Pro-LGBT faith leaders call for dialogue with U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Shower of Stoles

A leading organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Catholics has sent a letter to Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, urging for respectful and open dialogue related to LGBT people and their families. In addition, members of the National Religious Leadership Roundtable, convened by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, have issued statements supporting the letter.

The letter from DignityUSA and the supportive responses are below.

Open Letter to Archbishop Timothy Dolan, President
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Dear Archbishop Dolan,

Last week you accepted the resignation of Daniel Avila, who had served as policy adviser for marriage and family to the U.S. bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage. His recent column in the Boston Pilot suggesting that being lesbian or gay is the result of satanic influence proved an indefensible embarrassment.

That our bishops hired an individual with such extreme views to help influence the public policy of a diverse nation is highly problematic. It marginalizes Catholics in public debate and trivializes our proud history of representing those most excluded from our country’s aspiration of liberty and justice for all. It pushes our church to the fringes of moral relevance.

Even more significant is the pastoral damage done by this incident, and the many others like it in recent months. Catholic officials have sought to ban access to subsidized housing for lesbian and gay elders; terminated foster care and adoption programs rather than place children with trained, certified, loving same-sex couples; fired gay and lesbian people from their jobs for reasons that have nothing to do with professional performance; and banned our children from Catholic schools. Bishops have led the fight against access to equal benefit under the law for same-sex couples in committed relationships. Many of these battles have been brought to the pulpit, with homilies, video messages, and bulletin inserts that make us and our families feel attacked in the very place that should provide sanctuary for all. These actions contribute to the continued flood of members out of our church, and to diminishing commitment among those who remain.

If the U.S. Catholic bishops wish to have a credible, respected voice in ministering to people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) you need to begin to listen to us. If the bishops want to maintain any credibility in the public conversation about issues of justice for our community, you need to begin a conversation with us first. I urge you to immediately establish a process to meet with LGBT Catholics, our parents, siblings, grandparents, children, the sisters and priests who minister with us, and theologians wrestling with questions that are important to our community and our church. We can provide both pastoral and political insight rooted in the faith we hold dear.

One bright spot in recent history has been the Michigan Catholic Conference’s withdrawal of support for an anti-bullying bill that would have provided sweeping exemptions if perpetrators cited moral or religious motivation for their actions. This stance indicates one agreement from which we can begin a conversation: there is no justification for attacking another person. I believe that ending violence against those who are or who are perceived to be LGBT is a goal we share, and that by coming together on this issue the U.S. Catholic bishops, LGBT Catholics and those who love them could make a significant positive change in the lives of countless people who are victims of violent prejudice.

I am happy to assist in identifying individuals who would be willing to serve on a Pastoral and Policy Advisory Committee, or to engage in a series of conversations with you or other representatives of the conference. Such engagement would surely have profound ramifications for many people, families, our nation and our church. I look forward to your response.

Marianne Duddy-Burke
Executive Director

Additional Responses from National Religious Leadership Roundtable Members:

Mary E. Hunt, Ph.D., Co-Director, Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER):

The Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER) concurs with Dignity’s astute analysis of the situation. Our alliance includes many highly trained, competent and committed theologians, activists and ministers who could be tapped as advisors to the bishops on issues of sexual justice. Listening to the sensus fidelium and collaborating with those who do would be welcome next steps by the bishops. Our phones are open. We are ready to help.

Emily Eastwood, Executive Director, Lutherans Concerned/North America:

No matter our denomination, the pain purposefully inflicted on LGBT people by church leaders runs counter to the central message of God’s unconditional and reconciling love for humanity. We support DignityUSA in naming that pain and calling church leaders to meaningful dialogue with LGBT Catholics and their families, who are willing to put themselves at additional risk for the sake of their families and their faith. We applaud their courage and commitment, even as we pray for them and the church they love.

Andrew G. Lang, Executive Director, United Church of Christ Coalition for LGBT Concerns:

The United Church of Christ Coalition for LGBT Concerns — which supports the 1,000 congregations and other settings of our church that have welcomed LGBT Christians into fellowship — offers its prayerful support for our sisters and brothers in DignityUSA. We are deeply grateful for Dignity’s continued witness in the Roman Catholic community. Surely, Christ’s ministry of reconciliation is present in the call for an honest and open dialogue between Roman Catholic leaders and the church’s many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members. Similar dialogues have already happened in the Mormon and Southern Baptist churches, and to us they are a sign of hope. As Pope Benedict XVI has said in a different context, ‘Love is the light — and in the end, the only light — that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working.’ May Christ’s light make the hard work of dialogue possible — not only in the Roman Catholic Church, but in every community of faith.

Rev. Dr. Nancy L. Wilson, Moderator, Metropolitan Community Churches:

As the moderator of the Metropolitan Community Church with congregations in Europe, Asia, Africa, North America and Latin America, I have personally seen the human suffering caused by religiously motivated persecution of people who are perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.

Families across this world are waiting for the Roman Catholic Church to express respect their children who are on the continuum of orientation and gender identity. The way for your leaders to stop making egregious errors such as equating gay people with the devil, is to be in conversation with leaders from DignityUSA and their coalition partners. Despite past errors, it is possible for the Roman Catholic Church to live up to its own beliefs in the sacredness of all humankind.

The Roman Catholic Church has a long track record of speaking out in support of human rights. It’s time for you to speak out for the dignity of all people before more persecution takes the lives of people whose differences are only who they love and how they express their gender. Please make the conversations with DignityUSA a reality.

Rev. Rebecca Voelkel, Institute for Welcoming Resources and Faith Work Director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force:

As a Christian pastor who values deeply all the spiritual wisdom I gain from my Catholic colleagues, I give thanks for the witness this statement embodies. We are called to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God, but, too, often our churches instead bring devastation to the LGBT community. The Roman Catholic Church must do better. As Christians, we all must do better.

Rev. Troy Plummer, Executive Director, Reconciling Ministries Network, United Methodist Church:

As the executive director of Reconciling Ministries Network, a network of United Methodists who work to garner support for all people of faith, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, I urge you to enter into serious theological and pastoral conversations with DignityUSA and its partner organizations.

Basic human dignity for all people is a priority for DignityUSA, as well as the Roman Catholic Church. If leaders in the Roman Catholic Church could begin to live up to its own values of human rights and civil liberties in the public sphere, it would begin to regain the credibility and respect that it has previously enjoyed.

The United Methodist Church is a global church and has significant ministries in locales where the Roman Catholic Church has a strong presence. We know that if Roman Catholic officials spoke out against persecution, physical violence, incarceration and execution based on perceived sexual orientation and gender identity, our world would be much further along in creating civil societies of mutual tolerance and respect.