Recently, a panel discussion on LGBT issues and Catholicism was held at the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana. The event, sponsored by Campus Ministry, the Gender Relations Center, and PrismND (the LGBT and allies student organization), was covered by the campus student newspaper, The Observer. The article ended with a quotation from one of the participants, Dana Dillon, a theology professor at Providence College, Rhode Island. Dillon said:
“I want to suggest that however you identify — gay, Catholic, both, neither — try to find ways to actively give people permission to be your friend and ally without agreeing on everything.”
This idea struck me as eminently helpful advice, especially when LGBT and religion issues can cause so much division among people from differing opinions. I thought it was a good new year’s resolution to adopt.
Dillon’s advice struck me in another way, too. Using different language, she seems to be expressing the teaching that Pope Francis has been promoting for the church. The pope, especially this past year, has been so hard to pin down on LGBT issues. He’s said some good things and some bad things. But one idea has come through in even his most ambiguous statements: we need to treat each other with respect, even if–maybe especially if–we disagree with each other.
That’s a hard thing to do. Many of us here in the United States are trying to learn that lesson in the past month, following the results of what was probably our most divisive presidential election in history.
Politics, religion, sex. Three of the most explosive topics for any group to discuss. And LGBT issues always involve all three. It seems that in each of those three areas, it takes a tremendous effort to see an issue from an alternative perspective. It just seems impossible to imagine that someone could possibly think differently than we do.
But, I think that is the key to Pope Francis’ strategy. He wants Catholic people to put themselves in other people’s shoes, and maybe walk a mile or two in them. Granted, Pope Francis does not always do this himself. Despite questioning himself about his authority to judge, in fact, judge he often does. To me, that’s a human quality. Pope Francis himself is a work in progress, as are we all.
His message of accompaniment and encounter with people we disagree with seems to be a simplistic and unsubstantial way to deal with complex issues. But, I think there is revolutionary power in such actions. Allowing oneself to enter into a dialogic encounter with someone opens a person up to the possibility of change. And when people change, institutions change.
The Notre Dame panel also included Dr. Patrick Beeman, an Air Force gynecologist and obstetrician, who underwent a personal transformation because of an important event in his life. The Observer article stated:
“. . . Beeman talked about how his initial ‘knee-jerk reactions’ against gay marriage and other LGBT issues changed when he went through a divorce, another act formally condemned by the Catholic Church.
” ‘I ran in circles that were uber-Catholic and I thought, “What am I going to do?” ‘ Beeman said. ‘Then I realized that it doesn’t matter; I’m still called to be a Catholic.’
“Beeman said he was able to apply this same logic to those in the LGBT community, who he said could still seek Christ despite the Church’s official opposition to their actions. He said he moved more toward becoming an ally of LGBT people as a result of this experience.”
Beeman went to say that supporting LGBT individuals (and, really, all individuals) means supporting them even if we disagree with them. The Observer article reported:
“Beeman said he thought Catholics ought to be better in helping gay or lesbian couples when they choose to start a family.
” ‘Yes, we don’t think that artificially produced pregnancies are a good idea for lesbian couples or for anyone, but couples who are going through pregnancy … we must be supportive of their health,’ he said.”
That kind of support can be difficult to express, but I think our challenge as Catholics is to work at it in the best way we can. Of course, many readers of this blog find it easy to support LGBT people. How willing are we to support people whose actions disagree with, though?
I admit I’m not great at that last challenge. Maybe in the new year, I can work at it a bit more. Imagine if we, as a church, became a community of friends and allies who don’t always agree on things. That would be a revolutionary community. And I think it is the vision that Pope Francis has for the church.
To learn more about how the Church is responding–or not–to Pope Francis’ new vision, consider attending New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,” scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, in Chicago. For more information and to register, click here. Early bird discounts for registration are in effect until December 31, 2016. So don’t delay!
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, December 17, 2016