I hear that the Office for Family, Laity, Youth, and Young Adults of the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis is planning another “Laity Forum”. Let’s hope that unlike last year’s forum, this one actually allows the laity to speak and to share their insights and experiences.
This year the event is being billed as a “Family Forum”, and aims to commemorate Pope John Paul II’s 1981 Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris Consortio (“The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World”).
Entitled “Building on the Foundation” and set for tomorrow, October 28, this year’s family-focused forum will feature sessions on marriage preparation, parenting, grandparenting, Godparenting, family formation, domestic violence, and the transmitting of the faith.
Of course, there’s no recognition or acknowledgement in any of the forum's events of Catholic parents of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons, or of Catholic LGBT couples, their families, and their particular needs in the midst of societal (and, sadly, ecclesiastical) homophobia.
But at least this year’s event doesn’t seem to be being used, as was last year’s, to encourage the Catholic laity to actively support the damaging and unfair “marriage amendment”. If passed, this amendment to the Minnesota State Constitution would have banned not only civil marriage for lesbians and gays in Minnesota, but “all legal equivalents”. Thankfully, the amendment was defeated earlier this year.
Yet if the archdiocese had had its way, the amendment would have passed and discrimination would have been enshrined into Minnesota’s Constitution. Last November’s so-called “Laity Forum” was but one way by which the archdiocese attempted to rally the laity to support this particular form of discrimination. The forum featured, among others, Fr. Thomas Loya who spoke on the “Theology of the Body” – an impoverished sexual theology championed by reactionary elements within the church, and one that excludes the experiences of many straight people and all LGBT people. There was also a panel specifically designed to instruct the members of the laity on how they could ferment support for the proposed amendment in their parishes.
I attended last year’s November 5 forum, along with other members of the Catholic laity opposed to the amendment, to offer an alternative perspective on issues such as the “Theology of the Body” and gay marriage. The next day I shared, via an e-mail to family and friends, my experience of the forum. Following are excerpts from this e-mail:
I felt it was important to be present at yesterday’s Laity Forum [. . .] Upon arrival, I stood in the lobby of the O’Shaughnessy Education Center with one of the signs [CPCSM co-founder] David McCaffrey and I had made the previous night. The one I held read: “Comprehending the ‘Fullness of Truth’ requires listening to all of our voices – gay and straight.”
Looking around, I was somewhat surprised by the low attendance. At most there were 120 people. Of these 15-20 were there to express their concern, disappointment, and in some cases, outrage, that the archdiocese is so aggressively supporting the proposed state constitutional amendment that would ban civil marriage and all legal equivalents to same-sex couples.
While standing in the lobby I had a good conversation with a guy named Tom who was staffing the Courage table. [Note: Courage is a national network of support groups dedicated to promoting celibacy among homosexual Catholics.] A friend who attended Courage for a while before deciding it wasn’t for him, later told me that Tom was one of the more “healthier” guys he had befriended there.
Tom suggested that Courage and CPCSM co-host an event that would involve representatives from both organizations simply sharing their faith journeys with one another. I readily agreed that this would be a good idea. Yet later, when I approached him to get his contact information so we could meet and talk further about this cooperative endeavor, he backed off and said I’d probably need to talk to Kathy Laird, head of the archdiocesan Office for Family, Laity, Youth, and Young Adults. Somehow I don’t think this particular idea will go down too well with her.
At the last minute I decided to go in and listen to the “marriage amendment” panel. This particular event, we were soon told, was an “informational session”, i.e. no questions were to be asked. That didn’t go down too well with at least one priest of the archdiocese, or with several members of the laity. After all, in the case of the latter, it was suppose to be their forum. Yet everyone who raised a hand or lifted their voice was rebuked and told to be quiet.
The tension produced by this heavy-handed approach by the organizers was palpable. If this “informational panel” was to be followed by a question and answer session, then I could understand why it would be important to let the panelists speak without interruption. But with the awareness that there would be absolutely no opportunity to raise questions or offer comments within the context of the actual event, I could well understand the frustration of several members of the laity.
As this session was ending I exited and resumed my position in the lobby holding my sign. [Catholic Rainbow Parents president] Mary Lynn Murphy was beside me and next to her a young high school student who eyed our signs inquisitively.
The audience filed out of the auditorium, and Mary Lynn suddenly found herself being confronted and verbally assaulted by a heavy-set, red-faced man, screaming that she “needed to know the truth.” Mary Lynn backed away, firmly but calmly informing him that people like him scared her, and telling him that he needed to “get out of my face.”
She raised the palm of her hand as he continued to yell and advance. Her hand may have touched his chest, but it was purely an act of self-defense. He responded by violently shoving her back against some tables.
The mouth of the young male student standing nearby dropped open. “You just hit a woman!” he exclaimed. I pushed myself against the man who had lashed out at Mary Lynn, my hands upon his shoulders, my sign crushed between us. Other men – many of whom clearly knew this particular guy – rushed forward to subdue him. He was still incredibly angry and was screaming at Mary Lynn who, though shaken, was uninjured. In time, the man was escorted away by his friends and a security guard.
Later outside, I overheard an interesting conversation between the woman who had been part of the “marriage amendment” panel and Dr. Simon Rosser. During the panel presentation, this particular woman had made the comment that, “We all know that children flourish better with one mom and one dad.”
Simon noted that such a comment, though appropriate as an opinion, was not actually supported by the current research. This research actually says that there is no discernible difference between children raised by opposite-gender couples and those raised by same-gender couples – with the exception that the latter have been shown to more tolerant of difference.
Overall, it was a very interesting day – though one that was also extremely draining. I’m glad there were members of the Catholic laity present who offered an alternative perspective on issues such as the “Theology of the Body” and the “Marriage Amendment.”
I truly believe in the messages of the sign I held: that “Comprehending the ‘Fullness of Truth’ requires listening to all of our voices” – even, or perhaps especially, those voices that some fearfully and angrily condemn as dissident.
Thanks to all of you who lifted your voice calmly and compassionately at yesterday’s forum.
November 6, 2005
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Somewhere In Between
Good News from Minnesota
Vatican Stance on Gay Priests Signals Urgent Need for Renewal and Reform
Celebrating Our Sanctifying Truth
My Rainbow Sash Experience
A Catholic's Prayer for His Fellow Pilgrim, Benedict XVI