Can the Catholic Church “Evolve” on L.G.B.T. Rights?
By John Gehring, Author of “The Francis Effect: A Radical Pope’s Challenge to the American Catholic Church.”
July 5, 2018
A growing number of Americans now broadly support equal rights for gay, lesbian and transgender people. It’s tempting to view this as inevitable, but less than a decade ago many Democrats, including Barack Obama, didn’t even publicly support same-sex marriage. The speed at which L.G.B.T. rights became a mainstream issue, including for many religious denominations, represents nothing less than a dizzying cultural transformation.
What does this revolution mean for the Catholic Church, an ancient institution that thinks in centuries, and holds a view of human sexuality at odds with the shifting cultural winds?
Well, last week, the Vatican used “L.G.B.T.” for what is believed to be the first time ever in a document prepared for a major gathering of bishops and young people in October. “Some L.G.B.T. youth,” it reads, want to “benefit from greater closeness and experience greater care from the church.” The document also acknowledges that many young Catholics disagree with the church’s teaching on same-sex marriage.
Not exactly breaking news, you might argue. But adopting “L.G.B.T.” is emblematic of an emerging shift in the church’s posture toward gay, lesbian and transgender people. Catholic teaching documents have typically used “homosexual” or referred to those with “homosexual tendencies,” which reduce a person’s multidimensional humanity to the mechanics of sex. Using the L.G.B.T. descriptor, often preferred by many gay, lesbian and transgender people, is a sign of respect.
Pope Francis has opened space for a deeper, more authentic conversation about how the church can keep one foot planted in Catholic tradition without being afraid to step into the lived experiences of others. When Pope Francis gave the most famous papal sound bite in history five years ago — “Who am I to judge?” — even his colloquial use of the word “gay” caused a stir in traditional Catholic circles. While the pope has strongly defended church teaching on marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman, he prioritizes listening and personal encounter over finger-wagging denunciations. He’s met with transgender people, and when he spoke privately last month with a Chilean clergy sexual abuse survivor, the pope told him that God made him gay and loved him.
There are other signs of progress. The prominent Jesuit priest and author Rev. James Martin, who has been banned from speaking at some Catholic institutions in the United States simply for encouraging the church to build bridges with L.G.B.T. people, was recently invited to give a keynote address at the Vatican-sponsored World Meeting of Families in Dublin later this summer. At the last gathering in Philadelphia three years ago, the only discussion about L.G.B.T. issues came from celibate gay Catholics who spoke about chastity.
The pope’s emphasis on encounter and engagement is trickling down to influence other church leaders. Cardinal Joe Tobin of Newark welcomed a pilgrimage of L.G.B.T. Catholics to the city’s cathedral last spring. In this month’s issue of U.S. Catholic magazine, a deacon in the diocese of St. Petersburg, Fla., wrote movingly about his transgender daughter, and challenged the church’s notion of “gender ideology,” a term that has been used to discredit the push for transgender rights.
Despite this progress, the Catholic Church must do far more not only to acknowledge the humanity of L.G.B.T. people, but also to recognize most want the same committed, loving relationships as straight couples. After the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision legalizing same-sex marriage, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago called for “real, not rhetorical” respect for gays and lesbians. The court decision, which he opposed, still offered an opportunity for “mature and serene reflections,” the cardinal wrote.
Catholic leaders in the United States should consider studying a proposal made by Bishop Franz-Josef Bode, the vice president of the German bishops’ conference, who has encouraged a thoughtful discussion on whether Catholic clergymen might offer a type of blessing for Catholics in same-sex relationships. “Although ‘marriage for all’ differs clearly from the church’s concept of marriage, it’s now political reality,” the bishop said. “We have to ask ourselves how we’re encountering those who form such relationships, and are also involved in the church, how we’re accompanying them pastorally and liturgically.”
The church’s own language toward L.G.B.T. people is a stumbling block to its professed commitment to human dignity. While the Catholic catechism, which details church teaching, forbids any violence or “unjust discrimination” toward people who are gay or lesbian, it also describes sexual intimacy between them as “intrinsically disordered.” Before he became pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote in 1986 that homosexuality represents a “strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil.”
Many L.G.B.T. Catholics are also forced to live in what the Rev. Bryan Massingale, a Fordham University theologian, calls “the open closet.” This is particularly true at Catholic schools, where in recent years more than 70 L.G.B.T. church employees and Catholic schoolteachers have been fired or lost their jobs in employment disputes. L.G.B.T. Catholic employees have their lives subjected to moral scrutiny in ways heterosexual Catholics never do. Straight Catholics are not fired for using contraception, for example, or having sex before marriage. Why not judge Catholics for not welcoming immigrants, feeding the hungry or visiting the sick? In the Gospel of Matthew, failing to do that earns you a ticket to damnation.
Five years into the Francis papacy, a pope who emphasizes mercy and strikes a more welcoming tone toward L.G.B.T. people is helping to rescue the church from a culture-war Christianity that drives people away. But until the Catholic hierarchy can find more tangible ways to institutionalize a commitment to the rights of gay, lesbian and transgender people, the exodus of Catholics will continue. Surveys show most Catholics support same-sex marriage, and the church’s opposition to L.G.B.T. rights drives young people away.
Those who are raised Catholic are more likely than those raised in any other religion to cite negative religious treatment of gay and lesbian people as the primary reason they leave, according to the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute. Firing L.G.B.T. Catholics and using degrading language such as “intrinsically disordered” erode the church’s credibility to speak about justice, love and human dignity.
If the first step toward change is listening, Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Ky., had it right when he addressed a national gathering of L.G.B.T. Catholics last year. “In a church that has not always valued or welcomed your presence, we need to hear your voices and take seriously your experiences,” he said.
It’s time to make sure that is more than just an applause line.
John Gehring (@gehringdc) is Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life and author of “The Francis Effect: A Radical Pope’s Challenge to the American Catholic Church.”
If You’re a Patriot and a Christian, You Should Support the Dream Act
By Joseph W. Tobin. Opinion – NY Times Feb 26, 2018
NEWARK — The Gospel of Jesus Christ calls on us to welcome and protect the stranger. This should not be hard to do when the stranger is young, blameless and working hard to make this country a better place.
There are nearly 700,000 young men and women in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program who could soon be at risk for deportation. These “Dreamers” live in our neighborhoods, attend our schools, fight for our country and contribute to our workplaces. Our leaders in Washington, including President Trump, have a moral obligation to try to protect those who came to our nation as children with their parents, and who are Americans in every way.
The Senate recently tried to pass legislation to give them a path to citizenship, but sadly, none of the proposals gained the needed votes. The Supreme Court on Monday let stand injunctions that require the Trump administration to keep major parts of DACA in place while legal challenges against the president’s decision to end the program continue. That means the program will probably survive beyond the deadline next Monday Mr. Trump had set for its end. But time is still ticking away for the Dreamers.
Our elected officials need to stop trying to pass a large immigration bill that combines protection for Dreamers with other divisive issues, like money for border enforcement and the wall and new rules to limit immigrants’ ability to sponsor family members. Using the plight of Dreamers to introduce measures that otherwise would not pass on their own merits is especially cruel, as it leaves these young people hostage to the wider debate on our broken immigration system.
Instead we need a “clean” Dream Act to help these youths now. After all, the reason Congress is even debating immigration at this point stems from the Dreamers’ own courage in advocating a solution consistent with our best democratic traditions.
If the Dreamers are deported, it will do great harm to this country. According to the Center for Migration Studies of New York, the two million or so young people who could be covered by a Dream Act have integrated successfully into our society. Sixty-five percent work, with over 70,000 self-employed. Eighty-eight percent speak English exclusively, very well or well. Nearly 30 percent have attended college or earned a college degree. They have lived in the United States an average of 14 years and are parents to 392,000 American citizen children. Removing them would hurt our country economically and socially. It is not an option.
The American public already agrees with this. Eight-seven percent support passage of a Dream Act to let young immigrants stay here. The parties in Congress now need to work together to pass a bill consistent with the views of the American people. And the Trump administration must lead and seek consensus in Congress, not try to sabotage proposals to reach a solution. President Trump has articulated his support for “a bill of love” — exactly what we need in this situation — not a bill of discord. A just and humane bill would show that Congress can indeed promote the common good and that the legislative process need not be dysfunctional.
At this moment, however, there seems to be no sanity or progress in the pursuit of a solution for the Dreamers. That is why the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is urging all Catholics and others of good will to phone their senators and House members today and implore them to pass the Dream Act. Catholic teaching calls for all people to make a commitment to uphold the dignity of every person and to work for the common good of our nation. It is both our moral duty and in our nation’s best interest to guide our lawmakers in this matter.
Helping Dreamers to become American citizens is a clear moral test. Condemning them to be sent to countries they do not know would be a stain on our national character and an abandonment of our values.
That Congress and the Trump administration tried and failed once to protect Dreamers does not let them off the hook. This is not about the next election but about the family next door. We need to restore confidence in our government and in our identity as an immigrant nation by passing a Dream Act.
Correction: February 26, 2018
An earlier version of this article misstated the number of people in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. It is nearly 700,000, not two million.