Two Priests Offer Spiritual and Social Responses to the Orlando Shooting

The Orlando shooting at a gay nightclub has prompted many, many statements and gestures of solidarity with the LGBT community.  In the Catholic press, two priests have penned essays worth reading which address Catholic dimensions to this tragedy.  Jesuit Father James Martin offers spiritual advice to LGBT people, as a response to the message of hate that the shooting sent out.  Claretian Father Paul Keller gives advice to the institutional problems in the Catholic Church that this incident has highlighted.

In an essay for America, entitled “Reflections on Pride,” Martin offers five bits of advice to those who have been negatively impacted by the Orlando shooting.  First, he reminds LGBT people, particularly youth:

Fr. James Martin

Fr. James Martin

“. . . [R]emember that you were created by God. Psalm 139 says about God, ‘For it was you who formed my inward parts. You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works.’

“. . .You are God’s gift to the world. You are, as the psalmist says, “wonderfully made.”

To those who feel excluded by the church, he offers this message:

“[R]emember that you have as much place in the church as the pope does, or your local bishop does—or I do. How do I know this? Because you were baptized. With the sacrament of baptism, you were welcomed into the church. At First Communion, you were welcomed around the table of the Lord, and at Confirmation you were sealed with the Holy Spirit.”

Pope Francis is a sign of hope for LGBT Catholics, he suggests.  He noted the pope’s new approach to pastoral ministry:

” ‘You may feel that the church hasn’t always welcomed you but things are changing. Pope Francis is fond of using the word ‘accompaniment.’ People in the church are more and more being encouraged to accompany you. So have hope in your church.”

Martin suggests that LGBT Catholics find a welcoming Catholic parish, noting that sometimes they might find such a community at a Catholic ministry on a college campus.  We suggest that you consult New Ways Ministry’s list of welcoming parishes and Catholic colleges if you are looking for such a place.  If you know of such a place, please let others know about it in the “Comments” section of this post.

Finally, Martin offers the poignant blessing:

“[R]emember that Jesus loves you. Often LGBT people feel on the margins in the church. But in the Gospels, we see how Jesus consistently goes out to people on the margins, welcoming in them into the community. Jesus always sought out those people who felt excluded and made them feel included.”

Fr. Paul Keller

In a column for U.S. Catholic, entitled “Catholicism and LGBT Discrimination,” Keller notes that the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has historically made statements against discrimination and violence against LGBT people, but he notes that the statements in response to Orlando from Florida’s Bishop Robert Lynch and Chicago’s  Archbishop Blase Cupich add much more substance to the CDF’s vague generalizations:

“The recent statements of the bishops responding to the tragedy in Orlando seem to go beyond the very mediocre, minimalist understanding of discrimination offered by the CDF. In a very Pope Francis-like move, these bishops directly or indirectly address some very challenging questions to the church itself. What does it mean for us to consider LGBT people ‘our brothers and sisters’? In what ways do Catholics breed contempt for LGBT people? Where can we find and how can we combat the anti-gay prejudice that exists in the Catholic community?”

Keller is explicit about what is needed:

“We need our bishops to give us guidance concerning the anti-LGBT prejudice and contempt that exists within the Catholic Church. A continuing silence is not morally courageous or pastorally responsible.”

And he offers some concrete suggestions:

“No normal human being should have any problem condemning acts of violence directed toward someone because of his or her sexual orientation. However, as a Catholic community, we need to do much more than just condemn violence. For example, it is legal in many states to fire someone for being gay, lesbian, or transgender. If we believe that this represents unjust discrimination, then how is it that our church is not on the front line working to end it? Surely we can’t congratulate ourselves because we explicitly condemn violence against LGBT people. Who doesn’t? Can’t we as a church do better than that? Shouldn’t we be actively doing something to end other forms of unjust discrimination?”

Most interesting is the fact that it appears that Keller does not approve of marriage equality or same-gender relationships.  In his column he states:

“If the Catholic Church is to have any moral credibility when we address issues like same-sex marriage or the natural moral ends of sexual intimacy, then we as Catholics must be willing to spend time and money fighting against injustices suffered by our LGBT brothers and sisters.”

But his push for a stronger stand against discrimination does seem to be motivated by more than just the possibility of gaining a political advantage.  His conclusion points to the idea that the Church should stand up for LGBT people because it is the right thing to do, even if the hierarchy does not totally agree with all LGBT issues:

“For some, the only experience they might have of the Catholic Church is being told that they or their favorite uncle, kindest teacher, or most generous neighbor is “gravely disordered,” “intrinsically evil,” or an “abomination.” In the face of having their dignity or that of the people they love diminished and insulted, these people, without an understanding of the technical vocabulary of moral theology, may conclude that it is the church itself that is “gravely disordered” or “intrinsically evil.” In order to persuade them that this is not the case, the Catholic Church should be much more willing to work in solidarity with and on behalf of communities that are suffering unjustly, even when we do not agree with all the beliefs of that community.”

Though I disagree with Keller’s approach to relationships, his reasoning about defending LGBT dignity and equality is an important development for those also don’t support same-gender couples.  From his traditional approach, he reminds Catholics that even if they agree with his stand on relationships, they still have an obligation to condemn violence and discrimination.  The social justice tradition of the Church is much more important to defend and support than the sexual ethics tradition.  If Catholics don’t support social justice when it comes to LGBT people, they are ignoring, to their own detriment, an important facet of their tradition’s faith.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

7 replies
  1. lynne1946
    lynne1946 says:

    Father Keller’s discrimination between not agreeing with someone and still treating them fairly sort of sounds like “love the sinner hate the sin,” but it’s really more. It’s not even considering “the sin.” It’s saying that without agreeing with someone, without knowing anything at all about them, you must still treat them as Jesus treated us, with unconditional love.

  2. Loretta Fitzgerald
    Loretta Fitzgerald says:

    Two thoughts. First, when I was in the classroom and discussed our primary vocation to love and be loved and the two prong theory of natural law, i.e., reason and nature, the kids clearly saw the truth and logic. However, they, not me (God forbid I should introduce anything contrary to RC teaching as a contractual employee) would ask, “then why is the Church so opposed to gay people and their relationships if this is natural for them and aren’t they too called to love and be loved?”
    Second, the moral ethics of homosexual relationships and the discussions that ensue must begin and end with the emotional, spiritual and social aspects of loving, healthy relationships long before we can figure out the biological. Regrettably, for too many it’s all about the sex. Sexual intimacy is important, beautiful, meaningful, but those aspects seem to be nonexistent or idealistic to young adults and rare with adults. Many factors have contributed to that development. My point here is this: to be human is to seek and need mutually meaningful relationships. I believe that’s where the conversation should begin.

    • Friends
      Friends says:

      Loretta, it sounds to me as though you have some very precocious and spiritually-sophisticated kids in your class! I don’t know where they came from, but I certainly hope we have a lot more of them out there in the Catholic education “pipeline”. If the future of our Church does not rest upon spiritually illuminated young people, then it’s hard to discern what future our Church might have at all, at least in the Western countries. Africa and Asia present a different set of social problems, because of their deeply entrenched cultural homophobia. But it’s way above our “pay grade” to try to solve all of the world’s problems of social discrimination — absent some very strong and clear statements from the Church’s top-level leadership in the Vatican.

  3. Peter Beacham
    Peter Beacham says:

    Fr. James Martin is a doctrinaire Catechist. His “apology” to the LGBT community consists of this: “Oh yes the church does owe [a gay male] an apology if a representative of the church offended him. If a priest said something offensive or he was excluded in some way it’s “the church.” “The church” is individuals, not just the Pope. And so “the church” can hurt people. It is the Body of Christ made up of members.‬”

    Notice that he is saying that while some individual Catholics may vilify or exclude LGBT people it is not the religion of Roman Catholicism that is harming them.

    In all of his commentaries he carefully avoids mention of the evils inherent in the Catechism that have condemned LGBT people over the centuries. Nor does he acknowledge that the Catechism is at odds (once again) with the scientific discoveries that show gender and sexuality to be spectrums not binaries.

    All in all, Fr. Martin commits as much harm as the Orlando shooter. He smiles and tries to sound beatific and conciliatory but underneath he regards LGBT people as intrinsically disordered and their sexual actions as a moral evil.

    I’m surprised that Bondings would consider Fr. Martin’s comments to be positive.

    • Joe
      Joe says:

      Actually I found Fr. Keller’s response to be much more egregious than James Martin’s. Martin has taken a lot of heat for his defense of gay people. If Martin can be accused of anything, it’s probably a naive optimism in regards to Pope Francis.


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