Conference Promotes Dialogue About Voices of Sexual Diversity and the Church

Catholics academics, professionals and pastoral workers were among the speakers at a recent Fordham University conference, which sought, according to the program, to “raise awareness and generate informed conversation about sexual diversity issues within the community of faith and in the broader civic world that the Catholic Church and the Catholic people inhabit.”

The conference, held on Sept. 16, was titled “Learning to Listen: Voices of Sexual Diversity and the Catholic Church,” and was the first of a four-part series called “More than a Monologue: Sexual Diversity and the Catholic Church.” The series also will include conferences hosted by Union Theological Seminary, Yale Divinity School and Fairfield University. Although the conferences are thematically connected, each one has been independently planned by its respective institution. Each one seeks to more clearly depict the experience of people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender in the church.


Approximately 370 people attended the Fordham conference, which was made up of three panel discussions. During a press conference, Paul Lakeland, the Aloysius P. Kelley, S.J., Professor of Catholic Studies and Director of the Center for American Catholic Studies at Fairfield University, said that while many people are aware of the church’s teachings on sexual ethics, he hoped the conferences would help speak to issues that are not directly addressed by those teachings.

“When you say more than a monologue, people say, ‘Oh, the bishops are the monologue, and now we want to get all the other voices in,’ but that’s not strictly the case,” Lakeland said. “There’s a monologue in the sense that: wherever you stand in the debate on sexual ethics, that’s a sort of monologue.” Views on both sides are often one-dimensional, he added. “But when we ask questions—What is the experience of gay and lesbian Catholics in the church? Or what about teen suicide? Or what about the relationship between the church and the legal system as they look at same-sex marriage? Or what about the complexities of life for gay and lesbian Catholics who engage in pastoral care in the church?—we’re not in that one-dimensional thinking, having a go at church teaching or trying to persuade people that it’s right. Rather we’re expanding people’s sense of what the life of gay and lesbian Catholics is like, and the many ramifications in the church and what that means for everyone.”

Lakeland said that, while bishops have “had conversations with the presidents of both of the Catholic institutions involved,” they have not issued any public statements regarding the series.

Christine Firer Hinze, Professor of Theology and Director of the Francis & Ann Curran Center for American Catholic Studies at Fordham University, said that the theme of listening was chosen for the Fordham conference because it is “something very basic to the academic life, as well as the life of faith.”

Hinze said she hopes the conference provided “space for fruitful reflection and discussion” for everyone who attended, but “especially for people who care about and have been touched by these issues, in many cases painfully and traumatically so, and who nonetheless are haunted by the sense that when the power, beauty, potential and challenges of sexuality and the power, beauty, potential and challenges of the Catholic faith are consigned to separate, hermetically sealed-off worlds, no one gains, and everyone is the poorer.”

During the conference, Deb Word, whose talk during the first panel received a standing ovation from the attendees, shared her experience of raising her son, who is gay, and of housing homeless gay and lesbian teenagers, who have been shunned by their own parents. Word is part of a grassroots movement called Fortunate Families, which provides a support network primarily for Catholic parents of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender children.

“We see kids who think they are un-loveable because of their orientation,” Word said. “We help kids who have been suicidal over parental rejection. We love them and we let them know that God loves them as well. These are God’s children, but somehow that message has been lost, and we need to find a way to shout that message louder than any other.”

Other speakers on the Word’s panel were: Kate Henley Averett, co-editor of “From the Pews in the Back,” who shared her struggle with being both Catholic and lesbian, and her ultimate decision to leave the church; Michael Sepidoza Campos, Ph.D., who is gay, described his decision to join, and eventually leave, the seminary and his current work as a high-school teacher; Hilary Howes, a transgender activist who expressed her experience as a convert to Catholicism and the uncertainty surrounding her place in the church as a transgender female; Eve Tushnet, a freelance writer, shared her experience as a Catholic convert, and the joys and challenges of her decision, as a lesbian woman, to lead a lay, celibate life.

Tushnet said that by sublimating feelings of eros, she has found her vocation through service and friendship. “It was through loving service and connection to women, among other things, that I was able to express my identity as a lesbian while being celibate,” Tushnet said. “I wish someone had told me how much I would have to fight for both parts of being gay and Catholic.”

Tushnet said many people suffer due to a general lack of respect for friendship outside marriage, but that she found comfort during her discernment by praying to Oscar Wilde and St. Joan of Arc, among others. She said gay teens need to see more examples of “joyful, fruitful, celibate lives of service” in the church.

Many panelists shared stories of navigating the tensions between their faith lives and their sexuality, and expressed the hope that, as practicing members of the church, they could help to shape the conversation around such issues. “Was I at home in the Catholic Church?” Sepidoza said. “Eh, yes and no. Was I at home in the gay community? Eh, yes and no. But among these tensions were many experiences that were lifegiving.”

Howes also saw the beauty in her own experience as a transgender Catholic. “I got more heat for coming out as Catholic, than coming out as transsexual,” she said. “But there is so much that is good in the Catholic Church, and it isn’t going away.”

John Falcone, a professor at Boston College, spoke during the second panel about his struggle to define his professional identity in relation to his personal identity, which includes the fact that he is gay. “Catholics are my people and I am not giving them up,” he said, “but for me to save my own faith, I’ve had to step outside of it and question it.”  

This kind of critical thinking and re-examining of oneself and ones faith is part of what it means to be Catholic, and isn’t limited to academics, Hinze said. “Catholics are bound to always listen out for what is true,” she said. “And in any era, there are new things that may be found to be true or old things that may be confirmed to be true. So this is the job of the university in the Catholic tradition but also anybody who is in the Catholic tradition, whether one is a bishop or teacher or person in the pew.”

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Vince Killoran
7 years 4 months ago
I followed the links and read the programs for this conference series-it looks like a great balance of lay & clergy, academics and advocates.

BTW, I'm not certain why Brett keeps writing about Dan Savage.  He's not on any of the programs.
Anne Danielson
7 years 4 months ago
As the mother of a daughter who struggles with a disordered homosexual inclination, I assure you that it is because I Love my daughter, as I Love all my children, that I want her to develop healthy and Holy relationships that are grounded in authentic Love. It is because I Love my daughter, as I Love all my children, that I do not want her to engage in demeaning sexual acts that do not respect the inherent equal dignity of the human person. It is precisely because I Love my daughter and because I refuse to condone the engaging in or affirmation of demeaning sexual acts, that I have become a target for those who claim that to discriminate between appropriate and inappropriate sexual behavior, is to discriminate against a person.

My daughter is a beautiful, young lady, who suffers from a developmental problem, that I know, having watched her grow and develop from the time she was a child, was greatly influenced from a date rape she experienced in College. When she continued to suffer trauma from this date rape, she sought the wisdom of her Catholic, Jesuit University and her so called "friends", who suggested that her continue depression and trauma might actually be the result of a innate homosexual inclination. At no time did her counselor suggest that she speak to her parents about their "diagnosis" of her continue trauma. Do not be fooled into believing that "In Loco Parentis" exist, as The State has become the parent, and Catholic Universities have made no attempt to argue that this is in direct violation of our Right to practice our Religion in private as well as public.

Do not be fooled into believing that if you are the parent of a child who suffers from a homosexual inclination and understands that through authentic Love and guidance that will help heal their wounds your child can learn to develop healthy and Holy relationships grounded in authentic Love, that a Catholic University will act on behalf of your child and in your child's best interest. In our case, we were not informed of our daughters struggles as she continued to be indoctrinated by those who have diagnosed the suicidal thoughts of those who suffer with a homosexual inclination to be the result of the refusal of their Loved ones to accept them as persons, rather then the desire of Loved ones that their beloved receive the appropriate care and Love they deserve so that they can develop relationships and friendships that are grounded in authentic Love.

I patiently await a response from The Bishops in regards to the dissention in His Church, but I fear the only thing we will hear is the sound of silence. No Loving parent would ever abandon a suffering child. Let us all Pray that all those who continue to suffer experience the healing that can only be found through authentic Love, The Word of Love Made Flesh. Our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Robert Dean
7 years 3 months ago
Sorry, Mr. Lyons. Really none of my business anyway. Forget I asked.
Thomas Rooney
7 years 4 months ago
The affiliation with Savage dampens what could be a very fruitful dialogue indeed.

For some reason, this quote from the article struck me:
“I got more heat for coming out as Catholic, than coming out as transsexual,” she [Howes] said. “But there is so much that is good in the Catholic Church, and it isn’t going away.”

This speaks volumes of where we are as society and Church...there's so much misunderstanding, so much talking past each other, so much clapping our hands over our ears and yelling out doctrine or ideology hoping to just drown the other voices out in favor of our own.  Howes paints a bleak picture with her statement...and yet it is bursting with hope at the same time.  

I pray the message of this conference doesn't get drowned out by the antics of a poorly chosen messenger (Savage). 

David Harvie
7 years 4 months ago
I am not sure that I get Mr Joyce's point by linking Dan Savage to this conference for unless he has some inside information, Mr Savage has nothing to do with the conference.  Yes, Mr Savage has some deeply held positions that run contrary to our Church but he has also in his own way reached out to let our LGBT children know that life does indeed get better.  In that respect, he has acted as the good shepherd in a way that our church leaders have not.   The whole purpose of this conference is to initiatate a dialogue where Mr Joyce and Mr Savage might respectfully find some common ground.  Both our Church and the LGBT community would do well to seek out that common ground and try to build the kingdom together.

I look forward to the next three days of this conference and I applaud the two Catholic  Jesuit institutions that are spearheading this much needed dialogue.  AMDG.
Craig Hanley
7 years 4 months ago
Dialogue until the cows come home.

Then choose between the paths of life and death. 

Vince Killoran
7 years 4 months ago
I see now that Savage is speaking at Union Theological Seminary-I was looking at the two Catholic university programs.  We've been over the Savage issue on this website many, many times.  I don't share all of Savage's views but, then again, the Church hasn't labeled me "disordered."  I do think his "It Gets Better" campaign is a great one.

As for Steinfels piece, I guess people can follow the link and read it in its entirety. He is hardly critical, however, of the series:  

"What probably unites this diverse group of planners and organizers is a common conviction that the status quo is spiritually and institutionally costly. I share this view. Gay and lesbian people are alienated from the church, with the consequent loss to them of spiritual resources and to the church of their gifts. Friends and family members are pained, perplexed, or angered. Growing numbers of young people fail to see anything in the church’s teaching except bigotry, one more strike against the faith that they are apt, at that time of life, to be reassessing." 
Michael Barberi
7 years 4 months ago
The Fordham University conference is a geat beginning and I hope more similar conferences flourish.

The sad tragedy is that the Church Hierarchy will not attend these conferences because they believe that by repeating doctrine that has not been recieved, will suddenly cause the laity, et al, to become enlightend by an ephiphany. In the meantime, the issues of homosexuality, divorce/remarriage, contraceptoin, the use of codoms for serodiscordant couples, and abortion to save the life of the mother when the fetus cannot survive under any circumstances, will remain a silent issue behing the walls of the Vatican for decades. Thank God for those that pray for reform are also trying to do something about it. 
7 years 4 months ago
There are several reasons why most bishops won't attend such encounters - let me list a couple:

1) To have a genuine dialogue both parties must have some hard and fast definitions of core terms and concepts that they each hold to be true and over which they disagree. In this area, while the Catholic Church does indeed have a very deep and ancient list of self-understanding and definitions with respect to human nature, gender, sex, sexual acts, free will, etc. the other side, the LBGTQ? side does NOT have a core doctrine or core unchangeable definition of human nature, gender, sex, good actions, bad actions, etc.

2) To have a genuinely useful dialogue it helps that both sides know what the other claims - but as the pro-sexual hedonism crowd have proven repeatedly, their understanding of Catholic doctrine is 2 dimensional and often outright wrong. Take their twist of the Catholic understanding of what a 'disorder' is: they insist that the Church sees "disorder" as a moral fault, ergo, those with SSA "must be hated as sinners" by the Church etc. etc. while in reality, the Church sees "disorder" as just that: a defect of nature, not a moral fault. Other disorders include depression which does indeed impair people's objectivity but does not remove dignity or value.

3) One side has a settled understanding of what human nature is and what rights are and are not.... the other side does not know what human nature is and has a moving goal post of what constitutes rights vs. duties. So again, how do adults discuss something when one side keeps moving the goals, using equivocal language, etc.?

4) The problem of brass tacks: Bishops are not owners of Catholicism Inc. Thus they are not free to change dogma or doctrine. It's not up to them to determine what is good or evil, sinful or holy. They are witnesses - as are we all - not creators. On the other hand, the pro-anything goes crowd insist that human beings are creators of good and evil and that willing something (or feeling really good about it) makes it so. So what point would there be for a bishop to dialogue with a crowd that claims "the problem" is the Church's wrong teaching (which begs the question that they are proven right) when the inevitable response must be - that the Church is right and the crowd is wrong?

Are the pro-sexual hedonist crowd willing to place their own fundamental premise up for grabs while they insist bishops must be willing to do so too?

5) The pearls before swine problem. Anything to do with sex arouses (pun intended) passions in people these days. So it happens with those with SSA.... they insist that they are perfectly healthy, perfectly sane, perfectly mature....but try telling them that they're disordered but that's OK because therapy and grace is available to help them live celibate lives or find happiness in chastity or heterosexual marriage and see what happens. Spontaneous combustion is what happens. Cat calls, howls of rage and wrath is what happens. All why shouting down that we're the bullies, we're the aggressors, we are the 'bad guys' who are "no different than the abusive person X of their past". Uh huh. So..... phenomenologically that's what's called "proof" that someone is not in full control of their faculties and emotions. Of course their over-reaction is blamed on us but normal, healthy, sane people don't blow up when disagreed with.
7 years 4 months ago
Suppose for argument's sake that some "catholic" group began promoting polytheism. They got a bunch of theologians to sign on to the program of advancing some theory that asserts that God isn't a single nature (one "what") with 3 persons (three "who's") but in fact is actually a family or tribe of dozens of seperate personal beings. Say, all living on Mount Olympus.

Now, since this is their assertion and they claim that until the Church recognizes their ideas as now and always right, mature, good and holy, they are intolerably persecuted and harmed by blinkered old men.... would a forum for "dialogue" be what's needed?

On the one side, Old man in a mitre who says "no, there is only 1 God but He has revealed Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit" and on the other a crowd of folk who claim that that's entirely wrong but that really there are lots of gods (and oh by the way this means that the crowd can make up other moral rules on their own from now on...)

What are the chances that a 'dialogue' will help matters? Let one side base itself on accepted revelation and the other side base itself on ever changing opinions and feelings considered on par with "old men and their claimed revelations" and what hope for some "progress" would there be? How could there be "progress" if these were the terms?

Now on the other hand, if the dialogue was an attempt by each side to marshal evidence that BOTH AGREED WAS VALID to back up their point of view... that would give us a chance. But this is impossible between Monotheists and Polytheists except via public miracles/theophany ala Elijah and the priests of Baal.... or between the Church and those who claim sexual activity outside heterosexual monogamous marriage is perfectly healthy and holy.
Robert Dean
7 years 4 months ago
Mr. Lyons, you just seem so angry in so many of your posts. I mean to ask you this kindly: Are you in pain about people who love those of the same gender?
7 years 3 months ago
Kent, reply to my arguments with counter arguments. It doesn't matter whether I'm "angry" or not. All that matters in a 'dialogue' is whether I'm right or wrong.

After all, we're debating a topic that is directly related to our eternal salvation. If the Church is wrong, then faithful catholics are going to face a stern judge and hell fire. If gays are wrong, then they will face a stern judge and hell fire.

So emotions matter not a wit. What matters is whether we can know objective truth and whether we stand in obedience to it or not (utterly regardless about our emotions).

If it makes you feel better to think I'm angry then go for it. Does anger automatically make a person wrong? If so, then would this automatically make victims of priestly abuse 'wrong'? Or victims of racism 'wrong'?
Vince Killoran
7 years 3 months ago
John keeps referring to "the Church" and gays as if they are facing off against each other.  I thought we were all the Church.
7 years 3 months ago
The Church is populated by angels and saints, the living and the dead. The Church, as a historical reality includes a precise self-understanding as mystical body in union with the Lord- who taught us a definite Gospel, who gave his teaching authority to a definite group of his followers, which have decided on that authority certain moral codes of conduct which all of us must abide in order to consider ourselves "faithful" to this body and to Our Lord.

That's on one side.

On the other are folk who may call themselves Catholic, but whose 'faith' and morals - whose ultimate allegiance is not to God and the visible teaching authority God vested in the bishops but to their own shifting "consciences" which are informed not by Catholic teaching but by fads from the secular world.

So the Church has always taught that sexuality ought to be reserved for heterosexual monogamy - all those not married ought to be celibate. The non-Christian world has always taught that pretty much anything goes.

In this "dialogue" we have one group claiming that they can be "good Catholics" while teaching a doctrine of morality at odds with the whole of historic Catholicism, not by some sudden discovery of scripture or magisterium or saints and mystics ala the Acts of the Apostles visions that led to baptism of pagans....but based on their subjective but sovereign "consciences" which boil down to their willfulness.

This group then wonders why the bishops won't 'engage' them in "dialogue"?

YOU guys can't even engage ME in a debate on the merits, on the arguments. It goes immediately to "oh you're just angry" or other sneer.

Fact is, I don't think a dialogue is possible because the anti-Bishop side simply hasn't thought their arguments through - they rely almost entirely on rhetoric.... and they don't exibit the capacity to handle disagreement without personalizing it in terms of 'hatred' or 'anger' - as though those are the sole origins of any disagreement! (Project much?)
7 years 4 months ago
I appreciated Paul Lakeland's definition of monologue in this article.  Having attended the conference at Fordham, I can verify that, in fact, it truly was ''more than a monologue.''  A variety of opinions and perspectives were represented not only by the diversity of panelists but by the robust participation by the audience. 

One voice and set of ears lacking at this event were those of the Catholic hierarchy.  Only one bishop, a retired auxiliary, was present in the audience. 

I do not fault the organizers of the program for this absence.  In my full time ministry, I serve as director of New Ways Ministry, a national Catholic bridge-building miinstry for lesbian/gay Catholics and the wider Church community.  From my experience of 17 years in this field, the group in the Church who are the most difficult to engage on this topic are the bishops.  Few are willing to listen to the people in their dioceses who have experienced negative messages and actions from church leaders either because they are gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender or because they support such people.  This refusal to listen is a grave error in pastoral judgment.

Especially on this issue, our church needs fewer walls and more bridges.
PJ Johnston
7 years 3 months ago
Of course LBGTQ Catholics are "angry".  Unless one agrees to internalize one's suffering as acceptable instead of trying to transform the social circumstances that lead to it, one is probably going to be angry.  Excluding saints whose specific charism is patience, it is only the mainstream - people who don't have to fight for social acceptance because they already are fully accepted - who possess the rare privilege not to be angry.
Vince Killoran
7 years 3 months ago
"YOU guys can't even engage ME in a debate on the merits, on the arguments. It goes immediately to "oh you're just angry" or other sneer."

You're a legend in your own mind, right John?

As I read exchanges with you over the last several months I've noticed a few things:

1. Your post are quite lengthy. You would think they would be filled with insight from theologians, Scripture, etc.  Instead, they usually contain heaps of raw self-assertion.

2. Most of them go right to dividing Catholics into "good Catholics" and "bad Catholics" (e.g., just today you characterized those who disagree with you as the "pro-sexual hedonist crowd").

3. You adopt a kind of static view of Church teachings while, in fact, the Church is a living, growing body that has changed with new insight over the centuries (e.g. slavery). As much as you might wish it to be an unchanging military-like body, it just ain't that way.

To your assertion that "The Church is populated by angels and saints, the living and the dead" I would add that it is a Church of sinners and those who struggle to live out the Gospel in the 21st century.

Now, if you will excuse me I have some intensive television watching to do.

Bill Freeman
7 years 3 months ago
Why is it that with every article on same-sex issues Brett Joyce and John Lyons rage?  Why is this issue a contniual focus for them?
Kang Dole
7 years 3 months ago
They're trying to fix the internet.
7 years 3 months ago
No, we're just showing (again) that the other side, the people supposedly all in favor of "dialogue" and an open mind to new ideas - unlike hidebound conservatives I suppose - refuse to actually engage in "dialogue" when challenged.

Pick an topic, pick a subject. Liberals assert X and we'll counter with Y. Liberals - rather than counter-argue go immediately to the sneer, the laugh, and casual putdown.

All while claiming to be SO brilliant, so intellectually astute that their side will always win on the merits and hence, to oppose them must be from bias or prejudice and not possibly from another cogent point of view.

I've been waiting to see your sides' intellectual firepower for some time. If the best you have against Bishops (or the Church) is what thin rhetoric and strawmen served up here.... is it any wonder why the Church won't "dialogue"? Is it any wonder why liberal/progressive orders, dioceses, and parishes are imploding? Or why your ideological camps are dissolving before the Tea Party onslaught?


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