The ALL ARE WELCOME series is an occasional feature which examines how Catholic faith communities can become more inclusive of LGBT people and issues. At the end of this posting, you can find the links to previous posts in this series.
Gay-friendly Catholic parishes and communities have sprouted up across the country over the last two decades, and New Ways Ministry has maintained a list of such places both on our website and in every edition of our tabloid newsletter, Bondings. We began the list in 1997 with 20 parishes. Today, the list contains well over 200 communities, and new ones are added frequently.
From time to time New Ways Ministry is asked how we decide if a parish is gay-friendly or not. It’s a good question. We offer some specifics in our newsletter’s introduction to the list where we note criteria: the presence of a support or spirituality group, inclusion of LGBT people in a welcome or mission statement, parish involvement in gay community events, ministry for parents and families of LGBT people, public recognition of the presence of LGBT people in the community.
Our criteria are admittedly broad. While all parishes will have one of these markers that they are welcoming to LGBT people, probably only a handful would have ALL of these criteria. One unifying characteristic among all the criteria is that the parish is giving some sort of public witness to their welcome of LGBT people. We believe that being public about support is a minimum.
One type of parish that we generally don’t include on our list is a parish whose sole criterion is that it is a place where a lot of LGBT people are known to attend, but which does not make any public acknowledgement of their presence or of an explicit welcome. This is the case, sometimes, in urban ministry settings, or parishes that are situated in gay neighborhoods. While these parishes may, in fact, offer a passive welcome, we believe that it is important for them to acknowledge this welcome publicly in order to be on the list. Our rationale is that people who are seeking a gay-friendly parish are people who are seeking a place where they can, if they so choose, be public about their identity. If a parish is unwilling to be public about its affirmation of LGBT people, we are not confident that it will be place that will welcome those who may decide that they want to be public about who they are.
Our purpose in maintaining this list is two-fold. First, we want to be able to help people find a Catholic parish where they will be accepted. Many times people have had bad pastoral experiences at parishes due to LGBT issues, so we want to provide a resource that people can refer to in order to find a place where they can be sure such negative experiences won’t happen.
Second, we want to show that there are indeed Catholic parishes that welcome LGBT people and are concerned about their lives and issues. Too often, people assume that all Catholic institutions are unwelcoming of LGBT people because of negative messages which emanate from hierarchical sources or some pastoral ministers. While these negative views often capture media attention, the reality is that the majority of Catholic lay people, and a good number of parishes, are supportive of LGBT people. This list belies the myth that Catholics are unfriendly to LGBT issues.
How do we maintain the list? The most productive way is by word of mouth. People call, email, tell us in person about a parish in their region that they have experienced as gay-friendly. We always make sure that they can verify at least one public way that the parish makes their welcome known. Once we know that, we put the parish on the list. To make things easier for folks, we have an online form on our website where people can inform us of parishes that are not yet listed.
Word of mouth is also how we find out if a parish on our list has stopped being gay-friendly. This phenomenon, while relatively uncommon, can happen due to some change in the parish—usually the replacement of a pastor or pastoral minister who had been the backbone of LGBT outreach. We appreciate hearing about this change so that we can remove such communities from the list. So, if you have had a bad experience at any place listed, please let us know, and we will try to find out what might have caused such a change.
Of course, we are aware that this list is in no way comprehensive. Though we do hear of many of the gay-friendly parishes around the country, we are sure that there are still many others that we don’t know of. For one thing, many parishes continue to grow in their awareness of being welcoming of LGBT people, so the number of gay-friendly communities continues to grow with each passing year.
So, please do let us know about Catholic parishes in your area that we don’t yet have on the list. Use our online form or simply post the name and location of such a parish in the “comments” section of this post.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
Previous posts in the ALL ARE WELCOME series:
Say the Words, December 14, 2011
All in the Family , January 2, 2012
At Notre Dame, Does Buying In Equal Selling Out? , January 25, 2012
A Priest With An Extravagant Sense of Welcome, February 13, 2012
Going Beyond the Boundaries, April 11, 2012
St. Nicholas Parish Celebrates 10 Years of LGBT Ministry, May 24, 2012
When Homophobes Attack, June 7, 2012
An Open Door Policy for Catholic Schools, July 15, 2012
Memo to Cardinal George on How to Show Respect for LGBT People, August 4, 2012