Reaching Out to the Church

In light of recent controversies, Dignity/Washington believes it's time for a serious discussion of pastoral care for LGBT Catholics

A few weeks ago I was invited to sit down with the cast of American University’s Bare, The Musical, and discuss my life as a gay Catholic. Being gay and Catholic is central to the plot of this play, which is set in a Catholic boarding school.

I was invited because of my participation in Dignity/Washington, a community of LGBT Catholics, our families and friends. The cast was supposed to go back to rehearsal after I left. They chose, however, to spend the rest of their evening together discussing what life might be like for someone who is LGBT and Catholic. They began their conversation by being skeptical that someone could, or would want to, live an authentic life as both gay and Catholic. The experiences that I shared with them were the basis of their conversation. Most of the cast members left that discussion with a greater understanding of the complexities involved in being a practicing gay or lesbian Catholic.

I was invited back to watch the play and participate in another discussion panel Saturday, Feb. 25. Unfortunately, that same day a Catholic priest in Gaithersburg preferred to cling to his simplistic understanding of what it means to be a Catholic by denying communion to a lesbian at the funeral of her mother. His lack of pastoral care is now a national story.

Several months ago I attended a workshop in New York City called ”Pro-Queer Life: Youth Suicide Crisis, Catholic Education, and the Souls of LGBTQ People.” The organizers made two attempts to invite administrators, teachers and students from all nearby Catholic high schools to attend this discussion. Not one school brought a single person to the discussion.

I believe that all of the national and international attention currently focused on the correct pastoral approach to LGBT Catholics in the Archdiocese of Washington might create a grace-filled, teachable moment for this area’s LGBT Catholics, their bishops and priests. My experience with the students at American University convinces me that honest sharing leads to better understanding. My experience in attending the Pro-Queer Life symposium tells me that getting the decision makers in the archdiocese and LGBT Catholics to sit at the same table for an honest, constructive conversation might be difficult.

However, I propose that a working group be created between a few members of Dignity/Washington and the leadership of the Archdiocese of Washington to discuss appropriate pastoral care for LGBT people in very specific terms. Dignity/Washington’s main focus is celebrating Mass every Sunday. As baptized Catholics, celebrating Mass is very important to us. But we are also part of a national organization and, therefore, can draw on a wide array of resources that make us uniquely qualified to represent LGBT Catholics in an ongoing conversation with local church officials about pastoral care for LGBT Catholics.

The following could be discussed: developing strategies to prevent bullying and anti-gay violence in Catholic schools, exploring ways to strengthen and expand the HIV/AIDS ministry, and forming a ministry throughout the archdiocese to support families with LGBT members.

These and other pastoral questions demonstrate the systemic nature of the solutions that are required regarding pastoral care for LGBT Catholics. This would not be a forum to discus politics.

Some believe that Catholic belief would prevent such a discussion. We function in a church where natural law and primacy of conscience coexist. It is a beauty of Catholic thought that there is always a bit of tension between different aspects of what is taught. Belief may have to be sorted out at times in this conversation as it applies to specific situations, but pastoral care should be the focus of the conversation.

We stand ready to meet with Cardinal Donald Wuerl, or anyone he appoints, and believe that this meeting is urgently needed.

Allen Rose is president of Dignity/Washington. He can be reached at dignity@dignitywashington.org.

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