Philadelphia’s new archbishop has given LGBTQ people and allies hope that a new day of greater inclusivity and fewer culture wars has dawned for them–or at the very least a leader who could not be worse than his predecessor.
Archbishop Nelson Perez was appointed by Pope Francis last month to replace the Philadelphia church’s retiring leader, Charles Chaput. Mark Segal, publisher of Philadelphia Gay News, wrote in an op-ed that Perez is a “breath of fresh air” that could move the city’s church from 1950 to 2020. Segal continued:
“I say that after spending a great deal of time last week researching Perez. He’s quite impressive. He has a pastoral background, and more importantly, for Philadelphia’s Catholic LGBT Community, seems willing to engage dialogue, something his predecessor, Archbishop Chaput, was always against. I learned all this in telephone calls between myself and the executive directors of both DignityUSA, the national LGBT Catholic organization, and New Ways Ministry, which educates and advocates for justice and equality for LGBT Catholics. It seems to be a reconciliation within the larger church and civil communities. We all felt a certain optimism with Perez’s appointment . . .
“One last point that highlights the difference between Perez and Chaput. While Chaput supported his own type of conversion therapy, a practice banned in 19 states, Perez and the Cleveland . . . diocese has an LGBT family ministry outreach. It’s easy to see who is better for our community and for the Catholic Church.”
Philadelphia Gay News reported on other reactions to the pope’s appointment in which several commentators highlighted Perez’s more pastoral tone, as well as his emphasis on supporting immigrants and cultural diversity in the church generally.
Fr. James Martin, SJ, and Michael Sean Winters were also optimistic. Martin told Philadelphia’s daily newspaper, The Inquirer, that the new archbishop is a “terrific choice,” adding, “Both Archbishop Chaput and Archbishop Pérez are focused on the gospel, which unites them both, so I think that’s the focus for both of them.” In the National Catholic Reporter, Winters expressed hop ethat Pérez, at the very least, would put aside Chaput’s “culture warrior” tendencies.
John Gehring of Faith in Public Life wrote for Commonweal that Perez’s leadership could signal an end to the fortress mentality Chaput promoted in which the institutional church withdrew from the world, including from LGBTQ Catholics. Gehring chastised Chaput and other conservative church leaders for promoting the idea that opposition to LGBTQ and reproductive rights should be the focus of the church’s hierarchy. This kind of thinkg “seems to expiate for Chaput and other Catholics on the right many of the worst sins of Trumpism: racism, sexism, and anti-immigrant nativism included.” Gehring believes that a healthier church is possible.
It is notable, too, that Pérez allowed an LGBT Family Ministry to function while running the Diocese of Cleveland. But The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on the downsides of his time there, too:
“Asked on Friday where he fell in the debate over nontraditional marriages and partnerships, and divorced Catholics, Pérez declined to offer specifics . . . “I represent the teachings of the church, and embrace the teachings of the church, as stipulated by the church. I walk with the church, and I’m loyal to the church.” . . .
“Last fall, he enlisted five missionaries from a group called the Culture Project to speak to students in Cleveland schools and youth groups about chastity and ‘a life of sexual integrity.’ The missionaries, whose talk topics include human dignity and virtuous use of social media, have also received endorsements from Chaput.
“Pérez is ‘a fairly, you might say, conventional bishop in terms of his theology,’ said Paul V. Murphy, director of the Institute of Catholic Studies at John Carroll University outside Cleveland. ‘I don’t think there’d be much difference between Archbishop Chaput and Bishop Pérez on sexual issues in particular. Official church teachings on heterosexual marriage, LGBTQ issues, I think he would be very traditional in that regard.’”
But even if conservative, he may not be the strident, indeed shrill culture warrior his predecessor chose to be. Signs indicate that Archbishop Pérez could choose to create that healthier church in Philadelphia, at the very least curtailing his predecessor’s excesses. But repairing the damage done by Chaput will take time and intention. The former archbishop was extremely anti-LGBTQ, barring small children from Catholic schools because their parents were LGBTQ or banning married LGBTQ Catholics from church ministries. In truth, there was much more, too.
One positive step for Pérez that I proposed recently is to drop the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s lawsuit, now being decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, that could potentially be devastating for LGBTQ non-discrimination law. Or, even simpler, why not host a listening session for LGBTQ Catholics, their families, and their allies to simply listen?
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 6, 2020