A leading theologian and priest has said the Catholic Church should expect a “messy period” when it comes to LGBT inclusion, a period similar to that experienced in other Christian denominations as they moved to become more affirming.
Fr. Bryan Massingale, a professor in theological and social ethics at Fordham University, told U.S. Catholic that the Catholic Church is experiencing an historical shift on LGBT issues. That shift inevitably brings conflict and complexity. He said Christian denominations which have become affirming churches, like the Episcopalians and Presbyterians, struggled first:
“‘They all went through a messy period marked by a divergence of opinion and open disagreement on approach. . .We can’t expect the Catholic experience to be any different. The differences we see among official leaders are part of a normal process of coming to a different place. . .We’re in this transitional time when we’re moving out of one paradigm of understanding human sexuality and into another. That’s part of the mess we’re in, but it is our faith as Catholics that this mess contains the ground for new life and new birth.'”
Massingale attributed this new moment in Catholicism on LGBT issues to Pope Francis, who is “creating the space in which the Spirit can speak and be heard” rather than “creating a revolution.” He continued:
“While there hasn’t been any official change in church doctrine, under the papacy of Pope Francis there is a greater freedom to address issues of sexual ethics and sexual morality more openly than there has been under the previous papacies. . .We’re used to living with the idea that church leaders all act the same way or use the same voice. . .I think this is a call for us as Catholics to accept the reality that we live in a church that’s in the midst of hesitant but real change and development. How do we help our people to understand that this isn’t something that’s entirely new in church history?'”
Finally, the theologian advocated for the institutional Church to listen more intentionally and deeply to the “voices of very sincere, committed, loyal Catholic people” in finding “a way to a stance that more adequately reflects the life and ministry of Jesus.”
Fr. Massingale will lead New Ways Ministry’s retreat for gay priests, deacons, and brothers this coming October. For more information or to register, please click here.
Other Catholics shared with U.S. Catholic about their experiences of the Church today.
Fired church worker Kristen Ostendorf was less hopeful than Massingale, saying, “It’s hard for me to believe the church has changed” because of the fear that still permeates the Church. While overall Catholics have become more affirming of LGBT people, Ostendorf worries about the message church leaders send to young people when they practice discrimination:
“‘It says to the gay kids, “You have no future in this church. Don’t say out loud who you are, and if you do, we will squash you.” That is not a church of Christ, it can’t possibly be. . .There’s a ton of us who stick around in a church that really doesn’t want us. So there’s got to be a message of Jesus that’s appealing. There’s got to be a truth to that Christian story that we keep telling. LGBT people keep showing up because they are hopeful in the truth of that message.'”
Yunuen Trujillo of the Catholic Ministry for Lesbian and Gay Persons in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles agreed that change is “happening from the bottom up,” noting the move by her parish to start an LGBT ministry. She added:
“‘We tend to forget that sexuality or orientation is only one small part of who the LGBT community is. . .LGBT people have amazing testimonies of faith, and I think anyone who hears their stories would agree that this is not a person we’d deny sacraments or other things to.'”
Finally, Javier and Martha Plascencia, Catholic parents with a gay son, said that even as people in the pews become more accepting, the voices of church leaders still have a great impact, especially among Latinx people.
Since Pope Francis was elected five years ago, he has allowed a more honest and open conversations on key pastoral issues that his predecessors forcefully silenced, including LGBT conversations, Early on in his pontificate, Francis said young people should go “make a mess” in their diocese. That message has increasingly resonated through the whole Church. LGBT people and their allies can now be glad we are evermore deeply in what Fr. Massingale calls this “messy period” for, as we have witnessed in our Christian siblings’ communities, from divine chaos comes new life.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 6, 2018