Is anyone anywhere around the globe thinking about anything other than COVID-19, the coronavirus that has paralyzed almost all human activity? I imagine that very few are. The cloud of the virus hangs over everything from bars to schools to churches.
Wait a minute. Churches are closed?
Yes, as you are already probably aware, almost all religious institutions have canceled services and programs that would require people to gather in numbers more than a couple of dozen. The news that the Vatican will conduct Holy Week and Easter liturgies without in-person congregations seems particularly depressing.
For all Catholics, the inability to celebrate the Eucharist together is extremely painful. Community and communal gatherings are such an important part of our spirituality, as it is for many Christians. Prayer and connection to God are as much about being together, “where two or three [or more] are gathered,” as are words, thoughts, and rituals. We lose a lot when we can’t be together.
Is there anything that LGBTQ Catholics and allies lose because of the closing of churches and religious programs? Here’s a few things I’ve thought of:
- With church programs shut down, LGBTQ Catholics who volunteer in soup kitchens, community clothing closets, and homeless shelters will not have the opportunity to express their faith in action.
- With liturgical services canceled, LGBTQ Catholics will not have the opportunity to show up for communal prayer, even though they have often done so despite receiving negative messages.
- With parish committee meetings postponed, LGBTQ Catholics and allies will not have the opportunity to advocate for greater welcome and inclusion for people from their community.
- With Catholic colleges and universities closed, there will be less time and opportunity for theologians and other scholars to reflect on how the church can develop its teaching about LGBTQ people in humane and authentic ways.
- With parish spirituality discussion programs shut down, there will be fewer opportunities for LGBTQ people and allies to share their stories with other parishioners—the best form of education there is for people overcoming homophobia and transphobia.
- With parish social events canceled, parishioners won’t have the opportunity to meet and interact with their LGBTQ neighbors and partners in faith, getting to share their common struggles and joys with one another.
The fact that this virus has hit Western Christian countries during the season of Lent should help us to think of the above disruptions as part of our Lenten sacrifices. In the absence of communal gatherings and prayers, we can take the opportunity to be more contemplative and monastic, not begrudging the isolation but seeing it as a different way to connect to God.
Closing churches and Catholic institutions can serve another Lenten purpose. The great pause in usual activities may lead to LGBTQ-negative church leaders, administrators, and parishioners stepping back from their usual patterns of negative attitudes, behaviors, and policies toward sexual and gender minorities. The forced “fasting” from these practices can be a minor suspension from the countless indignities, large and small, that LGBTQ Catholics often experience. Here are a few possibilities:
- With churches closed, LGBTQ Catholics and their families will not have to listen to any negative messages about how they are not welcome or that they are more sinful than other Catholics or that they are causing so many of the world’s social problems.
- With schools and parishes closed, LGBTQ teachers, administrators, and pastoral staff will not have to worry about being fired from their jobs because of their identities or relationships.
- With schools closed, LGBTQ youth will not have to worry about being bullied or threatened or outed by other students. They won’t have to hear LGBTQ people denigrated by their teachers.
- With church social service agencies being curtailed, LGBTQ people won’t have to suffer the discrimination and indignity of being denied the ability to foster or adopt children.
- With the virus looming over their diocesan institutions, bishops won’t have time to develop and enact oppressive policies regarding LGBTQ people in church facilities and programs. No new bans against gender non-conforming school uniforms. No repressive policies about bathroom use.
- With legislatures and courts being curtailed, there’ll be no bishops or diocesan officials testifying for a brand of religious liberty which allows them to discriminate legally against LGBTQ people.
As is happening in so many other areas of our lives these days, the coronavirus has forced us to take a break from our habits and routines. For the most part, it’s difficult to adjust to that break, but it could be a time of renewal and change, both individual and institutionally. Let’s use this opportunity as a church to emerge with a plan to reform old attitudes and practices. With God’s grace, perhaps our Catholic institutions and individuals will emerge from their reflection with new outlooks on many issues, including the gifts that LGBTQ people bring to faith communities. For this we pray!
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, March 18, 2020