Monday, August 25, 2014

Catholics Make Their Voices Heard on LGBTQ Issues

I conclude this year's Queer Appreciation series with a post that really should have concluded last year's series. Oh, well, better late than never.

Let me explain by first saying that the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), the organization for which I've served as executive coordinator since 2003, did not have a presence at this year's Twin Cities Gay Pride. This was due to a number of factors, the main one being that we're in the process of disbanding the organization.

Basically, the board feels that CPCSM has run its course. We've accomplished some incredible things in our 33-year history, including groundbreaking LGBT sensitivity training in local parishes in the 1980s; safe staff training in eight of the eleven Catholic high schools in the 1990s; publication of the first (and to date only) safe staff training manual for Catholic high schools in 2007; and the forming of the Catholics for Marriage Equality MN initiative in 2010, which played an important role in defeating the anti-marriage equality amendment of 2012,  paving the way for marriage equality in Minnesota in 2013. There's still work to be done, but we're confident that both Dignity Twin Cities and the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (which CPCSM helped co-found in 2009) are more than able to carry forward many aspects of CPCSM's mission and work.

We did have a presence at last year's Twin Cities Pride. It was a celebratory presence (as this previous Wild Reed post attests) and one which involved not only our celebrating marriage equality in Minnesota, but also our surveying of visitors who stopped at our festival booth. Specifically, we invited those who visited us to complete a questionnaire so as to help us discern the future of CPCSM.

As a result of the feedback we received, the board of CPCSM, as noted above, decided that the time has come for the organization to fold. I'll say more about this later, but first here are the questions we asked and the responses we received.


Two hundred and twenty people completed our questionnaire. Here’s how they identified themselves (using as many of the following descriptors as they deemed appropriate):

• Catholic – 136
• Straight – 58
• Non-practicing Catholic – 42
• Lesbian – 35
• Former Catholic – 24
• Gay – 22
• Bisexual – 15
• Queer – 3
• Transgender – 2
• Other* – 20

* Included: Protestant (x3); Old Catholic (x2); Human; United Methodist; Charismatic/Evangelical; LDS; Recovering Catholic; Lutheran; Non-Catholic, Ally; UU; Unitarian; Atheist; Mother of a gay son; Christian; Discerning Catholic; Non-Catholic member of a Catholic family.

Question 1: What do you think is the most pressing area of concern for LGBTQ people in the Roman Catholic Church?

Overwhelmingly, responders said lack of acceptance (also lack of ‘tolerance,’ ‘love,’ ‘inclusion,’ ‘recognition,’ ‘listening,’ ‘compassion,’ ‘dialogue,’ ‘support,’ ‘welcome’). Some noted that this lack of acceptance was from parish communities, though most said it was from the hierarchy (the ‘big church,’ the ‘institution,’ the ‘bishops.’).

Other areas of concern included:
• Equality
• Sacramental marriage
• Bishops’ anti-gay political activism around civil marriage and anti-bullying legislation
• Discrimination/prejudice
• Visibility
• Women’s rights
• Anti-gay Biblical passages
• Anti-gay preaching
• Honesty when dealing with issues of sexuality
• The misconception that gay is wrong and a sin
• Ending hierarchical power politics
• Being disowned by one’s parish
• Shared governance within the church
• Conflict resolution
• Homophobia of hierarchy
• Difference between clergy and laity

Question 2: How would you describe your relationship to the Church?

• Very active (31)
• Non-existent (13)
• Distant (12)
• Attend regularly, disagree on many social issues (12)
• Strained (9)
• Good (7)
• Strong (5)
• Went when younger, not as much anymore (5)
• Not active (4)
• Angry (4)
• Somewhat active (3)
• Haven’t found an accepting church (2)
• Faithful Catholic (2)
• Withdrawn (2)
• Challenging (2)

Other responses included: Have many Catholic friends; Just an outside viewer; The body of the church is excellent but I don’t like the top; Only attend Mass on holidays; Used to be close, but not anymore; Go to church when told but do not feel connected; Back after taking a year off; Could be better; Not strong; Seminary student; Belong to an amazing church community but the church as a whole makes me nervous; A progressive Vatican II Catholic who is active in social justice ministry, Call to Action, and CCCR; Uncomfortable; Controversial; Attended Catholic school; Love the individual, not too proud of the “organization”; Very religious; Former Catholic, now Lutheran; Generally believe most principles; Strongly against the gay lifestyle; Open/honest; Happily divorced and looking for a post divorced friendship; Practicing Catholic; Bad; In progress; Left the church because of the discrimination; Semi-practicing; Precarious; Left the church and joined a welcoming non-Catholic congregation; Catholic but distant from hierarchy; Poor; Do not like how closed-minded the church tends to be; God is #1 and the Church is the path to God; Was brought up in the Church and denied acceptance from parents for being transgender; Disgusted; More spiritual than religious; Close but concerned with the leadership; Uneven – the church does some good things and some not-so-good; Atheist; Do not feel welcome; Painful; Safe, warm environment; Cold – because of how gays are treated; Skeptical; Love Jesus and the message but the church is full of old white men who have no idea; I work for the church.

Question 3: Where do you currently find affirmation and spiritual nourishment?

• Church (51)
• Prayer (23)
• Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis (13)
• Nature (11)
• Family (11)
• Friends (11)
• St. Joan of Arc, Minneapolis (10)
• Pax Christi, Eden Prairie (7)
• Nowhere (7)
• Home (5)
• Meditation (5)
• The Bible (5)
• Music (4)
• Self-reflection (4)
• Reading (3)
• Community (2)
• Personal relationship with God (2)
• Yoga (2)
• Youth group (2)
• Myself (2)

Others responses included: Dignity Boston; Unity Church in Golden Valley; Lutheran Church; St. Olaf Catholic Church, Minneapolis; God; St. Michael Catholic Church, St. Michael, MN; AA; Recovery program; Exercise; St. Catherine University; Spirit of Hope Catholic Community; Science; Cathedral of St. Paul; Love.

Question 4: What are the issues you would like CPCSM to focus on in the future:

• Sacramental marriage for LGBTQ Catholics (135)
• Anti-bullying (130)
• Issues relating to wider church reform, such as women’s ordination (122)
• Establishment of alternative forms of (and venues for) worship and pastoral support (98)
• LGBTQ civil rights issues such as immigration reform (70)
• Transgender issues (45)
• Other* (19)

* Included: Acceptance (x4); Welcoming of openly gay people to the sacraments, including Eucharist (x2); Keeping our LGBT kids feeling whole and worthy of God’s love; Disability access – full inclusion of people with disabilities; “Get rid of the Archbishop”; Reconciling Catholicism to the fact that gay people exist; Parish-based programs of welcome; Poverty issues.


It's interesting, don't you think, that the number one issue that folks want CPCSM to work on is sacramental marriage for LGBTQ Catholics? Personally, I have absolutely no desire to work on this issue, and having recently worked on securing civil marriage rights for LGBTQ couples in Minnesota, the CPCSM board is also reluctant to now take on the Catholic hierarchy on this particular issue. Besides, and I speak for myself here, I don't need the blessing of the hierarchy if and when I marry the man I love. Still, it's clearly important for many LGBTQ Catholics, and something that is no doubt connected to the "lack of acceptance" many identified as the "most pressing area of concern."

The second issue that people said they'd like to see CPCSM work on was anti-bullying in schools. We've been involved in such work for some time, dating back to our safe staff training initiative in local Catholic high schools in the mid-late 1990s, and culminating in the 2007 publication of Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective (which I edited and in large part wrote). Also, earlier this year the Minnesota legislature passed the Safe and Supportive Schools bill, a bill that CPCSM supported. Of course, thanks to intense lobbying from the Minnesota bishops, Catholic schools are exempt from the anti-bullying policies enacted when the bill become law. Still, many believe (or at least hope) that in time the shift in the wider society around this issue will impact the climate of Catholic schools. Also, as documented here, a leading local Catholic voice in challenging the bishops' hostility toward legislation ensuring safe and supportive schools for LGBTQ students was the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR). The CPCSM board trusts that CCCR's informed and respectful advocacy on this issue will continue.

Issues relating to wider church reform, identified as important by those surveyed by CPCSM at last year's Gay Pride festival, are also very much being covered by CCCR. In particular, CCCR is working on ensuring lay participation in the selection of our next archbishop. As for the establishment of alternative forms of (and venues for) worship and pastoral support, another identified need, we have in the Twin Cities one of the most vibrant examples of this: Spirit of St. Stephen's Catholic Community. Not surprising, members of Spirit of St. Stephens are organizing "Living the Gospel, Collective Voices," the 4th national conference of Intentional Eucharistic Communities, set for June 26-28, 2015. So, again, the CPCSM board feels that yet another local group has already assumed leadership in an area important to LGBTQ Catholics.

We hope to have some sort of celebration of the history and accomplishments of CPCSM in the fall. Once plans for this have been finalized I'll post them here at The Wild Reed, as well as at The Progressive Catholic Voice and at Sensus Fidelium, CPCSM's blogsite.

For previous posts in The Wild Reed's 2014 Queer Appreciation series, see:
Same-Sex Desires: "Immanent and Essential Traits Transcending Time and Culture"
Lisa Leff on Five Things to Know About Transgender People
Steven W. Thrasher on the Bland and Misleading "Gay Inc" Treatment of the Struggle to Overturn Prop 8
Chris Mason Johnson's Test: A Film that "Illuminates Why Queer Cinema Still Matters"
Sister Teresa Forcades on Queer Theology
Omar Akersim: Muslim and Gay

Images: Michael J. Bayly.

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