Bishops in the Philippines responded to the Orlando massacre by sharply condemning anti-LGBT violence.. Their statement joins other Catholic reactions to and reflections about the Orlando attack.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) released a statement, signed by Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen Dagupan, that immediately identified the shooting as a “hate crime.” The Conference continued, according to GMA Network:
“First, this was a hate-crime — the murder of persons because of disgust for their sexual orientation. Bearing in the depth of his or her soul the image of the Creator, no human person should ever be the object of disgust. . .
“No matter that we may disapprove of the actions, decisions and choices of others, there is absolutely no reason to reject the person, no justification for cruelty, no reason for making outcasts of them. This is a project on which we, in the Philippines, must seriously embark for many are still forced to the peripheries because the norms of ‘decent society’ forbid association with them.”
Noting the Jubilee Year of Mercy called by Pope Francis, CBCP’s statement said that, “As important as it is to be right, it is far more important to be merciful!” They called for more dialogue, and for the government and all Christians to protect LGBT lives because the unity in Christ outweighs any differences. Their statement sharply contrasts with responses from many of their episcopal counterparts in the U.S. who failed to recognize the Orlando shooting as targeting LGBT people.
Terence Weldon, writing for Quest, a U.K. group for LGBT Catholics, also queried how Catholics can concretely respond, expanding the discussion to include the entire faithful:
“What are we to do, ourselves, to combat the homophobia that is is fostered within some sectors of the Catholic Church and its practice?
“We must never forget that ‘the Church’ is far, far more than just the bishops and priests, but includes all of us. When Catholic teaching tells us to oppose and condemn any form of violence or malice, in speech or in action, against homosexuals, that is a command to all of us, as individuals and collectively, as an organization. How have we responded up to now, to that command? How can we do so, in future? Is there room for improvement, in our response?”
One way the church has responded positively to the massacre in Orlando is through efforts by Catholic Charities of Central Florida to help victims and their families, reported the National Catholic Reporter. Catholic Charities has provided bilingual staff and pastoral care providers who have assisted with translation, immigration matters, burial arrangements, and counseling.
Frank Bruni, a columnist for The New York Times who is gay and Catholic, wrote that now is a time for solidarity with LGBT people. Bruni implored anti-LGBT politicians to act for solidarity, using words that could be equally applicable to the U.S. bishops, whom Bruni criticized in the column:
“Just show up. And by doing so, show that the absence of ‘gay’ or ‘L.G.B.T.’ in your statements immediately following the Orlando massacre. . .isn’t because you place us and our concerns behind some thick pane of glass with a Do Not Touch sign that stays up even when blood and tears pool beneath it. . .You want to show our enemies what America stands for? Then stand with us.”
John Freml, coordinator of the Equally Blessed Coalition, wrote in The State Journal-Register that in his Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, Bishop Thomas Paprocki had been silent thus far. Freml commented:
“The silence of our own bishop, and the refusal of other Catholic bishops to even name the LGBT community, not only contributes to the continuing invisibility and marginalization of LGBT people in our church, but it quite literally results in their deaths. I am baffled at how our bishops can call themselves ‘pro-life,’ when their actions have clearly demonstrated that they do not value all human life equally.”
In the Equally Blessed coaltion’s statement on Orlando, they noted:
“While we struggle against the forces of homophobia in our church and in our society, we must also remain steadfast in our opposition to racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia in all its forms.”
LGBT Catholics Westminster Pastoral Council, an outreach effort by the diocese of Westminster (London), expressed their solidarity in a statement, recalling their own origins as a response to an episode of anti-LGBT violence:
“Having ourselves been born, as a worshiping community, out of the 1999 Admiral Duncan Soho bombing when three people were killed and 83 people injured, we know only too well that such violent attacks on our communities are never far away.
“LGBT targeted hate-crimes must be recognised for what they are: assaults on the precious dignity of each human being as ‘wonderfully created as God’s work of art’ (Psalm 139). We call upon religious leaders of all faith traditions to recognise the reality of the Orlando outrage. We specifically call upon our Catholic leaders to acknowledge how the language of some official documents on sexual orientation can, in fact, incite and support those who commit such violence.”
LGBT Catholics Westminster’s statement called on Pope Francis and the Vatican to respond with concrete actions combatting anti-LGBT violence and discrimination, including “support the global decriminalisation of homosexuality, with an end to the use of the death penalty and torture for LGBT people.”
Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, released a letter to Pope Francis about church leaders’ problematic responses. In the letter, which followed up the organization’s initial statement, Duddy-Burke wrote:
“To fail to explicitly acknowledge [victims’ LGBT identities] strips the victims, the survivors, the injured, the grieving of an essential component of their humanity. It sends a message to their loved ones and families that this part of their identity should not be named, affirmed, and celebrated as they are remembered.
“It also means that you and many other Catholic leaders have missed yet another important moment to explicitly and unequivocally condemn violence directed towards LGBT people. Vague references to ‘respect for the dignity of all people’ or other such phrases are sinfully inadequate, whether in response to the horror in Orlando, or when addressing the persecution faced by LGBT people anywhere in the world.”
Fr. Joseph McShane, president of Fordham University, New York, affirmed in a statement that solidarity with communities affected by the massacre, including LGBT ones, was not only consistent with the University’s Jesuit and Catholic identities, but necessary because of these identities :
“As a Jesuit university (and hence a university whose entire life and mission is inspired by the Gospel and its challenge to live in love), Fordham joins people of good will around the world in condemning the Orlando attack. In addition, however (and precisely because of our Jesuit identity), the University offers its heartfelt support to the LGBT and Latino communities both on campus and throughout the country. It also offers its equally heartfelt prayers to the families and friends of those who died so senselessly on Sunday morning.”
To read Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of the Orlando massacre and Catholic responses to it, please click here.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry