Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton’s speech in defense of LGBT rights as human rights should be required reading for Vatican leaders, who have been shamefully silent on abuses against LGBT people around the world. The philosophical basis of Clinton’s speech is the same basis for Catholic teaching on human rights: the inherent dignity of every individual.
As I read the text of her talk (and followed it on Twitter) I couldn’t help but hear echoes of Vatican II documents which call for respect of all people, regardless of their state in life. I also couldn’t help dreaming a little bit as to what it would sound like if Clinton’s ideas were applied to the Catholic church. For example, the cornerstone of her speech reads:
“Building on efforts already underway at the State Department and across the government, the President has directed all U.S. Government agencies engaged overseas to combat the criminalization of LGBT status and conduct, to enhance efforts to protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, to ensure that our foreign assistance promotes the protection of LGBT rights, to enlist international organizations in the fight against discrimination, and to respond swiftly to abuses against LGBT persons.”
What if Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Thomas Bertone said:
“Building on efforts already under way the Pope has directed all bishops and church officials to combat the criminalization of LGBT status and conduct, to enhance efforts to protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers to ensure that our foreign assistance promotes the protection of LGBT rights, to enlist international organizations in the fight against discrimination, and to respond swiftly to abuses against LGBT persons. “
Nothing in Catholic teaching would prevent him from doing so. What prevents such a statement is a lack of leadership. Clinton herself addressed the topic of leadership in her speech in a beautiful way:
“Leadership, by definition, means being out in front of your people when it is called for. It means standing up for the dignity of all your citizens and persuading your people to do the same.”
As polls continue to show that U.S. Catholics are way ahead of their bishops on LGBT equality, members of the hierarchy in this country are already behind the curve. On the international scene, Catholic leaders could still play a pivotal role in protecting human rights for LGBT people.
Clinton’s speech, though not mentioning Catholic leaders, offered some excellent advice that Catholic leaders should certainly heed:
“Conversely, when we see denials and abuses of human rights and fail to act, that sends the message to those deniers and abusers that they won’t suffer any consequences for their actions, and so they carry on. But when we do act, we send a powerful moral message.”
Catholic leaders need to examine what effect their silence is having on the lives of people.
And in regard to the Vatican’s proclivity to attempt to silence discussionon LGBT matters, they should learn another important lesson from Secretary Clinton:
“No one has ever abandoned a belief because he was forced to do so.”
Though Catholic leaders do not speak out on human rights for LGBT people, Catholic people are making changes in their homes, their parishes, and their communities in support of their LGBT friends and family members. We should not ever downplay these grassroots initiatives. As Secretary Clinton pointed out:
“And to people of all nations, I say supporting human rights is your responsibility too. The lives of gay people are shaped not only by laws, but by the treatment they receive every day from their families, from their neighbors. Eleanor Roosevelt, who did so much to advance human rights worldwide, said that these rights begin in the small places close to home – the streets where people live, the schools they attend, the factories, farms, and offices where they work. These places are your domain. The actions you take, the ideals that you advocate, can determine whether human rights flourish where you are.”
If we want our Catholic church to respect the dignity of LGBT people, we must embody that change in our own lives.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry