“We ain’t what we oughta be. We ain’t what we want to be. We ain’t what we gonna be. But, thank God, we ain’t what we was.”
Fr. Bryan Massingale began his talk on “Pope Francis, Social Ethics, and LGBT People” with these words of an unknown Black preacher, which were often quoted by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Massingale, a theologian at Fordham University, New York, addressed participants at New Ways Ministry’s 8th National Symposium, and asked them this key question:
“What does it mean to be an LGBT Catholic in an age of Pope Francis?”
The National Catholic Reporter offered further details on his talk:
“Those who came to the Chicago symposium brought with them both ‘hope and frustration,’ Massingale said: hope that more understanding and acceptance of gays and lesbians was on its way into the church and frustration because that time has not yet arrived.
“The priest, who left Marquette last year to teach theology at Fordham University, pointed to a new tone in the church toward gays, a tone he characterized as ‘cautious, tentative, tense, at times ambiguous and contradictory, and yet nevertheless real.'”
Massingale affirmed that beneath the rhetorical shifts, there is genuine doctrinal development happening. Church officials’ “hesitant, resistant and even hostile stance” to LGBT rights comes from their fear that legal protections would lead to approval of sexual behavior they deem immoral. Their deeper fear is the impact such acceptance would have on youth. NCR reported:
“The situation leaves the church in an often contradictory corridor or ‘open closet,’ Massingale said, one in which gays ‘are to be accepted sensitively and compassionately, as long as there is little or no public acknowledgment of their sexual identity, “lifestyle” or “culture.”‘. . .
“Massingale, a priest of the Milwaukee archdiocese, shared a note he had received in 2002 from Rembert Weakland, who earlier that year had resigned as archbishop of Milwaukee after a man he’d had an affair with two decades earlier and he had paid to $450,000 to keep it quiet made the relationship public. Weakland wrote: ‘On the gay issue, the level of fears is so high that the official teaching of the church skates so very close to the edge of a new ‘theology of contempt.'”
Against the “open closet” and Magisterium’s troubled approach to lesbian and gay people, Massingale said Pope Francis was focusing on LGBT people’s personhood, not their sexual conduct. Massingale added his own commentary, saying, “[LGBT people] are equally redeemed by Christ and radically loved by God.”
As an ethicist, Massingale affirmed the right LGBT people have to participate fully in society in and the church, and the necessity for the Magisterium to extend its existing support for human rights to include LGBT communities:
“To insist on private acceptance and compassion for LGBT persons – that is, saying “I love the sinner” – without a commitment to defending LGBT human rights and creating a society of equal justice for all, is not only contradictory; it is inherently incomprehensible and ultimately unsustainable.”
A vibrant question and answer period followed Massingale’s address, during which he shared a story from his own life. After the U.S. bishops released “Always Our Children,” he called his mother. She asked Massingale for his thoughts on the document, and he replied by asking her what she thought, as it was addressed to her. She answered quickly, “I don’t need permission to love my child.”
Massingale closed with a powerful call for LGBT Catholics and their families to keep working for equality:
“Refuse the refusal. Refuse to be silenced. Continue to speak our truth even when we know it’s not going to be welcome.”
Fr. Massingale has himself been increasingly outspoken for LGBT inclusion and human rights. While at Marquette University, he celebrated monthly Masses for members of the LGBTQ communities on campus because, he says, it is important they “have a Mass where they feel welcome and that God does love them.” He challenged Pax Christi USA members at their 2013 annual conference to increase the organization’s defense of LGBT rights, as both a human rights concern and a necessary part of attracting younger Catholics. Massingale also joined other Catholic theologians and officials in condemning proposed anti-gay legislation in Uganda. Most recently, he has said the church cannot abandon transgender Catholics.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 24, 2017