Why LGBT People Needed to Speak for Themselves at the Synod

The pace of the synod is relentless.  And so keeping up on all of what is going on here consumes a great amount of time.  Just keeping up with what goes on in the press briefings is a full-time job.  Then there’s the reading of the wealth of reports and interviews that other journalists are producing. I’ve gained a new respect for journalists here, who day in and day out, have to keep up with an ever-developing church, especially these days, and who never know what a new day will bring.

So, needless to say, I’m a little behind in reporting.  I hope to catch you up in the next few days.

Yadira Vieyra (Photo by Francis DeBernardo)

At the October 19th press briefing, there was a prime example of why the synod should have included the voices of LGBT youth in their ranks.  U.S. youth delegate Yadira Vieyra, whom I referenced last week because of some good statements she made on LGBT issues, was a featured speaker at the briefing that day.  Ms. Vieryra’s passion is for immigration issues, and she works professionally in Chicago to get mental health services to migrant youths.  Her statement was very moving.

During the Q&A period, Deborah Rose Milavec of FutureChurch (whose synod reports can be read here), asked Vieyra a question about how women and LGBT issues are being handled in the synod.  You can click here to read her full answer, but in this post, I will limit myself to her response about LGBT issues.  Vieyra said:

“In terms of the topic of the LGBTQ community, we discussed how do we better minister to a group that feels attacked, that often times were ministered to in a poorly manner.  They feel like they are displaced and that the church doesn’t want them.  We know that’s not true.  Any Catholic knows that is not true. But our doctrine isn’t going to change. We just need to find a way to make them feel that Jesus loves them. We hold them to the same standard as any heterosexual person who is having extra-marital relations. So it’s important that we communicate that.  The Church is here for them, but it’s tricky ministering to a group that already feels attacked.”

I believe that Vieryra, who studied sexuality and gender issues at Georgetown University, wanted to say something positive.  But since she herself is not LGBTQ, and may not have broad exposure to LGBTQ issues, her answer was flawed. I am not saying this to criticize her because I honestly feel that she was out of her league with this question (it would have been different if this answer were given by a bishop who should know better), but I feel  obliged to point out what was lacking in her answer.

First of all,  she is right that the LGBTQ community has often been ministered to poorly, but to say that LGBTQ people feel “attacked” was an overstatement.   They may feel oppressed, misunderstood, discriminated against, but only sometimes do they feel attacked, and, quite understandably, that is when they are being attacked by church leaders.  Such as when they are denied communion, are fired from church jobs, are not allowed to have their children baptized or enrolled in schools, are restricted at family funerals.

But Vieyra also added that “it’s tricky ministering to a group that already feels attacked.”  That is not accurate because it seems to imply that LGBTQ people will not accept any positive pastoral gesture made to them.  Not true.  In fact, just the opposite.  Time and again, I’ve seen LGBTQ people respond positively when a pastoral minister makes an outreach to them in all sincerity.  Some have even said that it’s embarrassing how the smallest gesture from a church leader can invoke such an amazing positive response.

Yet even for those who do constantly feel attacked, there’s nothing tricky about ministering to them.  Pastoral ministers should know how to reach out to any group or person alienated from the church, and indeed many parishes and dioceses have specific ministries for these individuals.

Second, while she says that any Catholic knows that LGBTQ people are welcome in the church, that is simply not true. People contact New Ways Ministry all the time looking for an LGBT-friendly parish because they have been rejected by other parishes.  Ignorant public statements from church which leaders which disparage LGBTQ people also indicate that not every Catholic knows the church welcomes them.

Finally, her statement that the church asks of them the same thing they ask of heterosexuals in extra-marital affairs is totally inaccurate.  Heterosexual couples have the option of marriage.  Lesbian and gay people are told to remain forever celibate.  No equivalence at all.

And, as for changing church doctrine, of course we know that is definitely a possible option.

As I said, I do not blame Ms. Vieyra for her inaccuracies.  I wish I had the opportunity to question her further about these issues, but journalists do not have free access to the synod participants.  I decided to report on them because I think they are a prime example of why LGBT youth needed to speak for themselves at the synod.  I don’t doubt that Vieyra’s heart was in the right place, but she simply did not have the understanding to describe the LGBTQ experience of the church. Being spoken about is not the same thing as speaking for oneself.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, October 26, 2018


1 reply
  1. Aquinas1220
    Aquinas1220 says:

    Please Francis, stop making excuses for individuals like Ms. Vieyra. In this day and age there is absolutely no reason (beyond willful ignorance) for someone in her position to make statements like this, regardless of if her heart “was in the right place”


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