With the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) meeting in Baltimore approaching next week, most attention has been on whether the bishops will approve a controversial document on the Eucharist. But there will also be some key committee chair elections occurring, and candidates include some of the most LGBTQ-negative church leaders in the U.S.
Perhaps most notably, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield is running to chair the bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. If elected, this bishop, who has threatened transgender students with expulsion, sought to deny funerals to Catholics in same-gender marriages, and performed an exorcism when marriage equality was approved in his state, would spearhead USCCB efforts for social justice in the U.S. He is running against Archbishop Borys Gudziak of the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Philadelphia.
For chair of the Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations, Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver faces Bishop Earl Boyea of Lansing. Both men have LGBTQ-negative records. In Colorado, Aquila has endorsed conversion therapy initiatives and compared LGBTQ relationships to bestiality. In Michigan, Boyea issued an anti-transgender policy regarding church life earlier this year.
For chair of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth, Bishop Robert Barron, an auxiliary of Los Angeles, is pitted against Bishop Edward Burns of Dallas. Barron, who is the founder of the Catholic media group Word on Fire, has previously claimed that transgender identities were a modern form of Gnosticism, an ancient Christian heresy, and analogized transgender people to pedophiles. He made slightly more positive comments in 2017 about the need to include LGBTQ people, but insisted in 2018 that such a welcome should also be a call to conversion. For his part, back in 2016, Burns, while bishop in Juneau, Alaska, had Catholic locations refuse to host weddings if the couples were not heterosexual Catholics because marriage equality had been legalized.
Finally, for chair of the Committee on Migration, it is a race between Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso and Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami. While Seitz’s record on LGBTQ issues is fairly neutral, Wenski has suggested marriage equality would lead to polygamy, threatened LGBTQ church workers’ jobs, and criticized a fellow bishop for making an LGBTQ-positive statement in the wake of the Pulse Nightclub massacre in 2016. Previously, as chair of the USCCB’s Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development and then acting chair of the Committee for Religious Liberty, Wenski used his authority to fight against LGBTQ rights, including praising the Trump administration for allowing discrimination against unhoused LGBTQ people.
It is striking how strongly connected opposition to LGBTQ inclusion and prominence in the U.S. bishops’ conference are at this point. Candidates like Paprocki and Aquila are not merely bishops who stay quiet and tow the line on LGBTQ issues. They are leaders of a culture war movement to suppress equality.
Next week’s elections could have grave implications. What will it mean for programs like the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, which has come under fire for funding LGBTQ-positive coalitions if Paprocki becomes its overseer? How will gay and bisexual seminarians fare if the bishop charged with seminary formation believes in conversion therapy? Will the U.S. bishops once again oppose immigration reform efforts simply because there are provisions to care for LGBTQ migrants?
The USCCB is unlikely at this point to become a conference in line with Pope Francis’ vision, but given the influence and money the U.S. bishops wield, its workings are still worth watching closely. It will be up to pastoral leaders and laity at the grassroots to bring about LGBTQ-positive initiatives in the U.S. church.
Catholic Organizations for Renewal, a network which includes New Ways Ministry, is hosting a witness titled “Bread, Not Stones” this Monday outside the bishops’ meeting in Baltimore. More information is available here.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 12, 2021