A Letter to Pope Francis in the Aftermath of the Orlando Massacre

June 13, 2016

Dear Pope Francis,

I appreciate that you have expressed “horror and condemnation” and recognized that it was “senseless hatred” that led to the massacre in Orlando. I, and many others, share these feelings. However, you, and most of the bishops in the U.S. who have responded to this tragedy, have failed to name the reality that those who were killed, injured, and traumatized in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history were patrons of a gay nightclub, and that nearly all identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

While we still don’t exactly how this fact played into the murderer’s twisted thinking, it is clear that the sexual orientation and gender identity of those at Pulse is the reason these people were victimized. To fail to explicitly acknowledge this strips the victims, the survivors, the injured, the grieving of an essential component of their humanity. It sends a message to their loved ones and families that this part of their identity should not be named, affirmed, and celebrated as they are remembered.

It also means that you and many other Catholic leaders have missed yet another important moment to explicitly and unequivocally condemn violence directed towards LGBT people. Vague references to “respect for the dignity of all people” or other such phrases are sinfully inadequate, whether in response to the horror in Orlando, or when addressing the persecution faced by LGBT people anywhere in the world.

On behalf of DignityUSA and people committed to justice for LGBT people, we do want to lift up the words of Archbishop Blase Cupich (Chicago), Bishop Robert Lynch (St. Petersburg), Bishop Robert McElroy (San Diego) and Bishop David Zubik (Pittsburgh) who were among those who offered condolences to the LGBT community by name. We appreciate those who acknowledged that violence is too often rooted in teachings that dehumanize LGBT people, including those promulgated by our own Church.     

I urge you, Pope Francis, and all faith leaders and people of good will to denounce violence against LGBT people in the strongest and clearest terms without any further delay. Doing so could save countless lives. Further, I ask that you and our bishops enter into dialogue with LGBT Catholics and our families, so that we can explain the damage done by our Church’s teachings, pastoral practices, and the inflammatory rhetoric about LGBT people used by some of our leaders, and share with you our vision for a truly welcoming Church.

Each and every one of us, gay or straight, of all genders, everywhere on earth, is a unique and wonderful reflection of God’s own unimaginably creative spirit. Each and every one of us deserves to be honored and celebrated as all of who we are. Please use this moment to lift up all of humanity, and to honor those who have been so tragically taken from us. Be part of ending this “terrible and absurd violence.”

I ask this in the name of Jesus, brother and savior of all.

Marianne Duddy-Burke

Executive Director, DignityUSA