Detroit Archdiocese Bans Group Formed to Support Families of LGBTQ Catholics

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.

Linda Karle-Nelson and Tom Nelson

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.’ “

Zerkowski added,

“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

7 replies
  1. John Montague
    John Montague says:

    As Dan Berrigan S.J. said: “If you want to follow the gospel you better look good on wood.” Fortunate Families must be doing something right, or they wouldn’t be persecuted for following the Holy Spirit.

  2. thomas shea
    thomas shea says:

    I am very disappointed and angry to hear of this exclusion of a fine group of parents from meeting in the Detroit diocese. I know the group for years and admire their difficult ministry to other parents who are trying to reconcile the reality of their child with their church teaching. another sad day in catholic clerical church actions. may jesus forgive us.

  3. Carolyn
    Carolyn says:

    This too happened here in Plano, TX (suburb of Dallas) where our LGBTQ support group, ‘Always Our Children’ was disbanded though we as parents were never really told the specifics. I did hear a conservative group of parishioners from Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Plano walked into one of our meetings (a night I was unable to attend) to disrupt the meeting. A couple of meetings later we all received emails the group was no longer. This was my lifeline as a parent that my husband and I desperately needed as soon as our child came out to us. These Bishops need to actually attend a meeting, hear the parent’s pain and our need for God’s love through this difficult journey. Bishops need to stop for 1 minute before they simply react and LISTEN to our stories before passing judgement. Shame on those parishioners who felt the need to cause such pain to their Catholic brothers and sisters.

  4. Gayle Rappold
    Gayle Rappold says:

    The article on Detroit’s Arch.banning the LGBTQ family group really hit home here in Colorado Springs, We have a similar group (begun out of a perceived need in 2014 by our wonderful pastor, Fr Paul Wicker,now ret,). We were no longer welcomed to meet in the church’s meeting rooms when the new pastor took over approx,3 yrs ago; however, we continue our monthly meetings in my home, but have been denied access to do outreach in church bulletins and must rely solely on word-of-mouth. “Courage” participation is the acceptable recognized avenue for LGBTQ and parents in our community. We would be open to any suggestions by Linda & Tom Nelson or others.Thank you.

  5. WinterHavenLarry
    WinterHavenLarry says:

    Back in the 1980’s, our Dignity Chapter met at a convent/school near Princeton NJ. And then suddenly, the Bishop told the sisters that they could not let us meet there anymore. We found a new home at a Quaker Meeting House, but it wasn’t long before the Bishop ordered that our Chaplain could no longer minister to a Dignity group. Just to make sure that the priest did not continue to serve us, the Bishop transferred our Chaplain to a small, remote parish in a far corner of the Diocese. I don’t think I ever heard from him again. The Bishop’s name: Theodore McCarrick.

  6. Mary
    Mary says:

    It is so difficult for me to see the Detroit Heirarchy today and remember the Detroit church of the 1970’s. The dogmatic, unfeeling church of today does not meet the needs of so many present and former Catholics. The Pope has a more humane and human connection with the world than most of the current US heirarchy. John Cardinal Dearden was a leader in the 70’s. Archbishop Gumbleton is an example of real leadership. There are many priests like Rev. Tom Lumpkin who are busy taking care of people. They are the real Catholic Church. We need to encourage and celebrate priests and religious (IHM’s Monroe) who spread the down to earth Gospel message!


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