A priest within the Archdiocese of Baltimore has retired after more than a decade of leading an LGBTQ ministry in his parish.
In 2010, Fr. Joseph Muth, the former pastor of Saint Matthew’s Parish, Baltimore, Maryland, began LEAD (LGBT Educating & Affirming Diversity), a ministry at the parish that “commits to modeling a community of faith and spirit that works toward openness and understanding” and “strives to offer justice, healing, and wholeness of life for all God’s people.”
This ministry began as a response to the request of a parishioner who is the mother of two gay children. Since then, LEAD has fostered an inclusive parish community and welcomed many people healing from wounds caused by the Catholic Church’s anti-LGBTQ rhetoric. Muth told the The Baltimore Sun:
“When young people discover they’re gay or lesbian, . . . . [S]ometimes they can be on the edge of suicide. In our parish we want these folks to experience a welcoming, loving community of people who can help them discover their beauty and their joy in life.”
Muth has been an affirming pastor to people who came to the parish wrestling with church’s teaching on sexuality and gender. One Catholic mother, who has a young transgender daughter, shared how Muth welcomed her to LEAD. She said that she “spent months in ‘a place of crisis,’ wondering how she could ‘continue down this path when the church I’ve always loved is not going to affirm and value who my child is.'” When she met with Fr. Muth and he introduced her to LEAD, she said, “I did not know that was possible, that there were places in the Baltimore Catholic community working to be vocally welcoming to LGBTQ people.”
Other members shared how LEAD provides a safe space, a family, and a way for LGBTQ people to be their authentic selves within a faith community. Notably, Archbishop William Lori and Auxiliary Bishop Denis Madden have both participated in conversations with LEAD.
Beyond LGBTQ ministry, Muth also led his parish advocating for immigrants and for racial and cultural diversity. With parishioners from over 45 countries, the parish operates the Immigration Outreach Service Center (IOSC) as a welcoming and supportive ministry for new arrivals in the U.S. The IOSC has helped immigrants with information towards citizenship, family reunification, and integration within the community. Muth told the The Catholic Review:
“Many times, immigration paperwork takes such a long time, and so we learn to wait with people and tell them we’re going to wait with them until their process gets completed. So many times we’ve had a chance to go down to different places for the ceremony of citizenship, which is always a very moving, touching, welcoming experience for people. And it’s a great accomplishment for people to get to that point and for us to be able to walk that journey with them.
Muth’s ministry has been both broad and deep over several decades, but it all centers on one principle. He explained:
“This may sound simplistic, but it’s the way I read the Gospel. Jesus went after all kinds of people, people that were broken and hurt and sad and lost and grieving. I think the church has to do the same. The church is for all of us who are, let’s face it, messed up in our own ways. It should say, ‘Come in, we’ll figure it out together. All are welcome.’
Fr. Muth’s pastoral and ministerial work is an example for all Catholics, clergy and laity. While his leadership left a positive and transformative impact on many people, the work for justice cannot sit on one person’s shoulders. How would the church look if more followed Fr. Muth’s example? How might we all be leaders in forming a just church and society? One parishioner beautifully said what it means to follow the priest’s example: “[Fr. Muth] takes people just as they are and is fully engaged with them in their development. I think that’s the meaning of church.”
–Elise Dubravec, August 13, 2021