The New York Times recently profiled several LGBTQ-friendly parishes in Manhattan, painting a picture of the kind of church that so many are working to build. These communities provide safe-havens where LGBTQ people can be fully themselves.
LGBTQ parishioners spoke strongly about what such a welcome means to them. Kevin McCabe, a teacher, theologian, and parishioner of St. Paul the Apostle, Manhattan, said, “I had to set aside my sexuality when I was in Catholic communities, and it means a lot to not have to do that here.” McCabe attends St. Paul’s weekly despite living in Brooklyn, which is about 20 miles away.
Another St. Paul, parishioner, Christopher Browner, reflected, “I think St. Paul’s probably accepts me right now more than I accept myself sometimes.” At St. Paul, Browner had a positive confession experience where a priest assured him, “you have no sin in this, there is nothing to feel shame for.” Browner then decided to receive Eucharist for the first time in years.
At St. Francis Xavier in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, Melinda Spataro, who belongs to the Catholic lesbian group there, said, “If I had not found Xavier, I don’t think I would be Catholic.” She is married to a woman who is also a parishioner. The couple’s first date was visiting a nearby cafe after attending Mass at Xavier.
Stephanie Samoy, who is also a member of Francis Xavier’s Catholic lesbian group, said the parish was “not just welcoming to gays and lesbians, they’re welcoming to women, they’re welcoming to minorities and people of color.” Samoy said she had not been to Mass in 25 years until finding Francis Xavier. “We really walk the walk of the Gospels,” she said.
The other two parishes mentioned in the article are St. Francis of Assisi in Midtown and St. Ignatius Loyola on the Upper East Side. (All of these churches are on New Ways Ministry’s list of LGBTQ-friendly parishes and faith communities, available here.)
It is not uncommon in LGBTQ-friendly parishes for priests to preach on the dignity of LGTBQ individuals and their relationships, and even to offer pre-Pride Masses each June. Moreover, these communities provide ministries such as happy hours at gay bars, retreats, hikes, and participation in Pride celebrations.
In addition to the ordinary ministries, the parishes also provide a service of justice and reconciliation. For example, The New York Times reported:
“When the Vatican issued a statement in March that said priests could not bless same-sex unions… these parishes and a handful of others in Manhattan issued statements of dismay or used homilies during Mass as an opportunity to comfort L.G.B.T.Q. parishioners.
“The weekend after the statement was released, a deacon at St. Francis Xavier asked the congregation to pray ‘for our L.G.B.T.Q. brothers and sisters, that the Holy Spirit will confirm them in the knowledge that their life partnerships are a blessing not only for them but for the community.'”
In response to the statement, which he called “hurtful news,” the pastor at St. Francis Xavier, Father Kenneth Boller, gave a homily that described the church on a “journey” of accepting “the dignity of all, regardless of gender, race or orientation.”
Father Rick Walsh, a Paulist priest at St. Paul the Apostle, said he did not consult the Archdiocese of New York before releasing his public statement against the Vatican’s blessings ban. He commented, “There will be times when church officials in New York will not like what I am doing…But if they see the big picture they will see it has always been this way and there is a place for this. Paul and Peter argued.”
Jesuit Fr. James Martin likened parishes like these to “safety valves,” providing a safe space for LGTBQ Catholics or those who don’t agree with all church teaching. He commented:
“‘They are places, as the saying goes, for people who are on their way into the church or who may be tempted to go on their way out of the church. They can go to these parishes and feel at home.'”
Martin often tells LGBTQ people, “God loves you, and the church is learning to love you.”
Parishes like the ones welcoming LGBTQ Catholics in New York City embody God’s love for each individual person. The Catholic Church needs more of these parishes so LGBTQ Catholics can practice their faith in a safe and loving community.
For more information about New Ways Ministry’s listing of LGBTQ-friendly parishes and faith communities, click here.
Looking to start or develop LGBTQ ministry at your parish? Consider New Ways Ministry’s “Next Steps” program, which is available either as an online series (information here) or as a tailored workshop specific to your community (information here).
—Beth Mueller Stewart, New Ways Ministry, July 7, 2021