“This Month in Catholic LGBT History” is Bondings 2.0’s series to educate readers of the rich history—positive and negative—that has taken place over the last four decades regarding Catholic LGBT equality issues. We hope it will show people how far our Church has come, ways that it has regressed, and how far we still have to go.
Once a month, Bondings 2.0 staff will produce a post on Catholic LGBT news events from the past 38 years. We will comb through editions ofBondings 2.0’s predecessor: Bondings, New Ways Ministry’s newsletter in paper format. We began publishing Bondings in 1978. Unfortunately, because these newsletters are only archived in hard copies, we cannot link back to the primary sources in most cases.
1982: San Francisco’s “Homosexuality and Social Justice” Report
By Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, September 19, 2016
In September 1982, a group working for the Archdiocese of San Francisco released a major report entitled “Homosexuality and Social Justice” which proposed many progressive policies, including the idea that the Roman Catholic disapproval of gay sexual relationships was itself a social justice issue.
The 150-page report was prepared by the Task Force on Gay/Lesbian Issues of the Commission on Social Justice of the archdiocese, offered 54 recommendations and insights for church leaders. According to the September 16, 1982 edition of The Monitor, the archdiocesan newspaper, Task Force Chairperson Kevin Gordon commented on the historical significance of the report, saying:
“This is a moment of incredible opportunity or incredible vulnerability, especially since this report comes out of San Francisco. If not here, then where?
“We have before us a real critical moment. We should seize the moment now.”
Indeed words like “critical” and “incredible” were not overstated. According to The Monitor, the Commission on Social Justice began the deliberations on the report in May 1981 “to respond to an increase of anti-gay/lesbian assaults in San Francisco, and tensions within the predominantly Latino Mission District and the predominantly gay/lesbian Castro District–which border each other.” The Commission unanimously accepted the report, which covered topics such as: “homosexuality, social justice, and violence,” “language–moral and political dimensions,” “spiritual lives of homosexuals,” “family,” and “homosexuals in priesthood and religious life.”
The report made 54 recommendations, some which were controversial then, and some which would still be controversial. One significant feature of the report was that it did not accept the magisterial distinction between homosexual orientation and homosexual behavior, seeing such a distinction as irrelevant to the lives of gay and lesbian people. The report stated:
“In listening to and learning from the real voices and real experiences of the lesbian women and gay men of San Francisco, the present Task Force did not find any sizeable population espousing an orientation/behavior distinction, that is, holding to lifelong venereal abstinence outside of marriage as being a particular value. The values were more often attested to were the courage to search for meaning , and to report on that search.
“The Task Force heard people say over and over: we do not experience our active sexual lives as evil, but as good, worthy of human beings, and often beautiful. Like anything human, they are imperfect, with ambiguous and demonic aspects, selfishness, dishonesty, etc. But our active sexual lives and loves stand out in our experience as essentially good and spirit-filled.”
But perhaps the most controversial aspect of the report was its introductory section, of which The Monitor said:
“In an introductory section subtitled, ‘The Church as Oppressor,’ the Report states that the Roman Catholic Church does not have a viable sexual ethic, not only regarding homosexuality, but also regarding contraception, divorce and remarriage and premarital sexuality.
“It says: ‘. . . the question is whether the Roman Catholic Church really has a viable and embodied sexual theology to begin with. If the Roman Catholic Church is ever to regain credibility in matters sexual, it will need to develop an appropriately sophisticated sexual ethic beyond what it has at present.
” ‘At present its positive ethical guidance is essentially fashioned for sacramentally married people in procreative unions. For all the others, for instance, the 50 million single people in the United States over 18, sexual options are few, if any.”
The Monitor highlighted some of the key recommendations:
- that Archdiocesan agencies examine how Roman Catholic agencies themselves might be conduits of oppression to lesbian women and gay men through their own attitudes and practices in parishes, schools, diocesan offices, chanceries, seminaries, religious communities and in the Catholic media.
- that Catholic agencies develop internal programs to combat homophobia and sexism.
- that Catholic agencies both critique and work with the criminal justice system to eliminate anti-gay/lesbian violence.
- that organizations such as Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gay (PFLAG) be given space and welcome within a parish community.
- that the Archdiocese in concert with parish churches and other community agencies assist lesbian/gay parents and their children in working through the split-up of marriages, the restructuring of family units. . ..
- the end of sexual orientation screening for parochial school jobs, adoption, and foster care.
- the encouragement of gay student groups at parochial schools.
- the admission of “self-accepting” gay and lesbian people to the priesthood and religious life.
Dr. Thomas Ambrogi, the director of the Archdiocesan Commission on Social Justice, explained that the report was “not an official statement of the Archdiocese itself, ” and that the Commission had “semi-autonomous status and . . . acts on its own initiative and conscience in studying issues in the light of the Catholic social tradition.” Still, a Time magazine article dated October 11, 1982, had this to say about the archdiocese’s response to the report:
“Though Archbishop [John] Quinn] remained silent, the first reaction from the archdiocese emphasized the task force’s good intentions rather than accusing it of doctrinal errors or sins of naiveté. Said an editorial in the archdiocesan newspaper The Monitor: “We do not agree with many of the report’s findings and recommendations. On the other hand, we respect the report for what it is–a working document, voicing the real feelings of real people who have had the courage to speak out.’ “
Some of the other Task Force members offered their reflections on the publication of the report:
Sister Frances Lombaer, OP: “I previously had little knowledge of the concerns of the gay/lesbian community. Now I’ve had the chance to hear the voices of faith-filled lesbian women and gay men and to learn of the violence that they have experienced on so many levels. So I feel the document is important if it can contribute to the dialogue within the Archdiocese.
Father Jack Isaacs: “It’s important for the Church to be there –to listen to people directly–not be outside saying things about people. Usually, we jump immediately to a conclusion that blots out what people are really saying instead of working it out with them. Much in the area of homosexuality needs to be rethought. The Social Justice Commission likes to think of itself as prophetic but it is part of the institutional Church. The Report is one of the first papers on this topic accepted by an official Church body–an accepting f a prophetic statement by the institution.
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As I sifted through the news articles about this historic Report, I was struck by a few things: 1) the courage of the Task Force to speak so honestly, courageously, and boldly; 2) that an archbishop and archdiocese were courageous enough to listen to criticism; 3) that what we think of as Pope Francis’ new openness to listen, encounter, and dialogue, was actually alive and well over 30 year before he arrived in Rome. Wouldn’t it be great if more dioceses and archdioceses would today commission similar reports on ministry and responsiveness to the LGBT community?