Progressive Catholics laud Fabre as anti-racist but ignore his extremist anti-LGBTQ track record
By James Finn
The Catholic Church is one of the most powerful forces in the U.S. pushing back against civil rights for LGBTQ people. Just in the past three years, the Church has spent millions to defeat state and national laws protecting queer people from discrimination.
They’ve won critical court cases to exclude queer people from the protection of civil rights laws. Bishops have fired administrative LGBTQ staff in increasing waves of witch hunts and lobbied Congress to remove LGBTQ outreach from a federal suicide hotline.
Bishops are embracing conversion therapy, rejecting pro-LGBTQ Catholic groups like DignityUSA they had tacitly tolerated for decades, and in some cases even ordering priests to deny almost all sacramental and communal Church life to LGBTQ Catholics.
Pope Francis was supposed to change that
Francis took over the reins of the Church in March of 2013, and he electrified the world with his “Who am I to judge” remark in response to a question about a gay priest. His remarks since have been confusing and often contradictory, but progressive Catholics (most lay Catholics in the U.S.) have clung to the notion that Francis will make the Church more welcoming and more healthy.
—Liberal Catholic news sources are keeping mum about Fabre’s staunch opposition to LGBTQ civil equality —
Despite the Pope’s contradictory words, U.S. Catholics say he’s making future change possible by appointing progressive bishops.
But is he?
When Francis appointed Bishop John Doerfler to run the Church in Michigan’s upper peninsula despite an anti-LGBTQ track record, liberal Catholics waved the appointment away as a bureaucratic “mistake.” The consequences became dire for queer Catholics after Doerfler ordered his priests to withhold sacraments from transgender and gay people, but since the diocese is very small, the Pope’s “oopsie” only hurt a small number of people.
Surely Pope Francis had not intended this harm, commented U.S. Catholics, and surely he would be cautious not to repeat such a mistake.
In a decision with far broader consequences.
Francis just appointed an extremist homophobe to one of the most powerful positions in the U.S. Church
Tuesday, the Catholic press announced that Pope Francis chose Bishop Shelton Fabre, currently of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana, to be the new archbishop of Louisville, Kentucky. He will serve as only the second Black archbishop in the U.S. Church. Catholic journalists praised Fabre’s work on an anti-racism Church panel as they celebrated his promotion. Some journalists wrote that his appointment would bolster Francis’s “kinder” more “pastoral” vision of Church leadership.
So far, nobody has reported Fabre’s extremist anti-LGBTQ track record, not even publications that had reported on it explicitly in the past. Wire services are running the same bland reports about an “anti-racist” Black archbishop, and even liberal Catholic news sources are keeping mum about Fabre’s staunch opposition to LGBTQ civil equality.
Fabre aligns with a hardcore group of extremist anti-LGBTQ clergy
Last January, nine U.S. Catholic bishops, two of them retired, issued a statement titled, “God Is on Your Side: A Statement from Catholic Bishops on Protecting LGBT Youth.”
This tiny group of bishops issued the statement shortly after the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) lobbied Congress to kill a federal suicide hotline because it offers services specifically to LGBTQ people. The statement appeared to offer support for the LGBTQ Equality Act, which the House of Representatives was about to take up. The statement read in part:
“The Catholic Church values the God-given dignity of all human life and we take this opportunity to say to our LGBT friends, especially young people, that we stand with you and oppose any form of violence, bullying or harassment directed at you. Most of all, know that God created you, God loves you and God is on your side.“
Marianne Duddy-Burke of the pro-LGBTQ DignityUSA said in a statement she hoped more bishops would sign the pro-LGBTQ statement: “Given that this statement asks for nothing more than human dignity, I would hope that more bishops would add their names.”
Fabre signed a dueling, mean-spirited endorsement of homophobia instead
In what became a battle of dueling statements, a much larger group of bishops issued a harsh statement opposing LGBTQ equality in the name of the USCCB, doubling down on opposition to the Equality Act, reaffirming the Church’s right to discriminate against LGBTQ people when delivering state-contracted services, reaffirming opposition to civil same-sex marriage, and support for health care workers to deny medical care to LGBTQ people on religious grounds.
Bishop Fabre signed the harsh homophobic statement in his capacity as chairman of of the USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, sending an implicit message — Don’t be racist, don’t discriminate against Black people, who are fully deserving of human dignity. DO DISCRIMINATE against LGBTQ people, who are NOT fully deserving of human dignity.
When Fabre signed that statement, he joined a short list of some of the most notorious homophobes in the U.S. Church — like Cardinal Timothy Dolan, an outspoken enemy of LGBTQ Catholics. Another signatory, Archbishop Paul Coakley, bemoans the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage a “tragic error,” insisting that Catholic doctrine should play a role in denying equal marriage even to people of other faiths or no faith.
This hardcore faction is largely seen as fighting against Pope Francis’s perceived progressive spirit.
Fabre issued a hypocritical statement on Tuesday
In a press conference, Fabre told reporters his work in anti-racism is framed in “a call to respect the human life and human dignity of each and every person.” He did not explain how his opposition to equal human and civil rights for LGBTQ people fits into that framing. Apparently, “each and every person” actually means each and every cisgender, straight person.
So far the Catholic press is silent on the question of why Pope Francis promoted an extremist homophobe to one of the most powerful leadership positions in the U.S. Church. Is this just another “oopsie,” a bureaucratic blunder?
That’s what many progressive Catholics claimed when Francis promoted Doerfler and when he personally signed off on a document forbidding priests from blessing LGBTQ people in committed relationships or marriages, saying, “God can’t bless sin.” Some claim Francis didn’t pay close attention to the document and didn’t realize what it said, even though a Papal signature on such a document is an extraordinary breach of custom.
Maybe Doerfler’s appointment was really a mistake, maybe barring priests from blessing gay people, which the German Catholic clergy are rebelling over, was really a mistake.
But now Fabre, a notorious homophobic hardliner? The mistake hypothesis is wearing increasingly thin.
It’s commendable that the Pope promoted a Black man and an anti-racist to a powerful position, but I have a question. Is it not possible to identify a U.S. Catholic leader who is Black and anti-racist but is NOT a hardcore homophobic bigot?
Two LGBTQ Catholic advocacy leaders I contacted told me “on background” that such an appointment would indeed be possible, and that they are bitterly disappointed Pope Francis elevated Fabre instead.
So, here we go again with the Papal rollercoaster, with contradictory statements and actions from a man who can’t seem to decide where he wants to lead the Church, and can’t get real about treating queer people with dignity and equality.
Will the real Pope Francis please stand up?
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