Pride Month feels a little different this year than in the past. For one thing, here in the U.S., it seems that the whole month of June has become an LGBTQ national holiday. I see many more flags flying from people’s homes, and even streamers and other sorts of decorations. Some people’s homes are festooned with rainbow decorations. It’s almost like Christmas, or like Halloween has become in recent years.
To me, that says that Pride has become mainstream. Please do not read any judgement, positive or negative, into the previous sentence. I mean it simply as a statement of fact. LGBTQ Pride has become almost as American as apple pie. I expect that we will soon see Pride greeting cards in our stores in a couple of years. (Or maybe, there already are such cards, and I just haven’t seen them yet.)
But Pride feels different this year for a more important reason–and that’s because of my Catholic identity. As I reflect over the past 12 months since last year’s Pride, I think that the Catholic Church–the whole church, not just the hierarchy and clergy–has really taken a great step forward. As I talk with friends and colleagues who work for Catholic LGBTQ equality in the last few months, there is a growing sense that our church has entered a new and exciting moment. The game has changed significantly.
I’m not saying that we have witnessed a doctrinal change, but the discussion around LGBTQ issues in the Catholic Church has, like Pride celebrations, become more mainstream than it ever was. The emphasis in the last sentence is on the word “more.” Let’s just review some of the highlights:
- At last year’s Pride, two bishops offered greetings to the LGBTQ community to mark the month of June.
- In October 2020, Pope Francis’ comments supporting civil unions become public.
- Following the revelation of the pope’s civil unions comments, Catholic leaders, for the most part, welcome his remarks.
- In the same month, Pope Francis creates a set of new cardinals, and three of them had positive records on LGBTQ issues. For once support of LGBTQ issues seems an asset to becoming a cardinal, not a block to it.
- In January of this year, nine bishops sign a statement telling LGBTQ youth that “God loves them.”
- In response to that statement, dozens more Catholic leaders endorse the same statement.
- In April, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv., of Lexington, Kentucky, breaks with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to support the Equality Act in the U.S. Congress.
- Soon after that, Bishop Stowe is joined by Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe in making an affirming message to transgender people in honor of Transgender Visibility Day.
- In May, the Wijngaards Institute, a Catholic theological think tank, issues a report calling for an end to the church’s “cruel and false” teachings on homosexuality.
These are just highlights. Many, many more positive actions have taken place over the past year. Just look through Bondings 2.0’s archive of posts. These past twelve months have truly been an annus mirabilis. And not to mention that all of this took place during a global pandemic!
Then in March, came the “big event” which at first seemed that it was a cloud over all these positive developments: the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a teaching that the church could not offer blessings to same-gender couples.
But. . . .
This action precipitated a backlash that the modern Church has never seen. For the first time in my memory, bishops openly criticized the CDF. Theologians signed petitions against it. Over 3,ooo Catholic people–including clergy, theologians, vowed religious, and lay employees–signed New Ways Ministry’s statement “We Will Bless Same-Gender Unions.” This statement was inspired by similar statements from German theologians and pastoral workers, which had preceded it. Pastors in the Netherlands vowed to ignore the Vatican’s decision. An Irish bishop called the CDF statement “cold and distant. . . . hurtful and offensive.” In Germany, which is already having the most robust official discussion of LGBTQ topics in the global church, bishops condemned the CDF statement, and dozens of priests and pastoral ministers conducted blessings of same-gender couples last month, in response to the CDF statement. Austrian priests issued a call for disobedience. The protests echoed around the globe. Again, these are just a sampling of the responses. To see all of them, click here.
The CDF statement totally backfired. It seemed intended to end the discussion on blessing same-gender couples. What it actually did was open up the discussion and expand it in ways that even Catholic LGBTQ advocates could not have imagined. Suddenly, it seems that more and more people in the Church are recognizing the pain and second-class status that many LGBTQ Catholics feel. The CDF statement’s harsh language and content caused many who had remained on the sidelines of the discussion to speak out and take action. This incident showed that there are many Catholic leaders who are not at all happy with the Vatican Curia’s usual method of being negative to anything related to LGBTQ issues. And they are willing now to speak out about it.
So, it seems, that Catholic LGBTQ people are now in a new moment. Is it the final moment? Of course not, but it is a step along the way. Are there still negative Catholic messages being propagated that are still causing pastoral, spiritual, and psychological damage? Unfortunately, yes. There is still plenty of work to be done. I’m not planning on retiring any time soon.
But just as it is good to take note that Pride celebrations have entered the mainstream of culture, I think we should also take note–and celebrate–that over the past year, Catholic attitudes and actions on LGBTQ issues have also entered a new phase. It’s hard to say what will happen next. It is very possible that the Church may take a step back from what feels like a few steps forward. Only God knows.
But, I, for one, am happy to see that we made it to this new point–a point I had not imagined I would ever see.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, June 13, 2021