This Saturday, at 11am, Auxiliary Bishop John Dolan and Father Lucio Castillo, OMI, together with other concelebrants, will host a liturgy for families of the LGBT community in the Diocese of San Diego. The Mass will be held at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in the Hillcrest neighborhood. The Mass is an anniversary celebration of “Always Our Children,” the 1997 pastoral message of the USCCB that encouraged parents of gay and lesbian children to accept and love their children and encouraged all readers to avoid stereotyping and condemning. While much has changed in the world in the past twenty years, those messages are still relevant today and worthy of celebration.
Fr. James Martin’s recent book, Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity gives examples of what church leaders and members of the LGBT community can do to foster mutual understanding and to build bridges. In the chapter entitled “Respect,” Fr. Martin begins by saying “respect means, at the very least, recognizing that the LGBT community exists” (20). When discussing pastoral implications of this respect, Fr. Martin says it means: “carrying out ministries to these communities, which some dioceses and parishes already do very well. Examples include celebrating Masses with LGBT groups, sponsoring diocesan and parish outreach programs, and in general helping LGBT Catholics feel that they are part of the church, that they are welcomed and loved” (21).
When I read the book this summer, I thought this statement was kind of bland. But now, in the wake of the social media campaign against Fr. Martin, the online support he’s received from bishops and leaders within the church, and my accompaniment of the planners of the “Always our Children” liturgy in my own home town, I understand now that Fr. Martin’s statement is still perceived as threatening to large groups of Catholics whose views of the world and of God I don’t pretend to understand. When someone inserts nails into the tires of a church employee planning an event like this, and offices field hundreds of calls from angry people with threats intended to intimidate the organizers, you know that people care deeply about this issue. But is that how Christians are called to act? This Church Militant article describes Fr. Martin as a “prominent homosexualist Jesuit,” which is a term I hadn’t heard before, and goes on to say that “Always our Children” was a frightening disaster. Don’t read the comments, because if you do, you’ll find readers who call gay-friendly priests “roaches” who must be exterminated because they are “the enemy”: “And Church Militant is the ‘Orkin’. Every few Vortex episodes, toss an expositive flash-bang in the nest and watch ’em come out screaming.” Another Catholic parent proudly writes that “a gay son would be no son at all.” There’s a lot of critique of Bishop McElroy and Auxiliary Bishop Dolan, and the word “sinner” is thrown around quite a bit to describe people who are not heterosexual. Don’t read the comments. And you might not want to read Life Site News or Cal-Catholic either. Just skip it.
But do come to pray with us. Come join your fellow Catholics who want to follow the call of Amoris Laetitia to recognize “the need for continued open discussion of a number of doctrinal, moral, spiritual, and pastoral questions” (2). Come walk with us as we realize “we also need to be humble and realistic, acknowledging that at times the way we present our Christian beliefs and treat other people has helped contribute to today’s problematic situation” (36). Come sit in the pews alongside your LGBT neighbors as we remember that “Jesus set forth a demanding ideal yet never failed to show compassion and closeness to the frailty of individuals like the Samaritan woman or the woman caught in adultery” (38). Pope Francis recognizes that we experience God in the real, daily, concrete: “daily troubles and struggles, joys and hopes” (315). Our authenticity should be inspired by love and we are invited to accompany one another and journey with one another, from a place of compassion and mutual learning. As Laura Spencer-Martin, from the Office for Family Life and Spirituality at the Diocese of San Diego has said, “As a diocese we want to be with people, with everyone; especially when people have been hurt. I think he wants to send a message of love, compassion, listening and being with all the people.”
Hate speech, threats of violence, dehumanizing rhetoric, physical intimidation, and destruction of the personal property of church employees crosses the line. That is not the body of Christ. That is not how we treat one another. When Fr. Martin wrote about hosting Masses and retreats for LGBT Catholics, he probably didn’t have in mind a budget planning meeting with the local police force. Church Militant bears no resemblance to the church I know and love. The Catholic Church has nurtured my faith, shaped my understanding of the presence of the Living God making all things new, and fostered my vocation to teaching and learning. I see this church thriving in parish centers where ministers are meeting people’s pastoral needs and where people experience grace in the messiness of everyday life. I’m grateful for the courage and leadership demonstrated by those planning this particular liturgy in San Diego this weekend, and for all of the pastoral ministers who offer loving witness to God’s mercy in the midst of the everyday lives of people in our churches. I hope we can come together to celebrate what it means to be the body of Christ this weekend; for me, I will be there to show solidarity with my LGBT friends in Christ.