The first LGBTQ+ Catholic Youth Summit successfully took place in Minnesota’s Twin Cities metro area last Saturday–despite the fact that the local archdiocese canceled their plans to meet at a local Catholic parish.
More than 100 people gathered Saturday for this inaugural Summit hosted by the LGBTQ+ Catholic Student Coalition in partnership with Justice Office of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and Consociates and OutFront Minnesota. The Column reports it featured Mass, workshops on creating safe spaces in Catholic schools, discussing LGBT issues in faith contexts, and the sharing of personal experiences.
Organizers of this event designed to bring together young people to discuss building a more inclusive church originally planned to hold the Summit at the Church of Christ the King in Minneapolis, but a decision from the archbishop forced them to move to the nearby Edina Community Lutheran Church.
Archbishop John Nienstedt mandated the change because Kristen Ostendorf, fired from a Twin Cities Catholic high school in 2013 when she shared her orientation and relationship status with faculty members, was the keynote speaker. Nienstedt claimed the youth attendees would be “confused about the truth of [church] teaching,” reported The Column.
Others, however, felt that Nienstedt’s concern was unwarranted. Michael Bayly writes at his blog, The Wild Reed:
“The young people who comprise the LGBTQ+ Catholic Student Coalition are quite impressive, wouldn’t you say?…These young people are clearly embodying the gospel values of concern for the marginalized, compassion, inclusion, and justice. Also, their efforts to facilitate respectful dialogue reflect the leadership style of Pope Francis. Given all of this, one would think that these students and their efforts would be supported by the clerical leadership of the archdiocese. Not so…
“Indeed, when it comes to questioning voices and differing opinions around issues of sexuality and church reform, the general response of the chancery under Archbishop Nienstedt (who, it should be noted, remains under investigation for allegations of sexual misconduct with adult men) has been to censor, denounce, and ban. In the context of our shared journey as Catholics, such actions are egregious missteps on the part of our clerical leadership.
“One can only speculate on the impact that the chancery’s banning of the summit from official Catholic property will have on the young members of the LGBTQ+ Catholic Student Coalition. Their Facebook statement puts a positive spin on things, but I’m sure that many of the young people involved are feeling hurt and rejected by the message that has been sent by the chancery’s directive.”
Bayly notes Pew Research Forum data, released the same day that Nienstedt made his decision, confirming that because young people feel churches exclude LGBT people, this new generation is increasingly abandoning the pews.
Parker Breza, a student organizer behind the Summit and its hosting organizer, the LGBTQ+ Catholic Student Coalition, confirmed this harm in an interview with MinnPost. Citing a desire to build bridges between LGBTQ and Catholic communities, Breza continued:
“I’m gay, and I’ve gone to Catholic school my whole life, and I’ve been raised Catholic, so I know how hard it is to have to turn on some parts of your identity and not, depending on which space you’re in…it was very important to us to hold it in a Catholic space, because it’s a Catholic event…
“[F]rom what I’ve been taught through my Catholic education, Jesus loved those who are marginalized by society, he was constantly working for those who were not accepted by the majority, and so I think he would want this event to happen. He wanted to provoke dialogue and to have conversations that people weren’t willing to have, based on what was considered OK at the time. So I really do think if Jesus was around today, he would want this event to be at Christ The King and he would be there.”
Twitter recorded excerpts from the keynote by Ostendorf as she told the attendees:
“Silence and isolation are not who we are…The fear that prompted Jesus’ death didn’t win. It never does. God’s own son, Jesus, lived honestly and asked us to be our whole and best selves…Together let us bring up these fears…Let us make our churches more welcome and open.”
To achieve the goal of an inclusive church requires the slow, diligent work exhibited by those involved with the Summit. Their clarity of mission is refreshing. The Summit leaders were willing to to delve into the complexities of human life.
This Summit proves once again that high school students are a bright light for the church’s future–if the church can respond to their concerns. With each anti-LGBT statement by Catholic leaders, more and more youth leave. Parker Breza and his peers seem to already know what Archbishop Nienstedt does not: Jesus stands with LGBT people and would attend the very events being expelled from our church property. Dialogue and question-raising are not problems for the church, but rather, they are expressions of love for it.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry