Some Pittsburgh parishes have created ministries for LGBTQ Catholics, but the queer people they are meant to welcome have a range of expectations for how inclusive the church can truly be.
Some Catholics are quite suspicious. Some see the church as oppressive. Some feel more comfortable in a community of primarily LGBTQ Catholics such as the local Dignity chapter. But some have been willing to test out the new parish ministries to find out more about them.
As Public Source reported, the stories of queer Pittsburgh Catholics illustrate a common thread: for many LGBTQ people who were raised Catholic, staying in the church is no easy matter because they grew up hearing negative messages about their identities.
Jane, who is bisexual and used her first name only, shared that when she came out, her father told her to “turn to God” and recommended that she attend a form of online religious conversion therapy. “At 16, 17, 18, I felt like I was pretty much just gonna go to hell no matter what,” she said.
Now, her relationship with the church is more complicated. She has questioned whether or not she can or should remain Catholic. There are aspects of her faith that she still likes, but some teachings and attitudes make staying Catholic “an uphill battle.”
But when people at St. Mary Magdalene parish started an LGBTQ ministry, she wanted to learn more, the article explained: “She decided to reach out to the new LGBTQ ministry group. In part, she was looking for a space to work through these questions. But she was also looking for a community where she could be herself, where she could be ‘seen’ within the church.”
“People say things like, ‘Oh, if you’re not happy, you just leave,’” Jane shared. “But I feel like it’s more complicated than that.”
Some LGBTQ people and their allies are surprised the first time they hear about affirming Catholic LGBTQ ministries, because they have only heard negative messages from the church previously. But in Pittsburgh, momentum is gathering behind such efforts.
Deacon Keith Kondrich of St. Joseph the Worker parish said that the church has a responsibility to listen to LGBTQ people’s experiences because it is “the only way to have any kind of healing.”
Educating Pittsburgh Catholics about homophobia is also part of LGBTQ ministry, the deacon said. For example, when his parish prayed for an end to LGBTQ youth suicide on Respect Life Sunday, some parishioners were upset. But, the deacon explained, “When there’s pushback on a prayer, it opens up an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, guess what? There are people probably sitting in the pew next to you who are afraid. They’re afraid. We can’t have that. That’s not who we are as a community.’”
For now, the diocese seems to be allowing the growth of new LGBTQ ministries, though refrains from coordinating anything beyond the parish level. Jennifer Antkowiak, executive director of community relations for the diocese, commented to Public Source:
“‘I think we would want LGBTQ Catholics, and all Catholics, to know that they are not alone. God loves them and God is with them. . .The Church wants to welcome everyone, and to help everyone build a stronger relationship with Jesus.'”
While some see such ministries as “welcoming pockets” in the church, others respond to these outreach efforts differently. “Some see the new LGBTQ ministries as too little, too late — too constrained by church teaching to be truly inclusive,” the article explained. “Some LGBTQ Catholics or former Catholics are done with religious institutions altogether.” Public Source reported:
“Jamie, who grew up Catholic, points to the teachings in Father James Martin’s Building a Bridge,a popular book on Catholics’ relationship to the LGBTQ community, as an example.
“‘It’s the best thing that the Church has to offer, and it still falls so far short of what we actually need,’ she said. ‘It doesn’t actually say we should have equal rights. It just says, like, “You shouldn’t bully LGBTQ people.”‘ To her, that feels like a low bar.
“She suggested LGBTQ Catholics might be better off forming groups without official parish affiliation. It reminds her of a situation that arose at her Catholic university. She and some other students wanted to create an LGBTQ student group. When the university said no, they created one underground.”
The local Dignity chapter is one place where LGBTQ Catholics can gather outside formal church structures. Long-time member Ken Pruszynski commented that even in an inclusive parish, there are restraints, but, he joked, “At Dignity, you know, you can be really outrageous and hug somebody.”
For those who opt to remain Catholic, working and praying for incremental change is a common thread. Some are more hopeful than others about how soon they will see the church change to be more inclusive of LGBTQ people.
Public Source reported on Fr. John Oesterle, who heads the reform-oriented Association of Pittsburgh Priests which last year criticized the Vatican ban on same-gender blessings:
“Whether the church might become more inclusive and grow its LGBTQ community, Oesterle is not sure. If it were to happen, he senses ordinary people would play a key role. Parishioners might step up to bring their visions for the church into being — like those who started the local LGBTQ ministries did.”
Consuelo Cruz-Martinez, a former nun and who is now married with LGBTQ children, said it was “only because of the grace of God that I am a Catholic.” Even when in religious life, she felt the need to stay because the Catholic Church is “where we needs lots of change.” She now ministers to Latinx Catholic families who have LGBTQ children, and said of the long-term prospects of change in the church: “I’m a dreamer. . .I see miracles all the time.”
For LGBTQ people in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, as elsewhere, balancing LGBTQ and Catholic identities is not always an easy matter. But the development of more and more LGBTQ ministries, in this diocese and in others, is a hopeful sign that for many members of the laity, the work of creating a more inclusive church is long overdue.
—Grace Doerfler (she/her), New Ways Ministry, April 30, 2022