Like many others, I have friends and family members who are gay.
For some years I have been troubled by the sense of rejection they often feel with regard to the Church.
Could we find some new way to converse with the LGBT community?
A recent book from Jesuit Fr James Martin seems like an answer to prayer. (The book is titled: “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT community can enter into a relationship of respect, compassion and sensitivity.”)
Fr Martin uses the image of “Building a Bridge” between the institutional Church and the LGBT community.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that we are called to treat homosexual persons with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity”.
Fr Martin asks how we might build a two-lane bridge between the two groups so that we could walk in both directions with these attitudes in our hearts.
Some good people fear that if we celebrate Masses with LGBT groups, or sponsor programmes to help gay friends know that they are loved members of our community, it may be seen as giving tacit approval to everything that anyone says or does within that community.
But we do not raise this objection with other groups. A diocesan Mass for Catholic business leaders does not mean that the Church supports everything that such people say or do.
Respect also means that we call people by the name they prefer.
I have friends who call themselves respectively “Jim” and “James”, and it is a simple courtesy to use the right name. We no longer use the word “negro”, and Fr Martin argues that official Church teaching should similarly avoid the word “homosexual” because it is no longer favoured by the LGBT community.
Compassion calls us to “listen” to people.
What is it really like growing up as a gay boy, or a lesbian girl, or a transgender person?
Deeply embedded in Catholic Church teaching is the call to stand by all who feel marginalised or threatened.
Sensitivity prompts us to be alert to the “feelings” of others, but we cannot know their feelings unless we are their friends.
Devout Catholics may say that our first responsibility is to tell people to stop sinning.
But that was generally not the approach taken by Jesus. He was more often the butt of criticism for dining with sinners and clearly enjoying their company.
When Jesus noticed Zacchaeus looking down with interest from the tree he had climbed on the main street of Jericho, he did not first tell him to stop sinning. Instead he invited himself to the home of Zacchaeus for a meal.
For Jesus it was most often friendship first, and conversion second. We all listen most intently to those we love and those whose company we enjoy.
If the institutional Church is going to be sensitive in its use of language, we may need to move away from the phrase “objectively disordered”, which the Catechism itself uses to describe the homosexual inclination. Saying that one of the deepest parts of a person is “disordered” seems needlessly cruel.
When considering movement from the LGBT community towards the institutional Church, keeping with the bridge image, Fr Martin tries to spell out how they too might try to walk with “respect, compassion and sensitivity” towards the hierarchy and the teaching authority of the Church.
LGBT Catholics also have power, especially with the western media who are often more sympathetic to their cause than to the Church.
Despite the sense of pain or rejection which some may feel, Fr Martin invites them to resist the temptation to mock or ridicule those who may have hurt them deeply. That was never the way of Jesus.
Fr Martin concludes his beautiful book with a selection of Scripture passages accompanied by questions for reflection both for gay readers and for their friends. It is well worth reading.
— Bishop Patrick Dunn, Auckland.