Pride festivities each June provide a moment to celebrate the LGBTQ community and the struggle for equality. Though an increasing number of parishes have joined celebrations this year, Pride is not without controversy in some Catholic circles.
In Lexington, Kentucky, St. Paul Catholic Church hung a welcoming banner with a rainbow-striped underlay that read “LGBTQ+ Catholics – Family, Friends, & Allies – All Are Welcome.” The parish also joined Fortunate Families in hosting a booth during the city’s Pride Festival. Stan “JR” Zerkowski, who facilitates the parish’s LGBT ministry, told local CBS affiliate WKYT:
“‘I don’t think a Catholic church has ever had a sign like this before in front of it during Pride week or any other time. However, in other parts of the country, we see this regularly.’”
Fr. Chris Clay, a priest at St. Paul, said the banner is “a small way of counteracting any experiences of hostility, rejection, and silent treatment that LGBTQ Catholics may have experienced.” Sr. Clara Fehringer, a pastoral associate at St. Paul, wrote in a weekly church newsletter:
“I hope every sister and brother — LGBTQ+, immigrant, refugee, single, divorced, married, celibate, young, senior, homeless, rich, poor, of every race and every lifestyle feels at home, here in God’s house, when they walk through the doors of St. Paul Church and they encounter all of us.”
Churches involved in the Interparish Collaborative, a network for LGBT-affirming Catholic churches in the New York City Tri-State area, also participated in Pride in big ways.
Catholics were present at marches in the New York, along with several events in parts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The Church of St. Francis Xavier, Manhattan marked 25 years of LGBT ministry by once again sponsoring a contingent in New York City’s Pride Parade. The parish commented on Facebook:
“We are marching in the light of God! Every year, we march as a parish with #PrideNYC to demonstrate that all are welcome here, and to witness we are all equal in the eyes of God. Celebrating 25 years of #LGBT ministry.”
Pride Masses were also held, including a liturgy outside the Stonewall Inn, the historic site recognized as the birthplace of the modern LGBTQ equality movement. The Mass was hosted by the group Out at St. Paul’s.
At Our Lady of Grace parish, Hoboken, New Jersey, another Pride liturgy was celebrated by Fr. Alex Santora, who has been an strong advocate for LGBT inclusion.
Across the continent, in Long Beach, California, a parish hosted a Pride Mass in conjunction with the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ Catholic Ministry with Lesbian and Gay Persons.
One pastoral minister with the Interparish Collaborative, Robert Choiniere, wrote that Pride is “about as Catholic as you can get” and explained:
“This great celebration is a festival of our human dignity, a recognition that each of us is made in the image and likeness of God just as we are, without need for amendment or censure of our identities, our loves or our affections. Participating in Pride is an act of justice promoting and celebrating our blessedness as we stand up against the crippling force of shame that destroy[s] so many by convincing them they are broken, deficient or unworthy of God’s embrace or a place at the Eucharistic table.”
The Interparish Collaborative also listed many other parishes which participated in their local Pride celebrations: Immaculate Heart of Mary parish, and St. Augustine parish, both in Brooklyn; in New Jersey: Church of the Precious Blood, Monmouth Beach and Church of the Sacred Heart, South Plainfield,.
Around the globe, several cities and countries that are heavily Catholic happen to have large and colorful Pride parades. Crux reported:
“Rainbow flags, flashy costumes and glitter splattered the main cities of Italy, Greece, Latvia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania and Poland this weekend, provoking both outcry by conservatives and support by liberals in these largely Christian countries.”
Globally, however, Catholic views on LGBT inclusion and Pride remain on a spectrum. While societal acceptance of the LGBTQ community ramps up in many places, church leadership and more conservative Catholics steadfastly hold on to negative teachings on sexuality and gender. This year, the Catholic bishop of Providence, Rhode Island, discouraged parishes and individual Catholics from participating in Pride events. LGBTQ Catholics have become accustomed to not being welcomed in the Church, turned away or ostracized for their sexuality and/or gender identity. But change is needed because having a spiritual home is important to so many people, especially to LGBTQ Catholics.
To see churches so publicly display welcome toward the LGBT community is a sure sign of change, and the number of churches providing such a welcome is always increasing as New Ways Ministry’s listing of LGBT-friendly parishes and faith communities makes clear. Perhaps even more Catholic churches will follow the examples being set in Lexington, the Tri-State area, and elsewhere this past June. Being unquestioningly welcoming is surely what Jesus would have done. Now that Pride month has passed, we must continue to welcome and accept LGBTQ Catholics.
—Lindsay Hueston and Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 14, 2018