Frank Bruni, a columnist for The New York Times offered an interesting observation in an essay entitled “The Worst (and Best) Places to Be Gay in America” that was published in last Sunday’s edition. Noting the fact that equality for LGBT people varies widely across the vast and diverse 50 states of the U.S.A., Bruni notes:
“There’s no such thing as L.G.B.T. life in America, a country even more divided on this front than on others. There’s L.G.B.T. life in a group of essentially progressive places like New York, Maryland, Oregon and California, which bans government-funded travel to states it deems unduly discriminatory. Then there is L.G.B.T. life on that blacklist, which includes Texas, Kansas, Mississippi and South Dakota.
“The differences between states — and between cities within states — are profound, and while that has long been true, it’s much more consequential since the advent of the Trump administration, a decidedly less ready ally of L.G.B.T. people than the Obama administration was.”
Bruni, a gay man, gets even more local later in the essay, stating:
“We’re at the mercy of our ZIP codes: Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are often affected most by their municipality, not their state. . . . Our cities and our states often dictate how easily we can be our true selves at work, buy wedding cakes, construct families — even die.”
How does this relate to the world of Catholic LGBT issues? I think Bruni’s analysis of the political sphere very accurately reflects the ecclesial sphere, as well. In other words, I think that Catholic LGBT people are more affected by local church attitudes and practices concerning sexual orientation and gender identity than they are by the same influences that are expressed or enacted by higher levels in the Church. In other words, what matters most for LGBT Catholics is not what the hierarchy says or does but what their local pastor and parishioners say or do.
When a pope or bishop says something offensive or damaging about LGBT people or issues, harm certainly is done. Yet, from what I have heard time and again from Catholic LGBT people–whose faith and resiliency are amazingly strong–is that hierarchical slights do not motivate them to leave their parishes. An offensive remark from a pastor, pastoral minister, or even a parishioner, however, can have an LGBT Catholic running for the exit doors.
The flip side works as well. It may be great to hear Pope Francis make a positive statement of welcome to LGBT people, but what really touches people’s hearts is when their local pastor asks them to be a part of a parish committee because he wants the perspective of LGBT people to be heard as the parish develops a new program.
All politics is local. So is all pastoral care.
Throughout my years in Catholic LGBT ministry, the most frequent question that I have been asked by reporters or others not involved in the Catholic LGBT community is “Why does an LGBT person stay in the Catholic Church?” If I had a nickel for each time it was asked, New Ways Ministry would be funded forever!
The presumption behind that question is that the Catholic Church is an oppressive place for LGBT people. However, as Bruni’s analysis shows for the political world, which I suggest is true for the Catholic world, everything depends on where a persons lives and prays.
This reality makes it all the more urgent to develop LGBT-friendly Catholic parishes. New Ways Ministry has been promoting and supporting such communities since our creation 40 years ago. It is exciting to see the growth and vibrancy of these communities across the U.S., and, indeed, across the globe. Bondings 2.0’s “All Are Welcome” series chronicles developments in parish LGBT ministry and it also includes posts containing advice and resources for parishes on how to start or further develop LGBT ministry programs. You can review the posts in this series by clicking here.
This year, New Ways Ministry has inaugurated a special afternoon or evening program on transgender pastoral care for parishes, schools, and religious communities of men or women. If you are interested in learning more about this program or about transgender issues generally, please contact New Ways Ministry at info@NewWaysMinistry.org. Please let us know if you would like to host such a program.
Additionally, New Ways Ministry offers a program called “Next Steps: Developing Catholic LGBT Ministry” which aids pastoral ministers and volunteers envision a plan for proceeding in regard to LGBT ministry in parish settings. The “Next Steps” program is ideally conducted over the course of a weekend, but can also be done in the course of a day, or even an afternoon (though obviously the material is abbreviated in the shorter versions). If you, your parish, or a group of parishes are interested in hosting a “Next Steps” program in your area, please contact New Ways Ministry at info@NewWaysMinistry.org.
You can look for an LGBT-friendly parish or faith community near you by looking at New Ways Ministry’s catalogue we have been maintaining for over 20 years. If you have a recommendation for a parish to be included in this list, please contact us at info@NewWaysMinistry.org.
Of course, many reasons beyond local efforts at welcome exist as to why LGBT Catholics remain in the Church. Personal spirituality, family history, cultural identity, faith commitment are all part of the equation. But the power of a local welcome (or sadly, a local rejection) cannot be overestimated. Such a welcome can heal many deep and long-held wounds.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, August 31, 2017