Commonweal Editor Calls Church Teaching on LGBTQ Sexuality Harmful and Distracting

The U.S. Catholic hierarchy’s insistence on opposing same-gender marriage distracts its leaders and laity from speaking out against other moral shortcomings, says a Commonweal editor in a recent column.

Mollie Wilson O’Reilly, Commonweal’s Editor At Large, said what she thought many Catholics are afraid to say: not only is the Church’s stance on gay people wrong, but it is harmful to the LGBTQ community, the Church, and the wider world. The fear that stops people from naming the doctrine as harmful needs to be confronted and overcome in order for there to be change.

Mollie Wislon O’Reilly

O’Reilly points to the lived reality of LGBTQ Catholics as the inspiration for her unafraid condemnation of the Church’s teaching. She acknowledges that same-sex relationships are occasions of grace, the same as heterosexual relationships, and she decries the wounds the Church inflicts on LGBTQ youth, laments the loss of faith for those who are wounded, and marvels at those whose faith is unshaken:

“And I have seen LGBTQ people so drawn to Christ’s presence in the church that they look past all the dismissals and insults to fight for their place at the Eucharistic table. Their faithfulness inspires and challenges me. Their witness convinces me the church is wrong to condemn them.”

O’Reilly believes it is time for the rest of the faithful who disagree with the Church’s teaching on LGBTQ people to speak up. She recognizes that people remain silent on the issue for a number of reasons: the expectation that the Church does not care what individual Catholics think, the desire to remain civil and not cause trouble, and fear.

In light of the real harm the Church’s teaching inflicts on LGBTQ youth and adults, O’Reilly concludes she cannot choose civility over moral fortitude.

And here is where she distinguishes herself from the institutional U.S. Church. While the Church in the U.S. continues to take up defense of marriage as its most pressing issue, O’Reilly documents the flagrant betrayals of Christian morals unfolding in the U.S., on which the Church as a whole has remained largely silent.

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O’Reilly, in looking to the U.S. bishops for a clear moral voice to condemn policies that directly attack the dignity and worth of the poor and marginalized, is left dismayed. Instead of the bishops speaking with a unified voice against the hatred espoused against immigrants, Muslims, and Jews, they choose to speak vaguely in support of religious freedom.

The U.S. bishops are spending their time and money in defense of religious freedom in ways that will allow them to continue to discriminate against LGBTQ people, but not ways that have defended Muslims from the vitriol and discriminatory policies of the current administration. Such selective support of religious freedom betrays its true value.

In all of this, the bishops insist that Catholics must see this fight—religious freedom and the defense of marriage—as central to their Catholic identity in the U.S. By focusing primarily on this harmful Church teaching, the breadth and beauty of the rest of the Church’s teaching on morality, peace, and justice is ignored. O’Reilly says:

“As I see it now, the church’s condemnation of homosexuality isn’t just an error that needs fixing. It is an obstacle that stops Catholics, leaders and laity alike, from speaking clearly about urgent moral crises and from being perceived as credible when we do.”

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, commented: “The one weakness of O’Reilly’s column is that there is an underlying presumption that no one has confronted the bishops on this issue before. In reality, lots of Catholics have been speaking out for years, and some have paid a big price for doing so. Just look at all the people who have been fired from church jobs because of being married, intending to get married, or speaking in support of marriage equality.”

In order to return to the path of justice and morality—the path of Jesus—the Church needs faithful like O’Reilly to decide enough is enough and call the Church’s teaching on sexuality what it is: harmful and a distraction from the Church’s true mission.

Those of us who remain faithful Catholics believe the Church has something to offer the world. We are called, as heirs of Jesus, to participate and continue his gospel: to “bring good news to the poor…proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” We cannot continue to build the Reign of God in justice and truth when we are entirely focused on defending an indefensible doctrine that continues to cause harm.

Kevin Molloy, New Ways Ministry, January 12, 2020

8 replies
  1. Thomas Ellison
    Thomas Ellison says:

    The Church needs people like Ms O’Reilly to speak up. But even more so, every time any one of us who identifies as Catholic, whether straight or gay, hears a priest or a bishop say discriminatory things , we should speak up,too. The fixation on sexuality is now and always has been the Church’s Achilles heel. I heard a fellow parishioner chafing about “things being done wrong” at our small parish. He said “sexual sin was the worst kind” . (And here I thought it was murder !) Translation: there are four gay people who are ‘open’ and have (surprisingly) the support of the other parishioners. Somehow, he has changed his mind. We follow the “kill ’em with kindness model. Seems to work. Meanwhile, speak up like Ms. O’Reilly. I hope the Church wakes up before it is too late.

  2. Mary Elizabeth Hunt
    Mary Elizabeth Hunt says:

    Thanks to Frank DeBernardo for pointing out the fact that MANY Catholics have made this point for at least five decades. It is wonderful to have new voices in the conversation, new insights and solidarity. The reason to insist on the history is to demonstrate the extent of the institution’s recalcitrance and the uphill struggle still at hand.

  3. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    Indeed, since the early 1970s organizations such as DignityUSA, New Ways Ministries and many other have been challenging the stance of the RC Church against the LGBT community. While there was some softening of the stance initially, the letter on care (really abuse) of homosexuals authored by then Cardinal Ratzinger in 1986 brought the evil stance of the Church into clear focus. There have been a multitude of letters and conversations to a variety of priests, bishops, cardinals and the Popes of the period informing them of the normal moral status of all homosexuals and rightful claim to full participation in the Church. No one in the Church can claim to be unaware of the need for an awakening to Christ’s love for all humanity. That Commonweal is just now taking a public stance in support of LGBT issues is quite surprising, but it is good to have them in for the fight.

  4. Barbara Cotter
    Barbara Cotter says:

    I think it is how we react to Jesus’ call to those of us trying to live the life we believe moves us toward God, a God who unconditionally loves us. It is the energy it takes to oppose the doctrines that cause harm, by excluding people who are looking for a way to live within the call to Love One Another, that I can no longer support.

  5. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    Thanks for this post. I read the fine column by Mollie Wilson O’Reilly. It brought to mind the excitement of the day the Irish people passed the referendum in support of marriage equality, and the message the Irish people gave that all their family members were welcome.

    I also agree with Francis DeBernardo’s assessment that many Catholics have been confronting the bishops about their position on homosexuality for years. In fact, people have been speaking out for decades.

    One can speculate about the reasons for resistance to a change in doctrine when the doctrine’s errors have been clearly revealed by the lived experiences of lesbian and gay couples and by the words of those who challenge the doctrine.

    One can also speculate about the fixation on opposing the rights of LGBTQ people, while being derelict in making a strong condemnation of the grave injustices committed by the current administration against immigrants, Muslims, women, people of color, the poor, and the very environment on which we depend for our lives. I welcome Mollie O’Reilly’s clarity in pointing out the contradictions.

    As a brother of mine once remarked to me, the bishops in this country are not moral leaders. Perhaps that has for the most part in history been the case, though there are some exceptions. (Religious and political leaders often need to be pushed and goaded to do the right thing.) Indeed, it is the people, not just the bishops who are the church. And in this instance, it is imperative that the people who are church, speak clearly and act strongly in a world in which truth and love are so sorely needed. And I do believe that is happening.

  6. Rev. John P. Alvarado
    Rev. John P. Alvarado says:

    Be the voice crying out in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord! We rise up from the waters of our Baptism in and with Jesus as daughters and sons, brothers and sisters of our loving God. Amen to what you have shared in this blog and to what so many faithful LGBTQ Catholics continue to live in love and faith every day. May the Christ within each of us and the Spirit flowing through us pierce the blinding darkness that keeps us from moving ahead together on the path that we share on our way home to the Lord. Open hearts, clear vision and a lived faith for 2020! Peace and justice in Christ Jesus, Fr. John

  7. Annette Magjuka
    Annette Magjuka says:

    I am so happy for each and every person speaking out against discrimination, and insisting that the church address the big issues of income disparity, immigrant abuse at the border, etc. It will take more than speaking up. It will take ACTING UP. If a priest spews discrimination from the pulpit, would anyone stand up and yell, “NO! Stop the discrimination! I will not be complicit!” Would parents withhold tuition to a school that fired a beloved gay employee? It will take actions like this to get some real attention from the hierarchy. I love anyone who writes and/or speaks up for an end to the discrimination in the church, though.


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