With a gay church worker having to resign out of fear for physical safety after right-wing attacks, and with new protests of LGBT Catholic events mounting, the Church is experiencing a new wave of hate which should alarm Catholics , according to several LGBT experts.
Heidi Schlumpf of the National Catholic Reporter did an extensive write up about the right-wing’s new assaults on LGBT people and groups which advocate for them. She began her report:
“In the more than quarter-century that Francis DeBernardo has been involved in LGBT ministry, only twice have protesters shown up to his organization’s events for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender Catholics — and both times it was only one person.
“Until this year. . .It’s all part of a ‘toxic atmosphere that has been building up for decades,’ said DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, the Catholic LGBT advocacy and educational organization that sponsored [a] retreat [for gay priests, brothers, and deacons].”
Schlumpf wrote that right-wing Catholics’ “near-obsession” with homosexuality is increasingly troubling for LGBT advocates, and she noted the attacks on gay church worker Aaron Bianco who was subjected to death threats and harassment both at home and at work. He joins the more than 80 church workers who have lost their jobs in LGBT-related employment disputes since 2007.
DeBernardo said terms used in the current ecclesial debates over LGBT issues have included “defeat for humanity,” “demonic, poison,” “murderers,” and “Nazi-fascism and communism.” He said language was a root cause of the hate, including church teaching’s use of terms like “inclination,” “intrinsically evil,” and “objectively disordered,” which reduce “lesbian and gay love and sexuality to base desires for sexual activity.”
Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, said these attacks follow from conservatives who invasively investigate fellow Catholics’ lives. She said the problem was two-fold. Duddy-Burke partially blamed church teaching, which she described as “dehumanizing” and said “overturning that bad theology has to be the ultimate goal of the LGBTQIA justice movement.” At the same time, she blamed the hostile political climate created by Donald Trump and his allies:
“‘The president has legitimized personal attacks against whole categories of people. . .I think that people are much bolder in the way they go after one another. . .I don’t expect that anytime in my lifetime all Catholics will support people being gay or same-sex marriage, and that’s fine. . .But they do need to respect our rights to move safely in the world and not be harassed and called names, and not to have our access to health care, housing or jobs limited because of who we are.'”
Jason Steidl, a theologian at Fordham University who has written about his experiences growing up gay and Christian for Bondings 2.0, described the conservative groups as the “Catholic alt right,” a reference to the white supremacist and Neo-Nazi political factions which have supported Trump. He said, “we haven’t seen this before in the church.” Steidl, too, believed church teaching, as it is “fundamentally violent” on homosexuality, is part of the problem, and called for a “revolution in Catholic thought.”
Fellow theologian Craig Ford, also of Fordham and who has also written for Bondings 2.0, said:
“‘The reaction has been to clamp down on even the smell of anything that seems to provide more visibility to queer people in the church. . .It pathologizes gay people, especially gay priests, in the process. . .
“In order to begin a conversation, we need to acknowledge each other as conversation partners and validate the self-concept that people have. . .The refusal to even acknowledge that shows a fundamental resistance to bringing LGBTQ+ or queer people to the table.'”
Schlumpf also looked at specifically how the transgender community is faring in this new, more hateful and hostile environment:
“The high transgender murder rate — especially of transgender women of color, is ‘just another sign of what’s going on,’ said Hilary Howes, a Washington D.C.-area Catholic and founder of TransCatholic, a ministry to transgender people.
“Howes admits she has faced little discrimination in the church — except for some parishioners who once refused to shake her hand at the sign of peace — but still sometimes feels like she has “a target on her back” in the broader culture. . .transgender Catholics also can feel invisible, rarely mentioned from the pulpit or represented at church events, Howes said. Being more accepting of transgender people would make the church more relevant to younger people, she said. ‘With transgender issues, young people get it.'”
Stan “JR” Zerkowski of Fortunate Families, asked, “Is this how we as a Christian community behave toward those who are different than us? He said the church had “blood on its hands” and the right-wing was committing “terrorism.” But Zerkowski also expressed hope, “I’m seeing the people of God rise up and saying ‘This is so ugly, and this is not who we are.'”
In both the church and in society, there is clearly a new wave of hate which has arisen. Being in solidarity with LGBT communities now under attack is part of being a Christian. It is indeed time for the people of God to rise up, to take hold of the church, and to ensure that no one is subjected to the hateful attacks experienced by Aaron Bianco, his family, and many others.
To read Heidi Schlumpf’s entire article, click here.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 3, 2018