With an increased welcome for LGBT people in the Catholic Church, one priest is asking what comes next after hospitality is shown and doors are opened?
Fr. Alexander Santora, pastor of Our Lady of Grace and St. Joseph parish in Hoboken, New Jersey, cited as good news both Cardinal Joseph Tobin’s welcome of LGBT pilgrims to the Newark Cathedral and Fr. James Martin, SJ’s new book on LGBT issues. But, in a piece for NorthJersey.com, he raised new questions about “what happens next?”:
“How will the LGBT community come back to a church that has no positive theology on homosexuality and no consensus on how to even begin to fashion one? Even if preachers and priests refrain from repeating the tired shibboleths against gay men and lesbians, what will they hear in church? Where do they find comfort in the Scriptures proclaimed from the pulpit? And how will the local parish minister to them?”
Santora not only asked questions, but provided an initial answer for how hospitality at parishes can evolve into deeper accompaniment. He said parishes need to be holding local community discussions that include both LGBT people and parish leaders. Questions explored could include:
“What are the perceived hurts? What struggles do gays search for help from church? How can they heal the rifts within their families who do not support them?
“But taking Martin to heart, gay men and lesbians need to hear how church leaders search for ways to make sense of the lived gay experience, which are varied and stereotyped. Honest, two-way listening and affirming are needed.”
Pope Francis has said the church must “make sense of the ‘night’ contained in the flight of so many,” and “know how to interpret, with courage, the larger picture” of why Catholics leave the church. This reality must be part of any discussion.
Santora also said evolving parish work on LGBT issues needs to be informed by contemporary theological and scientific research. These insights shed light on how to pastorally implement church teaching in the manner favored by Pope Francis, which emphasizes conscience.
Using the Archdiocese of Newark as an example with its several Catholic colleges, Santora said “[s]urely there are theologians who can lead a summit on where we go in light of the latest scientific research as it applies to the LGBT community.”
Santora recommended that theological research at local levels begin with John McNeill’s The Church and the Homosexual, published originally in 1976:
“Though [McNeill’s] Jesuit superiors initially gave its imprimatur, the Vatican forced them to rescind it and silence McNeill, who eventually was bounced from the Society of Jesus.
“He continued writing, but he also served as a psychotherapist to the gay community up until his death at the age of 90 in 2015. His book tackled the real implications of a fixed orientation, which requires a new moral and theological paradigm. His reasoning offered gay men and lesbians hope and affirmation to lead a moral life.”
Santora’s recommendations are good, and there are certainly more ways by which hospitality becomes walking together in parishes. Such actions, in his words, “put flesh on the vision of Francis.”
It is a hopeful sign that the bridge-building which Catholics began as early as the 1970s, and have continued along the way, is being picked up by church leaders in a new way today. It’s now up to the faithful to act in the ways Santora and others are advocating, and to help move the church from welcome to inclusion.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 27, 2017
Related articles by Fr. Alexander Santora:
NJ.com: “Bringing gays and the church closer together”