Does Pope’s Anti-Bullying Message Apply to the Church and LGBT Youth?


New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit   REGISTER BY MARCH 27th to avoid a late fee. 

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Pope Francis exhorted youth to avoid bullying others last week, saying they must “promise Jesus to never bully.” But given the pope’s mixed record, does his message mean not to bully LGBTQ youth, too?


Pope Francis at a youth gathering in Milan

Francis made the remarks at a youth rally in a Milan stadium filled with nearly 80,00 mostly young people. He was answering a catechist’s question about how educators, students, and families could communicate better. Crux reported that he told adults to be on the lookout for bullying, and then he addressed the youth:

“‘I ask you, in silence: in your schools, in your neighborhoods, is there someone that you mock? That you make fun of because they look a little funny, because they are a little fat? That you like to embarrass and hit because of this?

“‘Think about this. This is called bullying. . .Understood? Promise me: never, never make fun of, never mock a friend, a neighbor, etc. Do you promise this?'”

It is good that the pope, a former teacher,  is concerned about the bullying which afflicts many youth worldwide.  Francis might consider a call to end bullying against particularly vulnerable demographics, including LGBTQ youth. But if he is really serious about helping to end bullying, he should examine the ways the Catholic Church can and has perpetuated it.

Though it is not universally true that Catholic officials have ignored or allowed bullying, a quick survey of incidents reveals how much harm church leaders have caused:

  • In England, a transgender student was shot with a BB gun by another student after the transgender student faced months of bullying at his Catholic school;
  • Parents have accused schools of ignoring the bullying against their children, including the parents of transgender student who was shot with a BB gun and the parents of New York teenager who died by suicide.
  • Bishops in Colombia thanked the government for dropping a resource aimed at helping educators know how to combat bullying against LGBT people;
  • An anti-bullying workshop was cancelled in Ireland after school officials said it did not present the unspecified “other side” of the issue;
  • The parents of a gay teenager who died by suicide in Colombia claimed it resulted after the school’s principal outed their son in front of others at the Catholic school;
  • Updated policies in the Diocese of Little Rock threatened students with expulsion if they come out as LGBTQ.

Catholic schools have also banned a gay student from a dance, expelled a lesbian student from prom for not wearing a dress, and refused to accommodate a trans student who was transitioning. Supportive Catholic educators have been fired in New Jersey, including Warren Hall who was fired for posting about the NOH8 campaign. [Note: Hall will be presenting a workshop on gay priests and religious at New Ways Ministry’s 8th National Symposium this April. Click here for more information.]

In some of these incidents, educators and church officials acknowledged a mistake or worked to rectify the situation.  These, however, are not the only courses of action. There are concrete examples of how Catholic education can work against bullying and promote the flourishing of every student:

  • Teacher in Ontario’s Catholic schools marched in Pride in show of solidarity with their LGBTQ students;
  • Catholics have participated each year in National Coming Out Day and the anti-bullying initiative Spirit Day;
  • A priest in New York even declared 2014 the “Year of Lady Gaga,” (she attended Catholic schools) showing students how to have courage in their lives.

Students and their families are increasingly looking for not only welcome, but support for LGBTQ youth. Michael Maher, who authored the 2001 book Being Gay and Lesbian in a Catholic High School, has commented that since he began studying this issue, such expectations have increased dramatically. [Note: Maher will be offering a workshop on youth and young adults at New Ways Ministry’s 8th National Symposium this April. Click here for more information.]

The problem of bullying is a question of life and death. Bullying leads to self-harm and death by suicide, and the presence of so many LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness attests to the impact bullying by family and friends can have.

These realities of suffering should move Pope Francis to amplify and specify his call to stop bullying. 2017’s diocesan- level World Youth Day programs, as well as the preparations for the 2018 synod on youth offer prime opportunities for him to do so. Before these steps, Francis should sit with his own directive to the youth in Milan, and see how it relates to LGBTQ youth and the church:

“‘Think in silence if you [bully], and if you are able to promise this to Jesus: Promise Jesus to never bully.'”

To explore all of Bondings 2.0’s coverage of youth and young adult issues, see our “Schools & Youth” and “Campus Chronicles” categories to the right.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 27, 2017

0 replies
  1. lynne1946
    lynne1946 says:

    Absolutely right! I want to believe that the Pope is torn between his natural loving and generous nature and the need to work with many different cultures and make way for gradual change. However, when it comes to stating strongly the need for the Church to support and protect all of God’s people, he must stand up and do so, as often and as firmly as needed.

  2. Wilhelm Wonka
    Wilhelm Wonka says:

    We need more GSA’s in schools. There should be (must be) one in every Catholic high school.

    A GSA is one of the most effective means by which LGBT and straight students can not just come to know one another better, but can become protective of one another.

    The presence of a GSA in school means that LGBT students are less likely to be seen as outsiders : as an ‘other’.

    GSAs promote and facilitate the kind of integration that is good not just for individual students and schools, but for society as a whole.

  3. Loretta
    Loretta says:

    When the kids on the sidelines see the inconsistency of church practices, i.e., bullying is wrong except if the victims identify as LGBTQ the church looses them.

  4. Thomas
    Thomas says:

    The Church has an opportunity here to speak out against bullying, especially that of gay or transgender youth. Unfortunately, it’s been a missed opportunity for many years. Worse, the Church has looked the other way in too many cases. Too many bishops are more interested in the trappings of power than the way of life Jesus instructed followers to embrace. Bullying, or being silent about it , is wrong.

  5. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    The US bishops are notoriously quiet when it comes to challenging bullies against harming LGBT students. Dignity/Washington DC during a meeting with a diocesan representative specifically asked that Cardinal Wuerl, the head of the local Catholic system, to please make a statement against bullying but nothing has happened in three years. WWJD

  6. Phil M.
    Phil M. says:

    What about priests who bully? Pope Francis needs to stop this problem too. These articles might help you be brave enough to say something at your church about narcissistic and abusive priests:

    At St. Simon and Jude in Huntington Beach, CA, people tiptoe around the pastor Fr. Daniel Barica who is said to be the bully. Parishioners and staff who are upset but will not speak up are actually his enablers. He usually stops talking to people who do say something. Then no one helps them through the emotional abuse this puts on them. Many have left. His sermons and behavior really contradict each other. I know people who have reported him to the bishop of Orange but there has been no change.

    There is so much on the internet about what is going on here. Millennials do not put up with these types of priests like my generation did, so they just leave the church. You would think the bishop would be worried about future donations.

    More families left after hearing what he said about other religions during this past school year at a eucharistic meeting with the parents, I heard it too. The pastor said any religion other than the Catholic religion is a cult. Can you imagine the reaction from all the non-Catholic parents in the room? To me this is a racist remark because referring to Jews, Muslims and Buddhists as members of a cult is an insulting and hateful comment. Even Lutherans and other Christian religions are cults? I know families who were so upset that they transferred their kids. There used to be a waiting list to get into this school. Not any more.


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