Jeff Vomund is a member of Dignity/Washington.
Pope Francis, welcome to Washington! Like the rest of the Catholic world and people of good faith everywhere, we have felt challenged to find God in all people by your focus on the poor and the outcast. We watched you wash the feet of women and non-Christians and were inspired to be more inclusive. We read your words on the moral imperatives caused by our climate crisis and were challenged to change our relationship to the Earth. But never have we been more energized by your words than when, on the first foreign trip of your papacy, you said this to a reporter who asked you about gay priests: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?”
As an organization that provides a spiritual home to LGBTQ Catholics, Dignity/Washington works for respect and justice for people of all sexual orientations, genders and gender identities in the Catholic Church. We know what it’s like to feel judged. For being honest about our sexuality. For wanting to live happy and open lives with families and friends. And, indeed, for wanting to be who we are — LGBTQ and Roman Catholic.
We also love our church. We love gathering as a community around the altar for the Eucharist. We love the scriptures and the liturgy and the faith tradition that has shaped our lives. Although we as an organization have been exiled from Catholic buildings and rejected by Catholic leaders because we want to live our sexuality openly and without apology, we are still Catholic, and we still look to you for leadership.
That is why we are so grateful for your upcoming presence in our city. We await your arrival with hope and expectation. And we invite you, Holy Father, in the words of Jesus to his first disciples, to “come and see.”
So often when the church has made pronouncements about homosexuality and the LGBTQ community, it has done so from a distance. Despite the high percentage of gay clergy in the Catholic Church — or perhaps because of it — Vatican and hierarchical statements about homosexuality and LGBTQ people have felt like an intellectual exercise in natural law and interpretations of scriptural text, not statements that speak to the great commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. “Intrinsically disordered, ” as the church refers to homosexual acts, may be a legitimate philosophical category, but it is not a label to put on brothers and sisters.
We are, like you and all church leaders, human beings who fall in love, have to learn how to forgive and want to grow old surrounded by friends and family. It is not the church’s judgment about us that has hurt so much, but rather our being judged without being known. For if church leaders knew us, they would also know the love that surrounds us. They would know couples who have cared for each other in sickness and in health — indeed not parting until death. They would see the power of understanding, especially the understanding of parents and children, as we have struggled with our families to make sense of who we are. They would know the joy and laughter that come from friendship and the powerful bond that comes, at times, from feeling outcast together. For any who know us would know that what church teaching has labeled “disordered” is actually a gift that gives order to our love and to our lives. From the distance of philosophical theology, that might seem impossible. But up close I promise one cannot fail to see it.
And so, we invite you, Holy Father, as well as Cardinal Donald Wuerl, our own archbishop, and all of the bishops and priests in whose dioceses and parishes we live, to “come and see.” Get to know the strength of love that survives despite ridicule and cultural rejection. Experience firsthand couples who have been together for decades praying and seeking to do God’s will. See us in our need for forgiveness, but also in the sharing of our gifts. We are confident that, like those who experienced Jesus firsthand, you would recognize as did the apostle John in his first Letter, “Everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.”
We might disagree about the definition of a civil or a sacramental marriage. We might not see eye to eye on the purpose of sexual activity in a same-sex relationship. But we can begin by simply getting to know the love that God has for each of us. We could share that love with you, and you with us — or any other church leader who would be willing to “come and see.” We believe that once you got to see and know our love, it would no longer make sense to call it “disordered” or to fire people who work for and serve the church while sharing that love. We believe that once you came to share in our love for one another, labeling it as a “cross” we had to bear, or treating it as less deserving of government protection, would make no more sense to you than it does to us.
Holy Father, “come and see” for yourself how God is made flesh in our liturgies and in our loves, as in any other Catholic community, and you will not have to ask: “Who am I to judge?” Because, again echoing John, you will speak of “what we have seen with our eyes . . . and touched with our hands” and proclaim “the eternal life . . . that was . . . made visible to us” so that we might “have fellowship” together and “our joy may be complete.”