In a blog post entitled “Stanley Cup Champions,” Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the blogging Franciscan Cardinal of the Boston Archdiocese, began on a more somber note:

Some say that the Catholic Church hates people with same-sex attractions. This is not true. In fact, if there are any members of the Church who hate people because of their sexual orientation, they need to go to confession. But it is true that the Church exists to announce the Gospel and invite people to conversion, to greater discipline in their lives as they seek to follow Christ’s teachings, which apply to everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation.

As Catholics, we must oppose the hatred and rejection of homosexual persons that exists in our society. We do not want them to be the object of discrimination or violence. We believe, however, that God’s law is written in our hearts and that to lead a fully human life we need to embrace His commandments. This is not always easy, we all struggle and sometimes we fail; but a loving and forgiving God is always there to lift us up and help us start over again.

The Church opposes changing the definition of marriage because to do so would weaken one of the oldest and most sacred institutions of human society. The most recent Census revealed that married households are, for the first time, in the minority in our country. The culture of easy divorce, cohabitation and the redefinition of marriage are all threats to strong family life. For this reason, the Church will always defend traditional marriage.

The post came as a much-needed response to controversy over a plan to host a mass at St. Cecilia’s parish in Boston themed “All Are Welcome” to commemorate the Boston Pride of 2011. The Mass was postponed amidst rising controversy but the parish is trying to find a date to reschedule. Rev. John J. Unni preached a message of acceptance at St. Cecilia’s following the cancellation of the mass:

“You are welcome here, gay or straight, rich or poor, young or old, black or white,’’ Unni said as he paced up and down the center aisle. “Here, you all can say, ‘I can worship the God who made me as I am.’ ’’

All Catholic churches (heck, all Christian churches) should be loving and welcoming faith communities that treat ALL people with dignity and respect. The problem is that no church does a good job of such a task all the time. A parish, though guided by faith and revelation, is also a human institution, with human members and human leadership embedded in a particular culture with particular practices. Sometimes, these cultural practices violate the principles the parish holds by faith. For instance, Catholic churches, like all churches in this country, were once segregated. Catholic churches, like all churches in this country, were once inhospitable places for the handicapped. In both cases, it took concerted and intentional efforts like special programs and pastoral statements from bishops and parish leaders for parishes to begin to counter the cultural practices surrounding them and become the “loving and welcoming faith communities” they strive to be.

The special mass at St. Cecilia’s and Cardinal Sean’s response are opportunities for us to evaluate how homosexual people may be either intentionally or unintentionally alienated in our parishes today. Especially in light of the Church’s difficult teachings on homosexual marriage and the very painful debate around the country concerning gay adoption, it seems to me that it may be appropriate for parishes to reach across the aisle to homosexual Catholics with specific programs like the mass at St. Cecilia’s to indicate that the church wants to struggle over these issues in union with gay Catholics and not against them.

Fr. Reese reported over at NCR a couple of months ago that Pew Center data reveals that most people are not leaving the Catholic Church over doctrinal issues like gay marriage, but rather because “their spiritual needs were not being met.” It is important, in light of this data and the controversy around St. Cecilia’s “All Are Welcome” mass that Catholic parishes and parishioners take time to focus on the spiritual needs of their homosexual members, reasserting in word and in practice that all really are welcome in our church. As the Boston Archdiocese communications director Terrence Donilon stated: “This should not be about conflict. The teachings of the Catholic Church are set in stone, but that doesn’t stop us from loving people from different walks of life.’’