As marriage equality continues to expand around the U.S. and around the globe, Catholic parishes, schools, hospitals, and charitable agencies have to respond to the new civil reality. Some of these institutions are set on exclusion and conflict with the secular world, while others take the path of inclusion for the creation of stronger institutions.
Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA released guidelines for Catholic chaplains in the military regarding marriage equality. Reiterating the hierarchy’s teaching on homosexuality, Broglio then laid out in detail how exactly chaplains must act when encountering gay and lesbian people who are in committed relationships.
Broglio’s provisions specify that chaplains cannot participate in weddings, blessings, retreats, counseling, or funerals that involve same-gender couples. Chaplains may attend ceremonies and functions “as long as the priest is not required to acknowledge or approve of a ‘spouse’ of the same gender.” In addition, the archbishop reminds chaplains to exclude those in same-gender relationships from any lay ministries. To Catholics in military leadership positions, he directed them to discourage any support for same-gender couples. He encouraged them to abstain from doing the work that would provide benefits like housing and healthcare, suggesting they find a substitute to execute these tasks.
At the other end of the Catholic spectrum, Julie Sullivan, the new president of the University of St. Thomas, in St. Paul, Minnesota, is responding to concerns from faculty and students that their campus is unwelcoming to LGBT people. Addressing the University during convocation this fall, Sullivan is quoted by TwinCities.com as saying:
“We are called to love and support everyone in our community regardless of their sexual orientation…And, I might add, regardless of the gender of their spouse.”
Sullivan’s comments reflect a more open attitude to LGBT issues that is evident on many Catholic college campuses. As TwinCities.com reports:
“Francis DeBernardo, [New Ways Ministry’s] executive director, said campuses have drawn on the Catholic church’s teachings of respect for all in revising their policies. There are also practical considerations, he said.
” ‘Catholic colleges have learned that in order to compete for the best faculty, students and administrators in today’s climate you have to be GLBT friendly,’ he said.”
In Catholic elementary and high schools,, problems have emerged as more LGBT people marry legally and many others express support for them. New Ways Ministry estimates there have been about a dozen or so firings of LGBT people and supporters in 2013 alone, and this trend is bound to increase as more municipalities, states, and countries pass equal marriage laws.
While the American bishops’ desire to stall marriage equality is clear, the reality is entirely different. Catholics in the pews lead efforts for LGBT rights under the law, and these efforts win new victories each day. Additionally, the Church’s schools, hospitals, parishes, and charities often hire people who are not themselves Catholic. These two facts leave Catholic leaders–bishops , principals, administrators, and ministers–with the following set of questions:
How can the church not marginalize itself if it continues to pretend that same-gender couples don’t even exist?
Does it make good pastoral sense for a church minister to completely ignore a person based on their sexual orientation or relationship?
Will institutions respond by expelling talented and committed teachers, ministers, health professionals, and students from the Church’s good works, all for the sake of ideological purity?
Will the bishops listen to Pope Francis and create a “home for all”?
Will Catholic leaders respect each person, each couple, each family regardless of sexual orientation, gender, and marital status?
Will the hierarchy support institutions like the University of St. Thomas in building up Catholic programs for education and social justice to be the most effective, powerful tools of the Gospel they can be?
Catholic leaders must now choose the vision which with they will respond to equality’s inevitable spread within the US and elsewhere.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry