Scottish Bishop Says ‘Chaste Life’ Must Be Part of Gay Ministry

A Scottish bishop has asked his priests to include the church’s regulation of celibacy for lesbian and gay people in any ministry that is directed toward them.  The bishop’s guideline comes after a parish in his diocese publicized an extravagant welcome to gay and lesbian people on its Facebook page.

The Catholic Herald reports:

“The Bishop of Motherwell [Scotland] has asked his priests to encourage those experiencing same-sex attraction to ‘lead a chaste life.’ “

“Bishop Joseph Toal issued his statement after a diocesan priest published a Facebook post that was subsequently widely shared. The priest, Fr Paul Morton of St Bride’s Church in Cambuslang, wrote: ‘We must do everything we can to redress the harm that has been done in the past by the negative stance we seem to have taken up [about gay people].’ “

Bishop John Toal

“Bishop Toal said he had been asked about the subject by a number of priests. ‘One such approach commended to me is to make available the Courage ministry/programme,’ he said.”

” ‘This encourages those who live with same-sex attraction to live a chaste life – which is also expected of all heterosexual Catholics who are not married – supported by the sacramental and prayer life of the Church.’ “

This kind of pastoral approach is not only demeaning to gay and lesbian people, it is also ineffective and goes against a principle which the Vatican itself promoted in its 1986 “Letter to the Bishops on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.”  That document states, in part:

“The human person, made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation. Every one living on the face of the earth has personal problems and difficulties, but challenges to growth, strengths, talents and gifts as well. Today, the Church provides a badly needed context for the care of the human person when she refuses to consider the person as a ‘heterosexual’ or a ‘homosexual’ and insists that every person has a fundamental Identity: the creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life.”

In promoting pastoral ministry whose main focus is chastity, Toal not only looks at gay and lesbian people as primarily homosexual, but also assumes that the main struggle that they have is with sexual activity.  This is a demeaning assumption.

Gay and lesbian people show up to church for myriad reasons.  They come with an equal amount of challenges, struggles, strengths, and joys as their heterosexual counterparts.  They come as children of God seeking to deepen their relationship with God.  Pastoral ministry with them must begin with their particular issues and not assume that sexuality is a focus for them.

Most–or I daresay, all–gay and lesbian people who come to a Catholic parish already know the magisterium’s prohibition about sexual activity.  It’s not a secret.

This phenomenon is mirrored by their heterosexual counterparts who know that contraception, masturbation, and pre-marital sex are equally forbidden by the magisterium.  Yet, no one is proposing that pastoral ministry to heterosexual people start with and focus on the church’s sexual teaching.  That simply is not good pastoral ministry, especially in the age of Pope Francis who has been urging accompaniment, encounter, and dialogue as the more effective modes of pastoral care.

The Courage ministry which Toal seems to recommend is a flawed pastoral approach in that it understands a homosexual orientation as a flaw which can be controlled by a 12-step addiction model.  In the U.S., a number of bishops have explicitly rejected such a model.

Bishop Toal needs to look at the flourishing movement of LGBT-friendly parishes who use a more holistic model of ministry that emphasizes welcome, acceptance of gifts and blessedness, and encourages integration of sexuality and spirituality.  He could start by looking at New Ways Ministry’s list of LGBT-friendly parishes by clicking here.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, August 6, 2017

 

CATHOLIC LGBT HISTORY: Gay-Friendly Catholic Parishes List Is Published

“This Month in Catholic LGBT History” is Bondings 2.0’s  feature to educate readers of the rich history—positive and negative—that has taken place over the last four decades regarding Catholic LGBT equality issues.  We hope it will show people how far our Church has come, ways that it has regressed, and how far we still have to go.

Once a  month, Bondings 2.0 staff will produce a post on Catholic LGBT news events from the past 38 years.  We will comb through editions of Bondings 2.0’s predecessor: Bondings,  New Ways Ministry’s newsletter in paper format.   We began publishing Bondings in 1978. Unfortunately, because these newsletters are only archived in hard copies, we cannot link back to the primary sources in most cases. 

Gay-Friendly Catholic Parishes List Is Published

Twenty years ago this month,  New Ways Ministry published its first list of “Gay-Friendly Parishes,”  Catholic faith communities that had begun the process of becoming welcoming of gay and lesbian people.

The list had 33 parishes named in 14 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.  Also included in that list were seven colleges whose Catholic student communities were known to be gay-friendly.  Today there are well over 200 parishes listed, and a separate list for “Gay-Friendly Catholic Colleges and Universities” contains over 100 schools.

The late Father Robert Nugent, SDS, New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, initiated the list based on the contacts he had around the country with pastors and pastoral associates who were doing outreach to the LGBT community.  Many of those parishes were communities who had attended gay/lesbian ministry workshops offered by Fr. Nugent and Sister Jeannine Gramick, New Ways Ministry’s other co-founder.  Fr. Nugent, who had worked many years in parish ministry, was eager to make parishes places where gay and lesbian people felt welcome and could participate openly in community life.  Developing the list was one way of letting the Catholic community know that a movement was growing.

Other motivations also existed to start the list.  It allowed gay-friendly parishes to know that they were not alone in their outreach efforts.  Additionally, it allowed them to network with one another, supporting one another in this new ministry.  Finally, it also helped LGBT Catholics know about communities where they would be welcome.

The gay-friendly parish list received a couple of “boosts” recently when Fr. James Martin, SJ, publicized our list on his Facebook page, asking his followers to suggest parishes they knew of.  Similarly, The National Catholic Reporter featured New Ways Ministry’s gay-friendly parish list on their “Field Hospital” blog, which chronicles contemporary parish life.

Fr. Nugent’s method of collecting parishes was by “word of mouth.”  Twenty years later, New Ways Ministry still learns about new gay-friendly parishes in much the same way.  In the National Catholic Reporter story, New Ways Ministry Executive Director Francis DeBernardo explained how he learns about new additions to the list:

“People tell us.”

DeBernardo went on to explain the composition of the list:

“To be listed, parishes must welcome gay Catholics in a public way, via a bulletin announcement or a project or support group that invites gay Catholics and their families to participate.

” ‘We know our list is not comprehensive,’ DeBernardo said. There are many more parishes where gay Catholics are made to feel welcome. But the criterion used for admission to the list requires a public welcome. ‘It has to be more than a known feeling.’ “

He also acknowledged that while the list is not foolproof, it is very close to being so:

“DeBernardo cannot guarantee that the list is 100 percent accurate. But he claims that it is nearly so. Occasionally, a pastor, director of religious education or social justice minister will leave a parish and that church will become a less welcoming place as a result.

” “But it’s 95 percent accurate,’ said DeBernardo. ‘Once there has been public acknowledgement, it’s hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube.’ “

DeBernardo believes that the recent increase in parishes becoming gay-friendly is likely a result of the influence of Pope Francis:

” ‘I see a lot of parishes being a lot more courageous,’ said DeBernardo. ‘Anecdotally, people are telling me they are freer to do ministry than before.’

 “The pope, he said, ‘has empowered by his lead and example.’ Being a gay-friendly Catholic parish is now much less likely to be seen as a contradiction.”

When New Ways Ministry first published the list in the Summer 1997 edition of its newsletter, Bondings, it was accompanied by an article reprinted from The Maryland Gazette about St. Bernadette’s parish, Severn, Maryland, which had inaugurated a gay outreach ministry.  The founder of that ministry was quoted about the group’s purpose:

” ‘We see ourselves as a welcoming community opposed to discrimination,’  said Ann McDonald, pastoral associate at St. Bernadette Catholic Church.

” ‘We don’t feel like we’re doing anything radical,’ Ms. McDonald said.

” ‘The (Catholic) church has made strong statements against injustice,’ she said.  ‘Yet this is a population we’ve ostracized.’ “

Twenty years later, the ministry at St. Bernadette’s is still alive and well, and, like many parishes on the list, they are still welcoming LGBT people, overcoming the past ostracization.

If you know of a gay-friendly parish, please let us know by providing the parish name, city and state, and website.  Send the information to: office@NewWaysMinistry.org or phone 301-277-5674.  To view the current list, click here.

For Bondings 2.0’s series “All Are Welcome” which chronicles developments in Catholic LGBT ministry as well as providing resources, click here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, July 29, 2017g

How LGBT Catholics Helped Resurrect a New York Parish

In this blog’s All Are Welcome series, we try to assist parishes and faith communities that want to do outreach to LGBT people and their families.  Often in that series, we highlight some steps parishes can take to make that welcome known, and sometimes we highlight the gifts that LGBT people bring to a parish.

This blog post fits into a whole different category.  It is the story of how LGBT people have been part of helping a parish in New York City to thrive in life and attendance, thus helping to save it from being closed or merged in the recent archdiocesan cutbacks there.

St. Francis de Sales Church

NYPress.com recently profiled St. Francis de  Sales parish on East 96th Street in Manhattan, focusing on the incredible growth the parish has witnessed in recent years.  The reporter observed:

The Catholic archdiocese of New York has recently made some tough decisions about consolidating churches throughout the five boroughs, due to lack of resources, declining Mass attendance and difficulty maintaining older facilities. But despite the desolate picture presented to some parishes, St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church on E. 96th St. is thriving and growing, bringing in younger parishioners and catering to the changing populations of Yorkville and East Harlem.

Pastor Philip Kelly speaks about his congregation with a touch of awe for their enthusiasm and willingness to get involved in the parish community, and he credits them with helping to grow the parish from a few hundred weekly Mass attendees to about 600 today.

The pastor and pastoral associate Jayne Porcelli began a program of reaching out to young single people in their neighborhood.  The pastor noted, ““I’d say the average age is 28-30 years old. On Sundays you have to dodge the baby strollers [in the church aisles] – and the scooters.”

But it was the LGBT community in particular played an important role in the parish’s re-birth:

“One of the programs at St. Francis that Porcelli and Fr. Kelly credit with helping to keep the congregation young and vibrant is their LGBTQS Catholic Alliance – a gay-straight alliance group that bills itself as “an inclusive and welcoming fellowship.”

“ ‘I had a very positive experience with my faith and coming out when I was younger,’ said Jay Malsky, who is 29 and the coordinator for the group. ‘When I moved to 102nd and Lexington, [I came to St. Francis], and the message is so clear and welcoming.’

“He said that he wants to help other gay and lesbian Catholics experience the same positive feelings of support and community that he acknowledges they may not have gotten elsewhere. Asked if it truly is an alliance – do straight people join, too? – Malsky laughed. ‘Last night, we were outnumbered,’ he said. Many parishioners join because they have gay family members, or just want to be part of a social group that also shares Scripture readings during their wine and cheese nights.”

St. Francis de Sales statue in parish.

On this blog, we never get tired of noting that the younger generation of Catholics is much more acclimated to LGBT people than any previous generation before them.  For these younger people, the issues of gender identity and sexual orientation pose no problem–even for religious inclusion.  The St. Francis de Sales shows that if a parish wants to attract the younger generation of Catholics, many of whom were alienated from church by previous negative pastoral experiences, the pastoral staff must include LGBT support and spirituality on the parish’s agenda.  As theologian Father Bryan Massingale said at a Pax Christi conference in 2013:

“For the young people I teach, equality for gays and lesbians is their civil rights issue. . . . For young people, the litmus test of the credibility of a religious institution is their stances on LGBT rights.”

The St. Francis de Sales story has another lesson, too.   It shows that LGBT people want to be part of their church and will respond positively to an invitation and signs of authentic concern for them.  And the entire parish can benefit from their gifts and presence.

In many parishes across the nation, participation in parish life by LGBT people has not only been a spiritual boon, but has also helped to re-animate the entire community and often encouraging welcome to other diverse groups.  Pastoral leaders should consider not only the Gospel call to welcome all, but also take note of the benefits that such welcome could have for the entire faith community.

Does your Roman Catholic parish welcome LGBT people?  How has your community benefited by their presence, in practical and spiritual ways. Contribute your answers to the “Comments” section of this post.

To learn more about gay-friendly parishes, click here to read all the posts in our All Are Welcome series or click the “All Are Welcome” button in the “Categories” box on the right-hand side of this page.  You can also visit New Ways Ministry’s list of gay-friendly parishes and faith communities by clicking here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article

Crux.com: “Finding the right parish for gays”

ALL ARE WELCOME: Parish Programs Make Sure LGBT People Have a Place at the Table

The ALL ARE WELCOME series is an occasional feature on this blog which highlights Catholic parishes and faith communities that support and affirm LGBT people. 

Though we report and comment a lot on this blog about bishops and the Vatican and politics and theology, for the vast majority of Catholics the deepest experience of “church” is not at the hierarchical level, but about what happens in their local communities and their day to day lives.  That’s why parish life is so important–and so important that it be a community life where LGBT people and their parents feel welcome and affirmed.  Although there are no statistics about it, I think more people decide whether to stay in or to leave the Church based on what their local pastor or fellow parishioners say to them than anything that is said by the pope or the bishops.

News reports recently from different parts of the country gave a close-up view of the work that several parishes are doing to make sure that LGBT people and family members know they have a place at the table.

The Journal-Sentinel of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, reported on a vibrant program that began ten years ago at Good Shepherd parish, Menomonee Falls, and has since expanded to at least three more nearby parishes.   “Gay and Straight in Christ” was founded by Ann Castiglione, a parishioner whose godson is gay, and since that time she has planted seeds for programs at St. Mary parish, Hales Corners, St. Joseph parish, Grafton, and Our Lady of Lourdes parish, Milwaukee.

The programs at each parish vary, but all share the common threads of prayer, support, sharing stories, and discussing topics that are relevant to LGBT people, such as raising a family as a same-gender couple.  The effectiveness of these programs is evidenced by the testimony of participants and observers. For example, the newspaper article reported:

“John still feels welcome in the church. That’s due in part to his parish priest, but also to a cadre of faithful who gather regularly to pray and explore what it means to be part of the body of Christ, regardless of one’s sexual orientation. . . .

” ‘The Gay and Straight in Christ ministry has been a huge help for me,’ said John, who asked to be identified only by his first name in deference to his wife, who has struggled with the revelation that he is gay. ‘They make you feel that you can still be part of the church and that there are people who are supportive, even if the hierarchy and individual people aren’t.’ “

A local theological expert also praised this type of pastoral program:

“These kinds of ministries are consistent with church teachings on human dignity and conscience, and efforts by Pope Francis to balance church doctrine with mercy and compassion for the ‘messiness of people’s lives,’ said the Rev. Bryan Massingale, who teaches moral theology at Marquette University.

” ‘They are witnessing to the totality of our Catholic teaching, not just teachings on sexual acts … but on the dignity of the person who is loved by Christ regardless of their behavior.’ “

The tension between church teaching on sexual abstinence vs. the individual’s conscience is certainly present in such ministries, but , as Deacon Sandy Sites of  Good Shepherd stated:

“What we are saying is that you are welcome here. Your story is between you and your confessor and God. I don’t care who you are. When it comes to the teachings of Christ, it’s not about the sin, it’s about the person.”

In Baltimore, Maryland, St. Matthew parish has been leading the way in that archdiocese by proclaiming a welcome to LGBT people through their LEAD ministry (LGBT 
Educating and Affirming Diversity), which recently hosted a panel of LGBT people and parents telling their stories so that the wider parish community could learn more about them.  The Catholic Review, the archdiocesan newspaper, reported on the event:

“About 50 people attended the two-hour event, which included a question-and-answer session. Attendees asked for advice on personal situations, including navigating conversations with family members.
“ ‘People find themselves in a confusing place because they have a faith that allows them to be strong in the face of adversity, but they sometimes have a church that’s been challenging them about how they should see their family members who are gay,’ said Father [Joseph] Muth [pastor] in an interview after the event.”
Fr.  Muth also emphasized the healing and reconciling role that panel presentations of personal testimonies can have:
“I think through that storytelling, people begin to see how hurt people have been and how they’ve turned away from the church. With the church’s whole emphasis on this new evangelization, this is a real opportunity to reverse the attitude – to have a more welcoming, compassionate, listening attitude, to tell people they can be included.”
The panel took place while the Synod on Marriage and Family was taking place in Rome, but Fr.  Muth noted that pastoral outreach is not dependent on whether or not the Church changes its teaching on gay and lesbian relationships.  He stated:
“The church teaching may or may not change at some point down the road – that’s not something I can do anything about – but the initial step to people who have felt rejected and put aside for many years is to create an atmosphere of welcome.”
These ministry examples from Wisconsin and Maryland are great models for the increasing number of parishes across the country who are opening their doors to LGBT people. You can find such parishes by checking out New Ways Ministry’s list of gay-friendly parishes and faith communities by clicking here.   You can read more about the LGBT-friendly parish movement by reading the blog posts in Bondings 2.0’s “All Are Welcome” series by clicking here.
If you want information on how your parish can start an LGBT ministry program or develop an existing one, contact New Ways Ministry by email, info@NewWaysMinistry.org, or by phone, 301-277-5674.  We’ve helped scores of parishes expand their outreach in ways that suit their particular situations.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

Catholic and LGBT: Which Is the Harder Coming Out Process?

If you are an LGBT Catholic, which is the harder thing to do:  telling Catholic people you are LGBT or telling LGBT people that you are Catholic?  In over 20 years working with the Catholic LGBT community, I’ve more often heard people say that the latter is much harder than the former.

In U.S. Catholic this past summer, Jeffrey Essman examined why it is so difficult to “come out” as a Catholic in today’s world.  He notes that despite the recent change in tone on gay issues that Pope Francis has inaugurated, too many LGBT people still see religion generally, and Catholicism particularly, as the enemy.  The statistics bear this out:

“A recent Pew Research Center survey of LGBT Americans found that 48 percent of the respondents—more than twice the national average—consider themselves atheist/agnostic or simply have no religious affiliation. Of the 51 percent who do have a religious affiliation, 26 percent are Catholics, and two thirds of that 26 percent consider their own church to be unfriendly toward them. When respondents were asked to list the religions they considered most unfriendly, 8 in 10 put the Catholic Church on the list, along with the Mormon Church and Islam. “

Essman, who took a spiritual hiatus from religion for a while, notes how important it is for gay people to share their spirituality with one another.  In his case, it was another gay Catholic who helped to bring Essman back to the faith:

“. . . [T]he irony here is that it was a former boyfriend, a convert to Catholicism, who got me back into the church. I remember him telling me about his conversion experience, and I had never heard anyone, certainly not a gay man, talk so happily, so assuredly, so emphatically about his faith. Being in a relationship with him was an important layer of coming out for me, but it’s the moment of spiritual honesty that resonates with me still. I’m a Catholic. I’m a gay Catholic. And it grieves me to think that two thirds of my brothers and sisters don’t feel welcome in their own church. No one should feel unwelcome in a church—and certainly not in the church. “

Essman belongs to a New York City parish (which he doesn’t name) which has aided him on his spiritual journey by including him in the community in a way that is both unique and commonplace:

“. . . [G]enuine welcome goes far beyond acceptance and tolerance. Welcome is a joyous absurdity of openness and love, of oneness, and what I love most about my parish is that I’m not a gay Catholic there. I’m just a Catholic. There’s nothing special about me. On the contrary, I am appreciated but otherwise wonderfully taken for granted. It’s a genuine welcome that doesn’t just welcome you to church; it welcomes you to the baptism that made you church in the first place. “

And he reminds us that being part of the Catholic community is really so much more than doctrine:

“when I remember that, I remember why I’m in the church, why I’m one of the 26 percent. I’m not in the church for the catechism, I’m in it for the creed. I’m in it for the light and beauty I experience at the heart of Catholicism, far from any politics—far, even, from a good deal of theology. I’m in it for the spirit of the Eucharist, of scripture, and most of all for the spirit of the people I worship with every Sunday. A couple weeks ago I was sitting next to one of the older members of the parish and was in tears at the simplicity, intent, and quiet joy with which he sang the psalm response. No catechism can touch that. And it’s this experience of the church on the local level—which I think is the important one—that gives me hope for the church at large.”

(Editor’s note:  If you are seeking a local gay-friendly Catholic parish in your area, check out New Ways Ministry’s list of welcoming parishes and communities by clicking here.)

And finally, for Essman, as for so many other LGBT Catholics, reconciliation means coming to terms with both one’s weaknesses and strengths, and in healing one’s past:

“I’m a sinner just like everyone else at my parish, but my sin isn’t my homosexuality. The sinfulness of my being gay is that it tempted me, allowed me—encouraged me, really—to think that I was somehow set off from the rest of society, that I wasn’t really part of the world. The sin of my homosexuality is that it led me to believe lies—deadly, soul-killing lies—a sin for which I am indeed heartily sorry. But by the grace of God I’ve forgiven the people who told me those lies, and I’ve forgiven myself for believing them. And by the grace of the people I pray with every week, by the love they give me and the love I return, I move forward with them into the truth: I am part of society. I am part of nature. And I am very happily part of the church.”

So, how about you?  How did you reconcile being LGBT and being Catholic?  What is it about your faith that you treasure and that keeps you going?  What steps on your spiritual journey have helped you see yourself as a loved child of God?  What is the relationship between your sexuality/gender identity and your spirituality.  Feel free to share your reflections in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Parish Bulletin Tells the Story of a Lesbian Couple’s Commitment

Parish bulletins often tell a person a lot about the atmosphere of a Catholic community.  Even in many gay-friendly parishes, pastors and lay leaders are sometimes reluctant to mention, in print, their welcome of LGBT people. A recent example shows how one parish is working at breaking that wall of silence.

St. Francis Xavier Parish, Manhattan, N.Y., has long been known as a welcoming and affirming community.  They have marched in NYC’s Pride Parade many times, and they have two strong spirituality programs in the parish, one for gay men and one for lesbian woman.  LGBT people are integrated intimately in all aspects of parish life.

Earlier this summer, in the June 22nd, 2014 bulletin of St. Francis Xavier parish, a lesbian couple told the story of their relationship over the course of more than four decades.  Entitled “Forty-Four Years of Love and Commitment,” the short piece by Maria Formoso and Joan O’Brien, describes the difficult early years of their closeted relationship:

“We had the lucky fortune to meet in 1968 when we were employed as teachers in a Catholic high school in New York City. We became a couple in 1970 but we never disclosed it to our parents. It was difficult enough for ourselves to accept this relationship since we had been brought up Roman Catholic in Pre-Vatican II. We tried hard to reconcile our faith and our sexuality.

“Other people whom we suspected were gay were secretive and closeted as well, but we were eager to meet folks with whom we could openly share our lives and our values.”

Little by little, they began to reach out to others for support, including other Catholics:

“. . . at Dignity New York, we met Karen Doherty and Christine Nusse, who started the Conference for Catholic Lesbians in 1983. We were astonished and astounded to meet people from all over the United States who were struggling just like us to live their lives as Catholic lesbians.”

After praising a number of Catholic leaders including Sister Jeannine Gramick, Mary Hunt, Sister Theresa Kane, Father John McNeill, Barbara Zanotti, for their assistance in helping them to reconcile their lesbian and Catholic identities, the couple ended their essay with praise for St. Francis Xavier parish:

“Finally, Christmas Eve 1994, we, accompanied by Maria’s brother José, who also was gay, went to the Church of St.
Francis Xavier. Our good friends Anne and Frank Sheridan invited us. We had not attended mass in a number of years because, as lesbians, we did not feel welcome. The church was packed with people, many standing in the back. Sister Honora Nicholson came to our rescue, and we found ourselves seated on the left side of the altar. The service was beautiful. We were home! “

It was so refreshing to read such a positive piece about a lesbian relationship in a parish bulletin.  It’s quite an example of acceptance and affirmation, and also a wonderful way to educate the entire community about the lived reality of lesbian lives.  It’s a perfect way to let the rest of the parish benefit from the spiritual journey of two of their parishioners.

May other parishes do likewise!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

Catholic Pastor: ‘I am not the bedroom police.’

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?

Fr. Peter Daly

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:

US Catholics Praise Pope Francis in Polling and Words

The Pastoral Dimension of the New Boy Scout Policy on Gay Youth

Message of Hope: ‘No one should feel excluded from God’s love. . . .Ever.’