‘The church is our rightful home’

— At Catholic Mass for LGBTQ community, a message of inclusion

The Rev. Greg Greiten presides over the LGBTQ Mass of Celebration and Inclusion at St. Bernadette Catholic Parish in Milwaukee on Saturday, Oct. 8. He was joined by Deacon Sandy Sites, left, parish director of Good Shepherd Catholic Church.

By Sophie Carson

Milwaukee-area Catholics gathered Saturday evening at a parish on the northwest side with a message of support for LGBTQ people.

The Rev. Greg Greiten, who is openly gay himself, organized the “LGBTQ Mass of Celebration and Inclusion” because it was important for the community to feel welcome in the church, he said.

“My first words are: I love you. You are loved. You are beloved. You are holy. You are made in the image of God,” he said at the start of his homily.

The Mass and subsequent reception at St. Bernadette Parish drew about 100 people, including a handful of young people, who were eager to remain in the Catholic faith while also pushing for change.

Hailey Hable, 22, of Milwaukee spoke during the homily about struggling to accept herself as a transgender person while enrolled at an all-boys Catholic boarding high school. She considered suicide but found strength in her faith, she said.

It was important to share her story because, she said, she now had the opportunity to help others feel welcomed and accepted.

“I had never felt that way growing up,” she said.

Married couple Deborah and Kim Cavaliero-Keller, who also spoke at the Mass, believe it is their mission to create a more inclusive environment for LGBTQ people in the Catholic Church.

“Let’s build a larger table instead of making marginalized people feel less-than,” Kim Cavaliero-Keller said.

The official church teaching is that homosexuality is “objectively disordered.” Meanwhile, support for same-sex marriage has continued to rise among U.S. Catholics, polling shows.

In 2021, 74% of Catholics were in favor of same-sex marriage, according to the Public Religion Research Institute. And 81% supported laws that would protect LGBTQ people from discrimination.

Greiten holds onto glimmers of hope that things are changing, such as supportive comments from Pope Francis and recent reports from synod listening sessions that show lay Catholics want the church to reach out more to LGBTQ people.

“The church is our rightful home,” Greiten said. “The LGBTQ community has been a part of this community and is here to stay.”

Working for change from within the church

Those at the Mass said it was an important step toward a better future.

“It means we’re on the right road,” Deborah Cavaliero-Keller said.

Peter Govern, 18, a Marquette University student, called the Mass “unconventionally compassionate” for the Catholic Church and an example of how accepting the church could be.

Govern grew up attending St. Bernadette and changed his work shifts so he could attend the Saturday evening Mass. It was important to make time to attend it, he said.

“It’s really a hope that by showing support for something like this, it’ll continue to grow, it’ll continue to flourish,” he said.

Mary Syverson of Sussex said Catholicism is her spiritual home, but she always felt like she was betraying her two gay siblings by remaining in the church. Getting involved with a group called Gay and Straight in Christ at her Menomonee Falls parish has been a way to work for change from within.

“I want to help one person at a time make change,” she said.

Valeria Spinner-Banks, a former Catholic school teacher and administrator at Mount Mary University, disagreed with the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s new policy on transgender individuals, which calls for Catholic school students to use the pronouns, uniforms and bathrooms that match their sex assigned at birth.

“I understand the trauma these kids go through day by day,” she said. She was bothered that students have “something extra now put on them.”

Still, Spinner-Banks will not abandon her Catholic faith.

“You don’t let anybody run you from your God,” she said. “If I leave, I can’t make a difference.”

Welcoming ‘lost sheep’

Stephen, 21, a Marquette University student who asked that his last name not be used because of safety concerns, grew up Catholic but as an adult did not feel comfortable attending a church where he might not be accepted.

The Mass on Saturday brought Stephen to tears at points.

“It’s cool to be accepted,” he said, adding that it was nice to hear Greiten say LGBTQ people were loved.

Greiten said he knows of many people who left the church because they did not feel they were welcome.

“I will spend my priesthood, and every remaining day, searching after the lost sheep. I will find them. I will welcome them. I will tell them I love them,” he said in his homily.

After the Mass, Greiten sat at one of the long tables in the church hall and watched as people milled around, enjoying refreshments and chatting.

“It’s just wonderful. This is what people should experience almost every weekend. It should be that place,” he said.

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