What does it mean to navigate through life as a Catholic LGBTQ person? Not all Catholic LGBTQ people have the same philosophy. The diversity of opinion was recently abundantly clear at Columbia University, New York, where Catholic students hosted an event titled “LGBTQ and Catholic: An Affirming Space and Conversation” as a response to an event featuring the group Eden Invitation, which had been co-sponsored by the Columbia Catholic Ministry (CCM) and the Catholic Center at New York University. Eden Invitation bills itself as an exploration of “life and love beyond the LGBT+ paradigm, from a conservative perspective”
According to an article in the Columbia Daily Spectator, a campus publication, many students criticized Eden Invitation’s ideologies for what they perceived as homophobic and transphobic ideas, for example, the philosophy that while experiencing same-sex attraction is valid, acting on said attraction is not.
This led several students at Columbia and Union Theological Seminary (which is affiliated with Columbia) to plan the above event in response to the program featuring Eden Invitation. The Spectator article quotes Union Theological student and event organizer Abby Rampone, who was concerned that Eden Invitation’s message could be harmful to younger students:
” ‘Undergrads are going to hear about [Eden Invitation] and think, “Okay, if you’re LGBTQ and Catholic, this means that you have to be celibate, this is your only option.” We want to show that is not your only option.’ “
Rampone adds that “it’s possible to be in Catholic communities that affirm LGBTQ relationships, and even though that’s not an option that you’re hearing of on campus, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t people out there who will support you.” The event in response received a positive response from the Columbia community, with many LGBTQ organizations offering up their support.
Another of the organizers, Tess Gallagher Clancy, said that Eden Invitation’s “ambiguous messaging” drove her and others online to understand where the organization really stood on LGBTQ relationships. One need not travel far, for much can be found on a page of Eden Invitation’s website describing their four basic principles. The second of which reads, “Same-sex desires or discord within one’s maleness or femaleness are valid experiences of the human person. People who experience these things deserve to be seen with dignity, received with love, and heard with respect.” The page also includes references to Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and gender complementarity.
The Spectator also spoke to a former CCM board member, Nicole-Ann Lobo, who revealed this was not the first time Columbia’s Catholic ministry had been disappointing about LGBTQ inclusivity. Lobo said she attempted to invite Jesuit author Fr.James Martin to campus for a “productive and inclusive” conversation on LGBTQ acceptance in the Catholic Church. Martin is the author of the influential book Building a Bridge, which calls for a dialogue between the Catholic Church and the LGBTQ community. Lobo’s event was rejected with “discomfort and disapproval” by other board members and CCM director and pastor Dan O’Reilly. Lobo said the response upset her:
” ‘The Columbia Catholic Ministry has never shied away from hosting events with National Right to Life, an anti-abortion initiative, so they haven’t been afraid of dealing with other political issues before. But then within this issue which shouldn’t even be controversial, this is the response I got.’ “
Some LGBTQ Catholics make the personal decision to live a celibate lifestyle. But to argue that celibacy, or making the deliberate choice to not enter into a same-gender relationship, is the only way for LGBTQ Catholics to be right with God could be pastorally irresponsible. Pastoral ministry should emphasize the importance of developing and following one’s conscience on matters where there may be disagreement with church directives. Young LGBTQ Catholics shouldn’t feel like they have to choose between their faith and a loving relationship.
—Melissa Feito, November 12, 2019