A Catholic deacon has apologized after making anti-transgender comments on social media in the wake of the mass shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs last month.
Following the tragedy, a transgender Catholic shared their grief on social media, stating “being LGBT hurts.” The tweet lamenting the effect of hate crimes on the queer community received a curt response from Deacon Rob Federle of the Diocese of Oakland, California: “Being gravely disordered shouldn’t be a piece of cake.”
The tweet, which has since been deleted along with the deacon’s account, received immediate criticism, including from Catholic author Mary Pezzulo, who is a friend of the person who sent the original tweet:
“‘Deacon Rob didn’t know my friend. And he completely misrepresented Catholic teaching, because the actual teaching of the Church is NOT that queer people are themselves intrinsically disordered; we’re children of God like anyone.”
The responses to Federle’s tweet included calls for the Diocese of Oakland to remove him from public ministry, as well as frustration as to why the deacon felt it was appropriate to make such a statement. One Twitter user expressed confusion as to how Federle felt his tweet was reflective of Christ’s teaching:
“I can’t understand why a deacon is going after a young Catholic man who is in pain right after a hate crime killed 5 LGBT people. Is this how you think Jesus would respond?”
On Nov. 21 the Diocese of Oakland shared a screenshot of a tweet from Federle’s since-deleted twitter account in which the deacon apologized for his previous statement:
“I apologize for the post I made Sunday following the tragedy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It lacked the Christian charity and is not befitting of an ordained clergy, or of anyone who professes to be a follower of Jesus Christ.”
The diocese did not comment on whether there would be any consequences for the deacon’s tweet, but Federle is still listed as a member of the clerical staff at St. Michael Catholic Church, Livermore.
In the same Twitter thread in which the diocese shared Federle’s apology, Bishop Michael Barber, SJ, responded to the controversy by distancing the diocese from the deacon:
“Bishop Barber notes that the original post by Deacon Federle, a deacon of the Diocese of Oakland, on his personal Twitter account, is not representative of the Church’s teachings.”
Barber, who has previously weighed in on LGBTQ+ issues by signing onto a USCCB statement in opposition to the Equality Act, offered a statement on the Club Q shooting which accompanied the deacon’s apology:
“I ask everyone to join me in prayer and support for all those impacted by the attack at Club Q, including those who died, those who have been injured, the first responders, and their loved ones. No one should suffer from violence; as Christians, we are called to witness to the dignity of all human life.”
Pezzulo wrote a follow-up post addressing the bishop’s response, and expressed surprise that the situation was addressed by church leadership so quickly:
“I don’t think I’ve ever, in my life, seen a diocese apologize for anything. Technically I still haven’t seen that; I’ve seen the diocese sharing a picture of a bad apology and a note that they don’t endorse the person who did wrong. But it was close to an apology. And it also had a statement about how nobody deserves to get shot.”
Bishop Barber’s expression of solidarity, which notably does not identify LGBTQ+ people as the shooting’s primary targets, is a positive step, as is the apology from Deacon Federle. Yet, public statements are inadequate given the harm that a transphobic comment like Federle’s does, particularly when it targeted a specific person. Apologies need to be coupled with action to prevent future harm. Bishop Barber needs to evaluate his diocese to understand why a deacon would think it is acceptable to make such comments, and consider whether more accountability is needed beyond simply a two-sentence apology. More broadly, Barber and the diocese need to address the systemic reasons that cause LGBTQ+ people to face hateful attacks, reasons which have some origins in the church as this incident shows.
—Andru Zodrow (he/him), New Ways Ministry, December 12, 2022