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Towards a church apology for gay prejudice

Gays and GraysSome years ago I spent a year in Australia and presided at the Acceptance Mass from time to time. Acceptance is the Sydney gay Catholic caucus. Hence my interest in the 100Revs Statement of Apology to the gay community, the courageous initiative of Baptist pastor Mike Hercock and other Christian clergy. The Statement is carefully worded, and in line with Catholic teaching. It recognises that churches have not been places of welcome for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people.

Indeed churches have often been profoundly unloving toward the GLBT community. Many Catholics and other Christians long for their churches to be places of welcome for all people and commit themselves to pursuing this goal.

The 100 Revs Statement adds that signatories are not taking a biblical position on gay and lesbian relationships. It is a pastoral document, rather than a teaching one. It brings together clergy who have very different views on the issue of gay relationships, who nonetheless recognise the value of a church apology to gay people.

For some years, I have been associated with the Most Holy Redeemer Catholic parish in the Castro district of San Francisco. Approximately three quarters of the parishioners are openly gay. One — Patrick Mulcahey — spoke to me about his return to the Catholic Church, at Most Holy Redeemer, some years ago. He described the experience as 'what any Catholic would feel after 20-odd years away'.

'It was the church itself, in all its majesty and mystery and ordinary goodness; in the sturdy beauty of a well-wrought liturgy ... for the first time since I was old enough to understand myself as a sexual being, it was a church that wasn't pushing me away.'

He suggested that any Catholic who'd been on a desert island for 20 years would have felt the same thing upon walking into a church where a decent priest was saying mass. But it was something he believed he could not have felt in any other church.

'People don't understand why gay men and lesbians migrate to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, cities all around the world that have flourishing gay ghettos,' he said. 'To be with 'others of our own kind?' To have wild sex and go to great parties?

'The truth is, mostly we come here to forget about being gay, to just drop that burden — to just be human. For us, Most Holy Redeemer is the church where you can go and just be Catholic.'

'Acceptance?', by Chris Johnston Pastoral practices are changing in some places. Nonetheless parishes like Most Holy Redeemer remain the exception. At Acceptance and Most Holy Redeemer I constantly hear the stories of Gay Catholics who were pushed away through a mixture of hostility, ignorance and denial. Usually this homophobia adversely affected their relationship with God.

These Catholics are happy to have found a Catholic community that is safe and where the healing, liberating, and unconditional love of Jesus is understood as being for all people, regardless of sexual orientation.

Church teaching is generally condemnatory regarding homosexual acts. But the Catechism, following the practice of Jesus, says this concerning gay people: 'They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.' (2358)

The US Bishops echoed this back in 1976, when they said: 'Homosexuals, like everyone else, should not suffer from prejudice against their basic human rights. They have a right to respect, friendship and justice. They should have an active role in the Christian community'.

Around the world gay people struggle to find a place at the table of our churches. In Christian faith, the challenge is to follow Jesus. This means being like him — a person who spent a lot of time with people the rest of society rejected.

The challenge in this case is for the church to be a community that confesses its own brokenness and reaches out to minister a healing reconciliation between the races, between the young and the old, between liberal and conservative, gay and straight, lesbian, bisexual and transgender. The 100Revs Statement is a commendable response to the alienation many gay Christians experience.

A truly prophetic Christian community can hold firm to the gospel, and at the same time embrace people regardless of difference. The prejudice gay people often experience in church parishes and congregations has nothing to do with the gospel of Jesus.

100 Revs

Donal GodfreyDonal Godfrey SJ is Executive Director, University Ministry at The University of San Francisco. He is author of “Gays and Grays: The Story of the Inclusion of the Gay Community at Most Holy Redeemer Catholic parish,” which is to be republished by Lexington Books in a paperback edition this month.



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Existing comments

As I have many gay friends, good men who are entitled to respect friendship and a place at the table of the Lord, apart from bringing their gifts for creativity at the same time, I applaud the publishing of this article and the sentiments it expresses so well. Thank you again for your work in publishing such pertinent and well crafted articles.

helen m donnellan | 02 March 2008  

Congratulations on your initiative to embrace Gays and Lesbians in your church. I know several people of this orientation and I consider them beautiful and misunderstood persons who endure a lot of hurt. I hope the Church doesn't curtail your ministry.

Charmaine Storey | 03 March 2008  

Gays are like other people on this earth, we all live with our differences and hope others will accept us as we are. Why should it matter what others do in bed with a consenting partner? Jesus taught inclusiveness, compassion and love, and I believe the church needs to believe and teach this too if it is to follow in Christ's footsteps. God has blessed the gays and travels with them, but it's a hard road.

Linda Rees | 03 March 2008  

I have never heard of one instance of Catholic parishes showing "unjust discrimination" against those who suffer from sexual attraction to people of the same sex, or "prejudice against their basic human rights" or "push[ing them] away through a mixture of hostility, ignorance and denial". Perhaps what Mr Godfrey asserts is "discrimination" is merely the Church stating the constant truth that sodomy is a mortal sin which must be resisted just like any other. The Church has nothing to "apologise" to homosexuals for.

P Kennedy | 03 March 2008  

While Our Lord was inclusive in that He accepted and loved all people He also challenged those who were living sinful lifestyles to 'Go sin no more'. While all people should be welcomed into the Church without exception, this does not equate with accepting those practices that are contrary to God's law - homosexual actions being one of them. Linda's comments here express the confusion many people have in differentiating between the two.

Broderick Larsen | 03 March 2008  

I find it interesting that the overwhelming majority of people who argue against the moral justification of homosexual practice are men. To me this suggests that the judgment is primarily a visceral one, closely linked to a sense of perceived masculinity and a sense of repugnance regarding the act of sodomy itself.

Charles Boy | 03 March 2008  

I am astounded by P Kenny's claim that they have never heard of "unjust discrimination" against gays. Remember HIV and AIDS? For an example, how about the blatant lie of Mozambique's Archbishop Francisco Chimoio “I know of two countries in Europe who are making condoms with (the) virus on purpose, they want to finish with African people as part of their program to colonise the continent.” With 16% of the population infected this was prejudice on a grand scale against anyone whose sexuality didn't fit that of the Church. Not only has the church discriminated against gay catholics, it has actively interfered in the development of secular legislation to protect gays (and LBT) from discrimination and has sought to stymie the secular fight against AIDS. It is one thing to state your philosophy but another to actively force it upon other people. Didn't Jesus compel not force people to follow him?

Eric Glare | 04 March 2008  

Eric Glare - Abp Chimoio's controversial and unique comment was vehemently refuted by his own bishops conference within 24 hours, and in any case it had nothing to do with any supposed unjust discrimination against homosexuals.

The feedback here has confirmed my suspicion that the Church's alleged "unjust discrimination" against people with same-sex attractions consists merely in its stating the fact that sodomy is a sin. The Church does not "force" anyone to become or remain a Catholic. All it asks is that if you refuse to believe and practice what the Catholic Church teaches, please don't claim to be a "Catholic".

Of course the Church "interferes" in proposals for secular legislation which infringe basic human rights and dignity. Not all "discrimination" is unjust discrimination, in fact in many cases NOT to discriminate is unjust and an infringement of human rights and dignity.

The fact is, the Catholic Church and its teaching is by far the most effective player in the fight against AIDS. The strategy of promoting condom use to fight AIDS has failed miserably everywhere it has been tried, and has in fact only increased AIDS rates.

P Kennedy | 04 March 2008  

P Kenny thinks the Church's stance on homosexuality consists of stating that sodomy is a sin. I am saying that the Catholic Church has gone further, saying that sodomy (gay not hetero) should be illegal even for those who say there are no gods. This is based on your [Catholics'] own comfort, not the 'good' of people it affects.

You can't substantiate your claim that condoms strategies have failed miserably. The key failures have been in the USA and Africa where religious-based condoms-last policies have killed millions. Australia and Canada are the two not-so-miserable success stories where secular community-based campaigns have saved many but thorough education is still lacking.

My conclusion: homosexuals will not be truly welcomed in the church while the church persecutes those gays without disproportionate to many other 'sins'.

Eric Glare | 05 March 2008  

Eric - of course the civil law should be exactly the same for Catholics and atheists. Anything else would be religious persecution. Sodomy can never do any "good" to anyone; it's harmful not only spiritually, but morally, emotionally, physically and mentally to the sodomiser and to others.

No country which placed its primary anti-AIDS strategy on condoms has managed to reduce AIDS rates, they have only increased, as in Southern Africa. Meanwhile Uganda, which once had the world's highest AIDS rate has for the last 18 years promoted monogamy and fidelity (in line with Church teaching) as its primary strategy against AIDS, now has the lowest rate in Africa.

Where is the "disproportionate" "persecution" of gays compared to other sins? The Church supports civil laws against most of MY favourite sins. And the pope, bishops and priests inveigh against other sins 100 times more often than against sodomy.

P Kennedy | 05 March 2008  

Mr Boy, you seem to think that a visceral repugnance to sodomy is a bad thing. On the contrary: one of the best defences against sin which God has given us, is our natural feeling of revulsion towards sin.

P Kennedy | 05 March 2008  

Mr Kennedy - I'm not sure your argument holds water. There are plenty of people, gay and straight, who do not experience a sense of repugnance at the thought of anal sex. This suggests that the repugnance you speak of has more to do with personal biases than any God-given 'sin-dar'. Furthermore, as I previously stated, the fact that the majority of people who experience said repugnance are men, suggests that it's closely connected to perceptions of masculinity, which are largely prescribed by mainstream society. The judgment is therefore not a moral one but a personal and social one, even if it is justified using moral language.

Charles Boy | 05 March 2008  

Mr Kennedy, Mr Glare and Mr Boy - Thank you for your contributions to this debate. You've all had a thorough and thoughtful airing of your viewpoints. I think we'll put a cap on this line of discussion now. Please keep future comments about this article on topic. Thanks.

Tim Kroenert (Fedback moderator) | 05 March 2008  

Thank you for the article and the comments. I too celebrate Mass every month for Acceptance Sydney and have been with them in the Mardi Gras Parade on quite a number of occasions including this year when the 100 Revs were only a few positions away from us in the Parade. Unfortunately, the powers that be here in Sydney are already flexing the muscles with World Youth Day coming up. We had asked for a workshop to be included in the program but you can imagine how that was received! Anyway, we continue to bring the inclusion of all people to the attention of the Church and we just have to cope with the outright prejudice and downright unkindness of some of the bishops.

Again thanks for the article.

Fr Roy O'Neill MSC | 06 March 2008  

I have been a parishioner for six years and, like many of my companion parishioners, was away from Catholicism for many years. To get an overview of the parish, click here. But even that will only give you an overview. Fr Godfrey’s book gives a good history of how the parish was changed after many years of being a place of bigotry and violence against gays and lesbians. A wonderful priest (Fr Tony McGuire) and nun (Sr Cleta Herold) redeemed the parish.

Over the years the parish has become one of the frequently visited in the Archdiocese for people who are interested in effective ministries and truly inspiring liturgies. The two prior Archbishops were highly appreciative of the work of the parish and the way the parishioners attend and celebrate our liturgies.

The BBC saw fit on 22 October 2006 to record the liturgy and aired the recorded program on 29 April 2007. The producer indicated that broadcasting a worship service from a gay and lesbian perspective was a “first for the BBC”. (Download transcript or audio of the broadcast here.

The only way for anyone to get a feel for the parish is to visit in person. Those who can will be warmly welcomed and “blown away” by what you see and hear.

Jim McCrea
Piedmont, CA

Jim McCrea | 10 March 2008  

i was disappointed that this article wasn't at all critical of the 100 Revs. it's all very well to say they are making a step in the right direction, that their statement is 'pastoral' rather than 'teaching' - and certainly the first part of that statement is true. but for lesbian and gay christians, it's hardly 'pastoral' to say 'we aren't quite prepared to even talk about whether you're okay the way you are, or whether you maybe need to change or stay celibate'. the question of how we understand the bible's teachings on homosexuality is crucial for lesbians and gays, and it's pretty hard to feel accepted while that hangs unresolved in the air.

by all means, let's praise the 100 Revs for their bravery; but it's important to go further. in particular they need to make sure that they are genuinely listening to gays and lesbians, not pushing their own agenda.

bronislava | 17 March 2008  

I was deeply conflicted when I realised I was gay. On the one hand I felt whole and 'in my skin' for the first time in my life (I was 25). On the other I felt my sexual identity excluded me from the faith which had sustained me during a painful early life. Acceptance and the priests who ministered there made me see the truth of God's love for me as I am and as I was born. I am a lesbian whether sexually active or otherwise. Maybe I am wrong in my belief that God loves the lesbian me because he made the lesbian me - if so I know he knows me those that condemn me do not. I get a lot of strength and peace from attending my parish church and am fully embraced by the priest and many of the laity. I hope my example shows young people in the same position that it is possible to be gay and still partake in the life of the Church. Yes the Church owes an apology to all those she has abandoned in their pain but this can begin at your local parish.

Liz Munro | 05 April 2008  

I have just found this site. article of Donal Godfrey is impressive. My point is I have, as a result of trying to understand my gay status these past 73 years, composed a commentary for myself which I could not get the rector of my church to comment on, and I would really like to have an opinion on the merit of its content ... if any. How might I go about submitting it to a responsible person for criticism. Sincerely.

Bob McDonald | 17 July 2008  

I am the pastor of a small non-denominational church in Southern California. I am truly interested in this whole conversation. I think I understand how deeply personal being homosexual must be for someone. I think of the sins of my own past and how much a part of me they were - even still are. Yet, as a disciple of Jesus Christ, I must acknowledge that when I came to Christ, I was called to die to myself and the old ways of my sinful life. I was called to be a new creature and put on the 'new self'. I sincerely wonder if it is anything but honest and loving to call homosexual disciples to that same death to the old life? I never want to present homosexuality as the worst of sins or the one worthy of most of my attention, but how can I be honest to God and His Word while failing to call all people to live like Christ in all ways? I appreciate the spirit of the article and do agree that the Church has failed to love. Yet, I can't love without telling the truth as best I know it, can I?

R Parish | 25 July 2008  

R Parish said it best. It is a tough problem with real human consequences. Churches have gone from ignoring the issue to either rejection or dishonesty.

We need to get it right and there needs to be more Christian organisations like Exodus International - particularly those branches with effective programs (trying and failing is disheartening).

Currently most people who identify as gay but believe in God are in a prison where they either reject God or hate themselves or just pretend God made them that way. They need an authentic Christian way out or at least the awareness of possibility.

J | 14 August 2008  

While I agree that prejudice has nothing to do with the Gospel of Jesus, there is not a monopoly on prejudice, I feel for example, prejudice towards women in the Church, prejudice towards mental health patients, and highlighting this issue seemingly as the only hurt, is only causing further alienation and separation.

Anne Keohane | 31 December 2009  

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