What is it about celebrating Pride that causes some Church leaders to react in strongly negative ways towards events which simply honor the dignity and value of LGBTQ people? Recent controversies this year have again shown the need for more education and dialogue or, at the very least, silence on social media.
Most immediately, LGBTQ advocates continue to criticize a tweet sent by Providence’s Bishop Thomas Tobin that warned Catholics from attending Pride, which, the bishop wrote, could be “especially harmful for children.” Most prominently, co-host of The View Sunny Hostin, a Catholic, directly challenged Tobin on the show, saying, per the Washington Blade:
“‘My faith always taught me, ‘What would Jesus do?’ And I know Jesus would be attending that Pride Parade. . .And I also know that God is love and Jesus is love and love is love. And for a Catholic Bishop to come out and say something like that given the history of pedophilia in the Catholic Church. Given what the Catholic Church has hidden about the abuse of children… some would say that being at a Pride parade would be much safer for a child than it has been to be in a Catholic Church for many years.'”
Comments like Tobin’s are “like getting a wallop over the head or a stake through the heart each time bishops engage in such [insensitivity],” said Fr. Gerry O’Connor, CSsR, in an interview with Dublin’s The Irish Catholic . But Tobin is not the only clergyperson who denigrated Pride. A priest in Texas has apologized for comments strongly critical of County Judge Barbara Canales’ support for the LGBTQ community.
The apology came from Father James Farfaglia of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, Corpus Christi, who had taken to Facebook criticizing Canales for her support of the LGBTQ community. Canales recently was named grand marshal of the upcoming 2019 PRIDE parade. The priest wrote in April:
“What the hell is going on here? . . .What a fool and what a great leader- but she is big time wrong. Here I am trying to reform the west side of our amazing city, and I got a Mexican American doing exactly the wrong program – and Catholic too. WTF. God help us – pobre Corpus – Selena! I’m upset. Dios mio. Que idiota.”
Farfaglia also said in his Palm Sunday homily, “The LGBTQIA plus whatever values are not the values of Corpus Christi, Texas and they are not the values of South Texas.” Soon after the controversy arose, however, the Facebook post was deleted and Farfaglia released an apology alongside a statement from the Diocese of Corpus Christi. The diocese’s statement called the post “inappropriate comments” and urged people “towards civility and compassion in all of our thoughts, words, and actions with one another.”
There is another way forward beyond such harm. Marcus Mescher, a theology professor at Xavier University, Cincinnati, responding most directly to Tobin, wrote in Daily Theology that there are “several theological and ethical problems” with the bishop’s words. Beyond being hypocritical because of the Church’s failure to protect children and the bishops’ contributions to homophobia, Mescher asked key questions that every Church leader should consider before opining:
“It is not the place for bishops to tell lay Catholics whether they should support or attend Pride Month events because the bishops cannot predict the action, intention, and circumstances of those who may do so, especially those who do in clear conscience, in respect and love for a parent, child, sibling, another family member or friend.
“What better way can we advance the ‘revolution of tenderness’ (Evangelii Gaudium, no. 88) that helps us build a culture of solidarity?
“What better way can we be ‘repairers of the breach’ (Isaiah 58:12) in our broken, wounded, and divided world?
“What better way to be witnesses of the ‘truth of the Gospel’ that love, mercy, and solidarity should extend to each and to all?”
The call for education and dialogue also came from Mercy Sr. Janet Rozzano. She wrote in a blog post for the Sisters of Mercy that Pride was an opportunity to learn, posing her own set of questions:
- “What healing needs to occur in me so that I might be more open to understanding the experience of LGBT persons? What will enable this healing to occur?
- With whom might I talk, or what can I read, that will enlighten me and deepen my knowledge of gender identity and sexual orientation?
- Do I see each person as a beloved child of God, whose life is worthy of respect, justice, welcome and compassion? What does that vision call me to do?
- How can I help to counteract the violence toward LGBT persons that exists in our world today? By my words and actions, can I suggest paths to greater harmony and understanding?
- What will fire up my spirit for this work of opening hearts and minds to the blessings of diversity?”
One priest who has offered a more pastoral, inclusive response is Fr. James Martin, SJ, author of Building a Bridge on LGBT issues in the Church, posted on Facebook at the start of June:
“To my many LGBTQ friends, Catholic and otherwise: Happy Pride Month. Be proud of your God-given dignity, of the many gifts God has given you to help you and others to flourish, of your unique place in our world, and of the many ways that you contribute to the life of your church. Always remember that you are ‘wonderfully made’ by God (Psalm 139).#PrideMonth #PrideMonth2019 🏳️🌈”
That affirmation of LGBTQ people and the goodness of Pride is the proper way for Church leaders to respond. It is the way to be “repairers of the breach” while speaking the actual “truth of the Gospel.” Mescher, Martin, and Rozzano have shown that listening and dialogue are essential for doing so. But if certain clergy are not able to offer such words, either because they are unwilling to dialogue or ignorant about Pride, perhaps the best approach is to follow the old adage, “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 7, 2019