A Catholic parish in San Diego hosted a special Mass recently to commemorate the 20th anniversary of “Always Our Children,” the U.S. bishops’ document addressed to parents with lesbian and gay children and to pastoral ministers.
Bishop John Dolan, auxiliary bishop of San Diego, celebrated the Mass at St. John the Evangelist Church, which is located in the city’s Hillcrest neighborhood where many LGBT people live. Bishop Robert McElroy and other clergy were present, as well as some 300 LGBT Catholics, their families, and allies, reported The San Diego Union-Tribune. McElroy commented on the Mass, which was sponsored by the diocesan Office of Family Life and Spirituality:
“‘Pope Francis is calling us to reach out to everyone with a message of radical inclusion. . .Sadly, there has been an estrangement and an alienation with LGBT people, and the Church needs to take steps to heal that.”
McElroy also that Catholics who seek dialogue and welcome often receive criticism from both LGBT-negative people and sometimes from the LGBT community, saying:
“‘Our founder was Jesus Christ. Jesus took [criticism] from all sides. . .And even if we’re doing things right — and I’m not saying we are doing all things right, we’ve got things to learn about this — but even when we’re doing it right, it’s not a bad sign if you’re getting it from all sides.'”
Bishop Dolan acknowledged in his homily where the church has gotten it wrong, as when parents do not receive competent and kind pastoral care from church officials. He also used the homily to encourage continued dialogue, according to America:
“‘Twenty years later, the dialogue and discourse continues, but it isn’t always fruitful or civil. The unshaking ideologies of people without and within the L.G.B.T. community are daily blogged, tweeted and Facebooked in ad hominem, yellow-journalistic, fake-news style where now the mysteries of Christ and the Good News are lost and good people are directly or indirectly hurt. . .Such rhetoric has to stop!’
“‘Ad hominem attacks and lies about those with whom we disagree must always be avoided. . .As our Catechism states, ‘If a lie in itself only constitutes a venial sin, it becomes mortal when it does grave injury to the virtues of justice and charity.’ Civil discourse and fruitful dialogue cannot be forfeited by those who uphold the teachings of the church and/or by those who struggle to incorporate our teachings within their personal lives.'”
Sadly, harsh rhetoric from the right-wing and even a small protest proved Dolan’s point. Aaron Bianco, a pastoral minister at St. John the Evangelist, said there had been threats made in the weeks leading up to the Mass. America reported:
“Mr. Bianco said he had received multiple threats from people posting on Catholic websites in the weeks leading up to the Mass and that the tires on his car had been slashed in the church parking lot. As a result, more than three dozen police officers were on hand in case of violence. . .But Mr. Bianco said that in his eyes the Mass was a success.”
But despite these incidents, Catholics in the pews were grateful for the Mass and happy to be present. Kyle Escobar-Humphries, a married gay man with two children, said the Mass helped his children “to understand that this church is open for everybody,” including them.
Richard Peterson, who is part of the LGBT ministry at St. John the Evangelist, said, “I think at the core of it you have to look at what the church stands for, which is love and mercy and forgiveness and community. That’s what this parish is trying to do here.”
Theologian Emily Reimer-Barry, who recently wrote against the toxic shame which right-wing Catholic groups cause by their vitriolic rhetoric, told the Union-Tribune:
“‘I think anyone who doesn’t wrestle with their faith is not a thinking person. . .It’s not an easy process. But I also have faith that God is there in the messiness. . .An event like today’s is a time when the community gathers to support each other and say, yes, we are all in this together.'”
Calling the event “truly historic,” City Commissioner Nicole Murray Ramirez set the Mass in the context of the diocese’s past actions:
“‘When you remember that this is the same diocese that 12 years ago refused to give a funeral to John McCusker [who owned a gay dance bar] and just five or six years ago did the same thing again to SRO [Lounge]’s owner, John Sanfilippo, [Editor’s note: both actions were eventually reversed] but now this bishop is welcoming LGBTs and our families to celebrate Mass. . .There are still people in the church who don’t want us there. I think it’s courageous.'”
Bishop Dolan has an LGBT-positive record, having pastored St. John the Evangelist, a welcoming parish, before his episcopal appointment. He described his time working with LGBT communities as both “an eye-opening experience” and a “joyful experience,” and during the diocesan synod in 2016, said LGBT issues were the “elephant in the room.” LGBT issues did come up at the synod in indirect ways.
Bishop McElroy’s leadership since his appointment by Pope Francis has also been LGBT-positive, having affirmed at least twice the need for the institutional church to reach out to LGBT people. As for the right-wing attacks on LGBT issues that have occurred recently, McElroy has said the attacks should be a “wake-up call” for U.S. Catholics to rid the church of judgmentalism.
The ALL ARE WELCOME series is an occasional feature on this blog that highlights Catholic parishes and faith communities that support and affirm LGBT people.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 12, 2017