The Changing Tone of Catholic Bishops' Responses to Homosexuality
Last year, I reported on statements by a series of bishops which pointed a change in tone from Church authorities on responses to homoerotic love. This began almost a year ago with Cardinal Schonborn's observation that it was time to shift the emphasis from an obsession with "homosexual acts" to a consideration of the quality of our relationships. This was followed by similar statements by several others, and by explicit support by the two most senior bishops for the Soho Masses for LGBT Catholics. In recent months, other bishops have also been emphasising that sexual minorities must be made welcome in Church - the Philippine Bishops' Conference, and Cardinal Pell in Sydney. Last month, the diocese of Los Angeles ministry to gay and lesbian Catholics were given recognition and space at the important conference on religious education. In Mexico, a diocesan-sponsored conference last month went further than any previous initiative by the institutional church to promote queer inclusion in church.
The Diocese of Saltillo recently held the "Fourth Sexual Diversity, Family and Religion Forum" and now sponsors a ministry for homosexuals that promotes the ideas of providing gays and lesbians with expanded legal protections and human rights -- along with an expanded sense of dignity for individuals whose emergence from the margins of society has caused conflict for many Catholics.
"Jesus founded the church to bring in those on the outside"
Bishop Raul Vera Lopez of Saltillo in northern Mexico has a solid record of support for human rights, firmly grounded in Catholic tradition. Logically, the Catholic passion for justice should also extend to sexual justice - but those with power in the church too easily balk at making that connection. Bishop Lopez does not. His actions in this respect must be celebrated, first just for hosting the diocesan conference on sexual diversity, and for his own words in the conference Sunday Mass:
The church is your home.....Jesus founded the church to bring in those on the outside, for those suffering exclusion and rejection ... so that they find the love of God.
In an interview with Catholic News Service, he made it clear that his views on LGBT inclusion follow directly from his commitment to human rights. In doing so, he explicitly rejected the more usual "love the sinner, hate the sin" claptrap we frequently hear - and implicitly rejects the Vatican's refusal at the UN to support the decriminalization of homosexuality.
Bishop Vera told Catholic News Service he objects to the mentality of love the sinner and hate the sin promoted by many Christians and the view that people are "homosexual by choice." "I can't judge a gay person or a lesbian by their sexual preferences," Bishop Vera said. "The most important thing for us is that they have legal protections. Period."
Bishop Vera is clear that his concern is with the protection of civil rights. He does not support extending marriage to same sex couples, but he does support civil unions, and says that the Church needs to rethink its existing opposition to gay adoption.
LGBT Ministry is an Evangelisation Process
In the major metropolitan centres of Europe and North America, it is common to find people for whom it easy to come out as gay or lesbian in their personal lives, but remain deeply closeted in church - or who simply avoid participation in Church activities of any kind. One measure of the success of the ministry as evangelization in Santillo is that for some, this pattern is reversed.
Some participants said they had never expected any sort of welcome from the church -- and felt a sense of openness and belonging in Comunidad San Aelredo that is lacking in the broader society."We're out as a couple here, but in the closet most other places," said Eduardo Camacho, who sells hunting and fishing gear with his partner in Saltillo.Ricardo Cruz, 25, joined San Aelredo after years ago falling away from the church, which he figured was unwelcoming to gays.San Aelredo coordinator Fernando Hernandez had a similar experience, explaining he had left the church at age 14 after realizing he was gay. He returned three years later after discovering San Aelredo."The people that come here are looking for spiritual support," he said. "We help so that being gay and Catholic isn't a conflict."
This element of evangelization is what is totally overlooked by those rule - book Catholics who are so horrified by the very idea of a specific ministry to sexual minorities. "Why can't they just attend ordinary Masses with other Catholics?" they ask. The truth is that many do - but for some people, the hostility that they experience from the institutional church is so strong that they simply prefer to stay away entirely. A clear and explicit welcome, whether in the form of dedicated LGBT Masses, as in Soho, San Francisco's Castro, or Sydney, or by parish - based support groups in Los Angeles, or on the Comunidad San Aelredo of Santillo, or in our own self-help support groups like New Ways Ministry, Dignity, and Quest, is often needed to bring disaffected Catholics back into the sacramental life of the church. Once they have experienced this welcome, it becomes easier to participate in more conventional parish life - and even to become evangelists themselves.
My only regret over the Santillo conference is that it was even newsworthy, as a unique event. My hope is that, like bishops' statements that all are welcome in the Church, this will change. We need many more similar conferences, specific LGBT ministries, and explicit statements of welcome, in all dioceses.
Evangelization, including evangelization of sexual minorities, is a clear Gospel command.
(All quotations are from the report at US Catholic. Read the full report here).
Some Related Posts at QTC: