A coalition of secular and dissenting Catholic LGBT groups aims to influence the Church’s upcoming Synod on Young People by rallying the like-minded to write to the synod to contend that the “rules” of the Catholic Church are causing “damage” to those who self-identify as LGBT.
But this effort misunderstands the more profound Catholic approach to human nature and identity, commentators have said.
Ann Schneible, communications director for the Courage apostolate, said Catholic teaching insists that everyone has the fundamental identity “to be the creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life.”
“Seen from this perspective, it becomes clear that the Church’s approach provides the most compassionate response to people, including youth and young adults, who experience same sex attractions,” Schneible told CNA. “Far from being a misfortune or a disappointment, their identity as sons and daughters of God – who are made in his image and likeness, and have received divine grace and a call to holiness – is a profound and life-giving joy.”
Those who experience same-sex attraction deserve compassionate outreach from Catholics, she said, adding, “we do so in the belief and hope that following God’s plan will always lead one to happiness and ultimate fulfillment.”
Schneible spoke in response to a messaging effort from the Equal Future website, launched Aug. 22 at an event held parallel to the World Meeting of Families in Dublin. It is soliciting Catholics and non-Catholics to send messages to their regions’ delegates to the Synod of Bishops on Young People, the Faith and the Discernment of Vocations, to be held Oct. 3-28.
The default text for the message alleges that there is “damage done to children when they are given the sense that to be LGBT would be a misfortune or disappointment.”
The website instructions ask writers to “respectfully explain why you feel children are still getting that sense, and the role played by the rules of the Catholic Church and/or of other organizations in society.”
It says letters to the delegates should ask them to consider the letter-writer’s story at the synod, and should ask for a reply. The letter submission form asks whether the writer was baptized Catholic. Answers include “prefer not to say.”
Daniel Mattson, a Catholic speaker and author of “Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay,” reflected on the Equal Future campaign.
“I think the Church needs to do a much better job in reaching out to those who identify as LGBT. As one who used to see myself as a gay man, I’ve come to realize how empty the promises of the LGBT movement are,” he told CNA.
According to Mattson, the Church must proclaim her teachings as “truly good news, even when we fear that truth might be offensive.” He cited Christ’s encounter with the rich young man, in which Christ’s response made the young man go away sad.
“For a time, I went away sad, but I’m grateful no one in my life who truly loved me ever told me that the life I was living was morally acceptable! We never love anyone by not inviting them to live a moral life. Not all will go away sad, either.”
Mattson stressed the need for a “call to conversion” and to remember, “we can never be more compassionate than Jesus.” He also warned against “the willful refusal to speak about the health damages of living out a life of active homosexuality, particularly among men.”
“In nearly every area of both mental and physical health, the LGBT community suffers more profoundly than their heterosexual counterparts,” he said.
At least 60 groups from around the world are backing the Equal Future campaign. These include secular groups such as the Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, GLSEN, Music4Children.org, and ALL OUT.
The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics, the U.S.-based New Ways Ministry, and Dignity USA are also named as backers of the project. Catholic authorities including the late Cardinal Francis George of Chicago have rejected New Ways Ministry’s self-identification as a Catholic group.
The director of the Equal Future campaign is Tiernan Brady of Ireland, who was director of the successful referenda in Ireland and Australia to give legal recognition to gay marriage. He told the Financial Times that his campaign targeting the Catholic Church will draw on practices from the Irish and Australian campaigns.
“I think one of the things we’ve found in all these campaigns is we can talk about rights all we want, but it’s human stories that people understand and that appeal to people’s humanity,” Brady said.
He said the initial inclusion of same-sex couples’ photos in literature for the World Meeting of Families suggested that there was already sympathy for such couples at the Vatican, even though the photos were later removed. Brady argued the Church will end up campaigning “against the sons and daughters of the men and women in your pews,” and churchgoers won’t understand it.
For Schneible, it is important to let each person tell their story.
“But we do not stop there,” she said. “As Catholic Christians, we believe that we must always seek to understand our own stories in light of the Gospel, the story of salvation”
The wider discussion often ignores people who have same-sex attractions and embrace chastity, she said.
“Too often they are dismissed by members of the LGBT community as being dishonest, or self-hating, or deluded,” Schneible continued. “On the contrary, these courageous men and women testify that, as much happiness and pleasure as they seemed to have when they were pursuing same sex relationships, they have found a deeper joy, peace and freedom by embracing the call to chastity. They make many sacrifices in order to remain faithful, but many of them speak of the closeness they have found with Christ as they walk this path to holiness.”
One backer of the Equal Future campaign, Dignity USA, has taken several six figure grants from Jon Stryker’s Arcus Foundation to support the Equally Blessed Coalition, which includes New Ways Ministry. A 2014 grant targeted the Synod on the Family and World Youth Day, aiming “to support pro-LGBT faith advocates to influence and counter the narrative of the Catholic Church and its ultra-conservative affiliates.”
The foundation has given more than $390,000 to the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups for several activities, including advocacy related to the Synod on the Family. These activities include the forum’s response to “homophobic Catholic church family synod decisions” and efforts to “pursue its successful strategy of shifting traditional views.” The grants also fund the drafting, testing, and use of “a counter-narrative to traditional values,” according to the forum’s annual report and grant announcements from the U.S.-based foundation.
The foundation is also a grant maker to the Catholics United Education Fund, Catholics for Choice, and the Center for American Progress. It funded groups in ecclesial communities, including Episcopalian groups amid the breakup of the Anglican Communion over issues such as ecclesial authority and homosexuality.
The working document for the 2018 synod discusses increasing cultural instability and violent conflicts, but also that many young people, both inside and outside of the Church, are divided when it comes to topics related to sexuality, the role of women, and the need to be more welcoming to members of the LGBT community.
The document only briefly addresses the issue of homosexuality and related topics, saying that some LGBT youth who offered contributions to the synod’s general secretariat said they want to experience “greater closeness and greater care on the part of the Church.”
In their responses, bishops’ conferences also questioned how to respond to young people who have chosen to live a homosexual lifestyle, but who also want “to be close to the Church.”
Lisbeth Melendez Rivera, the Human Rights Campaign’s director of faith outreach and training, writing June 29 at the campaign’s website, has contended that aligned Catholics and LGBT activists “oscillate between hope and frustration” under Pope Francis. She said they have found some of his comments to be hurtful, such as the nature of the family as based on the union of man and woman.
At the same time, she welcomed Father James Martin, S.J.’s appearance at a workshop on LGBT bridge-building held at the World Meeting of Families in Dublin, which was organized by Cardinal Kevin Farrell.
For Rivera, the addition of “LGBT” as a descriptor in the working document for the upcoming Synod on Youth was “perhaps the most important development in recent weeks.”