A sad pastoral story in the Diocese of Rockford, Illinois, illustrates the tension that exists in the Catholic Church on LGBT issues in the age of Pope Francis.
Kate and Ann Bloomfield, a Catholic lesbian couple, planned to send their adopted sons to school at St. Peter’s Cathedral, where Kate herself had attended. But when she went to enroll him, she was told that because she and Ann were a married lesbian couple the school would not accept their two-year-old son for pre-school.
As it turns out, however, the Diocese of Rockford overturned the school principal’s decision and apologized to the couple for the way they were treated. According to a news story in The Rockford Register:
“[Penny Wiegert, a diocesan spokesperson said] the diocese has a protocol for enrollment inquiries from non-traditional families, including same-sex couples, divorced parents and nonpracticing Catholics. The principal should have invited the parents to meet, Wiegert said, at which time the principal or a priest could talk with the family about any concerns instead of telling the parents they can’t enroll.
” ‘That did not happen in this case,’ Wiegert said. ‘And we apologize.’ “
But for the Bloomfield family, the harm caused was already too devastating, and they have decided not to enroll their children in the school, and have also said they are looking for a new church.
Two opposing quotations from this news story highlight the tension of LGBT issues in Pope Francis’ papacy. Kate Bloomfield said:
“How can the Catholic pope teach acceptance, yet a small, Catholic school in Rockford teach just the opposite?”
And Wiegert offered an opposite view:
“Pope Francis has said a lot about how we see each other and deal with one another. But Pope Francis has not changed one single teaching of the Catholic faith. . . .The teaching [about marriage] is clear.”
And there’s the point of conflict: Which value is more important–acceptance or doctrine? This point gets even more complicated because part of the church’s doctrine is acceptance.
The Bloomfields were certainly aware of the teaching on marriage, and they even told the Register their attitude towards it:
” ‘It’s not like we expected them to teach some sort of agenda that included us,’ Ann said. ‘I think it says a lot that we wanted to send our kids to Catholic school.’
” ‘Even if it goes against us,’ Kate added. “We were willing to put all of that aside because we care more about these kids than we do us. . . . I think they’re picking and choosing who they accept. You can’t tell me they make this big of a deal about divorced couples.’ “
On the diocese’s side, the spokesperson acknowledged that the Church has to learn to approach these situations better:
“Wiegert said the diocese must work on how it communicates on sensitive subjects such as gay marriage and whether children of gay couples are welcome at diocesan schools.
” ‘Some situations are not as common to us,’ she said. ‘Everyone is human. People make mistakes.’ “
Wiegert is correct that the Diocese of Rockford, and indeed all dioceses, need to get up to speed fast on LGBT issues. For too many decades, church officials have simply ignored LGBT people, and in the process caused untold harm to both the church and the individuals. Now that LGBT issues are part of the common social discourse, church leaders need to educate themselves–and fast!–before more pastoral harm is done.
As we’ve said many times in the past, part of that education must be dialogue with LGBT individuals. Even though the Bloomfields seem to have decided to leave Catholicism, the diocese should reach out to them to learn how this terrible situation could have been avoided. Without feedback and input from LGBT people themselves, any attempt to educate church leaders on LGBT issues will be doomed to failure because it will simply be an echo chamber of what officials already know–and that is precious little.
It’s true that Pope Francis has not changed any doctrine, but he has encouraged dialogue, openness, and accompaniment–all of which help not only LGBT people, but also help church leaders to be more educated, aware, and sensitive. There really is no excuse for another situation like what happened to the Bloomfields to happen to another Catholic family. Opportunities for dialogue abound. Church leaders need to start taking advantage of them.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry April 27, 2017
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. For more information, visit www.Symposium2017.org.