Right-wing Catholic groups have targeted LGBT people and affirming organizations in the church for many years, launching critical and even dehumanizing campaigns against them. After talks by Fr. James Martin, SJ, were cancelled due to right-wing pressure, new attention is being given to such groups and the harmful impact they have on the church. In a conversation where all should be welcomed, how can Catholics respond to such venomous attacks?
Damian Torres-Botello, a Jesuit who is gay, wrote about how he has faced homophobic reactions in the church. Referring to Theological College’s decision to cancel Martin’s lecture on Jesus, Torres-Botello wrote in The Jesuit Post:
“With that said [about understanding Theological College’s perspective], I respect people who, with love and good intentions, seek to understand Church teachings in concert with contemporary thought. I welcome the dialogue. It is, however, another thing altogether to continue giving weight to voices which seek only to tear down, to shame, and to reject the truth of Gospel love.
“Disparaging voices force invitations of understanding and compassion off the table. Those voices say ‘no’ to the possibility of love. ‘No’ has the power to prevent a good and kind voice from being heard. Any response that begins with a ‘no’ robs us of an opportunity for dialogue. We will never have productive conversations about how to love LGBT+ persons if we don’t begin with ‘yes’ – a ‘yes’ rooted in our common call to love. Without caveats, without conjunctions – only love.”
Love is, Torres-Botello wrote, “the true topic of Martin’s book.” But that love is not always apparent or even present in some voices who try to join the conversation on LGBT issues in the church. He continued:
“The thing about Gospel love is that it must go both ways. Much like the bridge Martin is promoting in his book. It requires both sides to begin with love. Then we can build and cross the bridge to meet each other as human persons. It is hard to lead with love. . .A difficulty of bridge building is the healing that must occur simultaneously. When it comes to the LGBT+ community and the Catholic church, I have wounds, raw and unbandaged. And sometimes it takes a moment for me to enter into a space of dialogue when there is a history of hateful and hurtful speech.”
Emily Reimer-Barry, a theologian writing for the blog Catholic Moral Theology, gets to the core of what makes the right-wing groups’ rhetoric and tactics so damaging for individuals and for the church. She wrote:
“[W]hat is particularly troubling to me is the way that Church Militant employs sin-talk and shaming discourse. . .Shame can be toxic and can stifle the person’s growth and integration. Toxic shame is a persistent feeling of worthlessness, humiliation, and self-loathing. Theologically, it is the opposite of imago Dei. And the consequences can be deadly. . .Many LGBTQ members of the church have experienced shaming discourse within church settings and in Catholic families. We need to give families the resources–including theological resources but also resources that align with the best data in public health, mental health, and social sciences–to enable them to support one another in loving ways.”
Commenting on Martin’s book, Building a Bridge, Reimer-Barry said it provides no answers but a methodology for discourse. But, she added, “for any kind of listening to take place, there has to be a sense of trust first. . .It starts with humility and vulnerability and a desire to really know what someone else’s experience is like, even if that experience is different from one’s own.”
Torres-Botello and Reimer-Barry help enrich our understanding of “all are welcome.” The right-wing groups that attack people in the church and use dehumanizing language about LGBT people show that they are not ready for the conversation about Catholic LGBT issues that is now underway. Their bullying tactics undermine the trust and healing on which the bridge must be built. Their venomous rhetoric prevents better relationships between church leaders and LGBT people. No one should be allowed to cause another harm or instill shame. All are welcome to come to the discussion, but if they do not come with respectful language and love, they may find that no one will converse with them.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 11, 2017