In November of 2006, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a document entitled Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care.
Although welcomed by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community as an acknowledgement of the particular spiritual needs of LGBT Catholics, the document failed to address many important concerns of the very people it seeks to assist. Especially distressing was the bishops’ self-admitted failure to consult with or seek input from the LGBT community during the formulation of the letter. In addition, rather than welcoming LGBT persons to participate fully in the life of the church, the bishops sought to shame them into invisibility and silence, thus perpetuating longstanding prejudices and discrimination against LGBT people in the church and in society.
The following DignityUSA Letter on the Pastoral Care of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) People 2007 seeks to address some of the critical pastoral needs of the LGBT community today. It gives voice to the concerns of Catholic LGBT persons regarding their role in the church; calls on the bishops of the United States to put an end to prejudice and discrimination against LGBT people in the church; and expresses the hope, expectation and just demand of LGBT Catholics to be full participants in their church, as is their right by baptism.
“By the grace of God I am what I am, and God's grace to me has not been without effect.” (I Corinthians 15:10)
“We believe that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Catholics in our diversity are members of Christ's mystical body, numbered among the People of God. We have an inherent dignity because God created us, Christ died for us, and the Holy Spirit sanctified us in Baptism, making us temples of the Spirit, and channels through which God's love becomes visible. Because of this, it is our right, our privilege, and our duty to live the sacramental life of the Church, so that we might become more powerful instruments of God's love working among all people.”
Opening of DignityUSA Statement of Position and Purpose
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Catholics and their families, like all Catholics, need and deserve pastoral care from ministers and members of the church that is respectful, affirming, challenging and directed towards helping them mature and deepen their commitment to the Gospel. DignityUSA draws on nearly forty years of providing this care for LGBT people, and on the lived experience of thousands of faithful LGBT Catholics, to put forth the following declaration of what this care should encompass.
- Pastoral care for LGBT Catholics must truly embody and reflect the truth that we are equal in worth and dignity to other people. As children of God, we are created in God’s divine image and likeness, as are all people. We should, therefore, be treated with respect, and be constantly challenged to respect others, especially those unlike us or unfamiliar to us. As individuals and as a community, we deserve the same legal protection of basic human rights enjoyed by other members of the church and of civil society. These include the rights to safe housing, equal opportunity in employment, freedom from physical and verbal violence, immigration, and health care. These rights should not merely be affirmed, but actively supported by leaders and ministers of the church in the arena of public discourse and civil legislation. Efforts to thwart the achievement of these rights should not be championed from the pulpit.
- LGBT Catholics must be welcomed as full and equal participants in the life of the church. All sacraments and roles of ministry, leadership and service should be open to LGBT Catholics, as they are to other members of the church. Church employees and volunteers must be free of any harassment, discrimination or recrimination due to their gender identity or sexual orientation, regardless of whether that identity or orientation has been publicly disclosed or acknowledged.
- Ministry to LGBT Catholics and our families must be sensitive to the history of alienation caused by decades of negative statements and actions directed against our community by church officials and ministers. Awareness of the pain and fear of religious institutions carried by many LGBT Catholics and family members, and a willingness to work to regain trust, are essential qualities for all involved in these ministries. LGBT people will need space and time to tell our stories, and to be heard with a sincere openness and willingness to learn about our lives, our relationships, and the relationship between our lives and our faith.
- The lives and experiences of LGBT Catholics must be reflected in the liturgical, educational and social events of the church. For too long, the invisibility of LGBT people in church and society has enabled our continued oppression. Maintaining the veil of secrecy leads to isolation, confusion and a sense of shame. It invites those who do not understand us or are hostile to us to dehumanize and pathologize LGBT people, and to view us as threatening and alien. Our lives and experiences must be counted as normal dimensions of God’s creation. We must be made visible – for our own sake, and that of the rest of the human family. Rituals that help to sanctify aspects of LGBT people’s lives are needed to help ensure that the church is truly welcoming. In addition, special care must be given to prevent the continued marginalization and exclusion of women from full and significant participation in all activities of the church.
- A revised theology of sexuality must acknowledge that many intimate relationships express unitive love, even in the absence of possible procreation. This must be affirmed as an expression of divine love. The church has long acknowledged that one of the primary functions of the sexual relationship within marriage is the unitive function, which facilitates the development of a bond of love and intimacy between partners. Furthermore, the church sanctions marriage between men and women who have no possibility of procreating, whether by reason of age or infertility. Sexually intimate relationships between same-gender couples must be affirmed as having the same potential for holiness as those between opposite-gender married couples. Guidelines for ethical expression of sexuality are welcome, to the extent that they promote respect, freedom from exploitation, honesty and mature love between partners. It is critical for church ministers, counselors and religious professionals to receive training and theological updating regarding the nature, purpose and development of the sexual relationships of LGBT people.
- Same-gender partners must have the opportunity to formalize our commitments sacramentally, as well as through civil marriage. Equality in the eyes of God and under the law must be affirmed. LGBT people must have the same access as our heterosexual sisters and brothers to the sacrament of marriage and to legal protections that support and provide public affirmation of our commitments. Church leaders should be in the forefront of advocating for equal recognition of commitments between same-gender partners. The church should not actively work against efforts to obtain the right to civil marriage for LGBT people.
- Pastoral care for the families of LGBT people — both the families from which we originate, and the families we create — should emphasize respect, ongoing inclusion, love and affirmation, while providing support for the particular struggles that LGBT people and their families undergo. Many parents, grandparents, siblings and extended families find their love for LGBT Catholic family members in conflict with social and religious messages. They struggle to maintain positive relationships with family members who “come out” by disclosing their sexual orientation. The experience of “coming out,” which can be painful as well as graced for all involved, requires compassionate support. Church officials and ministers must urge family members to maintain relationships, offer unconditional respect for one another, and communicate honestly with one another. Church officials and ministers must also help LGBT families to develop and succeed. Furthermore, they must be willing to assist LGBT families in times of stress or difficulty, such as incidences of domestic violence or the termination of relationships.
- Church leaders must affirm and support LGBT individuals and couples who parent children, as well as the children of these families. The number of families with children headed by LGBT people is considerable and growing. The formation of these families, which include both biological and adopted children, is motivated by the fundamental human desire to love and nurture the young. Church leaders should provide equal and free access to all relevant sacraments, work to ensure equal legal protections for all families, and lead efforts to end verbal and physical violence experienced by members of these families.
- The church must work to ensure that all youth, including those who are “coming out” or questioning their gender identity or sexual orientation, are safe from verbal or physical harassment and violence at school and in other social settings. The opportunity to mature with a positive sense of identity is vital for all young people. They need a variety of positive role models, strong boundaries and encouragement to act in ways that demonstrate respect for themselves and others, even as they take risks that help them understand their capabilities and limitations
- LGBT Catholics, like all others, should be challenged to live out the Gospel values of service, compassion and community. LGBT Catholics must be involved in serving people living in poverty, suffering illness or living at the margins of society. We must be part of the faith-sharing that builds spiritual community. We must be reminded that loving neighbor as self is part of the Great Commandment. We must extend to all others the respect and dignity we have worked so hard to gain for ourselves.