What would it mean for the institutional church to welcome L.G.B.T. Catholics? What would it mean for church leaders to help L.G.B.T. Catholics feel more at home in their own church? And how can this be accomplished in the context of Gospel values and church teaching? Three recent stories show how: one concerning a priest, one an archbishop and one a parish.
The priest’s story is perhaps the most surprising. The Rev. Bryan Massingale, a highly respected theologian who taught for many years at Marquette University and now serves as professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham University, began a recent lecture with these words: “I come to this conversation as a Black, gay priest and theologian.”
The lecture, entitled “The Challenge of Idolatry for LGBTI Ministry,” delivered at the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics in Chicago, encouraged his fellow L.G.B.T. Catholics to remember that they are “equally redeemed by Christ and radically loved by God.”
Father Massingale’s public statement about his sexuality may seem inconsequential to some in the West. But the number of Catholic priests who are open about their homosexuality (and faithful to their promises of celibacy, of course) in a public way, despite several articles in the last few years, is still infinitesimally small.
The Fordham theologian said that he was moved by being among so many L.G.B.T. Catholics at the conference who had suffered great persecution in their own countries. He told me in an email:
I spoke to them, not just from my head, but also with my heart and from my soul. I wanted to show them how our faith is not only relevant to their struggles for justice, but a strength for the difficult and often dangerous work that they are doing. To do that, I needed to share my faith story, and how I came to accept myself as being created in God’s image as a Black gay man. I said what I said because people are suffering horribly because of who they are and how they love. And I couldn’t ask them to continue being courageous if I wasn’t willing to be courageous, too.
Such openness makes the church more inviting, especially for L.G.B.T. people who wonder if there is a place for them. Examples like Father Massingale’s help them feel welcomed and loved. As he said, “I didn’t do this to ‘come out.’ But to let God’s love for us all to ‘come forth.’”
“I didn't do this to ‘come out.’ But to let God’s love for us all to ‘come forth.’”
A second gesture came in remarks by Wilton Gregory, the recently appointed archbishop of Washington, D.C. Archbishop Gregory is well known for his efforts to welcome L.G.B.T. people in his former archdiocese of Atlanta, where he supported “Fortunate and Faithful Families,” a group for family members of L.G.B.T. Catholics.
In a “Theology on Tap” event, a person named Rory, a transgender person, asked whether there was place in the church for transgender people. Archbishop Gregory answered:
You belong to the heart of this Church. And there is nothing that you may do, may say, that will ever rip you from the heart of this Church. There is a lot that has been said to you, about you, behind your back, that is painful and is sinful.
And so that’s why I mentioned my conversations with Fortunate Families. We have to find a way to talk to one another. And to talk to one another, not just from one perspective, but to talk and to listen to one another. I think that’s the way that Jesus ministered. He engaged people, he took them where they were at, and He invited them to go deeper, closer to God.
So if you’re asking me where do you fit? You fit in the family.
"I think that’s the way that Jesus ministered. He engaged people, he took them where they were at, and He invited them to go deeper."
It was a wise, loving, pastoral answer reminding Rory, along with all those assembled and the church as a whole, that all Catholics are part of the church. It is especially heartening for transgender Catholics and their families to hear this, since for so long they have felt beleaguered in the church.
Finally, with the approval of the Archdiocese of Chicago, a new ministry driven by Catholics in their 20s and 30s is beginning at St. Clement’s Parish, one of an increasing number of American parishes with ministries for L.G.B.T. people. It is called “Affirmed.”
The archdiocese has sponsored the Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach, known as A.G.L.O., since 1988, and St. Clement’s has long been a welcoming parish. But as Michael Bayer, director of evangelization and faith formation, explained, that parish ministry had not been active for several years, and “a group of twenty/thirty something Catholics felt strongly that we needed to be at the forefront of asking how the church can fully integrate, welcome and affirm LGBTQ+ persons and their families.” Mr. Bayer describes the ministry as “lay-led and ground-up.”
When asked what about the new ministry was noteworthy, Katherine Abel, the new chair of Affirmed, said:
The process of building this ministry has taught me just how exceptionally fortunate we have been to have the support of not only our pastor and parish community, but also the Archdiocese of Chicago. Since many other communities do not have the same support and freedom to create ministries like this, our existence seems to be noteworthy.
Ms. Abel described the reaction to Affirmed as “overwhelmingly positive,” having received “notes of enthusiasm from future participants and notes of gratitude from advocates around the country and abroad.” Her prayer, she said, was that soon this kind of ministry won’t be noteworthy at all, “and similar ministries will be popping up all over the place.”
In such ways, through the work of lay people, priests and bishops, are L.G.B.T. Catholics made to feel the “respect, compassion and sensitivity” that the catechism urges, and the love that Jesus came to share. In such ways are they made to know that they are at the “heart of this church.”