“We Hear Them Speaking in our own Tongues”

By Marianne Duddy-Burke, DignityUSA Executive Director

This month, we close the Easter Season with the celebration of Pentecost. I love this feast, and the infusion of fiery Spirit into all of the original disciples. The ability of people who have gathered from many parts of the world to hear and understand the Good News, and for the newly daring disciples to witness in a variety of languages, has such richness!

In the last week, I have read reactions to Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia from theologians, bishops, LGBTQ people, journalists, and justice activists around the globe.  (Read DignityUSA’s press release on Amoris Laetitia.)  They have ranged from grateful embrace, to partial affirmation, to bitter rejection. The only thing that seems clear is that the impact of this document will be measured by how it is understood and implemented in the months and years to come. And the document incorporates the Pentecost spirit in its insistence that “cultures are in fact quite diverse and every general principle… needs to be enculturated, if it is to be respected and applied.”

Some have suggested that Amoris Laetitia offers great hope to LGBTQ people and our families when it states, “We would like before all else to reaffirm that every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, while ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ is to be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression and violence.” (Italics mine) Longtime Church-watchers will recognize that the first part of the sentence is identical to language from 1986 and 1992 Vatican letters that sought to limit the rights of gay people (they did not mention bisexual and transgender folk). What is new here is the admonishment to avoid aggression and violence. Some writers, theologians, and activists believe this is a message to African officials, in particular, and in general to all who support the criminalization of, and violence towards, our community. They see this as putting the Vatican on the side of those working for essential human rights for LGBTQ people.

I believe this is entirely insufficient as a statement of inclusion, and condemnation of violence. And I wonder how it is heard in the language and experience of these colleagues:

  • A Nigerian asylum seeker now living in my home state whom I’ll call Terrence, who helped lead a support group of fewer than two dozen gay and lesbian people, and who fled after his co-leaders were arrested and beaten.
  • Nicole, an intersex woman from El Salvador who was one of our Pilgrims to the World Meeting of Families, who came to the U.S. after surviving two attempts on her life, and losing colleagues in her advocacy to murder.
  • A young lesbian in South Korea who traveled more than 6,600 miles to marry her partner, a marriage kept secret to everyone except one person in her country due to the extreme anti-gay culture in which she lives.
  • The LGBTQ Catholics in India who have been given access to a priest’s home on his day off, so they can meet for social support. Due to the pressures they face, many pretend to be cleaners or repair people working at the home when they arrive.
  • The Russian gay men I met whose bodies were covered in scars from burns and cuts suffered from bottles and torches hurled at them as they marched in Pride events, and who spoke about how anti-LGBTQ fervor is fueled by homilies at many churches.
  • The dozens of LGBTQ employees and volunteers who have been terminated from jobs at Catholic parishes, schools, and service agencies because of their identities or marriages.

I’ve had the chance to talk a bit about Amoris Laetitia with some of these folks, all of whom felt its condemnation of violence fell short of what they felt would be needed to change culture and law. I don’t know how the others responded, but these are among the people who hoped for Good News, and whom I believe failed to hear it in this document.

Pentecost reminds us, though, that the Gospel is proclaimed not by a single voice, but by many. Each of us has been enflamed with the Spirit, and each of us can offer hope, truth, and love to all who long to hear the voice of the Divine.

On this month of Mothers’ Day, DignityUSA celebrates all the mothers, grandmothers, and nurturers among our members and friends.