A somewhat minor news item spoke volumes to me about the important history of a good relationship that Catholic institutions once had with LGBT organizations.
New York’s Daily News reported that an organization of gay NY police officers are seeking to have a street in the city re-named after their founder, Sgt. Charles H. Cochrane. The street, Washington Place, between Grove St. and 6th Ave., was selected because it is the location of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, where the first meetings of the Gay Officers Action League (GOAL) were held.
The story explains that the early meetings of this organization, which took place in the early 1970s were not without controversy and even experienced threats of violence:
“Dr. Patrick Suraci, then a NYPD psychologist, said Cochrane got a call at home from someone threatening to ‘come and bomb the f*****s.’
“And no one bombed the church — cops from the 6th Precinct were told to watch the house of worship.”
GOAL has gone on to be one of the most effective LGBT-rights groups in New York City.
What struck me most about this story is that a Catholic church was willing to host these meetings, especially at a time when LGBT people were still so ostracized from most of society’s institutions, and when violence was all too commonplace. It reminded me that in the 1970s and 1980s, before the pontificates of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, there was a great openness to LGBT people and their concerns on the part of Catholic organizations. During this period, our church witnessed many actions and statements from church leaders, including bishops, about the importance or reaching out to, accepting, and dialoguing with LGBT people. It was a time of great hope and promise.
This news story sparked my memory to the fact that back in 1973, St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City became the first Catholic institution to establish a sexual orientation non-discrimination policy in hiring practices. Given the recent trend of Catholic schools and parishes firing LGBT people, this news is a reminder that Catholics do indeed have a history and tradition of openness on LGBT issues.
This is a tradition that is much in need of revival these days. Let’s hope and pray that the pontificate of Pope Francis will see a renewed openness by Catholic institutions towards LGBT people and issues. It is a very important part of our faith, our tradition and our heritage to do so.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry