT people do so because the parish leadership has fostered a climate of acceptance and welcome in the community. From several opinions expressed by Father Daly in his essay, it is obvious that he has been in the forefront of setting an example of acceptance and welcome. He states:
“The hyperbolic and harsh language of the church will have to change. It is not accurate, and it is not charitable. . . .So long as gay relationships are truly loving and committed, I cannot see how they are intrinsically disordered. . . .
“For more than 40 years, the language of the magisterium said that all same-sex acts are ‘intrinsically disordered’ and may never be approved in any way. But that certainly is not my experience as a pastor of souls.”
The priest’s approach to offering a welcome has been influenced, or perhaps “supported” is a better word, by Pope Francis’ example of first seeing the whole person, as opposed to individual personality traits.
But Fr. Daly also provides his own theory on how parishes, and particularly priests, can be more welcoming. Of his role as pastor, he says:
“I am not the bedroom police. I do not quiz people on their private lives. I do not know who is sleeping with a boyfriend or girlfriend. I do not know who is cheating on a spouse. But one thing I know for sure: One hundred percent of the people who come to Communion at every Mass in the history of the world are sinners; redeemed sinners.”
Whether or not individual parishioners are accepting of lesbian and gay people seem to be determined by two characteristics, according to Fr. Daly: age and familiarity. Younger people are more accepting than older people. Those who count a lesbian or gay person among their friends or family are more accepting than those who think they do knot know one.
Welcoming LGBT people in a parish helps far more than only the LGBT people. They are also sending a message to another population segment that also doesn’t always feel welcome in Catholicism: young people. Because of the growing strong acceptance of LGBT people by the younger generation, many will not want to stay within a church that only offers condemnatory edicts. As Fr. Daly states, for young people, welcoming LGBT people “determines whether or not they will remain Catholics.” This issue should then become a major demographic warning for church leaders:
“As the older Catholics die off, the church will find very little acceptance of its current negative position on gay relationships. We will find ourselves culturally marginalized in countries like the United States.”
The other group that will similarly be affected are parents and family members of LGBT people. Fr. Daly states:
“Two of my friends who go to other parishes left the Catholic church when their children came out. They simply could not accept a church that judged their children to be ‘intrinsically disordered.’ If someone is put in the position of choosing between his or her child and the church, they will obviously and quite rightly choose their child.”
Fr. Daly’s comments offer sound pastoral advice to other Catholic parishes who want to welcome LGBT people. New Ways Ministry maintains a list of LGBT-friendly Catholic parishes around the country. For more information on how to make a Catholic parish more LGBT-friendly, click on the “All Are Welcome” box in the “Categories” section to the right of this post.
What does your parish do to make LGBT people feel welcome? What effect has this welcome had on the parish as a whole? Write your responses in the “Comments” section of this blog post.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
Related posts about past Fr. Daly essays: