Church chang­ing its tone on LGBT Catholics

Lodi News-Sentinel - - Opinion - THE REV. JIM MARTIN The Rev. James Martin is a Je­suit pri­est and au­thor of “Build­ing a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Com­mu­nity Can En­ter into a Re­la­tion­ship of Re­spect, Com­pas­sion and Sen­si­tiv­ity.” He wrote this for Newsday.

Some­thing new is hap­pen­ing in the Catholic Church. Its re­la­tion­ship with LGBT peo­ple in some parts of the coun­try is chang­ing.

Last month, Car­di­nal Joseph Tobin, the arch­bishop of Newark, N.J., wel­comed a large group of LGBT peo­ple to his cathe­dral. “I am Joseph, your brother,” he said, echo­ing words from the Old Tes­ta­ment. A Mass was then cel­e­brated for the con­gre­ga­tion of LGBT peo­ple. Un­der his pre­de­ces­sor, Arch­bishop John Mey­ers, such a Mass would have been close to un­think­able.

A few months ear­lier, Bishop John Stowe of Lex­ing­ton, Ky., spoke be­fore New Ways Min­istry, a group that min­is­ters to and ad­vo­cates for LGBT Catholics. In 1999, New Ways was sub­ject to a con­dem­na­tion by the Vat­i­can’s Con­gre­ga­tion for the Doc­trine of the Faith, and its two founders, the Rev. John Nu­gent (now de­ceased) and Sis­ter Jean­nine Gram­ick, were cen­sured. That a sit­ting bishop would ad­dress the group is a sea change.

And ear­lier this month, a book I’ve writ­ten on the need for the church to reach out to LGBT peo­ple more com­pas­sion­ately was en­dorsed by two car­di­nals — Newark’s Car­di­nal Tobin and Car­di­nal Kevin Far­rell, who heads the Vat­i­can’s of­fice on the laity, fam­ily and life. For good mea­sure, Bishop Robert McEl­roy of San Diego also en­dorsed the book.

How has this hap­pened? As I see it, there are two an­swers.

The first is ob­vi­ous: Pope Francis. We can­not un­der­es­ti­mate the im­pact of his re­sponse to a ques­tion about gay priests: “Who am I to judge?” Later, when pressed, he said his com­ments re­ferred to gay peo­ple in gen­eral.

Dur­ing his visit to the United States in 2015, he met with a former stu­dent, a gay man named Yayo Grassi, and his part­ner. The pope’s words and ac­tions be­to­ken a friend­lier at­ti­tude in the church, even if he has not changed any church teach­ing. And each of the clergy I have men­tioned — Car­di­nals Tobin and Far­rell, Bish­ops Stowe and McEl­roy — were ap­pointed by Francis.

“... some in the church are tak­ing a fresh look at its re­la­tion­ship with LGBT Catholics is hap­pen­ing in the grass roots.”

The sec­ond rea­son why some in the church are tak­ing a fresh look at its re­la­tion­ship with LGBT Catholics is hap­pen­ing in the grass roots.

A few months ago, I gave a lec­ture at Yale Univer­sity’s Catholic Cen­ter. An el­derly woman ap­proached, “Fa­ther, I have some­thing to tell you,” she said. “My grand­child is trans­gen­der, and I love her so much, and want her to feel at home in the church. Thank you for writ­ing your book.”

It was a re­minder that, even in the past decade, more Catholics feel com­fort­able com­ing out. Last year, the son of a Catholic fa­ther I know came out at age 16. A few years ago, the grand­mother I met at Yale might not have even met a trans­gen­der per­son. Now this per­son is some­one she loves. In­creas­ingly, this is the face of the Catholic Church in many parts of our coun­try.

Catholics are re­al­iz­ing, in greater num­bers, that LGBT peo­ple have been ex­cluded like no other group in their church. This is be­com­ing clearer be­cause more peo­ple are hear­ing their voices, and be­cause Pope Francis has al­lowed Catholics to speak about these is­sues more openly.

This thaw is not hap­pen­ing ev­ery­where. In many U.S. parishes, LGBT peo­ple still feel ex­cluded; in some parts of the world, they are treated with con­tempt. And some peo­ple feel the pope has not done enough by way of change, point­ing, for ex­am­ple, to the sec­tion in the Cat­e­chism that la­bels ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity as “ob­jec­tively dis­or­dered.”

How­ever, these steps are a good start and the work of the Holy Spirit. As such, these changes not only shouldn’t be stopped. They can­not be stopped.

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