Since France legalized same-sex marriage (“mariage pour tous” or “marriage for all”) in 2013, support for LGBT persons in the French Catholic Church has grown immensely. Already 35 French dioceses have “missioned” people to begin to close the wide gap between the LGBT community and the Church.
Many of these dioceses have opened the conversation surrounding LGBT issues and how these topics intersect with Christian beliefs by establishing dialogue groups. For example, the diocese of Créteil created discussion and support groups called “Se parler,” meaning “to talk with each other,” noted the French Catholic news outlet La Croix, which recently published a major article about the phenomenon. Established by Bishop Michel Santier, the groups seek to create a space for church members whose lives have been affected by the Church’s often harsh stance on LGBT issues, and treatment of LGBT persons.
Speaking with group participants, Bishop Sanier told them that they were all “part of the body of Christ.” Additionally, Bishop Dominique Lebrun, of the diocese of Saint-Etienne said,“Welcoming all Christians is an absolute necessity.” said .
A strong welcome is needed because for too long, the Church has only provided lip service. “Gay people and their families have the impression that the Church welcomes them all, but actually places people at a distance,” said Fabienne Daull, a member of Cados (“Chrétiens s’accueillant dans leurs différences d’orientations sexuelles,” or “Christians welcoming each other in their different sexual orientations”) in Nîmes.
Isabelle Parmentier is one of the French Catholics spearheading such initiatives in her diocese. Appointed by Bishop Pascal Wintzer of Poitiers, she accompanies LGBT people, parents of LGBT children, LGBT couples – Christian or not – to rebuild the broken ties between the Church and the LGBT community.
Homophobia, she says, is still present in French society, and “remains one of the major causes of suicide in teenagers.”
“In certain Catholic families, the suffering that LGBT people go through is aggravated by the idea that a gay child is ‘living in sin,’” she noted.
The movement in the French Church toward inclusion of LGBT persons is trying to change such negative understandings. The movement has arrived in the wake of Pope Francis’s historic “Who am I to judge?” comment. In France, such discussion groups seek to promote a similar accepting attitude and allow people of all sexualities and identities to feel welcome in their churches.
Many French citizens are Catholic, though the level of church participation varies.
Claude Besson, another leader of these groups, is a major voice for LGBT Catholics and a “pioneer of welcoming gay people in the Church,” according to La Croix. Besson commented:
“Of course, certain people would want these changes to come more quickly, or slowly, but [I’ve been doing this for] ten years, and I never would have thought we’d be where we are today.”
These groups and conversations in France are a hopeful sign that the LGBT community can be integrated without scorn or shame that has so often come from the Church itself. Hopefully, other similar groups can gain popularity, and the much-needed reparation between the Church and the LGBT community can spread worldwide.
To learn more about how your parish or diocese can welcome LGBT people, check out New Ways Ministry’s webpage on “Parish Life.” For specific ways parishes can welcome gay and lesbian married couples, check out our list of suggestions.
—Lindsay Hueston, New Ways Ministry, July 2, 2018