What Makes a Catholic Family–Especially When Discord About LGBT Members Exists?

Peter Manseau

A recent piece in The New York Times asked the provocative question, “What is a Catholic Family?” Today, Bondings 2.0 samples a few reflections on Catholic families, and we hope our readers will continue the discussion ‘Comments’ section below by sharing a bit about what “family” means to you.

The original esssay by Peter Manseau was published in mid-October, during the Synod,  and  it includes historical background on just how greatly Catholic understandings of marriage and family life have changed over the centuries. He writes the synod’s discussions are “an indication that the idea of family is again evolving in Rome.” What does he mean by ‘again’?

Manseau reminds Catholics that, in the church’s earliest days, marriage was second to celibacy for it was “full of situations regarded as unpleasant by the saintly.” This mentality is pervasive up through the Second Vatican Council, and unofficialy today. In the  16th century’s Council of Trent, the participants noted the “pastoral issues” of their time such as kidnapped brides, and priests who were marrying. Of this, Manseau writes:

“In every instance, the question of who might constitute a family was a matter of how far those involved fell short of an unattainable ideal.

“Which is perhaps not so far from the supposedly ‘wounded’ and ‘irregular’ families that are largely the focus of the synod’s report…the synod’s bishops have not opened a big tent welcoming all those mentioned to fully participate in the life of the Catholic Church, and indeed they are unlikely to do so.

“Yet even quibbling over words of qualified welcome, they have reminded the faithful that their church has developed over time through conflict and contradiction, and may again.”

Manseau concludes with an allusion to the Holy Family–” a woman who conceived a child before she was married, a chaste stepfather who nearly divorced her as a result, and that original sign of contradiction, the human son of God”–and he asks two questions: “What family is not wounded?” and “Was any family ever more irregular than that?”

Anne Marie DeMint

In an essay for the Washington Post, Elizabeth Tenety explores one Catholic family’s struggle to welcome and to love their lesbian daughter and sister, Anne Marie DeMent. Tenety opens her piece on the 30-year-old from Maryland by writing:

“It’s hard to come out as gay…It is even harder when your parents are profoundly committed conservative Catholics, your brother is a prominent priest who represents traditional church views on Fox News, and you were raised to believe that everything the church teaches is true.”

DeMent came out to a highly conservative Catholic family, a family that her brother, celebrity priest Fr. Jonathan Morris, called an “idyllic Catholic family.” Her parents did not respond well, nor did extended relatives who used pastorally damaging language. Yet, she found her wife, Katie, to be “life-giving” and the two were married four years ago after DeMent recognized the Catholic Church was wrong on homosexuality and marriage equality.

Her family, however, has not fully evolved. Her mother, Sharon Morris, says “We’re trying to figure out what love is…We wanted to live our whole life for God.” DeMent’s parents and brother skipped the wedding, though a few siblings were present, and since then the couple has not been welcomed to Christmas.

The arrival of Pope Francis changed some of DeMent’s relationships, healed divisions between siblings, and even led to a softening tone from her brother, Fr. Morris, in his public appearances. As for her mother’s journey:

“When people try to remind Sharon Morris that the Catholic Church ‘loves the sinner but not the sin,’ she says: ‘It goes through me, because I think, “You don’t know my daughter. Do you know your own sin?” ‘ “

“Talking about gays as if ‘they’re a different creature…affects me differently now…That’s why I consider this [experience] a great grace.’ “

DeMent acknowledges the struggle, but continues to press on in relating to her conservative Catholic family.  She offers these inspiring words, perhaps the most Christian quote in the article:

” ‘I truly do not want to strong-arm or persuade my siblings or my parents to at any point go against their conscience in trying to accept me. And vice versa…I don’t want to move away from my personal conscience or what I think is right just in order to have this relationship…

” ‘That’s where, for me, my fundamental call for life is to pursue that. To pursue the good, to pursue love. When it hurts, to be able to look at my sister and understand that we might have these differences but that our learning to love each other is what lasts, is what is everlasting. . . . We’re called to a radical trust in love, a radical trust in each other, as our way forward.’ “

Indeed, growing up in my own family, it was a most radical love which held us together in diversity and even stark differences.  When asking what makes a Catholic family, I fathom the answer is something involving trust, love, and care. And I know DeMent and I are not the only ones who share this experience of love.

So what do you think? What makes a Catholic family? How do families respond in love when there are differences? Leave your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

10 replies
  1. Dana Risa Dinsmore
    Dana Risa Dinsmore says:

    I am straight but not narrow. That being said, I have some friends in the LGBT community. The same loving, caring, accepting God who made me also made them. God is the personification of love…what is the big problem here? Am I wrong that God’s love for His creations is about acceptance and inclusion? That we have more in common than we have differences that separate us? I have blue eyes and I was born left handed…should I expect to be rejected/judged for those traits? LGBT is NOT a choice – you are wired that way! Why would anyone choose a lifestyle that exposes them to ridicule and isolation and hatred?

  2. Drew Conneen
    Drew Conneen says:

    Anne Marie beautifully describes what a loving family should be, whether Catholic or other. The good news is that attitudes are improving; it just takes some people longer than others.

    Being open and proud of our gay children will encourage others to see God’s love in all.

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

    Although the RCC consistently promotes the Holy Family as the model for the ideal family unit, I believe that we need to read the Gospels and consider the examples of family that Jesus offered in the Parables. Concerning the dynamics of a family where a member doesn’t live up to societal expectations, I think the Prodigal Son (in some Spanish translations, the title is The Loving Father) is rich in graces. Lately I have focused on the parent in the story. During the apology of the prodigal, the parent is not even listening because he/ she is too busy giving orders to restore this child and begin a grand celebration. I believe that the parent’s pain was not the “sin” of the child; it was the absence, the alienation of the child from the family. I honestly believe that when God calls me into account for my life, God will not be interested in my sex life. I think the question that will be posed is, “During the precious gift of your life, did you ever, even once, love unconditionally?” That’s what the Loving Parent did.

    • colormeanew
      colormeanew says:

      For some reason I have never thought about the prodigal son as being an example relevant to this, that being said it seems to be the perfect example. Because the main point does seem to be the alienation and the absence of the son, from the father’s perspective. Thank you for giving me something new to think about

    • Kelly Wright
      Kelly Wright says:

      at Excellent, excellent point, Rosa! You have “hit the nail on the head” concerning what family (individually and collectively) of what a family should be. I believe as well that “the parent’s pain” depicted in the parable of The Prodigal Son/The Loving Father, “was not the “sin” of the child; it was the absence, the alienation of the child from the family.” Isn’t this the entire point of Jesus sacrificial, atoneing death on the cross, His subsequent burial and resurrection: to offer forgiveness of sin to all, reconciling and rstoring all to the family He created? There is no greater example of unconditional love. As believers and followers of Christ, are we not ll called to love others with the same grace and forgiveness extended to us? As Jesus Himself said: “All the laws and the prophets are summed up in this: “Love your neighbor as yourself”. Are we not making a mockery of Christ, His cross, His Church when we do anything less?

  4. Leroy Kelly
    Leroy Kelly says:

    I have many friends in the LGBT community, for many years. Members of my family do, as well. I wish all families would just take the time to appreciate each other, regardless of perceived slights or offenses, and regardless of orientation. Families are needlessly divided, and time and family are precious gifts which, when wasted, can never be recovered. We should encourage more contact with families. And as Catholics, remember that forgiveness is a necessary condition in faith.

  5. Anne Marie
    Anne Marie says:

    Bob- appreciate the thoughtful review of the article. It’s good to know others have found love and trust as a means to keep trying to find a way to build a “Catholic family”.

  6. anna vansant (@annavansant)
    anna vansant (@annavansant) says:

    A Catholic family is made up of imperfect people who live together, worship together and do life together. Not necessarily under the same roof. They can be related through blood or through relationship. We don’t always agree on everything, but we should always love and accept each other. We should work on Love, Acceptance, and Forgiveness to overcome any obstacles to living in Love and Peace with each other.
    Not all families look the same because God designed each of us to be individuals as well as part of a family and a community. Therefore, many people cannot (nor should they) fit into the ideal “box” that we humans have a tendency to say that they must fit into in order to be part of the Family and Community.

    Should a Catholic Family include our LGBT family? Of course! Divorced and remarried people? YES! They are already a part of our Family and Community. But we have failed in many instances to be loving and inclusive. In fact, we have been quite cruel ( and sometimes dare to call that LOVE!) Love the sinner, hate the sin? IMPOSSIBLE when your sexuality is part of who you ARE, not what you DO!!

    My Family, we have much work to do, and it needs to start with our repentance and asking of forgiveness to those of our Family we have failed. And also asking God for forgiveness of how we have treated His children.

  7. Deacon Ray Dever
    Deacon Ray Dever says:

    First, let me start by saying that I’m a permanent deacon in the Catholic Church who has a transgender daughter, currently a student at Georgetown University. I just returned from a visit there, including a stop at the LGBTQ Resource Center and a discussion with its director, as well as a conversation with one of the university’s Catholic chaplains.

    I was surprised to find myself welcomed there with open arms. My being there as a loving and supportive parent, simply concerned about the well-being of my child, was truly an exception. It was very sad for me to find out that most interactions there with parents and families of LGBTQ students are difficult and angry. There are too many painful instances of students rejected, even cut off entirely, by their families at a time when they need the love and support of their families the most.

    Families, including Catholic families, take on many forms in our society today. I don’t think I can do justice to a definition of a Catholic family, but I know in my heart and conscience what a Catholic family is not – it’s not a family that would reject its own children because of their sexual or gender orientation, no matter how difficult this all may be. I believe that families that reject their children in the name of their faith are very confused, and that they need to prayerfully reconsider, in the light of the Gospel, what they are doing.


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