In an opinion column for the Jersey Journal, pastor Fr. Alexander Santora of Hoboken, New Jersey, shared the hopes of many LGBTQ Catholics under the headline ‘Gays want Catholic church to acknowledge their goodness.’ Fr. Santora reported on a New Jersey meeting of members of the Interparish Collaborative (IPC), a coalition of parishes from the mid-Atlantic region who support one another in developing LGBTQ ministry.
The 50 parishioners and pastoral ministers involved in LGBTQ ministry discussed a variety of topics. Altogether the meeting brought together participants from Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Hartford, New York, Bridgeport, Brooklyn, and each of the five New Jersey Dioceses. Also present were Evan Mascagni and Shannon Post, filmmakers working on a project about Fr. James Martin, SJ, and the overlap between LGBTQ identity and the Catholic Church. At the meeting, all participants had an opportunity to socialize, and connect about regional programming, along with sharing best practices and encouraging each other in their continued work.
One woman recalled an event last November when approximately 16 LGBTQ parishioners from New Jersey and Pennsylvania traveled to Newark to share a meal and conversation with Newark’s Cardinal Joseph Tobin, discussing, among other things, the church’s relationship with the LGBTQ community. Christine Zuba, a transgender woman from the Philadelphia area, characterized the conversation as a hopeful one. She said, “He sought advice about how to move the conversation forward and how he can help.”
Cardinal Tobin has a history of support for LGBTQ people; he welcomed a pilgrimage of the group to Newark’s Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in May 2017, which the IPC had organized. One of IPC’s founders is Ed Poliandro, who attends St. Francis Xavier parish in Manhattan, spoke to the New York Times following 2017’s meeting with Tobin, calling it “a miracle.”
When Poliandro was asked at the New Jersey meeting about discussing LGBTQ reality with church leaders, he said, “We can’t be in the closet because we are fully out in the Eucharist…this is what we all do.”
Poliandro has a long history of advocating for LGBT rights in the Catholic Church. He recalls a 2004 encounter with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington D.C., where he was largely ignored by bishops as he stood outside seeking inclusion. Santora noted one bishop was the exception: “But one stood out, the late [Bishop] Joseph Sullivan from the Brooklyn Diocese, who turned out to be a great advocate for greater inclusion of gays in the church.” Sullivan’s Brooklyn diocese is the home of IPC’s founding parish, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, which started holding retreats and programming for LGBTQ Catholics in 2011.
In the years since, the IPC has regularly marched in the city’s Pride Parade, and they plan to have a large group for this year’s parade on June 30th. One of those people most responsible for the group’s growing success is David Harvie, who runs the In God’s Image group at Sacred Heart Church in South Plainfield, NJ. In addition to organizing the 2017 pilgrimage, he was the leader of this year’s New Jersey meeting.
Real dialogues such as this meeting will prove to be essential to reforming church teaching and practices about gender and sexuality. While harmful missives such as the recently released Vatican document on gender may use the language of conversation and listening, such wording will continue to ring hollow if it does not include the voices of those most qualified to speak: LGBTQ Catholics themselves.
[This post was updated from an earlier version to correct some factual errors.]
—Catherine Buck, New Ways Ministry, June 26, 2019