MOUNT RAINIER, MarylandArchbishop Charles Chaput's statement about LGBT Catholics at the synod on youth yesterday is a perfect example of how some church leaders have been so blinded by ideological homophobia and transphobia that they cannot perceive plain human facts accurately. His comments reflect the dangerous avoidance mentality that is the cause of the clergy sexual abuse scandal and so many of the ills which plague the Catholic Church today. ( For a news article about Chaput's statement, see The National Catholic Reporter, at www.ncronline.org/news/vatican/archbishop-chaput-urges-synod-use-care-language-especially-sexuality. )
The Catholic Herald carried the full text of Chaput's talk. The passage that is so dangerous is:
"There is no such thing as an 'LGBTQ Catholic' or a 'transgender Catholic' or a 'heterosexual Catholic,' as if our sexual appetites defined who we are; as if these designations described discrete communities of differing but equal integrity within the real ecclesial community, the body of Jesus Christ. This has never been true in the life of the Church, and is not true now. It follows that 'LGBTQ' and similar language should not be used in Church documents, because using it suggests that these are real, autonomous groups, and the Church simply doesn't categorize people that way."
Of course, there are LGBTQ Catholics and transgender Catholics and heterosexual Catholics, just as there are Italian Catholics, elderly Catholics, disabled Catholics, Latin American Catholics, traditionalist Catholics, poor Catholics, educated Catholics and so many other distinct groups within our big tent church. LGBTQ Catholics are just as real as all these other groups in our church. This identity doesn't divide LGBTQ people from the rest of the church, just as other categories of Catholics are not separate from the Body of Christ. Time and again, our tradition and our Scriptures praise diversity. These faith sources do not try to erase all differences, but instead they celebrate these differences as part of the wonderful creation God has made.
Chaput falls into the trap that so many other church leaders have fallen into. They interpret a simple descriptive adjective as a political statement that is loaded with ideology. When people describe themselves or others as LGBTQ, it does not mean that they consider sexual orientation or gender identity the dominant marker of themselves, any more than referring to themselves as Italian or elderly makes that attribute their dominant marker. "LGBTQ" does not refer to any particular political ideology. LGBTQ people represent the whole spectrum of political positionseven in regard to LGBTQ issues themselves.
If Chaput interprets LGBTQ as a sinister designation that must be expunged, the responsibility for such an interpretation is his own fault and a result of his own ignorance to better understand the reality of LGBTQ Catholic people.
Chaput's statement looks like he is trying to make LGBTQ people invisible in the church by pretending that they don't exist. Furthermore, the statement threatens to silence not only individuals, but it attempts to silence any church discussion of LGBTQ issues, which are so widely acknowledged by people across the globe. Debates about LGBTQ identity, relationships, family life, and human rights have been consuming so much of the energy of people around the globe. Why does Chaput want the church to ignore these facts and act as if these are not topics of the church's concern?
One of the central messages of the Second Vatican Council is for church people to read "the signs of the times." What is easily obvious to every person on the planet is that LGBTQ people and issues are very much part of the signs of our times. Is Chaput so closed off from the realities of the world that he is not aware that this discussion has been going on for decades and is now a major part of the world conversation?
Chaput's statement is an example of the kind of dangerous thinking that has brought the Catholic Church to its current crisis situation. Avoiding reality is what fueled the clergy sex-abuse crisis. Chaput's attitude is the kind of avoidance thinking that caused so many bishops to pretend that a serious issue did not exist, or that the problem would just go away if they didn't speak about it.
On a pastoral level, Chaput's comment will do great harm pastorally. Telling a group of people that they don't exist is not the way to welcome them to the church or to accompany them spiritually. Such a negative message coming from a high-ranking church official will also further encourage people to perform fanatical acts, such as the burning of a rainbow church banner by a Chicago priest as a way to oppose LGBT ministry and outreach.
Chaput has a long history of reacting in extreme ways to LGBT issues and people. Fortunately, not all synod delegates think as he does. Let's hope and pray that cooler and more sensible minds hold sway during the upcoming month as the bishop discuss youth issues at the synod.
New Ways Ministry is a 41-year-old national Catholic ministry of justice and reconciliation for LGBT Catholics and the wider church community. For more information, visitNewWaysMinistry.org . A copy of the above statement is online at NewWaysMinistry.org/media/.
Francis DeBernardo is the executive director of New Ways Ministry.