‘Why does the church hate gay people?’ Boston bishop seeks to listen to young people

People gather at a June 14 candlelight vigil in Manila, Philippines, in memory of the victims of the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla. Philippine Catholic bishops called for vigilance against bullying, ostracism and harassment of gay people in the wake of the incident in which police said a lone gunman killed 49 people early June 12 at the club. (CNS photo/Mark R. Cristino, EPA)People gather at a June 14 candlelight vigil in Manila, Philippines, in memory of the victims of the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla. (CNS photo/Mark R. Cristino, EPA)

When an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Boston asked the nearly 200 students in a high school confirmation class what questions they had for him earlier this month, two themes quickly emerged. First, they wrote him, why did you want to become a bishop? Second, why does the church hate gay people?

The first one was easy, Bishop Mark O’Connell told them, since very few priests set out to become bishops.


But the second question, which he said comes up frequently when he meets with young people, was more difficult for him to answer, not because church teaching is unclear to him, but because the language the church often uses fails to resonate with a generation that increasingly sees kindness as the highest virtue. An experience he had with a student following the listening session earlier this month led him to post a message on Twitter to encourage other bishops to listen to the concerns young Catholics have about fraught issues of gender and sexuality:

“I feel inspired by Pope Francis to find new language to express the beauty of our truth,” Bishop O’Connell told America in a recent interview. And to that end, the bishop, who also serves as pastor of a parish with 2,800 families, has held 22 listening sessions.

A canon lawyer by training, Bishop O’Connell said duringan address at his ordination as bishop last August that church leaders are called to reach out to the “many who feel the church doesn’t want them.” He said part of that ministry includes listening, including to “the many young adults who have nothing but skepticism and doubt when they think of the Catholic Church.”

Bishop O’Connell: “I feel inspired by Pope Francis to find new language to express the beauty of our truth.”

“By naming our own weaknesses, we can develop new language, new ways to explain the soundness of our teaching, new ways to show the beauty and authenticity of our faith to the world,” he said. “If we cannot find the new language, at least we can listen.”

In the interview with America, he made clear several times that he does not question church teaching on issues of gender and sexuality—he is simply searching for better ways to articulate those teachings during a particularly “critical moment” in the lives of young people.

“Giving them a bad explanation of the truth could cause them to lose their faith forever,” he said.

Many students tell him they see the church as “unkind” on L.G.B.T. issues, which he thinks is driven in part by media reports that tell them “we’re a bigoted church” and that Catholics are “bullies.”

“As a generation,” he said of today’s high school students, “they’re kind-hearted, and they don’t like people being put down, bullied.”

“Giving [young people] a bad explanation of the truth could cause them to lose their faith forever.”

He said that after reflecting on their questions he told them, “We’re not against gay people, we have lots of gay members in our church.” He noted that there are priests who are gay and who live chastely. He tries to impress upon young people that the church is “not prejudiced” against gay people but does not shy away from the church’s teaching on marriage.

Attitudes about L.G.B.T. issues among Catholics in the United States have changed in recent years. Catholics as a cohort are accepting of same-sex marriage and believe that businesses should not be allowed to discriminate against L.G.B.T. people in the marketplace. But officially, the church still bans gay men from entering seminaries, though how that rule is enforced varies from diocese to diocese, and sexual relations between people of the same gender are considered sinful. Since gay marriage was legalized nationwide in 2015, there has been a rash of firings of church workers because of issues related to sexuality.

Then there is the issue of language itself, which has caused turmoil between some L.G.B.T. Catholics and church leaders.

Bishop O’Connell said the search for acceptable language is ongoing, noting that even in the L.G.B.T. community language continues to evolve.

James Martin, S.J., an editor at America, published a book last year in which he calls church leaders to use the terms “gay” and “lesbian” when talking about L.G.B.T. people, rather than the more clinical sounding “same-sex attracted people” preferred by many church leaders. Many high-profile church leaders have backed Father Martin on this, though others continue to resist the labels.

For his part, Bishop O’Connell said the search for acceptable language is ongoing, noting that even in the L.G.B.T. community, language continues to evolve. “We need to work on language that we can all agree on,” he said.

The dizzying pace of progress for L.G.B.T. people has also presented the church with new challenges, he said. “These are not old issues,” he said, pointing specifically to the challenges over rights for transgender issues. “Jesus did not say, ‘In 2018, when we speak about transgender people, this is the answer.’”

“Jesus did not say, ‘In 2018, when we speak about transgender people, this is the answer.’”

Bishops, he said, are “struggling” with the issue and are considering, “How do we really be kind?” when formulating policies about bathrooms and locker rooms in church-affiliated institutions.

Young people see the church as a scold, the bishop said, and urged pastors to act like good parents when confronted with parishioners who are unsure about their gender or sexuality. If a child told a mom or dad that she or he is struggling with sexual identity, “a good parent would take that as a real cry for a conversation and not just say, ‘Stop it,’” he said.

In some of the other listening sessions Bishop O’Connell has hosted, he said there are usually two types of participants: “people confused because the church has too many rules” and “people confused because the church ‘took away’ all of our rules.”

“We are losing three generations of people, and we need to hear why.”

While many people have thanked the bishop for holding the listening sessions, he says not everyone agrees with the premise. One person told him that bishops should teach, not listen. But he says he takes seriously the goal of listening to the faithful, adding, “We’re not a church that should be afraid of questions, but I think a lot of people are afraid of these questions.”

When asked how church leaders might better address questions from young people about L.G.B.T. people, he said that first, “We have to stop avoiding it.” He said it is “rare” for bishops to listen to the concerns of young people about these issues, adding, “every bishop should be able to answer these questions adequately.”

But what if the young people are unimpressed with the answers they hear? Well, Bishop O’Connell said, they need to use their voice. “When I was first ordained 27 years ago, our high school students were upset that there weren’t girl altar servers,” he said. Today, it is common to see young girls serving in that role.

“We are losing three generations of people, and we need to hear why,” he said. “So I would encourage my brother bishops to listen, listen to what they’re saying.”

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Charles Monsen
2 years 4 months ago

Robert - thank you - I am sorry to say I have not read Mr. Bray's book. I did some looking around the internet - but I am unclear on exactly what you mean by "sacramentalized" , are you proposing the Church add another Sacrament? Or extend the Sacrament of Marriage to these brother/sister hoods ? Can you help clarify in plain terms what you would have the Church do.

Robert Lewis
2 years 4 months ago

Not sacraments, but "sacramentals"--similar to blessings of houses, ships, etc. A blessing for a pledge of permanent lifelong friendship, of a special, and almost exclusive nature, with the understanding that it is meant to be platonic, and that any deviation from that pledge would be handled privately, in the confessional. I know plenty of elderly and middle-aged gay males, and their greatest fear is loneliness, not the lack of sex in their lives.

Charles Monsen
2 years 4 months ago

I do not know of any teaching of the Church that is against men or women of any age to live together as brothers/sisters - the Church teaches nothing that is the cause of loneliness. On the contrary . I am still not sure exactly what a "sacramental" is. But I don't think there is anything I know off that would prevent a priest from giving anyone his blessing if they ask. I am sure that if two men went to any parish office, made an appointment with a priest, and explained they were going to live together in a brotherly manner, and asked for him to bless them - he would.

Robert Lewis
2 years 4 months ago

It should be in public, witnessed by a parish, so that the Catholic community might help them to keep the promise, in the same way that marriage vows are pledged in public.

Mike Theman
2 years 4 months ago

The power of the media (and its homosexual editors, e.g., James Martin) is extraordinary in that it is more powerful in conveying "what the church teaches" than the Church itself. It's also extraordinary that the Catholic Church with all its power has been unable to correctly convey its teachings to its own followers. Jesus challenged a whole empire's attacks against him. Today's Catholic Church sits back and oftentimes participates in demeaning itself.

If the Church teaching had been correctly conveyed to the child in the article, the question in the child's mind might be "Why does the Church teach that sodomy is wrong?" Of course, if that were the question, the answer would be obvious to any child, and the question replaced with, "Why would anyone want to engage in same-sex sodomy?" A trickier question to answer, for sure.

Stanley Kopacz
2 years 4 months ago

People born with club feet can't walk like the rest of us, the way intended by nature. Therefore they should stay seated and not walk at all.
Then there's people with anomalous speech like stutterers. Shut up.

Robert Peppey
2 years 4 months ago

Didn’t the Church consider people with clubfeet or a stutter possessed and send to the Holy Inquisitor(CDF)?

Patrick Murtha
2 years 4 months ago

No, the Church never considered such a thing...unless Monty Python's Holy Grail is to provide the proof.

Charles Monsen
2 years 4 months ago

I understand the confusion of the young people who asked the question, and many of the posters as well, that have a difficult time understanding the difference between disagree and hate. In the world we live in there is little evidence of amicable disagreement. Where truth is relative, and often argued as fake.

I have no real understanding however on the good Bishop’s difficulty in teaching what the Church believes. One of the great things about being Catholic is we don’t need to guess or opine on what the Church believes on most things. It is clearly written for us, and usually quite easy to find.
As posted above – the catechism is quite clear on this issue. I would also like to add from the catechism:

They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

This should not be a difficult message for the Bishop to teach. It may be a difficult message for many to understand in this secular world. We have been overly indoctrinated by the modern media on the naturalness of homosexuality. Hearing a clear voice in disagreement may seem harsh from their secular point of view.

However the Church teaching is quite clear, and needs to be stated with the spiritual freedom that it is a truth of the Church. If that truth has consequences of offending some, of some viewing this teaching as hateful, or as some above suggest have people leave the Church - so be it.

As to the other points above - there should be no shame in this, it is just sin, and we are all sinners. In the 60 some years I have been going to mass, I never remember anyone stopping me at the door to ask the nature of my particular sin. Nor have I ever seen anyone else ask. The door to my Church is open to all. All are welcome. There is a priest in the back 30 min before mass, if you are in mortal sin, he will welcome your confession, and absolve your sins. On the altar you will see the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary. At communion you can become one with the real presence of Jesus Christ - if that is not love, I do not know what love is.

Dan Acosta
2 years 4 months ago

I see from the number of comments that this topic has struck a nerve. Throughout the world's cultures, much value has been placed in the wisdom of the elders. We are told in the world's literature that the young sit at the feet of the old to learn wisdom. Now our culture decides that modern man should flip that age-old wisdom on its head and the elder should sit at the feet of the "enlightened" and so-much-better-educated and sensitive young to gain insight. Bull. Priests (from presbyteroi=elders) and bishops (from episcopoi=over-seers) have the responsibility to teach the young first the language of virtue and second the life of virtue with the urgency the times require and with the love with which all ages deserve. Young people should learn from the wisdom of the old, not the other way around. Our bishops should heed the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians: "Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong. Your every act should be done with love." 1 Cor 16:13

J Jones
2 years 4 months ago

The Bishop recommends listening to young Catholics. THAT was his point.

And yet neither the Bishop nor many here actually listened to the young Catholic person in the article. This was a Catholic kid in confirmation class and, most likely, a cradle Catholic, a kid brought up in the Church.

A careful listener of the young person"s question and, thus, a careful reader of the title would understand that the young person was asking this: "why does MY church hate gay people?"

Those of you, including the Bishop, who blame anti-Catholic bias and the media and everyone but Catholicism for the lived experience of this young Catholic person, are failing to listen.

You may not hate gay people. When you say you don't hate gay people, I believe you.

I also believe my gay Catholic friends and my own lived experience as a straight Catholic woman that the response to openly gay Catholic kids and adults is often hateful.

At the core of Catholicism is the tension of living with paradox. You don't mean to be hateful and many gay Catholics feel hated by you and by the Church. And many straight Catholics believe you behave and speak hatefully, and you don't mean to behave and speak hatefully.

Just be quiet for awhile. LISTEN to that.

Both things CAN be true. ALL that can be true.

Just be quiet for awhile. Listen to that.

Then pray, "Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening "

Jean Brookbank

James Haraldson
2 years 4 months ago

Truth comes from the mind of God and only the mind of God. It is not a product of the sentiments of any sociological category of any society of any epoch of history. Got it?

Trish Sullivan Vanni
2 years 4 months ago

"Advances in biology, psychology, and the social sciences not only bring men hope of improved self-knowledge; in conjunction with technical methods, they are helping men exert direct influence on the life of social groups." Gaudium et Spes

"For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things,* nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Listening is one thing. Dialog (dia logos, through the word) that will allow hearts and minds to transform is what is needed. Until then, young people (and that would be everyone 60 and younger in the U.S., let's get real) will vote with their feet.

I will add that I am offended, even scandalized, by the bile and slander heaped on Fr. Jim Martin. Shame.

Michael McDermott
2 years 3 months ago

The obfuscation of the underlying truth about the GILBERT Gaystapo Alliance Agenda - is central to this article and the political pogrom targeting the Church and its Teachings.

Using deliberately Sanitized / Gaily Misleading Euphemisms to cover for Objectively disordered Behaviors and Hatreds is central to the Thought Police pogrom being pushed at America. Quite simply, they have to use misleading propaganda terms, or the very facts of the behaviors being pushed will serve to turn their targets against their propaganda.

The Alliance between Homo-Anal Coprophiles, Dyke Misandrists &
Tranny Fetish Freaks is not one of mutual love. in fact they mostly despise each other - and it is only their hatred of the 'Hetero-Patriarchy' and desire to scatter the herd so as to hunt the young that really binds them.

The pathological nightmare of the Homo-Anal 'Conga Line of Buggery' has taken countless lives and ruined many many more. The Infiltration of the Priesthood by Homosex Ephebophiles Targeting Adolescent Boys has done more harm to the Church than almost all outside attackers.

This scam has been de-bunked by many competent sources, all of whom seem to be Censored at America, lest readers get exposed to politically ungood facts and positions that might not serve the GILBERT Agenda.

For a Comprehensive analysis by enlightened professionals SEE:
Presentations from the MassResistance Texas Teens4Truth Conference
Equipping youth and parents to counter the LGBT agenda in schools.
Powerful speakers on vital issues that every pro-family person needs to know!

Michael McDermott
2 years 3 months ago

BTW - Does anyone find it 'curious' that an article about the Radical Homosex Attack on the Church, with ties to the Boston Hierarchy, fails to mention the nightmarish Scandal that resulted from pandering to such evil: SEE

Cardinal Bernard Law, Boston archbishop at center of church sex-abuse scandal, dies at 86

Cardinal Bernard Law, the Boston archbishop who became one of the most influential Catholic leaders in the United States before resigning in 2002 amid revelations that he and other prelates had known for years of rampant child molestation by parish priests, a scandal that has been called the church's darkest crisis of the modern era....

But controversy engulfed Cardinal Law - revelations that church officials had covered up sexual abuse in the priesthood for decades by shuffling alleged offenders among parishes.

Cardinal Law was never accused of committing sexual abuse, and he denounced the offense as a "terrible evil." But for many Catholics as well as non-Catholics, he became a symbol of the church's failure to protect the young from priests who exploited the trust that traditionally accompanies their role...

Massachusetts attorney general Thomas Reilly - released a report on the matter, declaring that "the mistreatment of children was so massive and so prolonged that it borders on the unbelievable."

Although not bearing sole responsibility for the wrongdoing, Cardinal Law, the report found, "had direct knowledge of the scope, duration and severity of the crisis experienced by children in the Archdiocese; he participated directly in crucial decisions concerning the assignment of abusive priests, decisions that typically increased the risk to children."

Among the most notorious offenders in the Boston area was Father John Geoghan. Church documents unearthed as the scandal was uncovered showed that Cardinal Law had known of accusations against Geoghan and still permitted the priest to continue his pastoral work. In all, Geoghan would be accused of abusing 150 children, mainly boys, over decades and in numerous parishes...

More: LGBT / Bishops / Youth

The latest from america

In his own divine depth, the Holy Spirit remains an utter mystery, but we have nonetheless felt his true touch.
Terrance KleinMay 27, 2020
Residents of the quilombola community of Itacoã-Miri, in Pará State, celebrate the festivity of Círio de Santa Maria. The traditional procession was cancelled, so residents stood in front of their homes as a motorcycle circulated with a statue of the Blessed Mother. Photo by Elisa Monteiro.
Their isolation can be a positive—in this case it has kept the coronavirus at bay—“but they can’t count on government health care services and have to deal with a deep racism.”
Asked if he thinks Communion can be distributed safely, Dr. Fauci said “no,” especially in areas still getting the virus under control.
Father Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus and a native of Waterbury, Conn., in an undated photo. (CNS file photo) 
The pope also announced plans to canonize Charles de Foucauld, César de Bus and Maria Domenica Mantovani.
Gerard O’ConnellMay 27, 2020