After Colorado Shooting, Bishops’ Responses Muted, Other Catholic Leaders Speak Out

Catholics are reacting to the mass shooting at a Colorado LGBTQ+ nightclub last weekend. While bishops’ statements have been more tepid, many other Catholic leaders offered strong statements of solidarity with the victims and the LGBTQ+ community.

Locally, Colorado Spring’s Bishop James Golka issued a statement about the tragedy on Monday, acknowledging that “the shooter appeared to target members of the LGBTQ community,” which was “especially troubling.” The bulk of Golka’s statement, however, addressed the need for gun safety laws and support for mental wellness and crisis intervention.

Nearby, Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver posted a brief statement that lacked any mention of LGBTQ+ people, and even suggested “the motives remain unclear” in this “random acts of killing.”

For its part, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops did not release a statement, instead re-sharing the Diocese of Colorado Spring’s statement on social media with the additional comment:

“The bishops of USCCB join their brother, Most Reverend James Golka and the community of Colorado Springs in lamenting this violent act and praying for all those impacted. Lord, have mercy!”

Leaders of some Catholic organizations and religious congregations had stronger responses. Pax Christi USA, the national Catholic peace movement, issued a statement from executive director Johnny Zokovitch, who commented:

“In the wake of the shooting in Colorado Springs, Pax Christi USA joins New Ways Ministry in calling on Catholic leaders in dioceses, parishes, Catholic universities and schools across the U.S. to make clear both their condemnation of violence against members of the LGBTQ community and their efforts to end discrimination against LGBTQ people.”

New Ways Ministry’s statement encouraged every bishop to condemn anti-LGBTQ+ violence, establish educational programs in dioceses about respect for LGBTQ peoples, and to join demonstrations and vigils in support of LGBTQ+ people in the coming weeks. All Catholics, the organization said, must become more active in non-discrimination efforts.

The Redemptorists’ Denver province posted a strong statement on its website that said, in part:

“As Redemptorists we pray Christ the Redeemer shower the victims with unfailing new life and grant their families and friends healing consolation. We also extend our prayers to the well-being of the LGBTQ community in Colorado Springs as it faces the trauma of this attack and the pain it incurred. We, as Redemptorists, recognize that LGBTQ people as especially vulnerable to an inordinate and unwarranted amount of violence in the world. We, as Redemptorists, commit ourselves to work against such violence and discrimination and to assist those LGBTQ people who suffer it. As followers of the Redeemer, we hope LGBTQ people will find with us a place of safety and esteem.

“In 2016, when 49 people were killed and 53 more were injured at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, few bishops and Catholic leaders spoke out publicly against that tragedy, although it is common practice to do so when a specific minority group is attacked. And when these leaders did, very few mentioned the victims as members of the LGBTQ community, The Redemptorists of the Denver Province invite other Catholic Bishops and leaders of religious orders and congregations to join us in solidarity with the LGBTQ community in Colorado Springs at this time and to identify the victims as LGBTQ people, so that the Church can deepen its mission as a place of safety and esteem for vulnerable minorities.” [boldface in original]

The Adrian Dominican Sisters’ General Council issued a statement saying “our hearts ache” in grief, adding:

“There is no place for hate crimes in our nation nor for the angry and venomous language that often precedes such evil acts – whether committed against members of the LGBTQ+ community or people who are Black, Indigenous, Latino, or Asian-American, or because of a person’s religious faith. As women of faith, we believe in the inherent dignity of every person, each one of us wonderfully made (Psalm 139) in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).”

Likewise, the Paulist Fathers’ president, Fr. René Constanza, expressed his deep sadness about the mass shooting in a statement, commenting:

“Violence targeting our LGBTQ sisters and brothers must stop.

“Rhetoric that dehumanizes and disrespects the inherent dignity of those who identify as LGBTQ is unacceptable, including that espoused by members of our own Catholic Church and other faith communities. . .

“It is time for our society to address the anger, contempt, and indifference that fuel violence against all people because of their sexual orientation, skin color, race, or religion.”

DignityUSA issued a statement which said, in part:

“We are particularly disturbed by how some leaders and members of our own Catholic church contribute to a climate where LGBTQIA+ people experience dehumanization and marginalization. The Archdiocese of Denver’s policy excluding transgender students, and talking about LGBTQIA+ people as being disruptive to the church’s mission, released just two weeks prior to the Club Q shooting, is just one example of ways our community faces exclusion. We call for an immediate end to such decrees, which some may see as justification for discrimination and violence.”

Outreach, America’s LGBTQ website, offered prayers for those impacted and observed:

“What is clear. . .is the effect that stigmatizing language has on the safety and well-being of LGBTQ people. Language that seeks to reject, condemn, isolate, blame or target LGBTQ people should be rejected, especially by religious leaders.

“Such language leads only to further harassment, beatings and violence. Churches and other religious institutions are called to stand on the side of all who are in any way persecuted, including LGBTQ people.”

Catholics in the pews also condemned the violence and offered clear support for LGBTQ+ people. Sally Odenheimer, who is Catholic and had a lesbian mother, attended a Denver vigil for the victims of the shooting. She told Denverite that affirming people of faith must counter hate from the religious right because “we’re still terrorized.” Odenheimer concluded:

“I feared my whole life as a child, that someone would find out that my mother was gay. We’re not going back to the 1950s. I refuse.”

Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, November 23, 2022

5 replies
  1. Vincent Morton
    Vincent Morton says:

    I am an 85yo gay man, an ordained priest. I am no longer numbed by the silence of the bishops when it comes to LGBTQ+ people.

    In reading this article what caught my eye was part of a statement from the USCCB “Lord Have Mercy.” I couldn’t help but think that the USCCB was asking for the Lord’s mercy on themselves for their continued disregard for the LGBTQ+ Community.

    Reply

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