Catholic Church

Catholic Church: Listen & Learn On LGBT People

by Stephen Seufert

With any discussion involving the family, a diversity of views must be taken into account. This begs the question, should the Catholic Church maintain the status quo or attempt to learn more about the gifts and qualities LGBT people have to offer?

Due to the uplifting words and actions of Pope Francis, more Catholics are seeking the latter path. 

Former Catholic priest Bill Dickinson, whose primary role was to provide leadership training, development, and consulting for bishops and priests throughout the country, penned an article for the Daily Beast as an openly gay man. While there’s an increasingly widespread openness towards LGBT people among Catholic laity, Dickinson claims few American bishops have a desire to engage in dialogue about the struggling relationship Church leaders have with LGBT people.

Despite this, Dickenson hopes that, “Even in the absence of doctrinal change, promoting understanding, sensitivity, and proper language are acts of profound ministry. Through them, all of us become more inclusive, understanding, and respectful—even if we don’t always agree on issues or teachings.”

In an interview for National Catholic Reporter, Douglas Laycock, professor of law and religious studies at the University of Virginia says he repeatedly warned Catholic bishops that it is “a risky step to interfere with the most intimate details of other people’s lives while loudly claiming liberty for yourself. If you stand in the way of a revolution and lose, there will be consequences.”

Laycock believes the Catholic Church should have supported LGBT nondiscrimination laws and marriage equality while also arguing for religious exemptions. However, such a stance may now be untenable because of the aggressive lobbying efforts the church took against LGBT nondiscrimination laws and marriage equality.

Unlike the United States, most European nations have learned to respectfully distinguish between sacramental and civil marriages.

Thus, conflicts between church and state on same sex marriage has been largely non-existent. In Germany for example, Catholic bishops recently decided employees in same-sex civil unions will no longer be fired automatically.

Fr. Paul F. Morrissey, in response to the Irish Referendum on same-sex marriage, states: “The Catholic Church has much to offer the world in terms of our beliefs on sexuality, loving commitment, sacraments, procreation and family, but we remove ourselves from the conversation when we present ourselves as having all the answers before the conversation begins.”

In an article written in May 2014, Fr. Peter Daly, a priest in the archdiocese of Washington, D.C., explains: “Sacramental heterosexual marriages are not threatened by the civil law’s recognition of gay marriage.”

That didn’t stop Waldron Mercy Academy from letting go Margie Winters, the former director of religious education, after a couple of parents complained to Waldron administers and the Philadelphia Archdiocese that Winters was in a same-sex civil marriage. Winters married her wife Andrea in 2007, and three months later she was hired by Waldron Mercy Academy.

All indications point to Winters being loved and respected by peers, students, parents and alumni at Waldron.

In an article for the Philadelphia Inquirer, the co-founders of Project Home, Mercy Sister Mary Scullion and Waldron parent Joan McConnon, write that Margie “has been a gift to the Church, nurturing the faith and morals of countless young people, fostering a spirit of mercy, compassion, and justice.”

In June, Dr. Patrick Hornbeck II, chair of the theology department and professor at Fordham University, married his husband at an Episcopal Church in Manhattan. Fordham, a Jesuit, Catholic university, while not endorsing same-sex marriage, stood by professor Hornbeck’s personal decision.

A spokesman for Fordham stated, “While Catholic teachings do not support same-sex marriage, we wish Professor Hornbeck and his spouse a rich life filled with many blessings on the occasion of their wedding in the Episcopal Church. Professor Hornbeck is a member of the Fordham community, and like all University employees, students and alumni, is entitled to human dignity without regard to race, creed, gender, and sexual orientation. Finally, same-sex unions are now the law of the land, and Professor Hornbeck has the same constitutional right to marriage as all Americans.”

Conversely, the vice president for overseas finances at Catholic Relief Services, Rick Estridge, stepped down from his position after outside Catholic groups discovered he was in a same-sex civil marriage.

Estridge, who wasn’t Catholic and held no ministerial role, was essentially forced out of CRS after 16 years of dedicated and faithful service to the organization.

Like Winters at Waldron and Hornbeck at Fordham, Estridge was by all accounts a valued and respected member within CRS.

Most recently, St. Mary’s Academy, a Catholic school in Portland, Oregon, ended a contract with an openly lesbian teacher. Due to the outcry from parents, students and alumni, St. Mary’s reversed course and will now institute hiring policies that won’t discriminate based on an individual’s sexual orientation or relationship status. It’s unclear if the teacher, Lauren Brown, who admitted to administrators after she was hired that she may want to marry another woman someday, will be offered another contract at St. Mary’s Academy.

Recent developments surrounding the LGBT issue here in the United States and internationally confirms a new reality: there is no universal church policy on LGBT equality.

As such, it’s critical church leaders seek out encounters with our LGBT brothers and sisters.

Through these encounters, we’ll discover the inherent dignity and love that exists in all of us.

Photo by Trishhhh