Acts of public mourning and solidarity were observed around the nation and around the world in the aftermath of the lone gunman attack in Orlando that claimed 49 lives and left 53 others wounded. Family members identified and began to bury their lost loved ones this week as expressions of regret and sorrow continued to be issued by faith leaders around the country.
One of the first to express his shock and solidarity immediately after the attack was Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago, and in his brief initial statement on June 12, he made a direct appeal to the nation’s L.G.B.T. community. In an interview on America Media’s SiriusXm Radio program “America This Week,” the archbishop spoke with America magazine’s Editor in Chief Matt Malone, S.J., and its managing editor, Kerry Weber. “I wanted to focus my attention on a number of things, first of all the victims, especially members in the gay and lesbian community who obviously were targets here, and I think we had to say that,” he told them.
“You know, 30 years ago the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a letter describing as deplorable the fact that some homosexual persons, as they put it, have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action, and at that time…they said that such treatment deserves condemnation from the church’s pastors whenever it occurs, so I believe it was important to raise my voice in this moment because this is what the church is asking us to do and has asked to do for over 30 years now.”
Archbishop Cupich also suggested that the church can no longer stand on the sidelines in the debate over gun control but had “to address the causes of such tragedy, including easy access to deadly weapons.”
The bloodshed in Orlando, he explained during his interview, “has to provoke a more fulsome discussion on that issue in our country.”
“We have to look at the root causes of all of this,” Archbishop Cupich said. In the gunman, Omar Mateen, the archbishop sees “a very lethal combination of an unstable personality,” psychic conflict and homophobia, the incitement to violence offered by ISIS internet propaganda and “finally, the idealization of guns as the best means to take out one’s rage on others.” But it was “easy access to guns” that made possible the horrific attack,” he said.
“It’s the spark that allows that explosion to happen.”
Archbishop Cupich quickly followed up his initial statement with a letter that was read in Chicago on June 12 before a Sunday night Mass for the lay organization A.G.L.O. (Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach). “Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,” Archbishop Cupich wrote: “For you here today and throughout the whole lesbian and gay community, who are particularly touched by the heinous crimes committed in Orlando, motivated by hate, driven perhaps by mental instability and certainly empowered by a culture of violence, know this: the Archdiocese of Chicago stands with you. I stand with you.
“Let our shared grief and our common faith in Jesus, who called the persecuted blessed, unite us so that hatred and intolerance are not allowed to flourish, so that those who suffer mental illness know the support of a compassionate society, so that we find the courage to face forthrightly the falsehood that weapons of combat belong anywhere in the civilian population.”
The archbishop explained that he has made a point of meeting with members of A.G.L.O. to directly hear of the concerns and experiences of L.G.B.T. Catholics in the archdiocese and “just to get to know who they are as persons.”
“I don’t think sometimes people in positions of leadership in the church really engage gay and lesbian people and talk to them and get to know about their lives.” He explained his personal outreach is an attempt to emulate the example set by Pope Francis.
“The pope constantly talks about those three words: encounter, accompany and integrate. That’s the template for us in our approach to people who feel excluded, whether gay and lesbian or other populations out there. That’s the demand that is before us in this moment, and the Holy Father is taking the lead and I feel the way he is operating is very encouraging, but also very insightful.”
Archbishop Cupich said that integrating marginalized members of the church community can be a source of essential sustenance for struggling individuals, perhaps even someone as spiritually and psychologically conflicted as the Orlando gunman. Was he so marginalized and repressed by his environment that he was “not able to have a healthy way to live an internally free life?” the archbishop wondered.
He agreed that leaders of the church in America have yet to successfully reach out to many gay and lesbian Catholics who feel isolated from the larger church community or alienated by it.
Toward resolving that dilemma, he said: “First of all, I think it’s always important to make sure that we describe people in the way that they describe themselves rather than forcing a language upon them.
“That’s a starting point, it seems to me; it shows respect for people.” But getting beyond labels and “getting to know people as they are is very, very important,” he said. That can prevent categorizing and dehumanizing people.
“We’re all different; we all have our ways of understanding ourselves and the way we live our lives and struggle with our humanity,” he said. “That is not necessarily a challenge,” the archbishop quickly added, “it can be a great joy once you get to know people.”
During the Sermon on the Mount, he said, Jesus “looked at a bunch of people who were struggling, who had oppression against them, who were hungering for different things in life. But what did he do? He looked at the crowd and said, ‘Blessed are you.’
“He looked at where the blessings and the graces were happening in their lives, and I think that the church has to do that as well in lifting people up and helping them cultivate the goodness of God’s graces that are in their lives.”