49 people were murdered one month ago at Pulse, a LGBT nightclub in Orlando, and 53 more were wounded. These victims, constituting the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, have stirred conversations about anti-LGBT prejudice and violence and prompted many Catholics to memorialize the victims.
Sr. Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder of New Ways Ministry, says even more speech is needed around this event, given that there is still too much silence in the world–and in the church–around anti-LGBT violence. Acknowledging a long history of violence against LGBT people, and the daily threats they continue to face “through verbal threats, intimidation and bullying, and even imprisonment, torture and death,” she wrote in the National Catholic Reporter:
One kind of violence not often recognized is the violence of silence. After the Orlando massacre, some in our church were guilty of this kind of violence. Headlines the world over noted that the shooting took place in a gay club, but statements released by the Vatican press office, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Orlando’s bishop conspicuously passed over references that the people targeted were lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Some bishops issued no statement at all.
Silence is violence when, as in this instance, it denies the existence of a whole category of people, people who have been targeted with physical violence because of who they are. If I don’t acknowledge your existence, I do not need to recognize your rights; I do not see that you need added protections. Furthermore, I am unable to know you or to relate to you in a meaningful way.
‘Silence=Death,’ the slogan of AIDS activists in the 1980s, not only questioned President Ronald Reagan’s silence about the disease, it also boldly declared that, as a matter of survival, silence about the repression of LGBT people must end. The violence of silence kills.
Gramick acknowledged that less than ten U.S. bishops identified the Orlando victims as predominantly LGBT people. Of these, only a few challenged anti-gay prejudices in the church and in society. One Florida bishop even criticized another bishop who courageously acknowledged the church’s contributions to homophobia.
Tying the Orlando incident to the news of the Vatican’s proposed further questioning of at least three communities of U.S. women religious, Gramick called for an end to silence and secrecy:
Church investigations of individuals or groups have usually been shrouded in secrecy, which has had disastrous consequences for the life of the church. Secrecy instills fear and enables authorities to exercise control of mind or action. When significant matters are kept secret from the faithful, church leaders cannot be held accountable for their actions, nor can the faithful engage in informed conversations about important issues....
Silence can even destroy the spiritual family we call church....If our church were a democracy and this a campaign year, my yard signs and buttons would read, ‘Down with the violence of silence and up with a victory for speech!’
Other Catholics around the globe have spoken out since the shooting in Orlando a month ago, too, remembering the victims and recommitting to the cause of LGBT justice.
LGBT Catholics Westminster, gathered at the Farm Street Jesuit Parish in the Mayfair section of London, remembered the victims during Mass in late June. Homilist Fr. Tony Nye challenged his listeners to question their priorities in view of Orlando, asking them:
Do we put God and God’s justice first in our thinking? That may mean controlling our anger and discovering any prejudice that lingers in our thinking. That may mean being ready for the cost that following our Lord may entail, the cost of standing up and being counted on behalf of justice, of respect for our neighbour whoever he or she may be, of truly seeking God’s will in our attempt to follow Christ’s call.
The Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach in Chicago remembered victims at Mass the following week, placing victims’ photos before the altar and reading each person’s name and age, reported Crux. A comforting letter from Archbishop Blase Cupich was read, which included Cupich’s statement to LGBT people that he and the archdiocese stand with them.
In a more troublesome incident, a June 24th Mass for the victims held in San Juan, Puerto Rico was interrupted by a bomb threat and Communion was distributed outside, reported the National Catholic Reporter. Fears about an unattended backpack, later disproven, reveal the heightened vigilance many have felt during commemorations. San Juan’s Archbishop Roberto Gonzalez Nieves tied the memorial to the day’s feast, St. John the Baptist, patron of the city, who the archbishop said “was also a victim of hate and caprice.” Gonzalez called for an end to discrimination facing LGBT people, imploring Catholics to be converted like John the Baptist away from violence and to Christ.
Beyond just remembering those people killed at Pulse, Catholic memorials include acts of prophetic speaking out. They have made room in the church for LGBT people, to acknowledge not just their sufferings at this time, but their ongoing presences in our communities and the contributions they offer the church. Alfred Pang recently reflected about the way Pride celebrations have functioned in the wake of Orlando. The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics launched a sign-on statement of solidarity with the victims of Orlando and LGBT people in the United States.
A further petition, signed already by 1,300 people, asks Pope Francis to retract harmful language about lesbian, bisexual, and gay people in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as well support decriminalization efforts at the United Nations. The petition reads, in part:
Faced with the horror [of Orlando], it is not enough to deplore or even sympathize, we must fight and fight which leads to hatred and crime....Pope Francis, you can combat hatred. Repeal immediately Article 2357 (1) of the catechism stigmatizing sexual orientation. The criminal repression of homosexuality is, as we know, a fertile ground for transition to the murderous act, which is why we call on you to engage in your UN authority and that of the Vatican, today strangely acting in abstention, for the universal decriminalization of homosexuality.
These liturgies and prayer services, these statements and speaking out have all re-membered the Body of Christ, relocating a horrific tragedy in the context of the communion of saints and the resurrection.
Sr. Julia Walsh wrote about her experience of this mourning, yet life-giving process for Global Sisters Report. Walsh attended a Mass where the victims’ faces were printed on posters, about which she wrote:
Our bodies are united. We are one; together in the grief, pain and trauma. No one suffers alone. We hurt together; we are frustrated and disturbed together....
We were gathered in sacred space, in a place where we could safely and fully express our common experience and beliefs. In some ways, we were not unlike those who entered the Pulse dance club in Orlando seeking sanctuary from a world that persecuted them for their difference. Just as they had found a home and a loving, accepting community where they felt free to be themselves, we Catholics had found our home around the Eucharistic table and were free to express our faith. Our sea of faces bowing toward the Bread Broken for All was not unlike the sea of sacred faces encountering safety and freedom on a dance floor.
Expecting a typical liturgy, I entered the church with my grief for the Orlando victims engulfed by my busy life. I left changed, weary and soaked from a good cry, with the faces on the posters and of the kind people in the church community embalmed in my memory.