Mary McAleese says the new study on homosexuality in the Catholic Church “brings hope where it is needed.”
By IrishCentral Staff
The Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research’s interim report, published this week, claims to “disprove Christian objections to same-sex relationships.”
The Institute says that its report, entitled “Christian Objections to Same-Sex Relationships: An Academic Assessment,” is the “first such collaborative study to bring together and assess the most recent peer-reviewed research on the biblical passages used to condemn same-sex relationships.
“While the report also examines scientific and sociological evidence, much of it is devoted to an up-to-date assessment of recent ground-breaking studies on the most important ‘clobber texts’ in the Bible.”
Among its key findings, the report claims that traditional understandings of homosexuality within Christianity are the results of mistranslations, and that “from the point of view of natural sciences, it can be affirmed that, homosexuality is a ‘natural variation within the range of human sexuality.’”
In turn, the Institute is now “calling for an urgent change in Roman Catholic teaching based on these academic findings which should serve as the final nail in the coffin of biblical and other arguments justifying homophobia.”
In a statement issued on May 4, the Institute explained that its study was launched shortly after the statement from the Vatican doctrinal office – the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) – that upheld the ban on blessing same-sex unions stating, “You cannot bless sin.”
“This reinstated the decades-old papal teaching vilifying same-sex attraction as ‘disordered’, which has been causing untold harm worldwide. No kind words or “pastoral” gestures can heal that wound: only a change in teaching will. And in light of the deeply flawed arguments behind that stance, such a change is long overdue.
“Pope Francis has often insisted on the need for church authorities to listen to Catholics in general, and theologians and other experts in particular. He has expressed both in words and deeds his preference for discussions of contentious theological issues to take place openly and frankly. And he has encouraged decisions about them to be taken democratically and in a decentralized manner, in synods and other representative church gatherings at every level of the Roman Catholic Church, from the ground up. Finally, he has repeatedly underlined the obligation to take the side of the marginalized and discriminated against.
“We welcome such an attitude, and in that spirit, we present the main recommendation of our Academic Statement, backed by a research report and endorsed by more than sixty prominent scholars: that the competent authorities in the Catholic Church set up a transparent, independent consultation process on these findings.
“The absolute condemnation of same-sex relationships as ‘intrinsically disordered’ is not shared by most Roman Catholics worldwide. But it is still papal teaching: all CDF documents only have authority because they are endorsed by the Pope.
“Therefore, in virtue of Pope Francis’ position, and in light of his record of welcoming words and pastoral attitude towards gay people, he has a unique duty and responsibility to kick-start such an independent study to revisit the teaching he has inherited from his predecessors.”
Responding to the report, McAleese (PhD Professor of Children, Law and Religion, University of Glasgow, UK; Chancellor, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland) said: “This international collaborative research project is the first serious attempt to use the tools of interdisciplinary scholarship to challenge, probe and interrogate church teaching in the area of homosexuality.
“The People of God have needed this to help convince a blinkered magisterium to open its eyes and ears, to see and hear the damage inflicted on good people young and old by teachings that run counter to science and counter to the love of the Creator.
“The scholarly work of the Wijngaards Institute brings hope where it is needed.”
You can read “Christian Objections to Same Sex Relationships: An Academic Assessment” from the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research here.
The high cost of the Vatican’s ruling against same-sex blessings has been laid out in stark terms by the Bishop of Antwerp. During a discussion with The Tablet, Bishop Johan Bonny explained that in his diocese large numbers of young people had cancelled their baptismal registrations because of the ruling. Across the traditionally Catholic heartlands of Belgium’s Flemish dioceses, he believed the number who have disaffiliated from the Church stands at around 2,000. Similar findings are likely to be found in other places.
So what might be done to retrieve the flock who are leaving? During the 28 April webinar hosted by The Tablet, Bishop Bonny and a panel of theologians explored how the Church could include and recognise same-sex couples and LGBT Catholics. Yet this question goes deeper than whether or not it is possible to bless gay unions. Instead, it raises profoundly important ecclesiological issues including how to live the “Catholicity” of the Church differently.
Three areas of discussion are emerging as crucial to the debate.
First, is the process the church adopts when making decisions on contentious topics. It is now crucial for time and space to be given for discernment rather than Rome panicking and issuing premature judgements. This is where synodality, which Pope Francis wants to see at every level of the Church, comes in.
Some voices argue that synodal processes such as the one in Germany will result in “schism” because it will lead local churches into divergent stances on questions of sexuality or that challenge official teaching. But Bishop Bonny, who once worked at the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, pointed out the threat to unity is in the other direction.
“You cannot have real unity or communion unless local churches can find the best solutions for their problems,” he said during the webinar. “There are basic lines, that’s clear, but for so many questions like ministry in the Church or moral theology, we need more differentiated solutions since the questions are not the same.”
On same-sex blessings, Bonny said there would have been “a different outcome” if Rome had invited bishops from a group of countries where gay marriage is the law to “sit together and make a common proposal”.
He went on: “We could have gone to Rome to discuss [the matter] with the Pope, not with all the cardinals, but the Pope himself, to find the best way possible, according to the Gospel, and what Jesus is teaching us, in the general interests of the Church and the Salus Animarum [good of souls]…That would be real collegiality.”
This requires a different role for Rome and a reimagined relationship between the papacy and local churches. Just issuing a repetition of old formulas to complex pastoral questions is inadequate. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s document, which said same-sex blessings are impossible because “God cannot bless sin”, was issued without consultation with bishops or the relevant Vatican departments.
By contrast, Amoris Laetitia, the Pope’s family life teaching, emerged after two synod gatherings on the family. Synodality offers ways for a discerned judgment to be reached.Rather than issuing condemnations, Amoris Laetitia focussed on accompaniment, integration and discernment and the positive elements in so-called “irregular” relationships. Fr James Alison, another of the webinar panellists, sees this as the magisterium of the Church walking alongside people. The learning process, he said, happens “sideways” and through “dialogue”. He explained: “It is sideways that we learn who we are. It is from and who each other.”
The second area is how Catholic teaching on homosexuality could be updated. Fr Alison, who is openly gay, argued that the stumbling block on the Church’s ministry to LGBT Catholics remains the definition in the Catechism that same-sex orientation “is objectively disordered” and that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered”.
He added: “Until someone lets them off having to treat us as a negative definition from the heterosexual act, we are never going to move on. That is at the root of this.” A proposed amendment to the catechism could be to change the phrase “objectively disordered” to “differently ordered”, something which Jesuit priest Fr James Martin has called for.
Bishop Bonny pointed out that the catechism can be updated, adding: “I think there are paragraphs that in a very reasonable, collegial way could be changed for the good of the Church and for the pastoral work we have to do.”
Moral theologian Professor Lisa Sowle Cahill, another panellist, argued that change is more likely to come from the “bottom-up” in the Church, and less from top-down changes.
“I think it’s a mistake to keep trying to work out the reality of same-sex couples or gay and lesbian people within this older terminology which is so concerned with tying everyone down into very careful definitions so that we know exactly where to put everyone and how to set boundaries around them,” she said.
“The Catholic Church never changes its teaching by rejecting or revising what is from the past. Instead, we allow it to die a decent death.”
Professor Cahill, who teaches at Boston College, Massachusetts, said the Pope was offering a Gospel-based morality of “care, compassion and closeness” which should be at the centre of decision making. Amoris Laetitia, she points out, draws from theteaching of St Thomas Aquinas on the application of the natural law and the way it takes into account different factors even in “what is objectively true and right.” Professor Cahill pointed out that Amoris Laetitia states that even couples in “irregular” situations are not deprived of “sanctifying grace”.
The third area is which model of the Church people are using. Bishop Bonny says he likes to see the Church as a family seeing his role as a father or grandfather. It is his responsibility, he said, to make LGBT Catholics “feel part of the family that is the church, not only by welcoming them, but also by giving them a responsibility.” He also recommended that bishops take the time to meet with same-sex couples in their homes.
“Invite your bishop for an evening meal at home and talk with him. It will be a conversion for him”, he advised gay Catholics.
“Once I was invited by two women in a civil marriage with two children, that evening changed my ideas about what it means to live together as a homosexual couple, even having children. I can have many questions, but it changed my ideas.”
If the Church is a family, then it cannot adopt the characteristics of a sect. Sects tend to see themselves as a club and are willing to exclude or throw out people who don’t conform. If the Church is a family then it will always be distressing to hear of people leaving.
Sr Gemma Simmonds of the Margaret Beaufort Institute in Cambridge said the Church cannot operate a system of “you don’t have a ticket” so you are not welcome.
“We are losing people, we are bleeding people…who find that the reality in which they live no longer finds a response within the church of acceptance and blessing,” she said. She offered 1 John 4:16 as encouragement for same-sex couples: “God is love, and anyone who lives in love lives in God, and God lives in them.”
The Vatican’s doctrine office may have thought that issuing a ruling against same-sex blessings would be enough to close down further discussion about the topic. In fact, it has had the opposite effect, only sparking more debate which go to the heart of what it means to be the Church.
To Christie Leonard, working at Gospel Crusade was the perfect fusion of vocation and spiritual call, where her talents and her faith could work in tandem.
“I was doing my dream job,” she said in a recent interview with Religion News Service.
Besides providing her income, Gospel Crusade, which does international mission work and runs a conference center from its Bradenton, Fla., base, had immense spiritual significance for Leonard. Her family had attended classes at Gospel Crusade’s church, and since 2000, Leonard had worshiped at the Family Church, a religious community at the conference center, called the Christian Retreat. She cites attending there as cementing her decision to become “a follower of Christ,” and her attachment only deepened when she began working at the Christian Retreat a few years later.
Which is why, she told RNS, she felt crushed when she was fired in 2019, despite giving what she said were 15 of her “best years” to the organization.
Worse, she claims her firing had nothing to do with her work ethic or her spiritual devotion, but rather rumors surrounding her sexuality and her relationship with a co-worker.
She said the firing felt as if “God was throwing me away
Leonard is now suing Gospel Crusade, claiming her termination was driven by discrimination based on her gender and presumptions about her sexual orientation. The church has disputed her account in court, but the case is one of several that could test the reach of the “ministerial exception,” a legal workaround that exempts faith groups from nondiscrimination laws in hiring and firing as long as the employees in question are considered ministers — including, according to recent Supreme Court decisions, staffers such as Leonard who are not clergy
Like many who work for small religious organizations, Leonard juggled multiple jobs at Gospel Crusade. Initially hired as an hourly employee to help with video production, she later found herself assisting the group’s accounting team as well as working in human resources. By the time she was brought on as a salaried employee in 2017, she kept a cot under her desk for late nights spent editing video.
“I basically lived there,” she said.
About the same time, Leonard began working closely with a female colleague. According to Leonard, the two were in constant conversation and over time, she said, “we became almost inseparable.”
Their connection became a flash point, professionally and personally. Leonard said her colleague’s husband “became jealous in some ways” of their relationship. Rumors began to circulate that the two women, who Leonard said were both struggling with marital difficulties, were in a “romantic relationship or a sexual relationship.”
The colleague’s husband, who served on the church’s staff, then allegedly took his concerns to the senior pastor of the Family Church at Christian Retreat, Phil Derstine, who reached out to Leonard’s husband
Leonard insisted it was only after consulting with the two husbands that Derstine allegedly met with both women — not to talk about the situation, but to announce his decision: They could not spend any time together for 30 days. If they managed that, they could both attend a planned mission trip to Uganda in September 2018
Leonard said she and her colleague did as instructed and were able to take the trip together. But at a meeting while they were away, Gospel Crusade board members allegedly heard testimony from the colleague’s husband.
When the women returned, they did not immediately go to their respective homes. According to Leonard, her colleague went to a wedding while Leonard visited family out of state.
According to Leonard, Derstine promptly fired Leonard’s colleague but allowed Leonard to remain on staff — albeit as an hourly employee instead of a salaried one, and with a caveat: She could not move in with her colleague.<
“He said, ‘I have one other condition: You cannot live with that woman,’ ” Leonard recalled, adding that he suggested she live with her brother.
This time, Leonard did not comply. The two women secretly moved in together, coinciding with what Leonard described as a campaign of harassment led by Derstine and others at Gospel Crusade.
“[Derstine] continued to ask me every single day that he called me, ‘Where are you living?’ ” she said. “I got text messages at all hours of the night asking me how my living situation was. I believe there were people that were following us. It was just a very stressful situation.”
Allegedly at Derstine’s urging, family members contacted Leonard to inquire about the living situation. A Gospel Crusade board member allegedly confronted her to say that he knew where she lived.
In early 2019, during a counseling session with Derstine’s wife, Leonard revealed a desire to live with her former colleague, noting she was now unemployed and separated from her husband.
A few hours later, Derstine convened a meeting with Leonard to inform her that she was fired.
Leonard said she was told she was fired for poor job performance. But she alleges that “I was having close to my best year” and that Derstine even asked her more than once after she was fired to assist with video production.
Instead, Leonard believes she lost her job for very different reasons. She said Derstine hinted at larger subtext during the firing meeting, when he allegedly said the mere suggestion of Leonard moving in with her female co-worker was “a dealbreaker.”
“I was fired for sex discrimination,” Leonard said. “They believed that I was in a lesbian relationship with my former co-worker.”
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission agreed: That same year, they found probable cause that she had been discriminated against based on her gender, as well as the perception that she was involved in a same-sex relationship.
Gospel Crusade declined to settle, and Leonard filed her lawsuit in federal court in October 2019, with the help of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund.
“The worst part for me is that these were my spiritual leaders . . . and that somehow God was throwing me away,” Leonard said, “that he didn’t love me, or value me or my service.”
Gospel Crusade did not provide on-the-record responses to requests for comment. However, court documents show lawyers for the group repeatedly denying Leonard’s allegations, arguing that text messages and emails she supplied as evidence were taken out of context.
The court documents also feature Gospel Crusade invoking the “ministerial exception,” a focus of a landmark 2012 U.S. Supreme Court case, Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical v. EEOC.
That case featured a dispute between a school affiliated with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and a former teacher who was fired when she attempted to return to work after being diagnosed with narcolepsy. The court sided with the school, which argued that the teacher was a minister and thus exempt from nondiscrimination laws. The ruling was seen as expanding the ministerial exception to include religious workers who are not ordained clergy.
Since 2012, religious institutions have invoked the ruling to justify the firing of LGBTQ employees. In 2019, a Catholic high school in Indiana fired a gay teacher after the Archdiocese of Indianapolis threatened to strip the school of its affiliation with the church. Explaining why he believed the fired teacher’s spouse — who taught at a nearby Catholic school — should also be fired, the archbishop argued the archdiocese “recognizes all teachers, guidance counselors and administrators as ministers.”
But the ministerial exception is complicated by the Supreme Court’s 2020 decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, in which the majority argued that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — which prohibits hiring discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin — also protects employees against discrimination because they are gay or transgender.
In his majority opinion, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch argued that the court is “deeply concerned with preserving the promise of the free exercise of religion enshrined in our Constitution,” and suggested that laws such as the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act might allow religious groups to avoid nondiscrimination statutes and “supersede Title VII’s commands in appropriate cases.”
The arrival of Justice Amy Coney Barrett has potentially tipped the balance of the court toward a more conservative understanding of religious liberty and the exception.
Cases such as Leonard’s may be used to reconcile the Tabor and Bostock rulings. “If [religious] organizations are allowed to simply do whatever they want to when it comes to employment,” said Kevin Sanderson, Leonard’s attorney, “and aren’t held to the same standards as other employers despite what our laws say, you could have millions of people who are really unprotected in the workplace.”
Leonard remains concerned about others who could face her same situation. “What scares me a little bit is the idea that this ministerial exception — that they’ve now decided I’m a minister — has a growing reach to affect more people,” she said. “Because [Derstine] would say every believer is a leader.”
She also expressed deep frustration with what she described as the church’s patriarchal bent. “Somehow, a room full of these guys get together, say they speak for God and get to treat people however they want?”
The whole ordeal has frayed relationships with friends and family and taken a toll on her faith, but Leonard managed to find a new religious home. She now attends an Episcopal Church, where she says she feels supported and where the priest appears to be “completely different” than the “businessman” she said she worked for at Gospel Crusade.
She also takes comfort in the Episcopal Church’s long-standing support for LGBTQ rights: Should a situation like what happened at Gospel Crusade arise at her new church, she feels more protected.
Medical professionals and Catholic leaders gathered in Denver last week for a conference on health care ethics that promoted anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion extremism and echoed the Republican Party’s attacks against transgender youth.
The annual conference, called Converging Roads, was hosted by the Denver Archdiocese, regional Catholic hospitals SCL Health and Centura Health, and the St. John Paul II Foundation, a national Catholic apostolate whose mission is to “proclaim the Good News about life and family through education and formation,” according to its website.
The yearly conference is aimed at guiding Catholic health care professionals through the “ethical challenges” presented by the convergence of their medical profession and church’s teachings on issues like abortion, end-of-life care, and sexual orientation and gender identity.
“We help professionals to understand the issues, and we give them tools to think through the multiplying ethical challenges in a careful and systematic way,” said Arland K. Nichols, President of the St. John Paul II Foundation, in an interview with Denver Catholic. “Families are relying on them to not only know their core practices, but to be able to advise them on the best and most morally sound way forward.”
The Catholic Church and its stance on health care issues have a major impact on the United States healthcare system. According to a 2016 report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), one in six hospital beds in the U.S. are in Catholic facilities, representing a 22 percent increase from 2001.
These hospitals operate under “Ethical and Religious Directives” that are put forth by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and place restrictions on reproductive health care including contraception, sterilization, many fertility treatments, and abortion. The directives also restrict end-of-life care and gender-affirming care for transgender patients.
Despite the pervasiveness of Catholic health care providers, studies show that most patients are unaware of how their medical options are limited by the church’s teachings when they visit such facilities for care.
Last week’s conference illustrates just how deeply connected the church’s social teachings on everything from LGBTQ issues to abortion are to the medical care patients can expect when they visit Catholic providers.
Among the speakers at the April 10 conference was Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila, a highly active anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ advocate.
Aquila was particularly focused on gender identity, saying at one point in his speech, “I can identify as 6’ 4” but I still have trouble putting luggage in the overhead bins of airplanes,” eliciting chuckles from the crowd.
“It’s important to note that the conversation around these conflicts is informed by a secular mentality that sees freedom as the ability to do whatever one wants rather than the Catholic understanding of freedom as the ability to do good,” Aquila continued. “When we don’t choose the good as defined by God, we become slaves of the devil and we never realize true happiness.”
Aquila also suggested that marriage without procreation can be used to justify bestiality.
“Once you remove children from the equation you can justify anything, so you get the polyamorous, you get polygamy, you can have your pet dog as your spouse, and it’s insane,” Aquila said.
Aquila has long been outspoken in his disdain for the LGBTQ community, and even once suggested that “active homosexuality in the priesthood” is a contributing factor for widespread child sexual abuse by Catholic preists.
In December, an investigation from the Colorado Attorney General’s office concluded that 52 Colorado priests abused at least 212 children between 1950 and 2000. The church paid out $7.3 million in settlements to survivors as a result.
Between digs at LGBTQ individuals, Aquila offered guidance for the health care professionals in his midst for operating in what he referred to as a “post-Christian” era.
“As cultural support for religious liberty erodes, Catholic providers will be scrutinized for not conforming to the secular code of belief, likely under the damning label of discrimination,” Aquila said.
“We will only succeed in maintaining a position of influence in our culture by becoming more Catholic,” Aquila later said. “One of the downfalls of Christendom has been that we have become lukewarm in our beliefs.”
Aquila urged Catholic health care providers to hold true to the church’s teachings on reproductive health and LGBTQ issues despite pushback from other doctors or the hospitals where they work.
“Having that kind of belief and attitude and speaking up even though some of the doctors or some of the hospital staff may not appreciate it is essential and giving witness to it,” Aquila said.
Keeping with the Republican Party’s talking points on transgender individuals, Aquila criticized the Equality Act, which would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity. “It will force girls and women to compete against boys and men for limited opportunities in school sports and to share locker rooms and shower spaces with biological males who claim to identify as women,” Aquila said.
Although frequently parroted by conservatives, there’s no basis for the argument that children are less safe when transgender individuals have equal access to bathrooms and locker rooms.
Also in attendance at Converging Roads as a keynote speaker was Dr. Paul Hruz, a professor and pediatric endocrinologist at Washington University in St. Louis who frequently serves as an anti-trans mouthpiece for conservative and Christian publications.
Hruz has provided testimony for the Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-LGBTQ organization classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, in favor of banning transgender youth from using the bathroom that is consistent with their gender identity.
“Dr. Hruz is NOT a member of our [Differences of Sex Development] team, NOR is he an expert in transgender health as he has never taken care of a transgender person,” Washington University officials told the transgender rights blog Planet Transgender, adding that Hruz “is not a psychiatrist, a psychologist, nor mental health care provider of any kind, who could speak knowledgeably of transgender health.”
At the root of Hruz’s anti-trans rhetoric is the implication that divergent gender identities should be fixed, ideally through “counseling,” parents “setting boundaries,” and a “reparative” approach.
Just like Aquila, Hruz didn’t neglect to bring up the bathroom/locker room issue.
“We are told that we need to engage in affirming [transgender youth] in their transgender identity and that to do otherwise is going to be harmful, meaning that we can use different names, pronouns, give them access to sex-segregated facilities like bathrooms and locker rooms,” said Hruz. “We are being told that we shouldn’t question this at all.”
Gender affirmation is the medical standard for treating youth and adults who are experiencing gender dysphoria and/or gender divergence, says Dr. Elizabeth Kvach, Medical Director of the LGBTQ Center of Excellence at Denver Health and Associate Professor of Family Medicine at the University of Colorado. Kvach told the Colorado Times Recorder that the “vast majority of literature” supports “overall improved mental health outcomes in transgender and nonbinary youth who are appropriately allowed to transition.”
Kvach said that includes allowing transgender and nonbinary youth to choose what name they wish to be called, how to dress, and use the pronouns they want to use. “All of those things have been supported in the literature with improving mental health outcomes, reducing rates of depression, anxiety, and reducing rates of suicidality both in youth and adults,” Kvach said, pointing to a large-scale national study that reported a staggering 41% attempted suicide rate among transgender adults.
“Treatment with puberty blockers and hormone therapy for youth who are appropriately diagnosed with gender dysphoria have also been shown to improve mental health outcomes,” Kvach continued.
Hruz’s opposition to the affirmative approach hinges on child desistence rates, or the rate at which those who experience gender dysphoria eventually cease to identify as transgender.
He claimed during his speech that normal child desistance rates are around 85%, a statistic that serves as his basis for why minors should not be given puberty blockers or hormone therapy.
“That [statistic] is not based on current evidence or data,” Kvach said, citing studies in the Netherlands and a multi-state study in the U.S. “Right now, there aren’t any large U.S. studies, but the desistence rates are certainly not that high.”
Kvach cited an article from the International Review of Psychiatry that debunks the high desistence myth.
Kvach explained that medical providers who diagnose and treat youth with gender dysphoria are careful in providing appropriate treatment that serves their overall health and wellbeing.
“It’s our job as clinicians to really dig down in collaboration with mental health providers who have expertise in working with gender-diverse youth to make sure that we have accurate diagnoses of gender dysphoria, and that’s part of the reason for recommendations of using puberty blockers in children who have entered the early stages of puberty,” Kvach said. “…Youth who are started on blockers are generally on them for a few years, and then we’re working very closely with mental health providers to ensure that this is consistent, persistent, and insistent behavior that is part of who they are, and that they are appropriate candidates for moving forward with hormone therapy.”
Another significant way to support children who are experiencing gender dysphoria is to, well, support them, according to Kvach, who says that family support can help shield against the harmful mental health outcomes associated with negative messaging from society and bullying.
Hruz, on the other hand, suggested that parents should be “setting boundaries” around gender expression that might prevent kids from getting the affirmation they may need.
The anti-trans attitudes promoted by the Catholic leaders, health providers, and hospitals at the conference are far out of step with the mainstream medical community.
“Everyone should be able to access healthcare easily, including those who are transgender,” said Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, Deputy Director of National Center for Transgender Equality, in a statement to the Colorado Times Recorder. “All leading medical institutions have studied transition-related healthcare and found that it’s essential primary care. This includes the American Medical Association, American Academy of Family Physicians, and American College of Physicians. Furthermore, people of faith increasingly recognize the humanity of their transgender neighbors, including trans people who are faithful themselves. It’s about treating others as you would like to be treated.”
The church’s attacks against LGBTQ people are, however, consistent with Republican lawmakers, who are pushing bans on gender-affirming care in 15 states.
For the past three years, Eder Díaz Santillan has hosted a podcast on which he interviews LGBTQ people on how they’ve coped with their gender and sexual identities while being raised in traditional Catholic upbringings. He also openly discusses his own identity as a Latino and gay Catholic man.
To Santillan, being gay and Catholic has meant reconciling with the reality the church has never fully accepted his LGBTQ identity. However, he’s recognized there’s a difference between his own relationship with God and the priests who have condemned homosexuality from the altar. It took years, but Santillan realized he could maintain his faith and his LGBTQ identity.
That’s why it may have been a surprise to his listeners when he announced in mid-March he would no longer identify as Catholic. The announcement came just days after the Vatican’s decree it wouldn’t allow priests to bless same-sex unions, saying “God cannot bless sin.”
“It took me this long to recognize that I can let go of anything that hurts me,” said Santillan, 35, on Instagram.
Pope Francis’ rejection of proposals that would allow priests to bless same-sex couples has left many LGBTQ Catholics feeling disappointed and demoralized by an institution they felt recently represented a softening toward LGBTQ marriages within the church. As a result, some have decided to leave their Catholic identities behind, while others remain hopeful the church will eventually become more accepting. Though some have said Francis later distanced himself from that decision, some, like Santillan, say “that’s not enough.”
After the Vatican’s statement, Santillan felt an urgent need to break from his Catholic identity. He realized he could no longer “normalize being Catholic and gay to my audience,” adding that he had become accustomed to the church’s “condemning narrative.”
The fact the church would not bless same-sex unions was nothing new to Santillan, but what struck him was the Vatican felt the need to “be so explicit” about it.
It was shocking,” he said.
To Santillan, the church’s stance is more than just an opinion of what is right and wrong; it fuels faith-based conversion therapy and the backing of laws that discriminate and criminalize LGBTQ people in Latin American countries. It has repercussions, he said. The Vatican’s “God cannot bless sin” statement took him back to his childhood, when he considered himself a sin due to the church’s rhetoric. He feared he was going to hell.
While Santillan figures out what it means to no longer identify as a Catholic, he said, he will always work to help those “who like me have to live with the trauma of the Catholic Church.”
Since the Vatican’s declaration over same-sex unions, the Rev. James Martin, an American Jesuit priest, said he’s heard from a number of LGBTQ Catholics whose reactions have “ranged from anger to hurt to frustration to disgust to despair.”
He said about a dozen have explicitly told him they were leaving the church as a result.
“Among that group the general response was, ‘I’m done.’ Or ‘This was the last straw,’” Martin told Religion News Service via email.
“The main reason that LGBTQ people felt hurt was not simply that priests were forbidden from blessing same-sex unions, a decision that many people may have expected, but that the statement went beyond that and talked about their love as ‘sin,’” said Martin, an advocate of the LGBTQ community.
As he listens to LGBTQ Catholics, Martin said he reminds them “they are, by virtue of the sacrament of baptism, as much a part of the church as their pastor, their bishop or the Pope.”
He also invites LGBTQ people to see the church “in its totality,” noting Francis’ appointment of Juan Carlos Cruz, an openly gay man, to a papal commission, as well as the number of European bishops who criticized the Vatican’s language.
“I invite them to see themselves as full members of the church, even a church that seems not to know how to welcome them,” Martin said.
For queer Catholics like Xorje Olivares, 32, it’s about making individual choices around what their Catholicism looks like. Spirituality, he said, doesn’t need to be a “one size fits all.”
“Everybody’s journey toward their acceptance of the Catholic faith or the role of the Catholic Church in their lives is their own, very much like everyone’s journey to their queerness is their own,” Olivares said.
Olivares, a former altar boy, hosts the podcast “Queer I am, Lord,” where he talks with LGBTQ Catholics about why they’ve stayed in or left the church.
While Olivares said many queer Catholics grew up conditioned to fear God and to believe they are going to hell, “we’ve gone past that.” Meanwhile, he also acknowledged many still find it difficult figuring out “what to believe, when they have a church saying one thing and their bodies telling them another.”
“I sympathize with their struggles because those are very real,” he said.
Olivares often thinks about the kind of message they would send to the Catholic institution if every single LGBTQ person decided to leave the church, but he remains grounded by the Bible verse “knock and the door shall be open to you.”
“Here I am, me and all my queer friends. We’ve been knocking on the door over, and over, and over again, and I would be so upset with myself if the door finally opens and the church becomes a little more welcoming, and I’m not there because I decided to walk away,” he said.
“I don’t know if the church will be the safe space that I need it to be, or if it ever will be, but I know that I still find some joy referring to myself as a Catholic,” Olivares said.