Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland, Oregon, made a series of LGBTQ-negative statements during a live interview with the conservative radio show Catholic Answers.
In a segment entitled “Attacks on the Image and Likeness of God,” Sample bemoaned the increasing acceptance of LGBTQ+ and other non-traditional families. He linked this acceptance to Satan. Catholic Sentinel reported on his specific transgender-negative comments:
“Archbishop Sample asked Pope Francis about transgender ideology during a 2020 Vatican visit, and the pope was clearly opposed to the notion that people can choose a gender that is different from how they were created.
“‘A lot of this insanity with gender ideology today is an attack on the image of God in each of us,’ Archbishop Sample said. ‘The pope was very clear and strong on altering gender — he called it an assault on God himself.’
“The archbishop criticizes schools where young children are taught that gender is fluid and a matter of choice. . .
“One caller asked Archbishop Sample how to speak to transgender friends. He encouraged the man to keep loving without dismissal or rejection before finding a good time to suggest proper help.
“‘To love them doesn’t mean we accept the lie,’ the archbishop said.”
The statements from the archbishop reveal an increasing gap between the cleric and the communities which he oversees. In the queer enclave of Portland, Catholic churches and schools have pushed for greater LGBTQ+ inclusion for decades before Sample was installed.
Just months after Sample became archbishop in June 2013, he told St. Andrew’s, a a long-standing LGBTQ-welcoming parish, that they were prohibited from attending a Pride parade as a community. This order was not heeded by the priest and parishioners, who attended the event anyway.
However, the archbishop has not always taken such stern stances on LGBTQ+ issues. In 2014, Sample wrote an opinion editorial which offered a more empathetic stance toward queer people, reflecting Pope Francis’ compassionate language. While the piece condemned marriage equality, it went on to affirm the dignity of LGBTQ+ people:
“On the specific issue of same-sex marriage, we are deeply aware that this is a complex and very sensitive issue. In no way do we wish to add to any existing discrimination against those who identify as gay or lesbian. The Catholic Church fully teaches that all human persons, including those who are gay, are sacred, valued, have an innate dignity, and are loved by God. We believe that all people should be treated with love, dignity and respect, regardless of what they think, how they act, or who they are.”
Whether Sample’s shift in rhetorical style is reflective of increasing divisions within the church or changes in U.S. “culture war” language, it is clear that the archbishop’s views are in contention with many within his flock, especially young people. In May 2022, over a hundred students gathered at the University of Portland, a Catholic school, to protest LGBTQ-negative remarks made by a Holy Cross priest on campus. The display was a stark reminder of the organizing power of students Catholic institutions, and the gap between how young Catholics and some of their bishops approach queer issues.
Robert Shine, associate director of New Ways Ministry, commented on the archbishop’s interview
“Language matters. Linking the acceptance of LGBTQ+ people to Satan does nothing but cause grave harm. Archbishop Sample may disagree with the movement for inclusion, as he is free to do, but he should at minimum stick to respectful language in his disagreement.”
—Andru Zodrow (he/him), New Ways Ministry, August 20, 2022