The issue shows the complex balancing act for the church as Francis continues to make inclusive comments and powerful gestures of welcome toward gay people even as he speaks out strongly against gay marriage and transgender acceptance. The pope’s U.S. visit next month and the family meeting come just ahead of a major gathering of cardinals in Rome in November that will address concrete questions about the place of gay people and families in Catholicism.
New Ways Ministry, an advocacy group for LGBT Catholics, said it had been welcomed initially by St. John the Evangelist in downtown Philadelphia. New Ways had planned to run a workshop there on gender identity. A second group, Equally Blessed, is bringing 14 families with LGBT members and was planning to use St. John as a home base during the day.
Neither group may use the church, New Ways executive director Francis DeBernardo said Tuesday. He said St. John’s pastor, John Daya, spoke to a member of New Ways last week and said the decision was made after a call from the archdiocese. Daya said both events were canceled, but it wasn’t clear if the archdiocese had a problem with both or just the New Ways workshop, DeBernardo said.
The workshop, entitled “Transforming Love: Exploring Gender Identity From Catholic Perspectives,” features presentations including those from a married transsexual woman and an intersex woman who is now Anglican.
Daya did not respond to a request for comment.
Archdiocesan spokesman Ken Gavin said in an e-mail to The Washington Post that the final decision was made by St. John, but that any parish-sponsored activities are expected to be “in line with Church teaching.”
“It’s not about the individuals,” Gavin wrote. “It’s about the content of the programming and a consistent ethic regarding the meaning and purpose of human sexuality in the Catholic tradition.”
Catholicism teaches that sexual relationships between unmarried people are immoral, and adds that sex between two people of the same gender is a “grave depravity” because it doesn’t biologically produce children. “Under no circumstances can they be approved,” church teaching says of gay relationships. However gay people are to be treated respectfully and not subject to “unjust discrimination.” Francis has emphasized dialogue and love, though his positions on sexuality and gender appear to remain fully orthodox.
This mirrors many other U.S. church leaders — including with the World Meeting – who are more and more emphasizing the welcoming of LGBT people, so long as they are celibate and don’t fight church teaching.
The LGBT Catholic groups planning to meet in Philly have the same goals as mainstream gay advocacy groups: full equality, said DeBernardo. They want their relationships recognized and honored everywhere from Communion to marriage.
LGBT equality groups have been trying to bring discussion of their experiences into the World Meeting, which runs from Sept. 21-27 and has dozens of panels on topics including urban families, families with disabilities, digital culture, interfaith marriage and dealing with “the hook-up culture.” Several LGBT groups supporting equality said their applications to even have a booth inside the large exhibition hall were denied.
Among them was Fortunate Families, a group for Catholic parents seeking equality for their LGBT children. Its president, Deb Word, and her husband run a safe house for LGBT youth in Memphis.
The World Meeting’s director of programming, Mary Beth Yount, told Word that the group couldn’t advertise at the event because it isn’t welcoming of parents who disapprove of their children’s same-sex behavior, the National Catholic Reporter wrote. Word noted to Yount that several other bishops have met with and supported similar parent groups.
Gavin, the archdiocesan spokesman, noted that there is a panel at the meeting called “Always Consider the Person” that features a gay, celibate Catholic professor and his mother. There are also panels on gender “complementarity” and on sexuality and celibacy.
“What seems to have gotten lost in all of the noise lately is that it is very much possible to show Christian charity and love for all even if you disagree with their point of view,” Gavin wrote. “Simply put, it is not only possible, but also essential to be faithful to Church teaching regarding how we interact with one another and uphold the sanctity of marriage at the same time.”