Equally Blessed coalition invites bishops into a year of conversations with LGBT Catholics

As the US bishops gather for their semi-annual meeting, Equally Blessed urges them to listen to LGBT Catholics in the year before the 2015 synod.

November 7, 2014: As the U.S. bishops gather in Baltimore for their semi-annual meeting, last month’s synod on the family will be a main topic of their discussion. The Equally Blessed Coalition sent this letter to the U.S. bishops, urging them to spend the next year engaging in honest conversation with LGBT people and their families:

To our brothers in Christ, the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:

As you gather for your semi-annual meeting together, the recently completed extraordinary synod on the family is sure to be a main focus of your concern.  The eyes of the world were glued on the Vatican for two weeks to witness a healthy and transparent discussion on matters of critical importance to the faith lives and human relationships of Catholics around the globe.

As Catholics who are particularly concerned with just and equal treatment for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and with our place in the Church, we welcomed the fact that ministry to this population was a main focus of discussion, and that there seems to be an emerging consensus from bishops for a new and more welcoming pastoral approach.  We are grateful for the events of this past month, but, more importantly, we look with hope toward the ordinary synod which will take place in October 2015.

To prepare for this upcoming event, we urge each of you to initiate a wide conversation with Catholics in your dioceses on marriage, sexuality, and family life, so that so that you can better understand how these realities are experienced by people of faith who actively work to discern how to follow God’s Will.  Since LGBT issues figured so prominently in this past October’s sessions, and since no openly LGBT person provided testimony at these events, it will be necessary to initiate those conversations with LGBT Catholics and their families, in particular.

This past synod, by all accounts, revealed that a variety of opinions exists among the bishops on sexuality matters. The diversity is true for lay Catholics, as well, who for many years have been working and praying to understand intimacy and family love through the lens of their faith.  While many lay people have worked hard to adhere to current church teaching and practice in regard to these topics, others have found that their consciences have led them to different understandings of the place and role of sexuality in their lives.  For too long, this distinction has caused division in our church, but the synod showed that the candid airing of various opinions is a necessary step toward a more vibrant Church.

Pope Francis has emphasized that the goal of the synod process is discernment.  He encouraged last month’s synod participants to speak their minds boldly, and discouraged them from thinking that any topic or proposal was off-limits. At the same time, he encouraged them to listen with respect and humility to one another.  It is only through such processes that true and holy discernment can take place.

Now is the time for bishops in the U.S. to replicate Pope Francis’ process on the local level by opening up a conversation on marriage, family, and sexuality. Many Catholics, especially LGBT people and their families, have waited decades for such an opportunity, and have been heartened by the fact that this year’s synod opened up this much needed discussion.

As some synod participants acknowledged, bishops have a lot to learn about how people experience sexuality in the context of their faith. We hope that by listening to the faith testimonies and concerns of LGBT Catholics and our families, you will learn more about the reality of their lives, and that you will see, as we do, that many long for a Church that welcomes and affirms them.  Such discussions can help move the Catholic discourse beyond polarizing issues such as marriage equality and other political considerations.  Conversational opportunities help participants understand one another on a human level, making them mutually beneficial for all involved parties.

A variety of methods exist for bishops to listen to and weigh the different perspectives that Catholics hold:  listening sessions, surveys, bulletin inserts, meetings with leaders, response forms on diocesan websites.

In the 1997 document Always Our Children, U.S. bishops offered the following advice to pastors dealing with lesbian and gay issues: “Strive first to listen.”  We believe that this advice can not only help for preparation for the 2015 synod, but that it will be an important step toward the needed reconciliation and healing which needs to take place between Catholic leaders and the LGBT community.

We offer our help and support to you in developing listening programs for the LGBT community and their families.  We know that people would respond positively to such a gesture from bishops.  We look forward to helping you build up the Church community.

In Christ’s peace,

Jim FitzGerald
Executive Director, Call to Action

Marianne Duddy-Burke
Executive Director, DignityUSA

Deb Word
President, Fortunate Families

Francis DeBernardo
Executive Director, New Ways Ministry

Sr. Jeannine Gramick, SL
Co-Founder, New Ways Ministry

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Equally Blessed is a coalition of four Catholic organizations that have spent more than 120 years working on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their families. Collectively and individually, Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, and New Ways Ministry are devoted to informing, supporting and giving voice to the growing majority within the Catholic Church in the United States that favors equality under law for LGBT people.

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