Catholic leaders were initially silent about the anti-LGBT prejudices undergirding the mass shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, which has left at least 50 people dead and more wounded. Four bishops have since released statements acknowledging the prejudice behind these attacks. Other organizations and prominent Catholics have also highlighted the anti-gay distinction, as well as the serious omission on the part of some Catholic leaders who have ignored the LGBT dimension of the incident.
Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego released a statement, saying the murders were “rooted in a counterfeit notion of religious faith and magnified by our gun culture.” He continued:
“The shootings in Orlando are a wound to our entire society, and this time the LGBT community has been specifically targeted and victimized. . .
“We pray for the many victims in Orlando who were targeted for death simply because of their sexual orientation, and we grieve with their loving families and friends. This tragedy is a call for us as Catholics to combat ever more vigorously the anti-gay prejudice which exists in our Catholic community and in our country.”
Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich had recognized gay and lesbian victims in his initial statement, and followed up with a letter read at a regularly-scheduled Sunday evening Mass hosted by the Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach ministry. Cupich said in the letter, posted on Twitter by journalist Michael O’Loughlin:
“For you here today and throughout the whole lesbian and gay community, who are particularly touched by the heinous crimes committed in Orlando, motivated by hate, driven perhaps by mental instability and certainly empowered by a culture of violence, know this: the Archdiocese of Chicago stands with you. I stand with you.
“Let our shared grief and our common faith in Jesus, who called the persecuted blessed, unite us so that hatred and tolerance are not allowed to flourish. . .”
Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg responded on his blog, acknowledging forthrightly that Pulse was a nightclub for “Gay, Lesbian, Transgender” patrons. He continued:
“[S]adly it is religion, including our own, which targets, mostly verbally, and also often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people. Attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence. Those women and men who were mowed down early yesterday morning were all made in the image and likeness of God. We teach that. We should believe that. We must stand for that. Without yet knowing who perpetrated the PULSE mass murders, when I saw the Imam come forward at a press conference yesterday morning, I knew that somewhere in the story there would be a search to find religious roots. While deranged people do senseless things, all of us observe, judge and act from some kind of religious background. Singling out people for victimization because of their religion, their sexual orientation, their nationality must be offensive to God’s ears. It has to stop also.”
Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh released a statement which said, in part:
“Our Muslim neighbors are grieving over this tragedy as much as our gay and lesbian neighbors. We are all God’s children. May we love, honor and respect one another as such.”
Meanwhile, in his initial response to the incident, Bishop John Noonan of Orlando did not acknowledge the gay and lesbian dimension of the attack. Preparations for his diocese’s Vigil to Dry Tears, which took place last night, had no evidence that the victims were members of the LGBT community.
Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, also ignored victims’ identities about which David Gibson noted in the National Catholic Reporter:
“That statement contrasted with Kurtz’s statement a year ago after the shooting massacre in a black church in Charleston, S.C. Speaking two days after the attack on Mother Emanuel by a white supremacist, Kurtz repeatedly condemned the ‘racism and the violence so visible today’ and called for efforts to combat both, in personal change and through public policies.”
Michael Sean Winters, in a column in the National Catholic Reporter, wrote about Kurtz’s and other bishop’s failure to identify this incident as having an anti-LGBT dimension:
“If you are so [out of touch] that you do not realize that the refusal to refer to people as they refer to themselves is offensive, especially when that same group of people has just been the object of a violent and murderous attack, stop pretending to any claim to moral leadership in the society and just go away.”
“Our children have the right to live, work and celebrate without fear, to create families of their own and worship in peace. We stand in solidarity with our children and all parents of LGBT+ persons as we remember those lost and those in pain. We are deeply saddened by this event, since we abhor violence of any kind, and we hold in prayer all children of God victimized by hatred – both perpetrators and victims.”
“This cruel attack will make many LGBTQ people feel unsafe and experience anxiety. For many, it will awaken memories of the days when gay bar patrons were frequently the targets of violence. . .[W]e hope and pray that our nation will come together to reject violence against LGBTQ people in the strongest possible ways.”
Pax Christi USA released a statement which said:
“This shooting directed towards the gay, lesbian and [transgender] community which resulted in injury and massive deaths, is of grave concern to Pax Christi USA. . .No amount of bigotry, fear, anger or hatred ever justifies the senseless taking of lives.”
Across the Atlantic, in London, England, the city’s LGBT Catholic Community, which was gathered for its regular 2nd Sunday Mass at Farm Street Jesuit Parish, responded promptly in prayer by adding the following petition to their liturgy: “We pray for the 50 people who lost their lives this morning in the terror attack on the gay night-club in Florida, for the injured, and for their families and loved ones.”
Jesuit Fr. James Martin released a powerful statement about the Orlando shooting, saying that this time of grief and fear for LGBT communities was a moment for Christians and Catholics to stand with them. Martin criticized the bishops’ silence, saying church leaders would express solidarity if this massacre happened to a particular ethnic group or religious denomination. That so few bishops expressed solidarity with LGBT communities is, in his words, “revelatory.” Martin continued at America:
“This is revelatory. It reveals how the L.G.B.T. community is invisible to much of church. Even in death they are invisible. For too long Catholics have treated the L.G.B.T. community as ‘other.’ But for the Christian there is no ‘other.’ There is no ‘them.’ There is only ‘us.’
“This is a moment to end this ‘us’ and ‘them.’ For there is no ‘them’ in the church, because for Jesus there was no ‘them.’ He consistently reaches out to those on the margins, bringing all people in. Those who are invisible to the community are seen by Jesus. By seeing them, by welcoming them, by loving them, he makes the ‘them’ an ‘us.’
“Catholics are invited to make every person feel valuable and visible, especially at times of loss. Jesus asks us to do this. The church needs to stand in solidarity with all of ‘us’ in Orlando.”
You can watch Fr. Martin’s full statement in the video below or by clicking here.
Finally, another Jesuit, Brendan Patrick Busse, offered sharp words against church leaders who he said “have an allergy to the word ‘gay’ in their statements of condolence.” He wrote on Facebook:
“Something ‘intrinsically disordered’ revealed itself again in Orlando today and it was armed with bad religion and an assault rifle. I fear our government is complicit in one of those causes and our Church in the other. To speak around the particulars of this violence – its inspiration and its target – is to perpetuate it.
“Defending the ‘dignity of all’ in public means very little if we can’t bring ourselves to defend the dignity of our LGBTQ – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, and Queer – family members in particular and in pride.
“Praying for Orlando is prudent. . .Praying for Pulse is prophetic.”
In yesterday’s statement from New Ways Ministry’s Executive Dirctor Francis DeBernardo, he noted that by the end of Sunday, Cupich was the only bishop who had mentioned gay and lesbian people in his reaction to the massacre. It is a relief to know that at least two other bishops have joined him, and that other Catholic leaders are recognizing the glaring omission on other bishops’ part. May Catholic leaders increasingly pray not only for Orlando, but by clearly and proudly naming the LGBT identities that have been targeted, pray for Pulse and by extension all affected LGBT people too.
We will continue to post more about Catholic reactions to and analyses of the Orlando massacre in the coming days.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry