Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput recently responded to one of the Equally Blessed pilgrims who will attend the World Meeting of Families this September in Philadelphia, along with almost two dozen others who want to make sure that LGBT families and voices are heard.
Susanne’s original letter appears below, followed by Archbishop Caput’s letter.
Dear Archbishop Chaput,
In recent weeks, you’ve made statements regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues which, though perhaps unintentional, were very hurtful to this community, particularly to Catholic LGBT people who want so much to be considered full members the Church. I write to you as a mother of five, and also as an Associate of the Sisters of Mercy. Two of my four sons are gay. I love all my children dearly.
Margie Winters, a Catholic lesbian woman was fired from Waldron Mercy Academy after eight years. She has been legally married to another woman since 2007, the administrators of the school were aware of this reality, and they had no problem with it. That is, until a parent complained.
Your statement about this situation praised the school for showing “character and common sense.” Such a description shocks the public, particularly the Catholic public you shepherd. Is it praiseworthy to support someone in their committed relationship only when it is convenient to do so? Is it Christian to inform an employee that, despite what some see as an “irregular” situation, that her job is secure? Where is the basic humanity in asking a person to be silent and secretive about her most important human relationship, as school administrators asked Winters for several years?
In short, have the administrators of Waldron Mercy really shown character and common sense, or have they shown themselves to be duplicitous? Why is such duplicity not harmful to a school’s Catholic identity, but a same-gender marriage is?
The Margie Winters case highlights the larger issue facing the Church: pastoral outreach to families with LGBT members. While you recently stated that all, including “people who have experienced same-sex attraction,” would be welcome at the World Meeting of Families (WMF), there is extremely little on the schedule (two panelists) that discusses their realities. And it was the way that you framed your welcome which made it most hurtful.
Using the term “people who have experienced same-sex attraction” for people who identify as lesbian or gay is not accurate. A lesbian or gay identity is much more than sexual attraction. It involves the entire social and cultural life such people experience, often overcoming fear, isolation, marginalization, as well as achieving personal integration, emotional maturity, and very often, a deep spirituality. To reduce identity to “attraction” imagines lesbian and gay people as primarily concerned about sexual behavior—a stereotype that the larger culture has long since eradicated.
In welcoming all people, you added the following statement regarding lesbian and gay people: “We don’t want to provide a platform at the meeting for people to lobby for positions contrary to the life of our church, so we’re not providing that kind of lobbying opportunity.” This presumption is very insulting to lesbian and gay people. It imagines them as people outside the Church, out to destroy it. It seems you are not aware of the presence of many baptized, confirmed, and faithful Catholics who happen to be LGBT and who try to participate fully in the Church’s faith life.
I will be part of a group of families with LGBT members attending the WMF with the hopes of sharing our faith lives and family experiences with other there. Will we be lobbying? Only if you consider it lobbying when people to talk about their faith journeys and the challenges and gifts that they have encountered. These pilgrims are already in contact to pray and support each other as they prepare for what will be a powerful spiritual event for them. And they will continue to meet for prayer together each day throughout WMF.
As Pope Francis, the guest of honor at the WMF, has shown, our Church needs more discussion of LGBT issues, not silence and secrecy, not duplicity, not obsession with sexual topics. His guidance to bishops at the Rome synod last year opened the first honest conversation about lesbian and gay relationships the hierarchy has ever had. Would bishops who spoke favorably about lesbian and gay relationships not be allowed at WMF for fear that they might be lobbying for change—which is exactly what they did in Rome last year?
In his recent visit to Latin America, Pope Francis remarked that Jesus did not commission apostles as “men of influence, landlords, officials armed with rules and regulations.” The pope envisioned the Catholic Church as “the home of hospitality,” welcoming even those “who do not think as we do.”
Archbishop Chaput, this is the kind of church we need in the Philadelphia Archdiocese. One way such a church could take root is to begin to see LGBT people not as enemies, not as suspect, not as rule-breakers, but as who they really are: your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Here is the response she just received:
We have a foundational responsibility to being faithful to the teachings of Jesus Christ regarding the meaning of marriage and the meaning of human seuxality. No posturing on the part of others will ever lead to changes on those matters.
It seems many people prefer wordly ways rather than the ways of Jesus.
May God give you peace and every blessing.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.
Archbishop of Philadelphia
Needless to say, while this was not entirely unexpected, this is not the pastoral response that Susanne needed to hear, nor what we had prayed for. Instead of replying to Susanne’s specific concerns, his formulaic reply was cold and impersonal – and deeply troubling to LGBT Catholics, their families, and their allies.
We will continue to demand inclusion and justice for all people in our church and in our society, modeling a radical inclusion for all, because that is the way that Jesus taught us to love!