Officials with the Vatican-sponsored World Meeting of Families (WMF) decided a Catholic group which assists LGBT families is not welcome to exhibit at this gathering in Philadelphia, meaning LGBT-affirming voices are barred from all official capacities at the September meeting.
Fortunate Families (FF) which supports Catholic parents of LGBT people, received the final rejection notice earlier this week in a letter from Mary Beth Yount, the WMF director of content and programming. Though sponsored by the Vatican, the event is being orchestrated and administered by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
“FF advocates for parental acceptance of LGBT children and adolescents in such a way that ‘acceptance’ requires that parents must show full acceptance of both the person and the entirety of every aspect of the person’s gay or transgender lifestyle, spelling out the consequences of any lack of full endorsement of a child’s lifestyle as causing psychological harm to the children and even likely driving the child to suicide.”
Despite Word’s appeal, which cites both the manifold negative impacts family rejection causes on LGBT youth and the positive outreach efforts of Atlanta’s Archishop Wilton Gregory and Memphis’ Bishop J. Terry Steib, the World Meeting of Families stands by their decision to exclude these dedicated Catholic parents.
In itself, the exclusion of groups representing LGBT families is an injustice. But for Thomas Fox of the National Catholic Reporter, it is also a “grave mistake” that will
“cast a dark cloud over the meeting and will do nothing less than send a hard punch smack into the eye of Pope Francis himself…The decision is out of step with the pastoral journey Francis is asking us to take together…
“We all make mistakes. The decision to exclude Fortunate Families from the September meeting is a notable one, even a defining one, for the meeting and the wider Catholic community…This decision needs to be reversed – and quickly.”
Fox’s suggestion that a failure to reverse the decision could define the WMF extends as well to the papal visit to the United States, which coincides with the Philadelphia gathering. The “dark cloud” could overshadow the visit which otherwise could be an opportunity for bridge-building and reconciliation.
Fortunate Families’ members do tremendous good for the church and for the world, evident in CNN’s recent profile of Deb Word and her husband, Steve, for welcoming seventeen LGBT youth experiencing homelessness in recent years. Much of these youth’s suffering is caused by family rejection with religious roots and their suffering is profound, as Bondings 2.0 has reported on in the past. Exclusion is not part of Catholic teaching or Christ’s witness.
Further, the World Meeting of Families suffers by excluding Catholic families with LGBT members, as it presents an incomplete picture of what family life means for church members today. Catholicism is stronger and healthier when diversity is welcomed, but diminished greatly when institutions adhere to anti-Gospel values. Indeed, the only LGBT-related voice officially recognized this September will come from Courage, which advocates a 12-Step approach and mandatory celibacy for homosexuality. Jamie Manson of the National Catholic Reporter pointed out key differences:
“They key difference between Fortunate Families and Courage? The latter organization insists that gays and lesbians remain celibate in conformity with official Catholic teaching. They also provide no ministry to those who identify as transgender.
“According to its mission statement, Fortunate Families ‘serves as a resource and networking ministry with Catholic parents of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children…We promote and facilitate personal, meaningful, and respectful conversation…We stress the significance of our personal stories as a source of grace within our families and as a witness for justice in our civic and faith communities.’ “
This juxtaposition makes clear the tremendous value Fortunate Families’ presence would have.
In a related note, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has denied a right wing group’s claim that a “homosexual activist [is] gatekeeper” for the World Meeting of Family registrations. The claim arose because the anti-LGBT group identified an employee of a third-party logistical support contractor as a lesbian woman. This issue was raised by the same self-appointed “whistleblower” who used a similar tactic to creat a controversy around the same-gender marriage of a long time Catholic Relief Services employee who ultimately resigned from his position.
The rejection of Fortunate Families’ exhibitor application is not, however, a final note for Catholic LGBT advocates. Many will still be present at the World Meeting of Families in many other ways. Local Philadelphia advocates are brainstorming ways to make their voice heard, and Equally Blessed, a coalition of four Catholic LGBT groups, will be hosting a week long series of events as well as hosting international pilgrims from non-traditional Catholic families. You can support these pilgrims with a donation by clicking here.
For the latest news regarding the 2015 World Meeting of Families, visit the appropriate category on the right hand side of this page or click here.
For more information about New Ways Ministry events at WMF, please send inquiry emails to: info@NewWaysMinistry.org. For more information about the Equally Blessed Coalition’s pilgrims to WMF, please click here. You can donate financially to support these pilgrims’ work by clicking here.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry