“This Month in Catholic LGBT History” is Bondings 2.0’s feature to educate readers of the rich history—positive and negative—that has taken place over the last four decades regarding Catholic LGBT equality issues. We hope it will show people how far our Church has come, ways that it has regressed, and how far we still have to go.
Once a month, Bondings 2.0 staff will produce a post on Catholic LGBT news events from the past 38 years. We will comb through editions of Bondings 2.0’s predecessor: Bondings, New Ways Ministry’s newsletter in paper format. We began publishing Bondings in 1978. Unfortunately, because these newsletters are only archived in hard copies, we cannot link back to the primary sources in most cases.
Gay-Friendly Catholic Parishes List Is Published
Twenty years ago this month, New Ways Ministry published its first list of “Gay-Friendly Parishes,” Catholic faith communities that had begun the process of becoming welcoming of gay and lesbian people.
The list had 33 parishes named in 14 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. Also included in that list were seven colleges whose Catholic student communities were known to be gay-friendly. Today there are well over 200 parishes listed, and a separate list for “Gay-Friendly Catholic Colleges and Universities” contains over 100 schools.
The late Father Robert Nugent, SDS, New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, initiated the list based on the contacts he had around the country with pastors and pastoral associates who were doing outreach to the LGBT community. Many of those parishes were communities who had attended gay/lesbian ministry workshops offered by Fr. Nugent and Sister Jeannine Gramick, New Ways Ministry’s other co-founder. Fr. Nugent, who had worked many years in parish ministry, was eager to make parishes places where gay and lesbian people felt welcome and could participate openly in community life. Developing the list was one way of letting the Catholic community know that a movement was growing.
Other motivations also existed to start the list. It allowed gay-friendly parishes to know that they were not alone in their outreach efforts. Additionally, it allowed them to network with one another, supporting one another in this new ministry. Finally, it also helped LGBT Catholics know about communities where they would be welcome.
The gay-friendly parish list received a couple of “boosts” recently when Fr. James Martin, SJ, publicized our list on his Facebook page, asking his followers to suggest parishes they knew of. Similarly, The National Catholic Reporter featured New Ways Ministry’s gay-friendly parish list on their “Field Hospital” blog, which chronicles contemporary parish life.
Fr. Nugent’s method of collecting parishes was by “word of mouth.” Twenty years later, New Ways Ministry still learns about new gay-friendly parishes in much the same way. In the National Catholic Reporter story, New Ways Ministry Executive Director Francis DeBernardo explained how he learns about new additions to the list:
“People tell us.”
DeBernardo went on to explain the composition of the list:
“To be listed, parishes must welcome gay Catholics in a public way, via a bulletin announcement or a project or support group that invites gay Catholics and their families to participate.
” ‘We know our list is not comprehensive,’ DeBernardo said. There are many more parishes where gay Catholics are made to feel welcome. But the criterion used for admission to the list requires a public welcome. ‘It has to be more than a known feeling.’ “
He also acknowledged that while the list is not foolproof, it is very close to being so:
“DeBernardo cannot guarantee that the list is 100 percent accurate. But he claims that it is nearly so. Occasionally, a pastor, director of religious education or social justice minister will leave a parish and that church will become a less welcoming place as a result.
” “But it’s 95 percent accurate,’ said DeBernardo. ‘Once there has been public acknowledgement, it’s hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube.’ “
DeBernardo believes that the recent increase in parishes becoming gay-friendly is likely a result of the influence of Pope Francis:
” ‘I see a lot of parishes being a lot more courageous,’ said DeBernardo. ‘Anecdotally, people are telling me they are freer to do ministry than before.’
“The pope, he said, ‘has empowered by his lead and example.’ Being a gay-friendly Catholic parish is now much less likely to be seen as a contradiction.”
When New Ways Ministry first published the list in the Summer 1997 edition of its newsletter, Bondings, it was accompanied by an article reprinted from The Maryland Gazette about St. Bernadette’s parish, Severn, Maryland, which had inaugurated a gay outreach ministry. The founder of that ministry was quoted about the group’s purpose:
” ‘We see ourselves as a welcoming community opposed to discrimination,’ said Ann McDonald, pastoral associate at St. Bernadette Catholic Church.
” ‘We don’t feel like we’re doing anything radical,’ Ms. McDonald said.
” ‘The (Catholic) church has made strong statements against injustice,’ she said. ‘Yet this is a population we’ve ostracized.’ “
Twenty years later, the ministry at St. Bernadette’s is still alive and well, and, like many parishes on the list, they are still welcoming LGBT people, overcoming the past ostracization.
If you know of a gay-friendly parish, please let us know by providing the parish name, city and state, and website. Send the information to: office@NewWaysMinistry.org or phone 301-277-5674. To view the current list, click here.
For Bondings 2.0’s series “All Are Welcome” which chronicles developments in Catholic LGBT ministry as well as providing resources, click here.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, July 29, 2017g