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:
“. . . [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.”
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