Within the last week I wrote a post about the phenomenon of LGBT individuals supporting anti-LGBT Republican candidates who push an agenda diametrically oppose to LGBT equality and equal human dignity itself. A similar bizarre phenomenon can be observed with members of the LGBT community who remain members of the Roman Catholic Church, or worse yet actively support the Church and its anti-gay hierarchy financially. Having been raised Catholic and having spent 37 years to "pray away the gay," I know first hand the ability of the Church to screw one up psychologically and to instill unlimited amounts of self-hate and internalized homophobia. But I grew up in a pre-Internet age when homosexuality was classified as a form of mental illness. Today, there is so much access to accurate information that never existed when I was a youth or even college age. And then there is the sex abuse scandal that revealed the utter moral bankruptcy of the Church hierarchy. Thus, I am continually amazed at those who remain in a church that condemns them and denigrates them, especially when alternatives such as the Episcopal Church and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are readily available. Meanwhile, as a piece in the National Catholic Reporter sets forth, the Catholic Church continues to wound LGBT individuals and harm lives. Here are excerpts:
When Omar Mateen killed 49 people and wounded 48 others inside a prominent gay night club in Orlando, Florida, a year ago this week, the city's Catholic bishop, John G. Noonan, denounced what he called a "massive assault on the dignity of human life." The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops lamented the "unspeakable violence." The Vatican's press office released a statement decrying "such terrible and absurd violence." Among these sincere expressions of grief, not one recognized the fact that this assault on human dignity and this horrific crime had targeted gay people specifically.
The first step in what will be a slow healing process is for Catholic leaders to acknowledge the church plays a role in wounding LGBT people by using dehumanizing language.
While the Catechism of the Catholic Church rejects violence and "unjust discrimination" against LGBT people, it also calls homosexuality an "inclination" that is "objectively disordered." Before he was elected Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger led the Vatican's chief doctrine office for more than two decades. In a 1986 "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons," Ratzinger described homosexuality as a "tendency toward an intrinsic moral evil." Seventeen years later, he wrote that growing recognition of same-sex civil unions legitimized the "approval of deviant behavior." Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, even celebrated a public exorcism in 2013 to protest the Catholic governor's signing a same-sex marriage law.
Dehumanizing language has consequences. "It doesn't reflect that our experiences as gay and lesbian persons are a gift, something that brings us closer to other people and to God," said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, an organization that works to build bridges between LGBT Catholics and the church. "People are alienated by this language and feel rejected. It ends conversations rather than begins conversations." San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy, . . . . he called that terminology "very destructive language that I think we should not use pastorally." He explained that "in Catholic moral theology it is a philosophical term that is automatically misunderstood in our society as a psychological judgment."
For a pope, the way that Francis speaks about gays and lesbians is nothing short of revolutionary. "A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality," the pope said in a 2013 interview. "I replied with another question: 'Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person? We must always consider the person."
But these expressions are the exception, and not the rule. Over the past decade, at least 50 LGBT Catholics have been fired or forced to resign positions in Catholic schools after public disclosures of same-sex relationships. Students and families rally behind these teachers and administrators, who are often beloved leaders and role models with years of experience. While in most cases the school has a legal right to act, the firings leave Catholic institutions that want to teach students about mercy and justice looking blithely indifferent to those values. Contracts or "loyalty oaths" that some Catholic teachers are required to sign are often hyper-focused on sexuality. This disproportionate focus on sex and sexuality as the defining marker of Catholic identity is problematic. It eclipses the church's expansive social justice teachings that are rooted in the Gospel's focus on people who are poor, excluded and marginalized by the powerful. . . . . These firings tear apart communities that are filled with faithful people. The church is sending a contradictory message. We're told we are made in the image and likeness of God, but these kind of firings say that isn't true."
According to research, a majority of Catholics support same-sex marriage. Many church leaders usually interpret this evidence to assume there has simply been a failure to effectively teach and reach the faithful. Doubling down with the same message, however, has cost the church. Research shows that the growing number of Americans — especially Millennials in their 20s and early 30s — who no longer identify with any religion are especially turned off by what they consider to be unjust positions toward LGBT people. Those raised Catholic, according to data from Public Religion Research Institute, are more likely than those raised in any other religion to cite negative religious treatment of gay and lesbian people as one of the primary reasons they left the church.
If they want to retain the next generation of Catholics — including LGBT people and their allies — Catholic leaders should listen more closely and learn from the experiences of gay and transgender people. When more than 100 bishops and other Catholic leaders met in February for a conference organized by the National Catholic Bioethics Center, one of the top items on the agenda focused on how increased calls for transgender rights will impact Catholic hospitals, schools and parishes.
If Catholic bishops really want a church that listens, heals and goes to the margins as Pope Francis does, it's far past time to build a culture of encounter with the LGBT community. I recently met a Catholic deacon from St. Petersburg, Florida, who had a wake-up call after his son transitioned to a transgender woman. "I was blissfully ignorant of all things LGBT until it came to my family," Ray Dever told participants at a conference, "LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis." The Catholic father and others like him have a lot to teach bishops and priests who have rarely if ever sat down with a gay or transgender person. "There are so many families who reject their LGBT kids and that's tragic, especially when that is done in the name of faith," Dever said. "I'm no expert, but what these families need to hear is God created these kids just the way they are and that God loves them."
As I have noted previously, I left the Catholic Church and my best advise to LGBT Catholics is to walk away. If you need/want a liturgical church, I highly recommend the Episcopal Church or Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. As for the Catholic Church, history has shown two things are what really forces the Church to reform: rapidly falling membership numbers and falling revenues. Rather than staying and "working for reform from within", walk away and urge as many family members and friends to do likewise. That will bring the most rapid reform and an end to anti-gay animus.