In the days immediately after the news broke of the Orlando gay nightclub massacre, I noted at Queering the Church that the responses by Catholic bishops, and even by Pope Francis, did not include any recognition that this was not just a crime of violence by an Islamist jihadist, but was specifically targeted at gay men. This was a clear act of violence against homosexuals – which Church teaching declares unequivocally that Catholics should condemn.
Since then, there have thankfully been reports of at least some bishops who have connected the dots, identified the homophobia responsible for the tragedy – and condemned it, (The bishops of St Petersburg, San Diego and Chicago are US examples. Notably, the Catholic bishops, conference of the Philippines is another).
It is not enough however, to condemn violence and lament the victims after the event. Explicit Church teaching says we must condemn violence and malice in speech as well as in action. Homophobic speech fosters hatred, hatred fosters violence, violence leads to deaths. By speaking out against gay slurs and other forms of malicious speech, we help to prevent the violence in the first place.
It is welcome therefore, that bishops who have made the connection between the Orlando massacre and gay hatred have acknowledged that there has even been some homophobia present in Church language and pastoral practice concerning gay and lesbian people, which has contributed to the problem. I welcome this, and congratulate those bishops. But that leaves a further important question for Quest: what are we to do, ourselves, to combat the homophobia that is is fostered within some sectors of the Catholic Church and its practice?
We must never forget that “the Church” is far, far more than just the bishops and priests, but includes all of us. When Catholic teaching tells us to oppose and condemn any form of violence or malice, in speech or in action, against homosexuals, that is a command to all of us, as individuals and collectively, as an organization. How have we responded up to now, to that command? How can we do so, in future? Is there room for improvement, in our response?
I suggest that historically, Quest has been primarily focussed on providing oasstoral support to our own members. The value of that was abundantly illustrated in the outcome of our “Icon of Emmaus Workshop” two years ago, and must not be underestimated. However, we have not been sufficiently attentive to looking outwards, as in fact required by a clause in our constitution, which state that among the methods we promote our primary aim (“to proclaim the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ so as to sustain and increase Christian belief among homosexual men and women”), by:
(ii) establishing and extending a dialogue between homosexual Catholics and members of the clergy through which the insights and experiences of each may gradually be interwoven and so achieve better mutual understanding both of the moral teachings of the Church and of the characteristics of its homosexual members;
Recently, we have begun to do more, in respect of both of these. Increasing these efforts still further, offers at least the possibility of more directly combating both hate speech, and physical violence against gay, lesbian and transgender people.
We already have members working with the Stonewall School Role Models program, going into Catholic schools to talk about our own experience of being Catholic and LG(B) or T. That is helpful to young people beginning to come to terms with their own orientation or gender identity – but should also contribute to breaking down stereotypes and prejudice – and hence reduce hate speech and bullying. There is more we can do in this area: Hallam diocese has invited us to meet with their safeguarding team, and we are already discussing with Stonewall ways to expand still further our activities with schools.
We have also had constructive meetings with several bishops, and are planning to meet with others. What are we saying to them? Up to now, these discussions have been mostly just to introduce them to us and to our activities, but we could do more. We could certainly include active advocacy for lgbt Catholics – and remind them of the much neglected Catholic obligation to oppose all forms of violence against homosexuals – specifically including homophobic speech, which is itself a form of violence. We could also propose to them that, as in Hallam, we could contribute to improving their safeguarding practice, to include safeguarding from homophobic bullying.
Up to now, our advocacy has concentrated on the bishops, but we should do more – and are starting to do so. In Portsmouth diocese, members of their pastoral provision team have suggested that we should be going into parishes, to talk to them about lgbt ministry. (Pope Francis’ “Amor Laetitia” states that “special attention should be paid to families with lesbian or gay members”). When we do so, we should again draw attention of parishioners, some of whom will themselves have LGBT children, or be LGB or T themselves, of the obligation to oppose homophobia. We have plans in place at the level of our national committee, to further expand our advocacy work with priests, religious congregations and laity – but there’s no need to leave this exclusively in the hands of he national committee. Our regional teams are well placed to do the same thing in parallel with national, speaking to their diocesan bishops or ocal priests and parishes. Even single Quest members could contribute alone if so inspired, in their own parishes and deaneries.
Advocacy for LGBT Catholics, and against any form of homophobia, is not limited to direct discussions with bishops, priests schools or parishes. A second clause in our Quest constitution specifies that our aim of proclaiming the Gospel is also advanced by
(iii) seeking wider opportunities, in the Catholic press and elsewhere, to promote fuller and more public discussion of the spiritual, moral, psychological and physiological issues involved;
This is an are where we have not been particularly effective, and can definitely do better.
Later this month, members of the national committee, together with regional co-ordinators and a few others, will be meeting for a weekend’s “strategy workshop”, to deliberate on our priorities for the next few years – and seek to identify funding opportunities to pay for them. I do not wish to pre-empt the outcome of those discussions, but in the light of the Orlando massacre and reflections arising from it, I personally will be making a strong recommendation to the team, that those priorities should include strong attention to the fight against homophobia, and especially against homophobia in the name of religion, in both our advocacy work, and in an enhanced presence in the press and on-line media.