Gay Catholics: The Other Side of Pastoral Practice

Since rwriting yesterday about how Cardinal Dolan ‘s fine words, about the need to offer “more support” to gay Catholics are directly contradicted by the scandalous example of a deeply committed member of a Long Island parish who was booted from his extensive work for the parish after marrying a man,  I’ve realised there are two considerations that somewhat soften the verdict.

First, although the story has only just become public, the actual action occurred some time ago – before the election of Pope Francis, whose conspicuously more pastoral approach may well have triggered the more sensitive words of both cardinals. It is arguable that there will be fewer of these nasty incidents in future, as the papal example filters down the ranks.

Also, although this case is by no means unique, we must take into account that it is newsworthy precisely because it is by no means routine.As Michael O’Loughlin points out at Religion News Service, there are far, far more examples of parishes where openly gay men, lesbians and transgender Catholics are worshiping and serving without comment or hindrance from anyone.

But there is another side to the Catholic Church that welcomes gay Catholics. I know a Catholic monk who has supported numerous collegee students through their coming out processes. A thriving parish in New York owes much of its vibrancy to a gay lay minister. There are countless priests and nuns who share the joys and sorrows of gay families in parishes throughout the country. Most of the time, these stories aren’t reported; it’s not exactly news when Christians act Christian. But sometimes they are.

The principal of a Jesuit high school in New York, the Fr. Edward Salmon, defended two gay students who requested to attend a dance together, as a couple, causing some outrage from parents.

The story of McQuaid High and its prom has been widely reported – but there is another Catholic school that took the same approach earlier, with rather less publiclity (sorry, I don’t have the link).  I’m willing to bet there will be many, many more on school and college campuses, especially as openly LGBT students win more positions in school governance. I’m also willing to bet that as the number of gay or lesbian married Catholics increases steadily, the number of exclusions will not rise in proportion, but over time, will drop.

A few years ago, a Catholic school in Boulder, Colorado, hit the news when two lesbian moms were instructed that their kids could not attend the school. What was most notable about that affair was firstly, the strong reaction disapproving of the bishops action from other parents, in support of the lesbian moms, and secondly, that this remains the only school where this kind of exclusion has been reported (when a Boston parish priest attempted a few months later to similarly exclude a child with two moms, he was promptly called to heel by the diocese).

We also need to remember that alongside the lesbian and gay Catholics who still find themselves on the wrong side of discrimination in Catholic pastoral practice, their are an increasing number of reports of priests who are finding themselves disciplined for sermons or actions which are regarded as specifically homophobic.  There is a definite change in tone emerging, in the USA and elsewhere – and it has been led by LGBT Catholics themselves and their families, taking their place in the pews, participating in parish activities and ministries of all kinds, forcing local priests and co-parishioners to accept and welcome them in the congregation, exactly as they would other parishioners. Usually, the complainants are ignored, and being ignored, eventually learn to hold their tongues. There remain exceptions that do serious damage, bringing grave scandal on the name of the church – but people are beginning to realise that the scandal lies in exclusion, not in the existence of committed lesbian and gay Catholics contributing to parish ministry and community service.

The new messaging from Cardinals Dolan and Wuerl is not leading the church, but following, where most Catholics have been trailblazing for years.

These flagrant xamples of discrimination and exclusion are in total contrast to the clear and overriding message of the Gospels, and must be resisted and called out at every opportunity – but they are no longer by any means typical of the Church, and will become even less so as the years go by.

The Bishop of Rockwell Centre who wrote the offensive letter to the parish priest of St Anthony’s is a suffragan bishop in Cardinal Dolan’s own diocese, who was responding to a single anonymous complaint by a parishioner. It is time to deluge the cardinal will letters of complaint, pointing out that his own bishop’s example has contradicted his newly found concern for LGBT support. Dolan has said that he does not know quite how to put this greater support into effect: suggest to him that a good place to start, would be to tell his bishop and the parish priest of Saint Anthony’s that Mr Costello should be immediately re-instated in his valuable work of service and parish ministry.


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6 comments for “Gay Catholics: The Other Side of Pastoral Practice

  1. Jack P Busby
    April 5, 2013 at 6:01 pm

    It is a pity that many denominations exclude gays from their ministry on grounds of their orientation while out of the other side of their mouths they say (as in United Methodist discipline) “homosexual persons are persons of sacred worth”. If they are so sacred, why do they make them leave? Such hypocrisy is a sin and must be challenged as such.
    Thank you, Terry for all that you do!

    • April 6, 2013 at 10:11 pm

      I agree, Jack. There are many kinds of “sin”. It’s debatable whether the Bible really does treat loving same – sex relationships as sinful, but it’s undeniable that the Gospels in particular are fiercely critical of any kind of self-righteous hypocrisy – and the refusal of hospitality and welcome to strangers was the real sin of Sodom.

  2. Floridahank
    April 7, 2013 at 5:12 pm

    You stated “self-rifhteous hypocrisy, the refusal of hospitality and welcome of strangers was the real sin of Sodom.” If you read Genesis 19, you find much more reasons for God destroying 2 cities and killing millions of men,women and children for your reasons. . How about where the men of Sodom called out to Lot “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we many have relations with them.”
    Was that simply to talk to them and be hospital with them? I think not.

  3. katie cha
    April 8, 2013 at 4:52 pm

    Although I struggle with gay people acting out on their sexuality, I believe that parishioners who are openly gay should not be excluded from a church environment or rather any environment. I agree with Terrace. There are many different types of sins that we have to deal with whether it may be hypocricy, gluttony, or greed and being gay is just another specific sin that certain people have to deal with like others deal with their habitual sins. It’s a shame that people are judged unfairly. “Catholic” literally means universal and is called that because it does exclude any race or language. So why should it exclude homosexuals? If the Church is Catholic then they should be accepting of these people instead of slamming the door in their face. Even in non-Catholic places such as schools, homosexuals should have the same rights as everyone else.

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