Reconciling the Church’s “Colonizing Mentality” Towards LGBTQ+ People

Mark Guevarra

Today’s post is from guest contributor Mark Guevarra. After being fired as Pastoral Associate for not revealing his relationship status, Mark has become an advocate for LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church. Mark is a PhD student at the Graduate Theological Union, in Berkeley, California, with an interest in synodality.

Today’s liturgical readings for 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time can be found here.

Pope Francis embarked on an historic journey last month to join the settlers and Indigenous peoples of Canada in seeking to “redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation.” The residential school system, in large part administered by the Catholic Church, systematically destroyed Indigenous culture by assimilating Indigenous children into white settler culture.

As a gay Catholic, I paid careful attention to Francis’ words and actions. I see his approach to addressing the residential schools as a model for how the church might one day reconcile with LGBTQ+ Catholics who have been harmed and excluded.

From a theological perspective, Francis’ apology can be seen as a child born from “the mother of all virtue” – humility. Today’s gospel from Luke is a parable of Jesus about humility. The Catechism defines humility as “the virtue by which a Christian acknowledges that God is the author of all good” (CCC 2259). In this light, humility is not about recognizing how lowly we are but rather, recognizing how great God is. “Humility means seeing ourselves as God sees us: knowing every good we have, comes from God as pure gift,” as St. Thomas Aquinas puts it.

Pope Francis’ rejection of the “colonizing mentality” that motivated residential schools is also a rejection of the hubris of the church. The “colonizing mentality” rejected that any good could be found in Indigenous cultures, instead imposing European Christian culture. Indigenous languages and religion were suppressed, their way of life rejected—including how many Indigenous groups accepted 2-Spirited individuals, who live outside a gender binary. Tragically, when Europeans made contact, it was not, as Pope Francis put it, “a great opportunity to bring about a fruitful encounter between cultures, traditions and forms of spirituality.

I wonder how first contacts would have been between the church and LGBTQ+ people if the church sought to humbly encounter and learn from the Holy Spirit active in their lives and relationships. Instead, the institutional church has chosen to reject LGBTQ+ experiences, impose harmful church’s teachings, and condemn same-gender relationships. Could we have avoided the loss of faith of countless LGBTQ+ individuals? Could we have prevented the fracturing of families? Could we have found radical and surprising grace in same-gender love?

Pope Francis in Canada

In Canada, Pope Francis lamented the tragic reality that colonizing mentalities continue today. Quoting the Synod on the Amazon’s post-synodal exhortation, Pope Francis voices: “colonization has not ended; in many places it has been transformed, disguised and concealed.” I see this colonizing mentality continuing in the church. Rather than being encountered and embraced, the condemnatory teachings are simply reasserted. As a result, great harm continues to be inflicted to lives, faiths, relationships, and the church itself.

In Quebec, a province which has overwhelmingly rejected its Catholic heritage, Pope Francis exhorted the Faithful in a homily not to judge secular society and “mistakenly” rebuild a “sacralized world, a bygone society in which the Church and her ministers had greater power and social relevance.” Rather, he calls the Faithful to learn about and learn from secularism, and the culture that has embraced it, so as to creatively re-propose the heart of the Christian teaching in meaningful ways. This is the humility which today’s gospel parable teaches. Only in this great humbling will you, in the words of Sirach in the first reading, “find favor with God.” It is only in this great humbling that, in the words of the Psalmist, the poor, needy, orphans, widows, and outcast will truly find a home.

As a loving partner and parent, there is much I would teach the church. I would share how my relationship is from God. I would explain how the church’s sacraments and community could nourish and support this faith. I would show how difficult it is to pass on a faith that rejects parents in same-gender relationship to my child. I would name how my family has been torn by its struggle to accept me and how parishes are torn by the firing of LGBTQ+ workers such as myself.

The diocesan synodal experience has been an experience of great humble listening. Many reports capture a comprehensive image of the lived experiences of LGBTQ+ Catholics today. I pray that the church will let go of its “colonizing mentality” on gender and sexuality, choosing instead to redress harm done so that between the church and LGBTQ+ people there may be a “fruitful encounter between cultures, traditions and forms of spirituality.”

Mark Guevarra, August 28, 2022

6 replies
  1. Jen Cabigas
    Jen Cabigas says:

    This is a beautiful reflection! The colonizing mentality is the exact opposite of humility. I pray that the synodal listening sessions allow for LGBTQ+ Catholics to be seen, heard, included and celebrated.

  2. Maurice Richard
    Maurice Richard says:

    Thanks for your insights, Mark. I, as a Canadian, had similar sentiments to yours’. When you try to swallow up and try to make disappear a group of people different than you, then you impoverish yourselves. You lose the gift of that special image of God offered in those “different” to you. The whole Church suffers from that loss.

  3. Thomas Bower
    Thomas Bower says:

    I find Mark’s message and Maurice’s follow up both very thought provoking. They challenge all of us to appreciate the openness that is God’s love of us all. Would life be easier for we outliers if we were all the same? But we were not made the same. The challenge is for us to learn to love us all in our variety. The abundance that Jesus promised all of us is not of a one flavor soup, but of bits of all of the richness of the world God created.
    Thank you both.

  4. Ursula Halligan
    Ursula Halligan says:

    Thank you Mark for this most insightful reflection. It is really excellent and so beautifully expressed too. I am so sorry to hear you lost your job in the circumstances described.

  5. Ann Connolly
    Ann Connolly says:

    Excellent reflection on this topic! I appreciate the analogy between colonization/mistreatment of Indigenous peoples to current rejection of LGBTQ individuals/families.


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