(Editor’s Note: We had planned to publish this post yesterday, the last day of June. However, because of Friday evening’s breaking news about Mary McAleese’s statement on church teaching, we had to postpone this post until today, which is the first day of July. So, perhaps we should call this installment “Last Month in Catholic LGBT History.” 🙂
“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.
A Pastoral Letter to Archbishop Ambrozic Concerning Same-Sex Family Benefits in Ontario
On June 5, 1994, the Feast of Corpus Christi that year, a Canadian coalition of Christian organizations wrote a pastoral letter to Archbishop Aloysius Ambrozic of Toronto requesting that he drop his opposition to the Equality Rights Statute Amendment Act, known as Bill 167, which would have provided same-sex couples in Ontario with the same rights and obligations of heterosexually married couples. In effect the law would have granted lesbian and gay couples civil union status, though that term was not used during that era. The coalition’s letter was eventually reprinted in Summer 1994 edition of a publication called Roundtable.
Just a few days before this pastoral letter was written, Ambrozic had directed all parish priests in the Toronto archdiocese to read a message from the pulpit urging congregants to write to their legislators opposing the bill. The letter to him was in response to that decision. The Canadian Catholic organizations which were members of the coalition which sent the letter were: The Catholic Worker, The Coalition of Concerned Canadian Catholics, Catholics in AIDS Ministry, Dignity Toronto, and Dignity Canada Dignite.
The following are some excerpts from the coalition’s letter.
First the letter’s authors call on the archbishop to exercise his authority justly:
“As a teacher and pastor, you have the authority to call Christians to play an active part in the debate over same-sex family benefits. But you have compromised the integrity of the clergy, especially gay priests, by demanding they unconditionally support your letter regardless of their convictions. And you compromised the freedom and dignity of the laity by encouraging lock-step thinking and moral political conformity. As a bishop, you must uphold Cbristian teaching on the freedom of individual conscience and uphold the right or each believer to make their own decisions on this matter. We ask you to use your authority to promote freedom of conscience and foster respectful dialogue.”
They remind him that lesbian and gay people are not outsiders, but part of the fabric of the Church:
“We must not overlook the faithful witness of lesbian and gay families to the ‘family values’ of covenant commitment, responsible parenthood, and loving partnership. We ask you to open your heart and mind to these people and to keep in mind, when you speak on behalf of the Christian community, that lesbian and gay Christians also belong to the Body of Christ.”
The authors point out a contradiction that has been true of many of the marriage equality messages that Catholic leaders have offered:
“We urge you to reconsider your assertion that same-sex family benefits threaten traditional families. These benefits serve to protect and promote the rights of lesbian and gay families, not limit the rights of others. Within a homophobic culture in which lesbians and gays are treated ‘in ways that are cruel, deeply disrespectful, and discriminatory,’ such protection is needed to safeguard their families and their children. You encouraged such protection when you asked Christians to show ‘lesbians and gays acceptance, friendship, and love.’ But if, in the same breath, you also imply that lesbians and gays are a threat to the family, what kind of mixed message have you sent?”
In conclusion, they ask the archbishop to consider the inconsistency of church teaching which accepts a gay or lesbian sexual orientation as morally neutral while condemning gay or lesbian sexual expression:
“. . . [W]e must ask you to reconsider your separation of lesbian and gay identity from its expression in other areas of life, especially in relationship. Would you ever separate the Christian identity of the faithful from its expression in all aspects of their lives. Applying such abstract distinctions to real life poses serious dangers. The forces of prejudice and hatred are all too ready to distort these distinctions in order to promote bigotry and violence. We must stop drawing an artificial separation between being a lesbian and gay person and expressing that identity in relationship and in community. As Christians we must take a stand alongside lesbian and gay people in their struggle to break free from injustice and oppression.”
These excerpts show not only deep theological reflection, but also clear logic as to why churches should support, not oppose, lesbian and gay couples and families. The arguments are as valid today as they were almost 25 years ago. The letter is a wonderful example of the laity taking up their responsibility to promote Catholic values–even in the Church itself.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, July 1, 2018 (originally scheduled for June 30, 2018)