Longtime LGBTQ advocate Bishop Thomas Gumbleton has called for the Church to re-evaluate its teachings on homosexuality in light of science, particularly in Church leaders’ use of the term “intrinsically disordered.”
Interviewed by Italian journalist Giovanni Panettiere, Gumbleton said the Church’s teaching on homosexuality is still developing and there is a need to “continue to explore the issue more profoundly from a scientific point of view.” This development must include a re-evaluation of the language used, according to the National Catholic Reporter:
“[Panettierre:] According to Catholic teaching, a parent should tell his or her gay or lesbian child that homosexuality is ‘objectively disordered.’ Don’t you think this idea would hurt that child?
“[Gumbleton:] Yes. No parent should ever tell a child that he or she is intrinsically disordered. For the church to teach such a thing is insulting to the parent and child. I’ve had parents become very angry if that is even suggested, and I don’t blame them.”
This language of “intrinsically disordered,” according to Gumbleton, makes the Church somewhat complicit in homophobia because it “creates fear, anger and causes people to make false judgments about LGBT people.”
Gumbleton spoke personally about how his gay brother’s coming out affected the bishop’s own ministry. His seminary formation, Gumbleton said, left him “not prepared well” to minister with lesbian and gay people because he believed homosexuality “was a choice and therefore a sin.” He explained further in this exchange:
“[Panettiere:] Did you make mistakes, as a parish priest, in your pastoral accompaniment of gays and lesbians?
“[Gumbleton:] Yes, because I heard confessions with the mindset of homosexual actions being sinful because the penitent was choosing to go against nature. When I tried to counsel them, my counseling was of no help because according to the teaching, developing an intimate friendship with someone of the same sex would be a sin. My advice to them was to break off any such friendships because I felt that it was simply a choice and not a friendship that was based on their identity as a homosexual person. In fact, asking them to give up friendships, obviously, was not the right advice. Everyone needs close friends. I felt I was guiding them away from occasions of sin when in fact I was eliminating their opportunity for real friendships.”
Asked if chastity was the only way for a same-gender couple to live, Gumbleton said he now believes he has “no right to interfere” in the conscience decisions of two people and the model for ministry in this regard should be Pope Francis who said “Who am I to judge?”
Bishop Gumbleton, the winner of New Ways Ministry’s 1995 Bridge Building Award, has been an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ people and their families since at least 1974. In 1992, this LGBTQ work became more prominent after he addressed New Ways Ministry’s 1992 National Symposium. Two years later, he participated in an LGBTQ listening tour around the U.S. In 1998, he was one of nine bishops signed a statement against anti-gay hate crimes in the wake of Matthew Shepard’s murder. He also served on New Ways Ministry’s Advisory Board for several years. He was also a leader in developing the U.S. bishops’ document on lesbian and gay ministry, Always Our Children. And just a few years ago, defying Detroit’s Archbishop Allen Vigneron, Gumbleton told supporters of marriage equality to keep receiving Communion.
Discussions about changing the language of “intrinsically disordered” have been growing since the Synod on the Family in 2014 and 2015. But given Bishop Gumbleton’s decades in LGBTQ ministry, his appeal should be taken particularly seriously. He is a prophet in the Church to whom his brother bishops would do well to listen.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 16, 2019