This Christmas, LGBTQ Catholics are once again wondering whether we belong

People attend Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York on Dec. 19.

By Michael J. O’Loughlin

Most Catholics usually spend the weeks before Christmas preparing to open church doors to anyone looking to mark the birth of Jesus. But this year, with news that a Catholic diocese in Michigan may bar gay and transgender people from participating in sacraments, LGBTQ Catholics everywhere are wondering, yet again, whether we are welcome.

The Diocese of Marquette says that the policy, which could deny parishioners rites such as baptism and Communion, is simply meant to reinforce existing church teaching, and that queer people should still be treated with “dignity and respect.” But what it risks reinforcing is the decision of LGBTQ people, and their families, who choose to leave. As a gay Catholic, it’s heartbreaking to think of what both the church, and all who benefit from Catholic ministries, will lose.

When I read the diocese’s policy, my mind raced to one of the accounts in my book, which profiles dozens of Catholics who took on stigma and shame to fight for people living with HIV at the height of the crisis. The transformation of Most Holy Redeemer Church, situated in the heart of San Francisco’s gay village, from a mausoleum into a partner in the fight against AIDS was due to the tenacity of LGBTQ Catholics and allies who saw in Scripture a commandment to extend mercy to all.

In the 1950s and ’60s, the parish was full of young families. But by the 1980s, the neighborhood had become a vibrant destination for young gay men — a remaking that had hollowed out Most Holy Redeemer.

Cliff Morrison, a gay parishioner and nurse who would eventually help establish 5B, the famed AIDS ward at San Francisco General Hospital, met with the pastor, Father Tony McGuire. He laid out a proposal: The neighborhood was bursting with the new arrivals, the majority of whom weren’t affiliated with any house of worship. “Most of these guys, they moved here from the Midwest and the South, and a lot of them are Catholic,” he said. “Why don’t we invite them back?”

So a team of parishioners created the “Come Home for Christmas” campaign. Young gay men who sought to add a dose of spirituality to the Christmas season worshiped alongside the remaining older parishioners — the “gays and the grays,” as Father Tony put it.

Thomas Ellerby, who was diagnosed with HIV in 1989, was part of Most Holy Redeemer’s holiday crew. He signed up for the parish’s “buddy program” when he became too sick to cook or do laundry. He attended the parish’s Christmas parties — elaborate affairs with ice sculptures, piles of decadent canapes and, given neighborhood demographics, a fair share of drag queens.

“That was the most fantastic escape from what was going on around us,” Ellerby said in an interview. For him, a gay Black man living with HIV in the Castro, the Catholic Church was a break from the barrage of discrimination, prejudice and heartbreak he faced each day.

The Vatican promulgated policies hostile toward LGBTQ people in the 1980s — ones similar to the Marquette proposal. But local church leaders in San Francisco tried to soften those messages so all Catholics would feel welcome. Had they not, ministries that touched countless lives in San Francisco would never have borne fruit.

And it wasn’t a one-way street, with only the LGBTQ community benefiting. Most Holy Redeemer itself was reinvigorated by LGBTQ Catholics, and its longtime parishioners — mostly older and straight — understood in new ways what it meant to follow Jesus’ command to love one another.

Today’s church, with LGBTQ people routinely fired from affiliated institutions and the Vatican still employing harsh language toward same-sex relationships, can feel far from Most Holy Redeemer’s uncommon example. It’s true that Pope Francis has reached out to LGBTQ Catholics and those who minister to them, but sadly he’s the exception, not the rule. Overemphasizing parts of church teaching that condemn homosexuality at the expense of parts that call for love and respect is too common.

That’s why such small, unexpected kindnesses from the church can go such a long way — and why actions such as the Marquette diocese’s feel extra alienating. And each decision affects not only the relatively small percentage of LGBTQ Catholics but also their families and friends, coworkers and neighbors — anyone who loves them.

To Ellerby, Most Holy Redeemer was simply living out the Gospel. “They served the community,” he said. “It just so happened to be a gay community that was ground zero for HIV and AIDS. The parish was in the business of saving souls and saving lives.”

Complete Article HERE!

Do right by victims of clergy abuse

Vermont’s Roman Catholic Bishop Christopher Coyne speaks about a report that found there were “credible and substantiated” allegations of the sexual abuse of minors against 40 priests in the state between 1950 and today. The report said all but one of the allegations occurred before 2000.

By Maura Labelle

The following letter was sent to Bishop Christopher Coyne on Dec. 8:

Why are you waiting for me and other clergy abuse victims to die?

As children at St. Joseph’s Orphanage, we were physically, mentally and sexually abused. In December 2020 you said the following during an interview on the WCAX program You Can Quote Me: “I absolutely believe that children were abused at the orphanage. No one is contesting that at all.” You know that there was abuse, yet you do everything you can to avoid helping the abused.

In 2019, you said the following on Vermont Public Radio: “We don’t have any money, there’s no more insurance, we have very limited unrestricted funds.” If the church doesn’t have funds, it’s because of its own actions to hide the money. You know very well that your predecessor, Bishop Salvatore Matano, worked with the church’s attorneys to put $500 million in diocese assets into individual trusts to protect those assets from lawsuits. At the time, Bishop Matano said his actions were to protect the parishes from “unbridled, unjust and unreasonable assault.” We would argue that the unbridled, unjust and unreasonable assaults were made by clergy against children.

In November of this year, you wrote to Vermont Catholics, asking them to give more to your statewide fundraising campaign called “Christ Our Hope: Building a Vibrant Church,” saying that you had already, in just three months last year, raised $4.4 million of your $10 million goal, with most of that money going to individual parishes rather than abuse victims. Of course, that distribution would also protect those funds from abuse lawsuits against the diocese.

Many individual parishes have closed, yet there is no discussion of using funds from those properties to make atonement or restitution with victims of abuse at the hands of clergy. The property which was home to the former Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Burlington is worth millions. Proceeds from its sale should be used to assist former orphanage residents, to make their lives better, as so many of us were unable to meet our potential due to the way we were abused by clergy during our childhoods.

It is also clear to us that the diocese likely paid millions of dollars to attorneys in its effort to avoid atonement for its sins against victims such as the children of St. Joseph’s Orphanage. I call on you to immediately disclose the amount of money the diocese used to line the pocket of its legal teams, as it should have gone to victims instead.

In the 1990s, Bishop Kenneth Angell settled with many orphanage survivors for the paltry sum of $5,000, and forced them to sign non-disclosure agreements in order to get the funds. Ironically, Bishop Angell was forcing the diocese’s own victims to become part of its cover-up. Many of us were not financially stable at the time and agreed under duress to Bishop Angell’s dictates. Bishop Coyne, you have waived the non-disclosure agreement. Now you need to acknowledge that the abuse suffered by children at the orphanage was worth far more than the $5,000 you paid victims, and re-open that part of the agreements.

I believe that your false statements regarding available funds and your inability to make restitution to abuse victims at the orphanage defy the eighth commandment, which calls for God’s people to be truthful. Clearly, the diocese is more concerned about the almighty dollar than it is about following the will of Almighty God. The only reason that funds are restricted is because the diocese itself restricted them to avoid accountability for abuse by clergy, caused by negligence by the diocese.

Clearly, you and other Catholic leaders are waiting this out, so that your responsibility to victims will disappear when we die. It’s time for the diocese to be accountable for its sins, as it requires the Catholic faithful to do. Please help us while we are still alive.

In 2019 you released a report finally identifying abusive priests from Vermont. You called their sins the “sins of the past.” But, Catholic Bishops nationwide recently released a report saying that there had been 4220 reports of abuse by clergy in the United States during the year ending June 30, 2021. And God only knows how many abuses went unreported. Please stop misleading Vermonters with slogans from lawyers and public relations people. These are not the sins of the past. Your experience as a spokesman for former Cardinal Bernard Law, the mastermind of the Boston clergy sex abuse cover-up, makes you especially adept at public relations. I wish you cared as much about doing the right thing.

All of us will be accountable to God for our actions on Earth. Remember Bishop Coyne, whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, that you do unto me. I hope that during the Christmas season you can find it in your heart to do right by victims of clergy abuse.

Complete Article HERE!

Synod official apologizes to gay Catholics, encourages their participation

By Cindy Wooden

LGBTQ Catholics are more than welcome to participate in the prayer, discernment and discussion process leading up to the celebration of the assembly of the world Synod of Bishops in 2023, a synod official said.

Thierry Bonaventura, communication manager of the synod’s general secretariat, formally apologized for his decision in early December to remove from a website of synod resources a video of an October seminar on the synod prepared by New Ways Ministry, an unofficial Catholic group that advocates for LGBTQ Catholics.

In an article in the December newsletter of the Synod of Bishops, Bonaventura published his apology under the title, “Children of a Lesser God?”

“Walking together also means knowing how to apologize,” he wrote.

“In recent days, I have personally taken the initiative to de-publish a post” by New Ways Ministry “for internal procedural reasons,” he said, without further explanation. “This brought pain to the entire LGBTQ community, who once again felt left out.”

The link to the New Ways video was restored to the synod resources page Dec. 12 and a letter from an Italian LGBTQ group encouraging participation in the synod process was added.

In posting the materials, Bonaventura said, “I feel that I must apologize to all LGBTQ people and to the members of New Ways Ministry for the pain caused.”

The restoration of the video and the posting of the Italian letter, he said, shows “the firm will — not only mine but of the entire general secretariat of the synod — not to exclude those who wish to carry out this synodal process with a sincere heart and a spirit of dialogue and real discernment.”

“LGBTQ groups and those groups who feel they live on the ‘margins’ of the church can direct their contributions, resources or what they want to share with the whole people of God to,” he said.

The EWTN-owned Catholic News Agency had reported Dec. 7 that Bonaventura had removed the video link.

“Even if we are open to receiving any useful resources without a particular censoring of the material, it is our desire to welcome inputs from officially recognized organizations by the Catholic Church,” Bonaventura had told CNA. “In this case, my team was not aware of the situation of the New Ways organization and of the clarification given by the USCCB president in 2010.”

Bonaventura was referring to a statement by the late Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, then president of the U.S. bishops conference, saying that, “like other groups that claim to be Catholic but deny central aspects of church teaching, New Ways Ministry has no approval or recognition from the Catholic Church and that they cannot speak on behalf of the Catholic faithful in the United States.”

The occasion of the statement, the cardinal had said, was that “New Ways Ministry has recently criticized efforts by the church to defend the traditional definition of marriage as between one man and one woman and has urged Catholics to support electoral initiatives to establish same-sex ‘marriage.’”

The National Catholic Reporter reported Dec. 8 that in May and again in June, New Ways Ministry received letters from Pope Francis thanking them for their outreach.

Complete Article HERE!

SF church asks Archbishop Cordileone to re-schedule visit because he’s unvaccinated

St. Agnes Church, San Francisco


The news that Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone is unvaccinated just cost him a visit to a church in San Francisco.

“Because Cordileone is not vaccinated and we’ve had breakthrough vaccinations in the church, I’m not comfortable. I’m not comfortable with him coming unvaccinated,” said Rita Clunies-Ross, St. Agnes Catholic Church parishioner.

December 19 was the day Archbishop Cordileone was scheduled to visit Saint Agnes Church. Several weeks before his visit, churchgoers like Rita Clunies-Ross voiced concerns. Now this church is taking a stance.

“I called him and spoke with him and asked him to re-schedule his visit for a later time because many people in the parish had expressed concern about this. I feel it is important that everyone feel safe, and we all do our part to prevent the spread of COVID-19, especially now with the new Omicron Variant. These are stressful times enough and I felt his pastoral visit to us would be overshadowed by concerns about the pandemic,” said a bulletin Pastor George Williams posted on the church’s website, letting the parishioners know Archbishop Cordileone won’t be visiting them for now.

The San Francisco Archdiocese has been outspoken about the COVID vaccine, encouraging San Franciscans to get vaccinated.

Meanwhile, the archbishop is unvaccinated.

“It’s not that he is saying we don’t want you. We would more than welcome you here if you came vaccinated, if you respect the community you are visiting,” said Clunies-Ross.

In a statement the Archdiocese responded, “Health care decisions are a very personal matter. Archbishop Cordileone has every confident in Father Williams’ ability to know his people well, and respond to their sensitivities with compassion.”

In August, Pope Francis urged people to get vaccinated, calling it an act of love.

During an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Cordileone said his personal doctor told him, “it’s probably not necessary for him to be vaccinated,” citing his “immune system is strong.”

“If there was some health reason I could see it. There is not religious reason from the Catholic Church that would stop you from being vaccinated. I can’t see another reason,” said Clunies-Ross.

Pastor Williams said to ABC7 news, “It’s our policy here that all the priests who celebrate Mass need to be vaccinated out of concern for our parishioners. When I explained this to his Excellency, he graciously understood. We look forward to his visit when circumstances permit.”

Complete Article HERE!

Pope: Sex outside marriage not serious sin


Pope Francis urged caution on Monday in the “interpretation” of a damning report into child sexual abuse by French Catholic clergy, saying a “historical situation” must be viewed in context.

A landmark inquiry overseen by an independent commission confirmed in October extensive sexual abuse of minors by priests in France dating from the 1950s to 2020.

“When we do this kind of study, we must be attentive to the interpretation we make of it,” the 84-year-old pontiff told reporters onboard his flight back from a trip to Greece.

“Abuse 100 years ago, 70 years ago, was brutality. But the way it was experienced is not the same as today,” he said.

“For example, in the case of abuse in the church, the attitude was to cover it up — an attitude that unfortunately still exists today in a large number of families.”

He added that the “historical situation” must be interpreted by the standards of the time.
The pope, who after the publication of the report expressed his “shame”, revealed he had not read it himself but would discuss it with French bishops when they visited him later this month.

Dealing with the avalanche of revelations about sexual abuse by priests was one of the biggest challenges that Francis faced when he was elected pope in 2013. Francois Devaux, head of a victims’ association in France, expressed incredulity at the pope’s “distressing” lack of interest in the French inquiry.

“This will show everyone that the pope is at the heart of the problem,” Devaux told AFP, labelling his comments as “ignorance, stupidity and denial”.

The pope also condemned the “injustice” of the recent resignation of Michel Aupetit, the archbishop of Paris.
Aupetit, 70, quit following media reports of an intimate relationship with a woman, which he had categorically denied. A diocese spokeswoman said at the time that “he had ambiguous behaviour with a person he was very close to”, adding that it was “not a loving relationship”, nor sexual.

“When the gossip grows, grows, grows and takes away the reputation of a person, that man will not be able to govern… and that is an injustice,” Francis said.

“This is why I accepted Aupetit’s resignation, not on the altar of truth, but on the altar of hypocrisy.

“I ask myself, what did Aupetit do that was so serious he had to resign? If we don’t know the accusation, we cannot condemn,” the pope added, urging journalists to investigate.

He said Aupetit had been condemned by “public opinion, rumours. But what did he do? We know nothing”.

However, the pope referenced a breach of the sixth commandment — a ban on adultery — saying it was “not total, but little caresses and massages he gave to his secretary”.
“That is a sin. But it is not the most serious because sins of the flesh are not the most serious,” he said.

He added: “Aupetit is a sinner. As I am, as was Peter, the bishop on whom Christ founded his Church.”

In a statement last week, when the pope accepted his offer, Aupetit said he wanted to “protect the diocese from the division that always provokes suspicion and the loss of confidence”.

Complete Article HERE!