As Church Debates LGBTQ+ Issues, Catholic Sisters Forge Ahead

Sister Anna Koop, SL

The Catholic Church’s dialogue about LGBTQ+ issues has advanced greatly under Pope Francis, yet whether and how to provide welcome and inclusion continues being discussed and debated. As has often been the case, women religious are not waiting to do outreach. Today’s post highlights how some Catholic sisters are forging ahead on LGBTQ+ inclusion.

After Pope Francis expressed an openness to blessing same-gender couples, CBS News profiled one sister who already provided such a blessing:

“When [Loretto] Sister Anna Koop blessed a same-sex couple 15 years ago, it seemed natural to do so. The couple — one a friend of Koop’s — were very much in love, and ‘Jesus did not say love was confined,’ said Koop, now 85. The Roman Catholic nun knew she might face consequences from the church, but went ahead with the private blessing — not a sacramental marriage, she noted — regardless. She just ‘blessed the love they celebrate.’ . . .

Koop, who became a nun in the late ’60s, spent almost her entire career in Denver focusing on housing and homelessness issues while ministering to the poor. She keeps in touch with the same-sex couple, who are still together and have two children. Koop said she never experienced consequences from the church for her actions.”

Koop, a former board member of New Ways Ministry, concluded she had no regrets: “I did it once and I would do it again.”

In Italy, Sister Angela of San Giovanni in Persiceto congratulated a same-gender couple who had just entered a civil union in the town of Reggio Emilia. Quotidiano Nazionale reported (via Google Translate) on the union between Marco Righi and Fabio Valenti, activists in the Italian LGBTQ+ group Arcigay:

“The nun, during the ceremony celebrated by the city councilor Dario De Lucia, spoke confidently, reading the words she had written down on a piece of paper. . .

‘They asked me to say a few words. I was a little embarrassed, not knowing in front of which audience I would be speaking – she revealed, originally from the Bolognese area like her cousin-groom –: now I see a heterogeneous and large audience. And I played at home , as they say, so I was inspired by the Bible. In the Old Testament, if anyone knows, there are some interesting little books for everyday life, then I thought of the book of Tobit. It’s the story of a old Jewish father who has to send his son to a very distant city to recover money and get a bride; then the father provides him with a traveling companion ; who will later turn out to be an angel sent by God’.

“Her speech continued, almost like a blessing for the two esteemed professionals. . .’Here today these two brothers begin a journey – concluded Sister Angela – and I, like old Tobia, wish them to have a good journey together, without giving up and to be comfort, help, support, consolation , but also correction for each other other. And in an ancient book it is written: it is better to be two than just one. Because they will get better compensation for their effort: in fact, if one falls, one will pick up the other. So with all my heart I wish you a good journey together’.”

Women religious’ support for LGBTQ+ people goes back decades. Art and Pepe, a new documentary this year tells the story of a couple, Art Johnston and Pepe Peña, who were gay rights leaders in Chicago, as well as owners of the gay bar, Sidetrack. Speaking to MSNBC about the documentary, Johnston told a story of how Catholic sisters aided their efforts decades ago:

“When we were trying to pass basic laws that you couldn’t fire people or deny them housing because of their sexual orientation, we were running against alderman who said, “I am Catholic and I have a Catholic ward. I can’t vote for this.” So we reached out to activist nuns, many of whom had led the civil rights work in the American South, and they had settled in Chicago with women’s shelters. These radical nuns became our best allies.

“‘We would seek out a nun from the same order that had taught the alderman when they were in school. When the alderman would say, “I can’t vote for this because I’m Catholic,” the nun would say, “Hang on a moment. I’m a Catholic, too.”

“‘The nuns became our allies. We wondered, why don’t we know about this? That’s because nuns don’t self promote. Many of the nuns who helped us were later shut down by the Vatican because of their support of gay people. But they made all the difference in Chicago. We were told over and over and over [that] Chicago would never pass gay rights. We proved them wrong with the help of the Catholic nuns.'”

Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, December 5, 2023

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