The Archdiocese of Detroit has told a parish group formed to support families of LGBTQ Catholics that they could not meet or hold events on church property, including the local church which had housed them for decades.
According to the National Catholic Reporter, in March, AuxiliaryBishop Gerard Battersby informed the local support group, Fortunate Families, that they could no longer gather at Christ the King Church, Detroit, and that the group was no longer welcome at any parish or archdiocesan facility. Further, he told the group that they should disband, and that they should not claim to be “Catholic operating in the Archdiocese of Detroit.” The group accompanies families with LGBTQ members and has provided educational activities to promote understanding and pastoral care.
The expulsion follows a similar ban on Dignity Detroit by Bishop Battersby earlier in March. Both bans appear to be a response to Archbishop Allen Vigneron’s promised review of ministerial practices directed toward LGBTQ Catholics in Detroit. Vigneron’s pastoral letters Unleash the Gospel and Imitating Christ’s Charity and Chastity call for people “experiencing same sex attraction” to live celibate lives in order to remain faithful Catholics.
Linda Karle-Nelson, who with her husband Tom Nelson, are leaders of the group said that they had not been contacted by the archdiocese to learn about their programs. “There’s not to be a discussion. No conversation. It’s just that you’re gone. It was hurtful. It was unexpected,” she explained to the National Catholic Reporter. She said the group has been having its meeting on Zoom because of the coronavirus pandemic, and that they are in the process of discussing how to respond.
Karle-Nelson said that while “we don’t believe every LGBT person needs to be celibate,” her group tries to connect families with LGBT members and the church.
Stanley Francis “J.R.” Zerkowski, executive director of the national Fortunate Families network objected to Bishop Battersby’s characterization that the group offered “a competing vision” of church teaching and that it is “detrimental” to LGBTQ Catholics. He told NCR:
” ‘I would want to straighten out the misimpression that we were operating outside of Catholic teaching,’ he said, noting the group has no position on volatile issues such as same-sex marriage, and sees itself as a bridge between friends and family of gay people and the church. He said that the group does reject the language of some church documents that gay Catholics are ‘intrinsically disordered.’ “
“It is very important to me that we remain in dialogue and good standing with the church. That is the only way we can open up doors to LGBTQ brothers and sisters.”
In response to the ban on Dignity/Detroit, Fr. Victor Clore, pastor of Christ the King parish where Fortunate Families has been meeting, said he would defy the ban on priests ministering to that community.
Fr. James Martin, SJ, who serves as an honorary board member of Fortunate Families wrote on Facebook that he found the ban “unbelievable,” adding that the group was one of the few organizations in the Church that worked almost exclusively with parents and families of LGBTQ Catholics on the many issues they face as faithful Catholics.
This is not the first time that Fortunate Families has been sanctioned by the Archdiocese of Detroit. Vigneron banned the group from Christ the King Church in 2014 for hosting New Ways Ministry’s executive director Francis DeBernardo who spoke at an alternative location about his experiences as a Vatican-credentialed journalist at the synod on the family.
The banning of a faithful Catholic organization that responds to the Church’s teaching that LGBTQ people (and their families) should be shown respect, compassion, and sensitivity is unacceptable. The expulsion of Fortunate Families, coupled with the expulsion of Dignity/Detroit and the years of LGBTQ-negative decisions from Vigneron, show a concerted effort to send a message that LGBTQ Catholics are not welcome in the Archdiocese of Detroit.
Decisions like this one work to undercut the good work of many church leaders who are trying to promote dialogue, authentic ministry, and welcome to LGBTQ people. Archbishop Vigneron and auxiliary Bishop Battersby should reverse their decisions to ban Fortunate Families and Dignity/Detroit, stop their crackdown on LGBTQ Catholic groups, and open dialogue with the faithful–especially with members of Fortunate Families and Dignity/Detroit.
—Kevin Molloy, New Ways Ministry, June 2, 2020