The bishop behind a document that could see LGBTQ people virtually banned from church life is defending his policies, while Catholilc advocates continue challenging the bishop’s directives to exclude LGBTQ people and requiring them to “repent.”
Bishop John Doerfler of Marquette, Michigan said the call to repent in the document, which targets transgender people and those in same-gender marriages in particular, is about changing one’s behavior “with the grace and the help of God.” Doerfler further told WNMU that the directives are not about people’s thoughts or feelings, but behaviors, and that pastoral accompaniment “means helping each other avoid sinful behaviors.”
But LGBTQ advocates are rejecting claims that this document, which includes bans on Communion and other sacraments, are really about accompaniment, as the bishop has characterized them. Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry was asked for his opinion by WNMU:
“[DeBernardo] thinks it’s wrong to ask people to repent of who they are or who they love. He says LGBTQ people have often gone through a discernment process that is very spiritual in nature.
“‘And they’ve come to discover that this is who God made them to be. And they feel that the love they have for another person is a love that is divinely inspired.’
“DeBernardo says the Catholic Church teaches one’s conscience is the highest moral guide in their lives, and many lesbian and gay people have often gone through a discernment process to recognize and understand what God is calling them to be.
‘”And their conscience has told them that it is okay, and not just okay but good, for them to be in these relationships.”
DeBernardo added that the Marquette diocese’s policy on LGBTQ people “shows an unwillingness on the part of the diocese to even pay a little bit of attention to the experience of LGBTQ people.”
Describing the anti-LGBTQ directives as a “very discriminatory practice” and a “dead-end approach,” DeBernardo explained what real pastoral accompaniment looked like:
“I think that if Bishop Doerfler and the Marquette Diocese truly want to do pastoral accompaniment, they have to be willing to open up to change some of their points of view, as well.”
The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) offered the opinions other Catholics who also took aim at Doerfler’s policy. Gay theologian Jason Steidl said:
“‘It’s a cruel policy that excludes LGBTQ Catholics from the body of Christ. I’m entirely opposed to it as I believe it runs contrary to the Gospel and to the spirit of inclusion that we find in Jesus’ ministry. . .There’s an increasing divide between popular culture, where grassroots Catholics are coming from, and what the hierarchy teaches is revealed from God. . .I think that separation is especially clear within this document.”
Daniel Quinan, a Minnesota canon lawyer, commented to NCR:
“‘There was nothing explicitly wrong in what was being said, but it was missing a second piece of the equation that’s important to prevent it from devolving into some sort of condescending “You have nothing to teach me” sort of accompaniment,’ said Quinan, who also found fault with the document’s section on the ‘meaning and purpose of human sexuality.’ In that section, the document says ‘only sexual intercourse that is open to life can express a total and fruitful love.’
“‘That language is not something that’s coming out of the Catechism,’ Quinan said. ‘It’s coming out of these other sources, these interpretations of John Paul II and other things that have been inserted into the conversation. They’re common, but to present them as the standard or the clearest formulation of church teaching on human anthropology is problematic.'”
Although other dioceses have offered various prohibitions against church participation by LGBTQ people, Doerfler’s approach is by far the most comprehensive. As a result, it is receiving the many strong criticisms. Other bishops should take heed that such policies are not going to be quietly accepted by U.S. Catholics in the pews, who overwhelmingly support approaches to LGBTQ people which are inclusive, not exclusionary.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 23, 2021