Theologian and openly gay priest Fr. Bryan Massingale has written about the need for the church to respect LGBTQ families and take pastoral care of LGBTQ more seriously, not only for the good of that community, but for the good of the church.
Massingale, who is a professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham University, offered his insights in U.S. Catholic this month. He addresses the reality that ministry for LGBTQ people is not about them but about us, as so many Catholics are touched by LGBTQ issues. He writes:
“This is the deepest insight for Catholic parish ministry to LGBTQ persons: It’s not really about them. It’s about who we are and what we represent as Christ’s body. The deepest purpose of the church is not to defend doctrine but to continue the earthly ministry of Jesus. We extend compassion, sensitivity, respect, and even extravagant welcome not for the sake of LGBTQ Catholics but for the sake of our own integrity and credibility as the church of Jesus Christ. The following suggestions and insights can help us advance this goal.”
Massingale then makes four suggestions: commit to learning; listen, apologize, and be patient; assure us; respect and celebrate our love; and be up front. It is this fourth point which is most prophetic:
“Speaking of love: Respect LGBTQ families as communities of love who struggle to love as any other family does. Many among us are raising children who provide both delight and challenge. These families are also ‘holy families’—imperfectly yet truly holy—like every other family in a parish. Even if you disapprove of or do not understand the love that binds a couple together, respect this ‘domestic church’ as an incubator of faith and love.
“Celebrate our life moments, especially baptisms and funerals. The church is discerning whether or how to ritually recognize same-sex unions; the German-speaking churches are at the forefront of this discussion. But nothing should exclude our children from being baptized in the faith. Nor is there any excuse to compound our grief with gratuitous insult when burying our deceased loved ones.”
Massingale’s final point is also noteworthy in its call for the church’s ministers to be accountable to LGBTQ people and their loved ones. He writes, naming the pain so many LGBTQ Catholics have endured, including self-harm and death by suicide:
“Finally, what if parishes or ministers decide that, in conscience, they cannot adapt such a pastoral orientation? They should be upfront and say that this is not the place for us. . .Far better to state you are not the one for us and to leave us to continue our faith exploration elsewhere. If you are right, then trust that the Spirit will guide us to embrace the insights you cherish in the Spirit’s own time and way. And if you are wrong, then you have avoided risking lasting harm to a beloved seeker of Christ and will have manifested the highest value of the church’s law: the welfare of souls.”
Massingale’s other three points are common lessons for LGBTQ ministry, but ones the church needs to continue learning. As he notes, understandings of sexuality are “dynamic and evolving” and “more complex than we ever realized.” In such a situation, education is essential, following in the classic Catholic tradition that faith and reason complement one another. He concludes, “To reject new knowledge out of fear or a misplaced allegiance to a previous understanding of ‘tradition’ is fundamentally un-Catholic.”
When it comes to listening, apology, patience, and assurance, Massingale is quick to identify that many LGBTQ people remain guarded against a church that genuinely has caused their community harm. Learning to trust requires time. And it also requires assurances of God’s love, without qualification:
“I know of no other group with whom we immediately follow the good news of God’s love and mercy with qualifications and reminders of sinfulness. . .God’s love is so unearned, undeserved, unmerited, and boundless that it is scandalous and even outrageous. All of us are loved beyond any merit or deserving. Sexual minorities need that message and deserve to hear that message just as the rest of the faithful do. Perhaps even more so.”
Fr. Massingale echoes the truth that Catholics doing LGBTQ ministry have known for years: this work is not about LGBTQ people, it is about the church, it is for us all. But this lesson bears constant repeating for it has yet to be fully incorporated into the church’s life. Massingale does not stop there: he is willing to demand more from the church. He insists that LGBTQ families be respected and celebrated fully. He expects pastoral ministers be honest when they are unable to provide appropriate pastoral care. In short, his point is that in doing LGBTQ ministry right, we realize in a powerful way what the People of God are meant to be.
If you are interested in developing an LGBTQ ministry at your parish or faith community, New Ways Ministry is offering an online program called “Next Steps: Developing Catholic LGBTQ Ministry” that is currently underway. The material will help parish community and staff members discern individually and together what the next steps should be to create a more welcoming pastoral environment for LGBTQ people—even if the next steps are your first steps. The program includes explanatory essays, questions for reflection, pastoral tips, and Zoom sessions. To learn more, click here. To register for the program, click here.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 13, 2020