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A Home for All

A Catholic Call for LGBTQ Non-Discrimination

New Ways Ministry

June 30, 2021

Introduction

The relationship between the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church and the community of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) persons has long been fraught with tensions, negative emotions, and confusion. Harsh statements from high-ranking church leaders against LGBTQ equality initiatives in the civil arena have often succeeded in limiting the rights of LGBTQ people, causing great offense and allowing great social and personal harm to befall this marginalized community.

Equally alarming to us as Catholics is that a vocal section of our church leaders too often does not fully consider Catholicism’s most fundamental teachings and values when taking positions on LGBTQ social policy initiatives. By supporting civic policies that promote discrimination and by opposing policies that would produce equality, these leaders bypass the Catholic Church’s proud social justice tradition, the product of more than a century’s development of social doctrine that increasingly supports the human rights of all people without exception.

Because LGBTQ people suffer from unjust discrimination due to structural inequalities in law and social institutions, our Catholic faith compels us to speak out in support of the principle of non-discrimination. Non-discrimination would alleviate the personal suffering of LGBTQ people, provide them equal access to our society’s opportunities, and, in many cases, save lives. Ending discrimination of this type would also benefit the common good of all people in our society. If LGBTQ people were allowed to flourish as full human beings and as equal citizens, our communal, cultural, and social life would be greatly enhanced by their gifts.

As Catholic theologians, scholars, church leaders, writers, and ministers, we affirm that Catholic teaching presents a positive case for ending discrimination against LGBTQ people. We affirm the Second Vatican Council’s demand that “any kind of social or cultural discrimination. . .must be curbed and eradicated” (Gaudium et Spes, 29). We affirm that Catholic teaching should not be used to further oppress LGBTQ people by denying rights rooted in their inherent human dignity and in the church’s call for social equality.

We recognize that a great debate is currently underway in the Catholic Church about whether the current magisterial characterization of same-gender relationships and transgender identities is accurate or not. That is a vital discussion for the future of Catholicism, and one to which we are whole-heartedly committed. What we are saying in this statement, however, is relatively independent of that debate, and the endorsers of this statement may hold varied, and even opposing, opinions on sexual and gender matters. Whichever position you, the reader, may hold on sexual or gender ethics, we invite you to consider the following theological reflection on the topic of non-discrimination with an open mind and an open heart.

 

Signs of the Times: Discrimination

Heeding Vatican II’s repeated calls to discern “the signs of the times,” Catholics have been engaging questions of gender and sexuality with renewed energy.

Despite certain legal and social advances in recent years, LGBTQ people in the United States remain victims of significant discrimination. A recent report shows that more than one-third of LGBTQ people have faced some form of discrimination, and this rate is notably higher if one is transgender or a person of color. Discrimination manifests itself in healthcare, housing, employment, public accommodations, adoption and foster care, interactions with police, access to credit, and education. Such discrimination is often compounded by gender, race, religion, class, or other factors.

Moreover, many LGBTQ people are forced to remain closeted, thus compounding the emotional damage. We think, too, of LGBTQ people subject to so-called conversion therapies that, though causing great psychological damage, still remain legal in most states. LGBTQ people are also disproportionately subjected to policies of mass incarceration. And the all-too-common physical violence persists in many places. Especially tragic and scandalous is the fact that LGBTQ youth are three times as likely to contemplate suicide than their heterosexual and cisgender counterparts do — and five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to those same counterparts.  

Discrimination cuts across a wide segment of American life, from LGBTQ youth being prevented from forming support clubs in schools to LGBTQ elders being denied senior living opportunities. While the right to marry civilly has now been secured, a couple can still legally be refused services because of their marriage. In short, the failure of U.S. society to implement comprehensive non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people has severely curtailed their ability to flourish as human beings.

Scripture strongly affirms that God hears and responds to the cry of the poor and suffering. Society’s failure to protect LGBTQ people has left them crying out for justice. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we too must hear and respond to this cry by pursuing policies and laws that remedy such grave injustices. To do any less would abdicate our responsibility as Christians to live the Gospel in public life by advancing the good of all people, especially those on the margins.

The time has come to remedy this grave injustice, and our Catholic tradition holds the tools to fix this problem.

 

Catholic Social Teaching

Catholic Social Teaching, the body of doctrine and knowledge developed in church documents from the late 19th century to the present day, provides a clear basis for Catholic leaders to support non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people as the Catechism of the Catholic Church demands. While Catholic Social Teaching acknowledges that resolving social issues is complex, certain primary principles guide its application. At its foundation, Catholic Social Teaching recognizes that all people are created in the image of God. This innate dimension is the source of our dignity as human beings —dignity that is respected through the protection of each person’s human rights. These rights should be protected by law. They apply to all people. No exceptions are made. No person is excluded.

Catholic Social Teaching is based on decades of theological reflection and has developed with the following components at its core:

      Because all human beings are endowed with human dignity and equal to one another, no individuals or groups should be denied the civil rights enjoyed by others in society.

      All human beings have the right to participate as full citizens in their societies, and they should be afforded opportunities to advocate for themselves and for the common good. 

      Because human beings are social, the structure of society and its laws has a direct impact on all individuals’ abilities to grow and develop in society.

      Justice in society requires a preferential concern for any individuals or groups who are poor, vulnerable, or marginalized.

      As a human family, we are all responsible for one another’s well-being, and we must stand in solidarity with our neighbors, especially if their human dignity is being violated.

      Society must always value the common good, which includes protecting each person’s ability to reach their full human potential.

The Catholic virtue of hospitality also has a social dimension. Hospitality is at the very heart of the Gospel, evident in Jesus’ table ministry and his frequent invitations to all people to participate in his way of life. This disposition to welcome has been realized by Christians in each age, most recently in the encyclical Fratelli Tutti, in which Pope Francis regards hospitality as a “sacred duty.” Non-discrimination protections are essential to living out hospitality in the way Jesus modeled.

 

Which Comes First: Justice or Sex?

From the 1970s onward, Catholic leaders, including members of the hierarchy, have applied Catholic Social Teaching concepts to promote the idea that LGBTQ people should not be subject to prejudice, discrimination, abuse, and harassment. Time and again they have affirmed the full and equal dignity of LGBTQ people.

However, another line of discussion in Catholic discourse about LGBTQ issues emphasizes the magisterium’s condemnations of sexual activity between people of the same gender and, more recently a disapproval of transgender people. That line of discussion is often proclaimed more frequently, more loudly, and more absolutely than the Catholic Church’s social justice teaching as it applies to LGBTQ people. This emphasis on the sexual teaching and opposition to trans identities is often used as a trump card to oppose any non-discrimination initiatives for LGBTQ people.

Catholics are thus faced with an important question: Should the church’s sexual ethics tradition or its social justice tradition be the primary lens with which to examine LGBTQ equality initiatives?  We believe it is imperative for Catholics and their leaders to rely on the social justice tradition. 

 As early as 1983, the Washington State Catholic Conference declared that “…prejudice against homosexuals is a greater infringement of the norm of Christian morality than is homosexual…activity.” This excerpt neatly distills the idea that opposition to discrimination is an ethical claim prior and superior to that of any sexual or gender ethic. This concept is strongly supported by Catholic reasoning:

      When considering equality measures for LGBTQ people, we must remember that we are first and foremost talking about people. An individual’s personhood is the most important feature of their identity, and it is what qualifies them to be protected by civil law. 

      Both social ethics and sexual ethics are fundamentally concerned with how to love well and pursue Christian perfection. Social justice, however, is necessarily prior to creating the appropriate conditions whereby people can choose the good when it comes to sexual ethics.

      No evidence exists in Scripture for LGBTQ people not to be considered full human beings deserving of social inclusion and protection. No quotes about sexual orientation or gender identity are attributed to Jesus in any of the four gospel accounts. However, those same gospels are filled with directions and demands that Jesus’ followers love one another, welcome the outcast, foreigner, and oppressed, and reach out to all, even those outside of one’s own religious traditions. The message of Scripture shows that Jesus was much more concerned with social arrangements than with sexuality.

      In Catholic thinking, public law is not an enforcement mechanism for the totality of personal morality. Not all that is considered immoral is unlawful, nor should it be. The church does not seek to criminalize every action which the magisterium prohibits on ethical grounds. Civil law serves to preserve the public order, creating conditions conducive to the flourishing of all. Discrimination against LGBTQ people violates this mandate for justice, and civil law must strive to end these practices.

      The Catholic ethical tradition rejects the idea that a just end can be obtained through unjust means. Discrimination against LGBTQ people cannot be used as a means to oppose ideas or behavior to which a religious body may object. And while church leaders can oppose ideas or behaviors that undermine the common good, non-discrimination for LGBTQ people is not in these categories. Religious beliefs that disapprove of same-gender sexual relationships or of contemporary understandings of gender cannot be used to support discrimination that leads to a diminished role in society for LGBTQ people.

Signs of the Times: The Right Moment

Now is the time to act for non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. We have already described the urgency of preventing human suffering and violations of civil rights, but we must also observe that both the church’s and society’s understandings of LGBTQ people have changed in the following important ways.

First, scientific evidence continues to prove that sexual orientation and gender identity are fundamental characteristics of an individual. Research shows that diverse sexual and gender identities are normal in the human experience, not deviations from it.  

Second, as more LGBTQ people are open about their orientation and/or identity, we witness more and more the healthy, holy, and wholesome ways that God’s revelation is manifest in all people, including LGBTQ people.

Third, among the U.S. laity in our Catholic Church, more welcoming and affirming attitudes toward LGBTQ people continue to expand. Over the past 10 years, surveys and opinion polls keep showing a growing acceptance of LGBTQ people and relationships among U.S. Catholics in the pews. This growth is evident in the large number of Catholic parishes, schools, and college campuses that have already developed projects, policies, and programs to support LGBTQ people. More and more Catholic scholars, writers, and conferences are examining the place of LGBTQ people in church and in society and are advocating for equal treatment.

Moreover, our church has placed a renewed emphasis on its social teaching as a constitutive aspect of its evangelical mission. The Catholic Church today, enlivened by the dangerous memories of those on the underside of history, proclaims the Reign of God especially when it proclaims social justice. This reorientation, begun at Vatican II and developed in theology and the magisterium over the past six decades, calls Catholics and all people of good will to be seekers of peace and doers of justice wherever inequities and suffering exist. If LGBTQ people, who still face myriad forms of discrimination, are not included in our church’s call for justice, its other entreaties for justice will be perceived as untenable.

Conclusion

As Catholic theologians, scholars, church leaders, writers, and ministers, we care deeply about our church and our society. Our strong endorsement of non-discrimination towards LGBTQ people comes from careful reflection on scripture, our church’s tradition and teachings, our academic studies, and our experience of the lives of LGBTQ people. In these sources, we witness the Holy Spirit speaking through them to guide us to live more faithfully the Gospel mandate to pursue justice by hearing and responding to the cry of the poor and marginalized.

We invite all Catholics and people of good will to join us by standing up and speaking out for non-discrimination in your communities. We hope you will join in the mission to make both our church and our world a home for all.