Several bishops in the U.S. have released a statement in defense of LGBTQ youth, telling the youth that “God loves you” and “God is on your side.”
The statement, titled “God Is On Your Side: A Statement from Catholic Bishops on Protecting LGBT Youth,” begins with a reference to Jesus’ love for the marginalized and the Catechism’s demands of just treatment for LGBT people. The bishops continued:
“All people of goodwill should help, support, and defend LGBT youth; who attempt suicide at much higher rates than their straight counterparts; who are often homeless because of families who reject them; who are rejected, bullied and harassed; and who are the target of violent acts at alarming rates.
“The Catholic Church values the God-given dignity of all human life and we take this opportunity to say to our LGBT friends, especially young people, that we stand with you and oppose any form of violence, bullying or harassment directed at you.
“Most of all, know that God created you, God loves you and God is on your side.”
The bishop signatories, eight so far, are: Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe, Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, Bishop Edward Weisenberger of Tucson, and Bishop Steven Biegler of Cheyenne. Two retired auxiliary bishops, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit and Bishop Denis Madden of Baltimore, also signed. Other bishops are invited to add their names.
Bishop Stowe told America the reasons he signed to oppose the anti-LGBTQ bullying that occurs in Catholic schools, including within his diocese:
“‘Sometimes offensive remarks were left unchallenged or even laughed at by faculty. . .I have heard from other L.G.B.T. Catholics that what other students experienced as the best years of their lives were often traumatizing experiences for them as they experienced social rejection and concerns about God’s love for them and whether they had any hope of salvation. Too often these students have felt isolated, sometimes even afraid to get support from parents and family.'”
America reported further:
“A former high school teacher, Archbishop Wester said bullying can be especially toxic for young people who are trying to come to terms with their sexual orientation, especially when either they or others misinterpret church teaching on homosexuality to convey the notion that being gay itself is sinful. . .
“‘We have our teachings, which we prize and cherish, but those teachings need to be understood in the proper context of love and mercy,’ he said. ‘Sometimes people can make equivocations, “Well if it’s a sin to engage in a homosexual act, then I must be terrible person.” The church doesn’t doesn’t teach that and it’s important [young people] don’t get that erroneous impression.'”
The statement was released by the Tyler Clementi Foundation, which works against anti-LGBTQ bullying. Tyler Clementi, in whose honor the foundation was begun, died by suicide in 2010 after severe homophobic harassment. Jane Clementi, Tyler’s mother and a former Catholic, explained why the Foundation has chosen to carry out out faith-based work:
“‘I hope that a young L.G.B.T. person will read this statement and feel supported, know they are not alone and know that there are members of their faith community that support them,’ Ms. [Jane] Clementi said, adding that she hopes the parents of L.G.B.T. children will not feel isolated if they belong to faith traditions that historically do not support L.G.B.T. people. . .
“‘We’re trying to start a conversation,’ she said, noting that the statement ‘does not go against any Catholic teaching, which I have come to know as being a message of love, mercy and inclusion.'”
This statement is not the first time that a group of U.S. bishops used a collective voice against LGBTQ bullying and violence. After the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard in 1998, nine bishops joined nearly 2,000 Catholics in statement sponsored by New Ways Ministry and Pax Christi USA against such violence. Bishop Gumbleton signed that statement, as well. Additionally, in 2017 the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales released “Made in God’s Image: Challenging homophobic and biphobic bullying in Catholic schools.”
The recent statement from U.S. bishops is much-needed because the bullying and harassment of LGBTQ youth continues, including, as Bishop Stowe noted, in Catholic spaces. Advocates may argue about what role negative church teachings play in the sufferings of LGBTQ youth, and that is a necessary conversation. But far more essential is that youth and young adults come to know God’s love. Let’s hope that the example of these eight bishops will encourage more bishops to sign onto the statement’s message which is echoed in Scripture, and yet needs to be repeated each age by religious leaders: “God is on your side.”
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 26, 2021