How LGTB Catholics should be viewed by their parishes
This article is the second part of the speech of Fr. James Martin on how parishes can welcome LGTB Catholics during the World Meeting Families in Dublin, 23rd August 2018. He lays down 3 very important insights that can be taken into consideration by all priests.
My own Jesuit community in New York is next to a church called St. Paul the Apostle, which has one of the most active L.G.B.T. outreach programs in the world. The ministry is called Out at St. Paul and sponsors retreats, Bible study groups, speaking engagements, and social events for the parish’s large L.G.B.T. community. At every 5:15 p.m. Sunday Mass, when the time comes for parish announcements, an L.G.B.T. person gets up in the pulpit to say, “Hi! I’m Jason or Xorje or Marianne, and I’m a member at Out at St. Paul. If you’re lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, we want you to feel welcome. Here are some events coming up this week.” And I just learned that two members of that group are entering religious orders this year.
Sadly, much of the spiritual life of L.G.B.T. Catholics and their families depends on where they happen to live. If you’re a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person trying to make sense of your relationship with God and the church or if you’re a parent of an L.G.B.T. person and you live in a big city with open-minded pastors, you’re in luck. But if you live in a less open-minded place or your pastor is homophobic, either silently or overtly, you’re out of luck. And the way that Catholics are welcomed or not welcomed in their parish heavily influences their outlook not only on the church but on their faith and on God.
That’s the real scandal. Why should faith depend on where you live? Is that what God desires for the church? Did Jesus want people in Bethany to feel God’s love less than people in Bethsaida? Did Jesus want a woman in Jericho to feel less loved than a woman in Jerusalem?
So I’d like to talk about three areas. First, what are some fundamental insights for parishes? Second, what can a parish do to be more welcoming and respectful? Finally, what might the Gospel say to us about this ministry? Let’s begin with six fundamental insights.
1) They are Catholic. That sounds obvious, but parishes need to remember that L.G.B.T. people and their families are baptized Catholics. They are as much as part of the church as Pope Francis, the local bishop or the pastor. It’s not a question of making them Catholic. They already are. So the most important thing we can do for L.G.B.T. Catholics are to welcome them to what is already their church. And remember: Just to remain in the church L.G.B.T. people have often endured years of rejection. Our welcome should reflect that and so should be, to quote Luke’s Gospel, “a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over.”
2) They do not choose their orientation. Sadly, many people still believe that people choose their sexual orientation, despite the testimony of almost every psychiatrist and biologist—and, more important, the lived experience of L.G.B.T. people. You don’t choose your orientation or gender identity any more than you choose to be left-handed. It’s not a choice. And it’s not an addiction. Thus, it is not a sin simply to be L.G.B.T. Far less, it is not something to “blame” on someone, like parents.
3) They have often been treated like lepers by the church. Never underestimate the pain that L.G.B.T. people have experienced—not only at the hands of the church but from society at large. A few statistics may help: In the United States, lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are five times as likely to have attempted suicide than their straight counterparts. Forty percent of transgender people in the United States attempt suicide. Among young L.G.B.T. people in the United States, 57 percent feel unsafe because of their orientation. Also, one study shows that the more religious the family they come from, the more likely they are to attempt suicide. And one important reason that L.G.B.T. youth are homeless is that they come from families who reject them for religious reasons. So parishes need to be aware of the consequences of stigmatizing L.G.B.T. people.