Pope Francis appointed a new leader for Philadelphia last week, naming Bishop Nelson Pérez as archbishop and ending the tenure of his caustic predecessor, Archbishop Charles Chaput. While repairing the damage Chaput inflicted on LGBTQ Catholics and their communities will take time and intentionality, one simple step Pérez could take to promote goodwill is ending the archdiocese’s lawsuit against LGBTQ rights.
In mid-January, the U.S. Supreme Court signaled it would hear a case that could determine whether faith-based social service agencies are exempted from anti-LGBTQ non-discrimination protections, reported Gay Times. The case stems from Catholic Social Services Philadelphia’s (CSSP) lawsuit against its city because municipal officials ended a contract with the Catholic agency over its policy barring LGBTQ people from becoming adoptive parents. Lower courts have ruled in favor of the City of Philadelphia.
With the case at the U.S. Supreme Court, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia through one of its charitable agencies could be the catalyst to provoke widespread civil legal changes threatening LGBTQ people. The Court will likely rule in June of this year, and given its conservative majority, may give CSSP a victory. While a ruling in favor of the agency may be limited in scope, a wider ruling in favor of CSSPwould undercut long-standing legal precedent that religious groups do not have blanket exemptions from laws, including non-discrimination ones. It could be disastrous for LGBTQ rights.
The lawsuit is a leftover from Archbishop Chaput’s focus on opposing any measure favorable to LGBTQ people. He is notable among even the conservative U.S. episcopate for his stances. In the past, he has said there is “no such thing” as an LGBTQ Catholic “as if our sexual appetites defined who we are,” and therefore the term “LGBT” should not be used in church documents. In 2017, he applauded the Trump administration’s removal of Department of Education guidelines aimed at protecting transgender and gender non-conforming students. He has issued pastoral guidelines barring several categories of people from public ministry, including those in same-gender marriages. He was a detractor of the Synod on the Family, and ejected LGBT groups from holding workshops on Catholic property during the 2015 World Meeting of Families. He has ejected children with same-gender parents access from Catholic school. In short, he did tremendous harm over many years.
“By leaning into the community-building spirit he embraced when previously ministering to the people of Philadelphia, Archbishop Pérez can create an opportunity for the Catholic Church to be a safe place for all people — either through worship or action. And through that, he can bring some hope that the city desperately needs.”
Archbishop Pérez could end the Supreme Court appeal, withdraw the case from the Court’s docket, and help to prevent any possibility of further harming LGBTQ non-discrimination laws already under attack by the Trump administration. He could recognize that church teachings on justice, human dignity, and non-discrimination mean Catholics should side with marginalized groups, not use religious liberty as a cover to do further harm LGBTQ people. And, in this case, to the thousands of children who need loving homes, too.
Am I hopeful that Pérez will end a potentially devastating lawsuit against LGBTQ rights? I am not sure. But it would be the right course of action, a way to signal to the LGBTQ community and allies that a new day has begun in Philadelphia.
Reactions from Catholic commentators and LGBTQ advocates will be posted on Bondings 2.0 next week.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 30, 2020