If Cardinal Timothy Dolan and the Catholic Church are serious about showing that God loves gay, lesbian and transgendered Catholics, what practical actions can give life to their words?
Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, an organization of gay and lesbian Catholics. and Mary Ellen Lopata, a founder of Fortunate Families, which represents Catholic parents of gay and lesbian children, suggest six things Catholic leaders can do.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops should drop its opposition to including the gay and lesbian partners of American citizens in the immigration-reform proposals now being developed in Congress. Allowing gay and lesbian citizens to obtain permanent legal status for their partners, some of whom face deportation, confers no legal status on same-sex relationships. It simply keeps two people who love each other from being separated.
The bishops should support anti-bullying programs in Catholic schools. Despite repeated urgings from the faithful, the bishops’ conference has refused to state clearly and forcefully that bullying young people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity is wrong. Surely the bishops share our conviction that children shouldn’t be beaten or bullied for any reason.
The hierarchy should also change its tone. Cardinal Dolan spoke beautifully at moments in his interview with ABC. Others have not. In December 2012, Cardinal Francis E. George, the archbishop of Chicago, compared a gay pride parade to a Ku Klux Klan demonstration (in remarks for which he has since apologized) and in September 2012 Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., said that parishioners who supported candidates who favored gay rights risked eternal damnation. Those statements conveyed the very opposite of the love and mercy that Cardinal Dolan expressed.
The church hierarchy should also publicly dissociate itself from the National Organization for Marriage. The American bishops and their allies, especially the Knights of Columbus, have poured millions of dollars into the organization, which has sought to turn African-Americans and Hispanics against the gay community in fights over ballot initiatives regarding gay rights. The bishops would not tolerate such divisive behavior in other political allies, and they should not make an exception for National Organization for Marriage.
The bishops should abandon their opposition to placing adopted children with same-sex couples. The church believes that children flourish best when raised by their biological parents, but — leaving aside whether that teaching is always correct — the reality is that that is not an option for every child. The bishops would improve the lives of many children, and many potential parents, if they would acknowledge the basic fairness of evaluating all couples seeking to adopt children according to the same standards.
Perhaps most important, the bishops should stop hiding from us. There is no reason the bishops, priests and deacons of every diocese in the United States cannot hold regular meetings with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics and their families to allow them to speak honestly about their experiences within the church. The result might not always be agreement, but at least it could be a spirit of respect and openness.