Stop Apologizing and Do More
by Ben Brenkert, Ed.D., L.M.S.W.
The Roman Catholic Church commenced a council of the church in October 2021, a Synod on Synodality where LGBTQ+ voices are unwelcome. Immediately the council’s purpose, to journey together and to reflect together “on the journey that has been made, the Church will be able to learn through Her experience which processes can help Her to live communion, to achieve participation, to open Herself to mission” is exclusionary for LGBTQ+ who are among the most marginalized and oppressed by the Church, as codified by its doctrine that same-sex love is a sin, that LGBTQ+ who act on their human desires cannot receive communion (sic the Eucharist). As of 12/14/21 the video created by New Ways Ministry was published, not for the public, but in an internal-private Synodal-participant-only website. Of course it remains theologically messy and muddy if the Church understands the LGBTQ+ person to be innately, intrinsically sinful – can part of the human person be separated from the whole human person? [See https://www.usccb.org/synod]
Brian Fraga, a staff reporter for the National Catholic Reporter, found that by December 7, the Vatican’s General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops removed the LGBTQ+ Catholic advocacy group, New Ways Ministry’s “webinar video from a resources website for the 2021-2023 synod on synodality. The crime? New Ways Ministry supports civil marriage for same-sex couples but Pope Francis himself (in 2020) intimated in his Francis-speak that lesbian and gay couples should be allowed to marry civilly because the Roman Catholic Church’s dogma on this matter is closed to new revelation. Pope Francis punted this theological matter of salvation to the States. Therefore, God through his Church, the same church Jesus rose from the dead to save, cannot bless same-sex marriage because no celibate priest is allowed to perform this sacrament.
Yet, despite this current and historical practice of exclusion of LGBTQ+ people from full membership in their faith community, New Ways Ministry opted to publish material from two private letters written to Frank DeBernardo and religious sister Jeannine Gramick on June 17, 2021. The letters include niceties like calling Sr. Gramick “a valiant woman”, and thanked New Ways Ministry for their “neighborly work” born out of the first and second commandments. The conclusion from Frank DeBernardo is that Pope Francis “is happy that we’re reaching out and helping bring LGBTQ people into the church, and helping those who are here to stay.”
As a former Catholic and Jesuit Seminarian, I no longer understand DeBernardo’s argument or method of persuasion. When New Ways Ministry published my Open Letter to Pope Francis: Help Save My Vocation (2014) I was more sympathetic to calls for people to stay, to remain, to abide with the Lord within the pews of the very church that othered me, hoping that my former religious order would call its congregations in Kansas City, MO and Oceanside, NY and demand the rehiring of a fired employee and a fired volunteer. But the Pope who unpredictably makes calls, and writes letters never outreached to me, we were both Jesuits with new missions.
I also believe New Ways Ministry’s release of material from letter from June 2021 in response to the sinful and hurtful actions of the Vatican’s General Secretariat in December 2021 to be a political miscalculation. Giving LGBTQ+ Catholics the impression that a “warm letter” as characterized by the gay friendly Jesuit Priest James Martin “rehabilitates New Ways Ministry” from a dark history of a lack of recognition or approval, ambiguities and errors from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, is a false equivalent. Furthermore, Pope Francis as head of the Church must be expected to know the state of His Church, he should not need to receive a letter (April 21 by Frank DeBernarod) describing the history of New Ways Ministry. The history of LGBTQ+ Catholics is not the history of New Ways Ministry it is the history of men and women whose flourishing has been impinged upon and thwarted by centuries of anti-gay, anti-same sex desire doctrine, dogma and theology. In short, the history of the treatment of LGBTQ+ Catholics by the church is one that emphasizes structural sin and systemic evil. For example, the church allowed for years the false equivalency of pedophilia and homosexuality to protect itself from civil investigations into the practices of pedophiliac priests. Today, the church allows for the firing of gays and lesbians from schools and churches without reproach. But other sins and those sinning are passed-by, there is nothing neighborly or warm about the treatment of LGBTQ+ people.
Is New Ways Ministry really helping to bring LGBTQ+ people to the church? No, the church has already left LGBTQ+ people behind. They cannot journey with the church during the Synod on Synodality, because like women generally, LGBTQ+ people do not have standing in the church. When Fr. Martin comments about allowing “people to express themselves, to walk in faith even though they had difficulties in life, and to be part of the life of the community without being hindered” he is making a grave mistake. Remember, the church has condemned gender theory, its doctrine about homosexuality is clear, and the church does officially treat bisexuality, transgender, queer bodies in any systematic way. Martin’s grave mistake is that he begins his dialogue from the place that all LGBTQ+ people have difficulties in life, that they are rejected and judged. But a deeper review suggests that experience is indoctrinated into the life of the church, a conclusion that is codified in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
In a way, it is good that the General Secretariat for Synod of Bishops took New Ways Video down. It lets LGBTQ+ people see that while a Pope may write warmly and frequently, that that Pope is the head of a church where synodality is unwelcome. To bring LGBTQ+ catholics to the journey let’s start by calling for a rewrite of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, for the Vatican to create a Dicastery of LGBTQ+ people, for the USCCB to open an office for LGBTQ+ people, for dioceses, parishes and schools to practice employment inclusion of LGBTQ+ people and for all churches to have offices of LGBTQ+ ministry. And once and for all, lets tell LGBTQ+ people that they are welcome to receive communion and that their gifts and talents are welcome in the church. Let’s be Good Samaritans, be more than simply neighbors or passer-by, let’s scrub the history of anti-gay practices from the church’s pews. As the Jesuit Pope knows, let’s Magis and strive towards more, like Saint Ignatius of Loyola the Basque founder of the Society of Jesus called for from his companions.