Michael J. O’LoughlinJanuary 25, 2021
Altar server Angelo Alcasabas prepares the altar during an annual "Pre-Pride Festive Mass" at St. Francis of Assisi Church in New York City June 29, 2019. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

A group of U.S. Catholic bishops, including a cardinal and an archbishop, have signed a statement of support for L.G.B.T. youth, telling them, “God created you, God loves you and God is on your side.”

“As we see in the Gospels, Jesus Christ taught love, mercy and welcome for all people, especially for those who felt persecuted or marginalized in any way; and the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that LGBT people are to be treated with ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity,’” reads the statement, released by the Tyler Clementi Foundation, an organization that fights L.G.B.T. bullying in schools, workplaces and faith communities.

Among those signing the statement were Cardinal Joseph Tobin, archbishop of Newark, and Archbishop John Wester, who leads the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.

“All people of goodwill should help, support, and defend LGBT youth; who attempt suicide at much higher rates than their straight counterparts; who are often homeless because of families who reject them; who are rejected, bullied and harassed; and who are the target of violent acts at alarming rates,” the statement continues.

A group of U.S. Catholic bishops, including a cardinal and an archbishop, have signed a statement of support for L.G.B.T. youth, telling them, “God created you, God loves you and God is on your side.”

“The Catholic Church values the God-given dignity of all human life and we take this opportunity to say to our LGBT friends, especially young people, that we stand with you and oppose any form of violence, bullying or harassment directed at you.”

Archbishop Wester said in a phone interview with America that he signed the statement because he wanted L.G.B.T. young people to know “you have worth, you have value and you’re a child of God.”

A former high school teacher, Archbishop Wester said bullying can be especially toxic for young people who are trying to come to terms with their sexual orientation, especially when either they or others misinterpret church teaching on homosexuality to convey the notion that being gay itself is sinful.

The Catholic Church teaches that homosexuality is “objectively disordered” and condemns sexual acts between people of the same sex as sinful. But at the same time, it says that gay people “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

Archbishop Wester said young L.G.B.T. people may sometimes misinterpret church teaching about homosexuality and incorrectly think they are somehow cut off from God’s love as a result.

Archbishop Wester said that he signed the statement because he wanted L.G.B.T. young people to know “you have worth, you have value and you’re a child of God.”

“We have our teachings, which we prize and cherish, but those teachings need to be understood in the proper context of love and mercy,” he said. “Sometimes people can make equivocations, ‘Well if it’s a sin to engage in a homosexual act, then I must be terrible person.’ The church doesn’t doesn’t teach that and it’s important [young people] don’t get that erroneous impression.”

He added, “I think it’s tragic that young people in the L.G.B.T. community are bullied and made fun of,” calling it “another form of bigotry and prejudice that we see in our country today.”

Bishop John Stowe, who leads the Diocese of Lexington, Ken., told America he signed the statement because he has heard from alumni and students in his diocese’s Catholic schools who said bullying of L.G.B.T. students can be a serious challenge.

“Sometimes offensive remarks were left unchallenged or even laughed at by faculty,” Bishop Stowe said in an email. “I have heard from other L.G.B.T. Catholics that what other students experienced as the best years of their lives were often traumatizing experiences for them as they experienced social rejection and concerns about God’s love for them and whether they had any hope of salvation. Too often these students have felt isolated, sometimes even afraid to get support from parents and family.”

Last year, Bishop Stowe and Archbishop Wester appeared in a video offering support to the L.G.B.T. community. They had been scheduled to attend a conference about pastoral care and L.G.B.T. people, organized by James Martin, S.J., that was rescheduled because of the pandemic. (Father Martin, an editor-at-large at America, assisted the Tyler Clementi Foundation in contacting bishops who might be interested in signing the statement.)

“I think it’s tragic that young people in the L.G.B.T. community are bullied and made fun of,” Archbishop Wester said, calling it “another form of bigotry and prejudice that we see in our country today.”

Other bishops who also signed the statement have previously expressed support for L.G.B.T. Catholics, including Cardinal Tobin. In 2017, he spoke to a group of about 100 L.G.B.T. Catholics who gathered at Newark’s Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, and in 2019, he told NBC News that he found the church’s language around homosexuality to be “very unfortunate” and “hurtful.”

Bishop Robert McElroy, who heads the Diocese of San Diego, also signed the statement. In 2016, he supported the idea that the church should apologize to L.G.B.T. people for historic mistreatment and calling for church teaching on the topic to use “language that is inclusive, embracing [and] pastoral.”

Bishop Steven Biegler of Cheyenne and Bishop Bishop Edward Weisenberger of Tucson, as well two retired auxiliary bishops, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit and Bishop Dennis J. Madden of Baltimore, also signed the statement.

The Tyler Clementi Foundation is named for the Rutgers University student who died by suicide in 2010 following an act of online bullying. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are bullied and attempt suicide at higher rates than their heterosexual peers. Trans students report higher rates of bullying, suicidal ideation and attempts at suicide than non-transgender students. The C.D.C. says schools can help combat suicide by encouraging respect for students and working to reduce bullying and harassment.

Jane Clementi, Tyler’s mother and the co-founder of the foundation, told America the foundation seeks affirmative statements from religious leaders to L.G.B.T. youth because she has “seen firsthand how important it is to have positive messages in religious communities to influence people.”

“I hope that a young L.G.B.T. person will read this statement and feel supported, know they are not alone and know that there are members of their faith community that support them,” Jane Clementi said.

“I hope that a young L.G.B.T. person will read this statement and feel supported, know they are not alone and know that there are members of their faith community that support them,” Ms. Clementi said, adding that she hopes the parents of L.G.B.T. children will not feel isolated if they belong to faith traditions that historically do not support L.G.B.T. people.

This is not the first faith outreach effort by the Tyler Clementi Foundation. It is organizing a campaign aimed at leaders in the Southern Baptist tradition and has tried to combat faith-based conversion therapy programs. On its website, the foundation says, “Treating LGBTQ people as less valued, preaching at LGBTQ people, and calling LGBTQ people’s sexual orientation or gender identity ‘sinful’ are all potential examples of religion-based bullying.”

There are about 430 bishops in the United States, and with just eight signing onto the statement, Ms. Clementi, who was raised Catholic and who today attends a Protestant church, said she hopes others will sign on as well.

“We’re trying to start a conversation,” she said, noting that the statement “does not go against any Catholic teaching, which I have come to know as being a message of love, mercy and inclusion.”

“That is so important for the church to shine to the world,” she added.

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