The Church on the World’s Center Stage

by Marianne Duddy-Burke, DUSA Executive Director

During September and October 2015, the Catholic Church and Pope Francis were the focus of intense international scrutiny as several high-impact events occurred in quick succession. From the Women’s Ordination Worldwide (WOW) conference through the World Meeting of Families, Pope Francis’ U.S. visit, the Pope-Kim Davis commotion, and the   just-concluded Synod on the Family, many across the globe, and in the LGBT justice movement, have been looking for clues about the future direction Catholicism will take.

One thing that was evident through all of this is the maturity of the LGBTQI and ally Catholic movement. In each of these settings, LGBTQI Catholics and our families and supporters were visible, vocal, articulate, and organized. Our perspective on the events and their broader ramifications helped shape how they echoed through the Church and civil society. We consistently pointed to the harmful dichotomy between the core principles of our faith and how the official Church deals with trans and gay people, and presented what appropriate pastoral care would look like.

In these busy weeks, DignityUSA had significant roles in all of these events. At WOW, we gathered with others who believe that ordination should be opened to all called by God, and with those who seek new structures for ministry. Seven DignityUSA leaders were invited by the Obama administration to greet Pope Francis at the White House. Local and national leaders were sought out by global media, to interpret the Pope’s words and actions before, throughout, and following his time in the U.S. Our outcry about the radical religious right wing’s attempt to use the Pope’s encounter with county clerk Kim Davis as a statement of support for rolling back marriage equality forced the Vatican to refute those claims, and even to celebrate the Pope’s personal meeting with a partnered gay former student. We helped to launch the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics, and had leaders in Rome for the launch of the Synod on the Family, and to meet with officials at the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See.

During the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, the most narrow, restricted, unenlightened Catholic sense of “family” was continually preached by a team of speakers recruited by Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput. You know the model: a man and woman married in the Church, faithful to each other for life, raising at least a handful of children produced out of the marriage, with the couple using only “natural family planning.” Everyone else was repeatedly referred to as sinning against God’s plan for marriage and family. In this model, many are alienated: single parents, divorced people, adoptive families, interfaith couples, unmarried couples and those married outside the Church, couples who have children using IVF, and, of course, LGBTQI people, just to name a few groups. Due to the Pilgrimage sponsored by DignityUSA and our Equally Blessed partners, our community had people on hand to challenge the pronouncements of the various speakers, to refute their claims, to present a different Catholic perspective, and to offer hope to the many who came looking for answers to their own questions about LGBTQI family members. We found ourselves speaking not only on behalf of LGBTQI people, but for all who were labeled as disordered in the very exclusionary model of Church presented at this venue.

For many of the pilgrims, World Meeting of Families was an incredibly toxic environment. The constant barrage of official condemnation was exhausting and damaging. In the weeks afterward, I reflected quite a bit on how recently our community lived in that kind of world, when being gay was considered sick, sinful, and criminal, and gender transgressive people were objects of derision and ridicule. For many of us, the last four decades have brought incredible liberation and affirmation. However, both in our own country and around the world, there are still millions who suffer because their environment continues to offer only disapproval and shame. The official teachings of our Church and the actions of many Church leaders reinforce these messages, and leave many to suffer needlessly.

Unfortunately, as I write this, it looks as if there is slim hope that radically new policies or even pastoral language about LGBTQI people will be forthcoming from the Vatican Synod on the Family. Therefore, just as the presence of the Equally Blessed provided light for many at the World Meeting of Families, those of us who dare to speak and live our sacred truth, who proclaim that our lives and loves are blessed, still have a vital mission. There are many who continue to live in isolation, despair, and pain. Our Church continues to lose enormous vitality and grace by making LGBTQI people and families feel unwelcome. With most Catholics supporting our goals and growing willingness among Church leaders to challenge Church teaching, we are close to the tipping point of seeing the old ways crumble and hastening the liberation of many. To get there, we need to keep raising our voices, inviting more people to engage in the work, and to remain grounded in love and hope.