Archbishop Apologizes for Predecessor’s Insensitivity to Lesbians and Gays

The archbishop of New Orleans made a short statement recently that speaks volumes about how far the Catholic Church–and the greater society–has come in the past 40 years with regard to LGBT issues.

UpStairs Lounge after the fire.

UpStairs Lounge after the fire.

This past weekend marked the 40th anniversary of a fatal fire in a New Orleans gay bar, The UpStairs Lounge, that claimed the lives of 32 people, and dozens more critically injured.  Because it was started by arson, the event is considered the largest mass murder of gay people in U.S. history, according to The Daily Mail.  

In 1973, Archbishop Phillip Hannan, the powerful head of the New Orleans archdiocese, did not say a word about the tragedy, not even an expression of sympathy and support for victims and families.  Neither did New Orleans mayor Moon Landrieu, and many other city leaders.

Archbishop Gregory Aymond

Archbishop Gregory Aymond

40 years later Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans has issued an apology for the church’s silence in 1973.   In an email to Time  magazine, which recently carried a story about the fire, Archbishop Aymond stated:

“In retrospect, if we did not release a statement we should have to be in solidarity with the victims and their families. The church does not condone violence and hatred. If we did not extend our care and condolences, I deeply apologize.”

A simple statement, but one that reflects how much times have changed.  Other details of the event recall the oppressive environment that gay and lesbian people suffered just 40 years ago.  According to The Daily Mail:

“Out of fear and shame, some family members of the deceased refused to claim the ashes of their ‘loved’ ones.

A plaque  that is now  at the site of what was the Upstairs Lounge in 1973.

A plaque that is now at the site of what was the UpStairs Lounge in 1973.

“On the issue of identifying the victims, Major Henry Morris, a detective with the New Orleans Police Department said, ‘We don’t even know these papers belonged to the people we found them on. Some thieves hung out there, and you know this was a queer bar.’

“Churches were either silent or subtly suggested the victims deserved what they got, most refused the use of their facilities for a memorial service.

“Father Bill Richardson of St. George’s Episcopal Church, however, believed the dead should have a service.

“He graciously allowed, over the protest of many parishioners, the use of St. George’s sanctuary for a prayer service, which was attended by roughly 80 people.

“He was subsequently chastised by his bishop and received no small amount of hate mail. Days later a Unitarian Church also held a small memorial service.

“A larger service was held on July 1 at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church on the edge of the French Quarter.”

In addition to the current archbishop making up for the errors of one of his predecessors, the current mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu, is making for the negligence of the former mayor who was his father by issuing a commemorative proclamation.

While we pray for the victims and their families at this sad milestone, we pray in gratitude for Archbishop Aymond’s acknowledgement and apology.  We pray, too, that the entire Catholic Church–hierarchy and laity–will work together so that events like this tragic one will never happen again.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

10 replies
  1. duckman44625
    duckman44625 says:

    There have been many martyrs – “saints” – in the battle against homophobic hatred/bigotry. There have been many changes and of recent it would appear the move for equality of LGBT people has accelerated. It is very difficult to reject persons you know – regardless of their orientation. We gays are feared because we are not understood…fear breeds hatred…hatred begets violence. So when you loved family member, neighbor or friends are gay, acceptance is born.

    • Valerie McGowen
      Valerie McGowen says:

      Well said, David. Progress is being made, albeit slowly, but it is coming. Thank you so much for loving mine.

  2. Judy Lorenz
    Judy Lorenz says:

    It is stunning to me when I hear these stories. It was like I was in a bubble growing up with the mentality that homosexuals existed… but barely; what they did was wrong but something I had no need to concern myself with. When the LGBT rights movement got going I was totally ignorant of why it was necessary and really had no compassion for the cause. I wasn’t hearing these horrible stories either or was I… and not responding? History has a way of pointing out the sad reality of what was vs what is – for better and for worse. I’m glad I am on the positive sign of history at this point in my life and I apologize to the LGBT Community for past judgments.

  3. Lydia Lombardo
    Lydia Lombardo says:

    How disappointed Our Lord must have been at the flagrant injustices manifested by the community after the fire. Thank God the Archbishop apologized and the son of the mayor….but it took 40 years. Only when the Catholic Church, like the New Orleans Archbishop, continues to apologize for the hurt it has caused so many people, will I stop thinking of leaving forever the church of my birth. I can’t bear to hear about all the sins everybody is “committing” any more. I need to hear ONLY about God’s Love for a good long time.

  4. hydrochloriawk
    hydrochloriawk says:

    Sorry, I’m not really impressed. ” If we did not extend our care and condolences, I deeply apologize.” IF we did not extend our care and condolences? The record shows you did not. This is like saying “I’m sorry if you’re hurt”. When people apologize for grave wrongs vaguely and don’t mention explicitly what they did wrong and firmly denounce it, I stand sort of unconvinced of their contrition. I’m sure I’m being overly judgmental, but this apology is not nearly enough.

    • Barbara Blough
      Barbara Blough says:

      I’m with you, hydrochloriawk. I have to say, “IF”? “IF”? He said it TWICE. “IF”!!!! I don’t really think of these kinds of statements as true and proper apologies. There is NO “IF”! It is a FACT that no one addressed the event at all at the tome. No one in the Catholic Church offered a venue for a memorial service. There is no “IF”!

  5. ChrisMorley
    ChrisMorley says:

    Francis, I really don’t think the Archbishop’s “short statement … speaks volumes about how far the Catholic Church–and the greater society–has come in the past 40 years with regard to LGBT issues.”

    Two things: a key fact you (and the Daily Mail) seem unaware of is that the Archdiocese appears to have issued strict instructions to all its parishes to provide no funeral services in its Churches, nor to bury the Catholic dead. The Archbishop’s ‘apology’ completely ignores this dire neglect of the dead, their family and friends in the aftermath of an appalling tragedy.
    Secondly, as hydrochloriawk and Barbara Blough have also noted above, his ‘apology’ was entirely conditional and not, to my mind, a true and proper apology at all. These words would not be adequate for Confession and absolution I think.
    I posted a detailed comment on it at

    and Bill responded to that comment with his own post:


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] to LGBT communities. In 2013, he announced a new outreach initiative in the archdiocese, and apologized to the LGBT community for the Church’s silence in 1973 when 32 people were killed and dozens wounded in an arson fire […]

  2. […] of respecting people is respecting their freedom.’ “ In June, Aymond apologized to the LGBT community for the Church’s silence in 1973 after 32 people were killed and dozens wounded in an arson […]

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