Across the United States, priests, parents, and church workers are creating spiritual programs to build a more inclusive church for Latinx LGBTQ Catholics. Although the majority of these initiatives incorporate a holistic understanding of LGBTQ identity, not all of them fully embrace the beautiful diversity of God’s Latinx LGBTQ children.
As reported by America, Catholic communities in states with large Latinx populations such as California and New York are actively working to tackle the specific stigma faced by LGBTQ people in these groups. Drawing on a 2017 study conducted by the Pew Research Center, America underscored the following obstacles:
“Latinos may be especially uncomfortable with the prospect of becoming estranged from their families as a result of coming out…Catholic ministries across the country are trying to help Latino L.G.B.T. Catholics and their families understand each other by working at this intersection of faith, culture and sexuality.”
Father Gil Martinez, C.S.P., a pastor who formerly ministered in New York City and now does so in Los Angeles, identifies a culture of silence among the Latinx Catholic community as one of the key challenges that impedes LGBTQ acceptance:
“In general, the trend in the Latino community is to be silent [about L.G.B.T. issues]…[But] I always talk about it with people and in homilies. I think the most important thing is that it should not be a secret.”
A fundamental element of Father Martinez’s ministry is to meet LGBTQ Catholics where they are. He has visited “gay bars to offer spiritual accompaniment and even heard confessions there.”
A California Latino Catholic married couple, Martha and Javier Plascencia, have incorporated a similar approach in their organic LGBTQ outreach.
Influenced by the coming out experience of their gay son, Xavier, the Plascencias started a mobile LGBTQ ministry in 2011 by visiting California parishes with Latinx Catholic communities. Javier Plascencia recalled:
“We were able to bring a message of love and acceptance to people with different sexual orientations—and to their parents…There’s no doubt in my mind that this ministry has saved lives. By going around like itinerant messengers, this ministry has brought people together.”
The Plascencias also facilitated a local Latinx Catholic LGBTQ support group in their home.
According to Mr. Plascencia, “people are often afraid or ashamed to be seen going into a room at church designated for a meeting for L.G.B.T. Catholics.” An eclectic mix of “nuns, priests and parents as well as gay and lesbian Catholics” participated in what was the “only Spanish-language L.G.B.T. support group in the archdiocese.”
The Plascencias were pivotal in forming the Always Our Children program in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, “an initiative that took its name from the U.S. bishops’ 1997 letter to ‘parents of homosexual children.’”
Father Carlos Alarcón, OMI, and Yunuen Trujillo, an LGBTQ identified youth minister of the Los Angeles Archdiocese’s Catholic Ministry With Lesbian and Gay Persons have presented on Latinx LGBTQ topics at the annual Los Angeles Religious Education Congress.
Father Alarcón reported that some Latinx parents have attended his workshop to gain information so they can tell their LGBTQ children that their lives are not in accord with the church. Alarcón, however, reads from the Catechism, balancing negative messages with positive ones about “respect, compassion, and sensitivity.” ‘No, that’s not true,’ they tell him. “They don’t want to hear that. But it’s the doctrine of the church, too,” Alarcón said.
Trujillo observes that a particular challenge of Latinx LGBTQ ministries is doing “damage control,” providing a welcome to people who’ve been rejected and are feeling vulnerable.
Latinx Catholic educators are also working tirelessly to advocate for Latinx LGBTQ youth.
Ishmael Ruiz, a religious studies teacher at Sacred Heart High School, San Francisco, focuses his efforts at the “intersection of faith, family, and culture.”
Working with Latino men, who actively seek to maintain their Catholic spirituality and familial ties, Ruiz observes that
“’They retain their identity as Latinos and as Catholics, but their relationships with their families are often broken because their families don’t feel [that their two identities] fit together. . .
“‘We need to understand that there are a lot of church teachings, social justice, love of neighbor. [Catholics] have a tool called conscience that helps them to decide what to do…There are honest Catholics, Hispanic or not, who are trying to be good, queer Catholics.'”
Patricia Quirarte offers a similar perspective. She was one of 12 children who grew up in Mexico, and she observes:
“There is so much ignorance. I would include myself in that. I did not know before. But the church accepts them as children of God. We need education, top to bottom, so that we become a church that is more open.”
The America article also takes a look at another model of ministry offered by the group Courage, which places the requirement of chastity for lesbian and gay people as the primary focus of ministry. Through an email exchange with Rossana Goñí Cuba, the Spanish language coordinator for Courage, the America reporter learned:
“Currently, there are just two Spanish-language Courage chapters (out of 112 chapters nationwide) in the United States, Ms. Goñí says. Courage also has a program for parents, called EnCourage. But again, in the United States, there are only two Spanish-language EnCourage groups, and Ms. Goñí says most bilingual Latinos attend the English-language groups.
Some pastors who lead churches with Spanish-speaking communities are overwhelmed, Ms. Goñí says, speculating as to why there may be so few chapters. “Also, they might be a little afraid to minister to people who experience [same-sex attraction], possibly due to the still prevailing ‘macho’ culture,” she said.
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, commented on the approach that Courage takes to LGBTQ ministry and to its inclusion in an article about Latinx LGBTQ Catholics:
“While New Ways Ministry supports LGBTQ people who feel called to chastity and voluntarily choose it, we believe that sexual behavior should not be the primary focus or requirement of ministry with gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. LGBTQ people are much more than their sexual or gender identities, they face many more life challenges than those based in sexuality, and they offer many gifts to the church and the world from their experiences. Ministry should be more holistic.
“Though the America article mentions the Courage ministry approach, the reporter makes no endorsement of it. The bulk of the article is filled with the experiences of pastoral ministers who are approaching ministry to the Latinx LGBTQ community in a wonderfully holistic way that includes cultural, linguistic, familial, and spiritual dimensions. These are the kind of ministries that we hope will flourish.”
[This comment was made after reading the article; it was not a comment that was included in the article itself.]
—Brian William Kaufman, New Ways Ministry, July 8, 2020