What Happened to "Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity?"


Flyer starring Ellen DeGeneres that is causing controversy at St. Andrew Elementary School

Flyer featuring Ellen DeGeneres that is causing controversy at St. Andrew Elementary School

Rhetoric on LGBT issues is heated for some Catholics as equality advances. The Church’s calls for “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” are seemingly being replaced with open support for discrimination, highlighted by two incidents in Pennsylvania and Oregon this week. First, a prominent lesbian woman’s photo has caused controversy in one Catholic school and second, harsh language is being leveled against LGBT advocates following marriage equality’s legalization in several states.

St. Andrew Elementary School, Newtown, Pennsylvania, posted flyers for an upcoming Oscars-themed dance that featured Ellen DeGeneres, host of this year’s awards show. While not explicitly criticizing DeGeneres for being gay, principal Nancy Matteo’s email to parents says it was “completely wrong” to include the comedian for living “her life outside the teachings of the Catholic Church” and being a “poor role model.” Philly.com reports further:

“In the email, Matteo says she was ‘obviously NOT thinking’ when she let the invitation to the June 8 dance be distributed with DeGeneres’ photo…

“A role model, as defined by Webster’s Dictionary, is a person who is unusually effective or inspiring in some social role, job, position, etc…This does not describe her at all. We work so hard to be good role models and then I go and do something stupid!’ “

The principal is asking students to return the flyer, so she can “personally destroy them” and reissue information about the dance. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia supported the school’s decision, saying “promotional materials developed by these schools would feature images and themes that correspond with their core mission and identity.”

On the same day, a federal judge struck down Oregon’s ban on same-gender marriages prompting harsh words from the state’s Catholic conference which called the ruling “a travesty of justice.” The Conference’s statement went on to say this decision was “a sad day for democracy” and that people should reject “the flawed notion that a pairing of two people of the same gender constitutes a marriage,” according to the National Catholic Reporter. The news report also noted that bishops in Pennsylvania and Michigan also criticized marriage equality’s advances this week, as well.

It seems that for some in our church, simply showing a picture of a lesbian celebrity is cause for scandal while the use of damaging language against LGBT people is not. Similarly, marriages expressing commitment between two women or two men are cause for scandal while firing LGBT church workers who help educate children and build up God’s kingdom is not. Young women wearing pants for their senior photos is cause for scandal while punishing parents for loving their LGBT children is not.

Jesuit priest James Martin recently wrote about why LGBT people feel the Catholic Church hates them, and offered the following steps that Catholic leaders could take to reverse this reality:

“First, it would mean listening to their experiences—all their experiences, what their lives are like as a whole. Second, it would mean valuing their contributions to the church. Where would our church be without gays and lesbians—as music ministers, pastoral ministers, teachers, clergy and religious, hospital chaplains and directors of religious education? Infinitely poorer. Finally, it would mean publicly acknowledging their individual contributions: that is, saying that a particular gay Catholic has made a difference in our parish, our school, our diocese. This would help remind people that they are an important part of the body of Christ.”

When Catholic institutions will not even allow photos of LGBT people, and when leaders can only condemn through harsh words, we need to ask “Where is the listening, the valuing, and the public acknowledgement of their goodness, and the good ways in which LGBT build up our Church?” More basically, where did the Church leaders’ commitment to respect, compassion, and sensitivity go when dealing with LGBT people and their loved ones?

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

9 replies
  1. Friends
    Friends says:

    The behavior of so-called “pastoral leaders” in this Church has now become alarmingly reminiscent of the public “Official Hate” rituals in Orwell’s apocalyptic classic novel, “1984”. What in the world has happened to the Prime Directive that Jesus Himself gave to us: “Love One Another, As I Have Loved You”? Our Church seems to be losing its grip on reality…and it will continue to shed (or more accurately to shred) its younger membership at an alarming rate, unless our pastoral leadership recovers its higher vision and its basic sense of decency..not to mention its basic human sanity!

    • Karyn Jacobs
      Karyn Jacobs says:

      By making such a fuss about the invitation that went out, the Principal of St. Andrews school has succeeded in calling attention to the bigotry in the Church. That is what will affect the impressionable children the most.
      “Love one another as I have loved you”
      Or Not?

  2. Rosa G. Manriquez, IHM
    Rosa G. Manriquez, IHM says:

    My friend, Anne Fullerton, has pointed out that Ms. Matteo doesn’t seem to regret Ellen’s image without permission. (I am making the assumption that there was copyright infringement; if I am wrong, I apologize.) She also points out that destroying the flyers and making new ones kills more trees. (Isn’t the environment a pro-life issue in the RCC? Again, if disposal and reissue of the paper flyers, is not happening, I apologize.) Being a role model is challenging. I don’t think Ellen has put herself on that pedestal, but I believe Ms. Matteo has. It’s a long drop from a pedestal. Is the vision of RCC according to the hierarchy one where no one questions their authority; where a good Catholic is identified by the willingness to report breaches of orthodoxy; and where Catholics with a healthy conscience are hounded and shunned into an unhealthy complicity of silence or exile? My brothers and sisters, a church unquestioned is a cult. I know so many bright, young people that will have none of that. I also know many parents who want their children to benefit from the riches of the RCC. I’m sure they would be happy to send their children to private, Catholic schools staffed by these good staff that did not sign these evil contracts. Enough is enough!

  3. Stephen
    Stephen says:

    Funny, when I look at Ellen I see Jesus quite clearly. She never judges people, she is always helping those in need and giving money and resources to the unfortunate. Maybe these people can take a lesson from her. These kids could have no better role model.

  4. LoganBear (@LoganBear)
    LoganBear (@LoganBear) says:

    When I talk to ultra-conservative Catholics about gay issues, I always use the terms “Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity”. I even refer them to the Catechism to look it up. One of two things happen – either the tone changes and we have a civil conversation or they stop talking. I’m still waiting for leaders of the Church to live the Catholic Catechism and show respect, compassion and sensitivity.

    • Friends
      Friends says:

      To which I would reply: “Understand better the extremely conservative cultural context within which this contributor is situated — and ask whether such an approach is likely to have any chance of connecting with today’s young Catholics!” Here’s another specimen post from the author’s website:


      To be fair: I grew up on the Latin Mass, I was an altar boy, and I still (quietly) amuse myself by reciting the core prayers in the original Latin when I attend weekly Mass at our university’s Cardinal Newman Center. But I’m not sure that such a “retro” approach is going to do much to explain or endear the spiritual treasures of Catholicism to contemporary high school and college students. We need to “reach the young people where they exist today” — or we’re going to lose the attention and enthusiasm of the entire upcoming generation. Personally, I think a reading of the “Sermon On The Mount” ought to be made an official liturgical option at Mass, in lieu of slogging through the pedantic Nicene Creed. But that’s admittedly just a private opinion!

  5. Larry
    Larry says:

    The principal was obviously caught in what she felt was a big mistake as she approved the poster and she pushed back hard to show the Archdiocese that she was a true team player. Pity she is such an administrative wonk that she cant see anything else. She obviously didn’t get the memo from Jesus about Love and Compassion.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] few weeks ago, this blog asked “What happened to ‘respect, compassion, and sensitivity’?” on the part of the US bishops? A new column from Portland’s Archbishop Alexander […]

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.