How to Get the Catholic Church to Fully Accept LGBTQ People

Today’s reflection is by Bondings 2.0 editor Francis DeBernardo.

Today’s liturgical readings for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time can be found here.

How will we get the entire Catholic Church to accept LGBTQ people as fully equal members?

I’ve been asked that question a lot over the years, and I’ve heard many different answers from theological arguments, to boycotts, to protests, to prayer vigils, to networking with other church reform organizations, to letter writing, to . . . . The list can go on and on.

Don’t get me wrong: I think that, depending on the situation, strategies like that can be helpful.  But Jesus offers us a different strategy in today’s gospel. Today’s lesson from Jesus is “Don’t try to change other people.  Try to change yourself. That’s more than enough work for you to do.”

Jesus’ directive is a hard one. Isn’t it a lot easier to point out other people’s faults and shortcomings than look at our own?  But Jesus points out that if we don’t attempt to correct our own vision, then we are definitely not in shape to lead and guide other people:

“Can a blind person guide a blind person?
Will not both fall into a pit?

“Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye,
but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?”

These teachings of Jesus are among the most challenging in the gospel, especially coming after last Sunday’s lessons to love our enemies and turn the other cheek. They are challenging because they name very real weaknesses that we all share, and for which we constantly need reminders. Oh, it is so much easier (and dare I say, enjoyable?) to point out other people’s splinters than to acknowledge our own much bigger faults.

But, of course, there are the practical things that we must do, like the ones I mentioned above: theology, boycotts, protests, prayer, and such. We can’t abandon those things.  I think Jesus’ lesson from today’s readings is that for those involved in Catholic LGBTQ social justice, the attitude we have towards the people who may be opposed to us is just as important, maybe even more important, than the work that we do.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A friend recently sent me the closing paragraph of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Christmas 1957 sermon entitled “Loving Your Enemies,” which was delivered at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He wrote the sermon while in jail for committing civil disobedience during the bus boycott in that city:

“To our most bitter opponents we say: ‘We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws because noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.’”

That’s quite a lofty goal. But it is also powerful and necessary if the justice that we seek is rooted in God’s love for all. How do we do that? I had some insight into that from another friend’s gift.

Etty Hillesum

I recently received a collection of sayings by Etty Hillesum, a Dutch Jewish woman who was killed at Auschwitz. I have found her thoughts to be very profound, especially coming from someone who lived through such horrors, violence, and daily threats to her life. Despite the chaos and terror that she lived through during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, Hillesum found it within herself to write the following:

“I really see no other solution than to turn inward and to root out all the rottenness there. I no longer believe that we can change anything in the world until we have first changed ourselves. And that seems to me the only lesson to be learned from this war. That we must look into ourselves and nowhere else.”

Those two passages express to me the messages of last week’s and today’s gospel, as well as how we will move the entire Catholic Church towards LGBTQ equality: Love your enemies. And do so by working to change yourself, not them.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 27, 2022





13 replies
  1. Maurice Richard
    Maurice Richard says:

    Thank you Frank. What a good reminder to look into oneself for cleansing and healing and hope. We don’t want to win against our enemies but win then over to a vision of justice and compassion.

  2. Paula Ruddy
    Paula Ruddy says:

    Fully acknowledging the profound truth of the power of love from the Gospel, MLK, and Etty Hillesum, I’d like to add a distinction I think is important: today’s gospel parable, MLK, and Etty Hillesum are talking about changing individual hearts and minds, aren’t they? They say, “Lay off others, look to yourself..” But what about changing institutional policies? Institutional changes are initiated by leaders who, despite the biases of their own hearts and minds, are supposed to be able to govern according to the principles espoused by the institution. The US Catholic bishops should be able to initiate justice in policies concerning LGBTQ people, and they should initiate faith formation programs to help all Catholics think and feel justly. Since the institutional policies and practices are for the purpose of forming the hearts and minds of individuals, we are in trouble if institutional leaders do not espouse the gospel principles of the institution. Theologians and activists have to speak directly to the USCCB and hold them to account for the Gospel truth. What do you think?

    • Loretta
      Loretta says:

      I agree, i.e., the connection and distinction between individual interior reflection and institutional interior reflection. The synod is supposed to attempt it. However, listening is only viable when each of us is willing to listen. Will the bishops listen and act? Not that laity has the answers but we as individuals have scant influence to change the heart of a bishop. I can work on mine and you’ll work on yours. Will it be enough?

    • Francis DeBernardo, Editor
      Francis DeBernardo, Editor says:

      Thanks for your very thought-filled comment, Paula. I agree that there is a big difference between changing individual hearts and minds and changing institutions. But I do think they are connected on some level. I think that for church leaders to make changes that would treat LGBTQ as full and equal members of the church, the hearts and minds of those church leaders have to change.

      I strongly support positive actions for institutional change. I think that these positive actions have to be accompanied by changes to our own hearts so that we don’t see leaders as our enemies or as people riddled with faults, but that we recognize our own faults and develop loving attitudes towards those we disagree with. Those are the ideas that I see expressed in the Martin Luther King and Etty Hillesum quotations.

      I think that if we want an inclusive and just church, we have to build it ourselves, as best we can. and strive not just to change other people but to live the gospel as best that we can. I often encounter people who are filled with a lot of anger at church leaders, and that anger is usually very justified. But I don’t think the solution is to stoke the anger, but to nurture our own hearts and the hearts of those around us, whether or not they agree with us. I think that is the way we build up an inclusive church.

      So, yes, let’s continue proactive actions for institutional change. We must do that. Let’s also work on recognizing where we are at fault, not just where others are at fault, and work to try to correct ourselves so that instead of lashing out at people, we are reaching out to them to help them overcome the things that block them from fully embracing LGBTQ people.

      I don’t think I have the whole answer, so I am very grateful for your thoughts and suggestions. It is helping me to clarify my own thought, which I may not have expressed as clearly as I had hoped.

  3. Loretta
    Loretta says:

    You nailed it flashing back to Jesus nailed to the cross and from that place forgiveness was preached.
    MLK learned from Gandhi. One his well known quotations is be the change you want to see.

    DON E SIEGAL says:

    The Rev, Dr, Martin Luther King, Jr. also had this to say about the Institutional Church

    “…So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent—and often even vocal—sanction of things as they are.

    “But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.”

    Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr: “Letter from Birmingham Jail” 16-April-1963.

    That statement is as relevant today as it was in 1963.

  5. Fr. Paul Morrissey, OSA
    Fr. Paul Morrissey, OSA says:

    Marvelous thoughts on these two Sunday Gospels, and how you refer them to LGBTQ people. I wish I had read this–and given it–as a homily here at St. Augustine’s in Philly today. Keep on guiding us with the Spirit.

  6. Paula Ruddy
    Paula Ruddy says:

    Thank you, Francis, and all, for this conversation. I am agreeing with you, Francis, that we have to put aside the anger and vituperation. I think we are talking strategy on how to get the Catholic Church to fully accept LGBTQ people. As you say, it will take our own ordered hearts and minds to provide the energy to get the job done. But what must we do? I am imagining that some organization will take the leadership role in meeting with the USCCB. They would have to enlist strong theologians to come up with sound and convincing arguments and proposals for policy. They would have to enlist the support of all those concerned so that the bishops become aware of how intolerable the status quo is with the current policies. Do you think it is time for this to happen?

    • Francis DeBernardo, Editor
      Francis DeBernardo, Editor says:

      Yes, Paula, it is certainly the time for such a meeting. Will it happen? That depends on the bishops. I think it is happening in local areas, but certainly not on the national level. The USCCB still leans strongly conservative in its membership. I think we still have a lot of work to do to build up local bishops’ positive attitudes before the USCCB will agree to meet with LGBTQ Catholics. Of course, I hope I am wrong in that estimation, and that it will happen much sooner. I have a lot of hope that the synod process will melt some hearts. Thanks for this great discussion!

    • Mary O’Keefe
      Mary O’Keefe says:

      Paula, thank you. You’ve just put into words what I’ve been sensing for awhile.

      I believe sometimes the love we have for the Church blurs that distinction.

      And sometimes the ones we trust to love us the most, are the ones that can also hurt us so deeply.

      I think if we can draw a further distinction: that these people we love (the Pope, clergy, laity) are distinct from the systems in which they operate (think policy/law). Then we can examine the systems in light of the outcomes they produce. For example, clericalism, exclusion of LGBTQ persons, the value placed on celibacy.

      An organization to represent LGBTQ Catholics to the USCCB? It doesn’t exist.

      Paula, would you help me start one? That’s going to be the first step. Francis has my contact info.

      • Paula Ruddy
        Paula Ruddy says:

        Yes, Mary, I will do anything within my power to help you. As will other people reading this. We will talk.

  7. Maurice Richard
    Maurice Richard says:

    It surely is time! Science is with us, the vast majority of the western Church is with us. It’s time to present the facts . . . The Spirit of God will do the rest.


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