Deacon Apologizes for Harmful Tweet Targeting Grieving Transgender Catholic

Deacon Rob Federle

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

5 replies
    DON E SIEGAL says:

    Deacon Apologizes for Harmful Tweet Targeting Grieving Transgender Catholic

    It is because of instances like this one that the Catechism of the Catholic Church numbers 2357 and 2358 need to be revised to remove several offensive phrases: “acts of grave depravity,” “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered,” “this inclination, which is objectively disordered,” and “unjust discrimination” (because it suggests there is “just discrimination” as the deacon’s harmful tweet suggested).

    I would genuinely like to see a proposed rewrite of numbers 2357, 2358, and 2359 by one or more of our Catholic theologians that write on Bondings 2.0.

  2. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    I wrote to Archbishop May many years ago that I had come to the conclusion “that the episcopal teaching that all homosexual acts are immoral is not only wrong, but is the heart of homophobia.”

    Nothing has happened since then to change my thinking. So as nice as bishops and other church leaders might be to LGBT people, there is still the cancer at the heart of Catholic theology that spreads and erupts into hateful attacks on LGBTQ+ people in very ugly ways.

    Until the experiences of Queer people that have only now begun to be heard in synodal listening sessions throughout the world are fully listened to, respected, and accepted as the voice of the Spirit speaking to the Church about the goodness of Queer people and their lives and their loving relationships, that cancer will still be present, festering and spreading unchecked.

    • John Hilgeman
      John Hilgeman says:

      The only thing I would add today to what I wrote to Archbishop May so many years ago, is that the cancer that leads to homophobia has metastasized into a theology of gender that dismisses the multiple expressions of gender that exist in the human family, and demeans and targets transgender people for attacks and dismissal from the Catholic community.

  3. Richard Boyle
    Richard Boyle says:

    Whenever I hear or read an “apology” such as the Deacon’s, I always wonder why the “second part,” and equally important part, of said “apology” is usally missing or absent (intentionally, or through sheer ignorance?). What I rarely see is the FULL measure of a true apology, which, following the words, “I’m sorry,” seeks the forgiveness of the agrieved; “I’m sorry, and can you forgive me?” For some reason I cannot understand, we seem to be mostly satisfied with the “I’m sorry,” as if that is enough…it is not, at least in the fuller Christian Catholic context (which the Deacon ought to know!). Real sorrow should be couched in the intention to change, to reform oneself, to humbly ask forgiveness of the person offended or sinned against. Therefore, until the Deacon both apologizes and seeks the forgiveness of the Trans community, I would find his “apology” rather wanting…

  4. Theresa Maria
    Theresa Maria says:

    I wonder when/if ever he will apologize for the rest of his tweets. Apologizing for only one tweet when your entire account was nothing but pure hatred towards not only LGBT Christians/people but really anyone that wasn’t a “MAGA” person… a bit underwhelming to say the least.


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