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Let's watch our judgmental language

By Richard Prendergast - posted Thursday, 13 July 2006


I met Laura and Lynne at a party given by a mutual friend. It was there that I learned they were awaiting word from halfway around the world about a baby available for adoption. A few months later, the two women brought home their new daughter, Chloe.

Soon afterwards, they invited me to dinner to discuss a possible baptism. Lynne, especially, was concerned about whether or not she could have her daughter baptised in a church that was so hostile toward gays and lesbians. It was a good conversation in which we agreed that everything said by church authorities isn’t equal to the gospel of Jesus. A few weeks later, with family and friends gathered, Chloe was baptised.

This new family gingerly made its way back to church. Like many returning Catholics, they weren’t at Mass every Sunday, but often I’d look up and see Chloe and her two mums making their way to a pew. The love they showered on Chloe was evident - love that had begun to undo some of the damage resulting from her isolation in the orphanage. They were just like every other family in their cares and concerns. The only difference was that they were a lesbian couple.

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When the Vatican released its letter Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons last year, it stated:

Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to these children, in the sense that their condition of dependency would be used to place them in an environment that is not conducive to their full human development. This is gravely immoral and in open contradiction to the principle, recognized also in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, that the best interests of the child, as the weaker and more vulnerable party, are to be the paramount consideration in every case.

For Lynne, this was the last straw, and Laura agreed. How could they possibly participate in a church that called their love for Chloe “violence” and claimed they were immoral for raising her? As I talked to other gays and lesbians, it became clear many perceived this latest document from Rome as one more in a series of attacks upon their humanity. Their response to the name-calling by bishops wasn’t to respond in kind, but to make a silent and determined resolution to leave the church because they could not tolerate the hatred directed at them anymore.

When I spoke with another priest about this, he told stories of similar reactions. As pastors we were convinced it was not right for the church to alienate so many people on the basis of an orientation over which they had neither choice nor control. Last December we wrote an open letter to the bishops to encourage them to stop treating gays and lesbians as though they were creatures from a different planet and instead sit down and talk with these brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus who were trying so hard to lead good, moral, spiritual lives.

As we made clear in the very beginning of the letter, “We respect the teaching authority of the church”. We were not writing to challenge dogma but to encourage bishops to exercise sound pastoral judgment in the care of these children of God. We stressed, “The life journey in faith is unique and sacred, including the personal integration of sexuality and spirituality. Condemnations levelled at sincere Catholics attempting to make sense out of their journey are inappropriate and pastorally destructive.”

The response to the letter has been both rewarding and disappointing. It is rewarding in that so many people have written to thank us, to tell their stories of feeling outcast and deeply hurt, of trying so desperately to hold on to their faith in the Catholic Church. But we have been disappointed in the limited response from bishops. Our own archbishop, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, was one that did respond.

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He wrote, in part:

Your concern that language can make it difficult to welcome people is one I share. The church speaks, in moral and doctrinal issues, a philosophical and theological language in a society that understands, at best, only psychological and political terms. Our language is exact, but it does not help us in welcoming men and women of homosexual orientation. It can seem lacking in respect. This is a pastoral problem and a source of anxiety for me as it is for you. It would be good to discuss it together.

He went on to remind us, “pastors have to mediate the tension between welcoming people and calling them to change, to repent and convert and live according to Christ’s teaching transmitted by the church. That tension is often resolved in practice by a pastor’s love for his people.”

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This article was first published in the November 2004 (Volume 69, Number 11) issue of U.S. Catholic.



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About the Author

Father Richard Prendergast is pastor of St. Josephat on the north side of Chicago, USA.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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