The new archbishop of Louisville has expressed a willingness “to meet and to listen” to LGBTQ Catholics, though his past record on LGBTQ issues has some advocates concerned.
Archbishop-designate Shelton Fabre was named by Pope Francis as the archdiocese’s new leader this week. In a press conference, Fabre was asked about whether LGBTQ people are welcome in the church. According to The Courier Journal columnist Joseph Gerth:
“‘I stand ready, certainly, to meet and to listen,’ he said.
“‘I think, as the church says, we respect the human life and human dignity of each and every single person. I hope that they would find in me someone who is willing to listen to them, someone who is willing to journey with them, someone who is willing to invite them to come to know the Jesus Christ that we know.’
Gerth also added:
“But when I asked if gay people will be allowed to work in the church, he punted, saying he wasn’t prepared to answer personnel questions.”
Fabre, formerly of the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana, is a leader on racial justice efforts in the U.S. church. He is one of only six active Black bishops in the U.S., and he presently chairs the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism.
But his record on LGBTQ issues is more negative. In 2021, he signed a letter from top U.S. bishops that condemned an executive order from President Joe Biden aimed at implementing LGBTQ non-discrimination protections in the wake of the Bostock decision. The letter’s authors referred to the order as “misguided” with the potential to erode religious liberty. They added, “It is unfortunate that the goal of racial equality is partially conflated with the imposition of new attitudes and false theories on human sexuality which can produce social harms.”
Previously, he suggested same-gender marriage “harms the common good” when responding to the Obergefell ruling that legalized marriage equality in 2015. He added that church teaching barred Catholics from participating in same-gender weddings. Fabre’s predecessor in Louisville, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, who was president of the bishops’ conference that year, criticized the ruling as “profoundly immoral and unjust” and a “tragic error.”
Columnist Joseph Gerth wrote in The Courier Journal that this record has LGBTQ people in the Louisville archdiocese concerned because Kurtz “has been a disaster for them,” and there was hope for a change. Gerth quoted to local LGBTQ leaders:
“‘I really think we were expecting Pope Francis to elevate someone that matches his (Francis’) morals and values … but it looks like we’re getting more of the same,’ said Chris Hartman, a Catholic and the executive director of Louisville’s Fairness Campaign. . .
“Former state Rep. Jim Wayne, who is a longtime supporter of gay rights and the co-founder of a group called Catholics for Fairness, said he wishes Fabre was more forceful with his responses and outlined a more specific action plan to heal the wounds inflicted in the past.
“‘My hope is that the Holy Spirit will inspire this guy to compassion and openness to the LGBTQ community,’ Wayne said. ‘They need the love.’ . . .
“Wayne and Hartman plan to ask Fabre for a meeting soon, mainly to seek his support for a statewide fairness law, but also to try to figure out if they can expect his support in other areas.”
Gerth did not bar the possibility that Fabre could evolve into a different, more Francis-like leader on LGBTQ issues when he comes to Louisville. He continued:
“It’s too early to tell if Fabre will be an archbishop in the mode of Kurtz, who Hartman said didn’t meet with gay Catholics for a year and a half after he was installed in Louisville, or in the mode of Newark Cardinal Joseph Tobin, who celebrated a Mass with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Catholics less than six months after he took over there. . .
“It’s hard to imagine someone who has spent their career fighting discrimination standing by and watching as his own church discriminate against its own members.”
Archbishop-designate Fabre’s answer at the press conference could be an opening to dialogue that produces inclusion. This possibility is especially true if he reverses his previous opposition to intersectional justice efforts and adopts the necessary lens that links anti-racism work with LGBTQ equality. True justice means a racial justice movement that is LGBTQ inclusive, just as the LGBTQ movement must be anti-racist.
“To meet and to listen” is a first step. But it must include not only an invitation to LGBTQ people to “come to know the Jesus Christ that we know,” but for Fabre to come to know the Jesus Christ LGBTQ people and their allies know, too.
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, February 11, 2022