USCCB Set to Elect New Chair of LGBTQ-Negative Religious Liberty Committee

The United States of Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) will vote for the new chair of the influential Committee for Religious Liberty at their virtual general assembly in November. In addition, the bishops will vote on chairs for seven other committees in the Conference.

The Committee for Religious Liberty, which was strengthened from an ad hoc committee to a standing committee in 2017, has been leading the U.S. bishops educational, political, and legal efforts to oppose LGBTQ equality. The Committee circulates educational material, coordinates public policy efforts, and petitions courts, often advocating or defending the restriction of the civil rights for LGBTQ people.

Archbishop Thomas J. Wenski of Miami, who currently serves as acting chair of the Committee for Religious Liberty and Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York are on the ballot for chair in November.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski

Archbishop Thomas J. Wenski, Miami

Archbishop Wenski’s LGBTQ-negative record has been documented by Bondings 2.0 over the last decade. Wenski has been known to oppose civil legislation that would protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in their private and professional lives. In 2014, Wenski, as chairman of the USCCB’s Domestic Justice and Human Development Committee, wrote a letter objecting to an Executive Order from President Obama barring federal contractors from discriminating against LGBTQ folks based on their sexual or gender identity.

In opposing marriage equality, Wenski argued that such a move would lead to polygamy, and after marriage equality was recognized in Florida, Wenski warned his church employees that they could be fired for violating the “Church’s teachings,” even if it does not directly relate to their professional role. After the 2016 Pulse Night Club Massacre, Wenski criticized the LGBTQ-positive statement of his neighboring bishop, while denying the Catholic Church excluded or targeted LGBTQ people. As acting chair of the Committee for Religious Liberty, Wenski has defended the church’s right to discriminate in its hiring and firing of personnel, including LGBTQ workers. He also praised the Trump administration for a decision allowing discrimination against LGBTQ folks at homeless shelters.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York promoting the U.S. bishops’ 2012 religious liberty campaign

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, New York 

Cardinal Dolan has a complicated record when it comes to LGBTQ issues. Some of his public comments reflect confusion or ignorance over LGBTQ identity, while others directly demeaned the LGBTQ community using the term “dirty hands.” Dolan, like Wenski, has rejected the claim that the church is anti-LGBTQ because they oppose LGBTQ equal rights protections and legislation. Dolan remained largely silent as LGBTQ hate crimes increased in New York City in 2013, choosing instead to encourage priests in his archdiocese to preach against marriage equality. Cardinal Dolan has made some LGBTQ-positive statements, including allowing an LGBTQ group to march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in 2014, and telling LGBTQ people that he and God love them, while arguing against the sanctity of LGBTQ relationships.

In this particular election, there seems to be no clear LGBTQ-positive result. As Bondings 2.0 has previously opined, the ambiguity in Cardinal Dolan’s record allows for the opportunity for growth in welcoming LGBTQ people more fully. Neither prelate seems prone to change the course of the Committee for Religious Liberty, which will most likely continue its legal, political, and ecclesial defense of discrimination against LGBTQ people.

Instead of these two leaders, the USCCB should take its lead on LGBTQ issues from bishops like Cardinal  Joseph Tobin, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv, Archbishop John Wester, and others, who welcome LGBTQ folks with pastoral love rather than legalistic condemnation.

Kevin Molloy, New Ways Ministry, October 17, 2020

1 reply
  1. Diane Krantz
    Diane Krantz says:

    Dolan’s presence at Trump’s inauguration dinner has forever tainted him as a Catholic leader in my estimation. It has the unfortunate effect of making me wonder if his sometimes pro-LGBTQ stances are simple expediency.


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