By Sister Natalie Rossi
After Bishop Lawrence Persico of the Diocese of Erie received a letter from a parishioner about her transgender child, the bishop asked Monsignor Edward Lohse, the vicar general, to set up a study day on a “Pastoral Response to Gender Identity Questions.”
Two-hundred people in leadership positions in parishes, schools and agencies in the diocese attended over two days in October. I attended the first day and Sister Margaret Park attended the second.
Issues such as these were discussed:
- A transgender student tells the principal that he wants to use the faculty bathroom rather than a student bathroom.
- A person in process of joining the Catholic Church Says his RCIA sponsor identifies privately as transgender.
- A church employee says his son began transitioning to a female, but he and his wife are prepared to condone their son’s decision rather than lose their relationship.
The bishop had said, “We are not going to quote dogma, theology and canon law. We need to begin by listening to them.”
The key message for me at the study day on the “Pastoral Response to Gender Identity Questions” was to be welcoming and compassionate to the LGBTQ person, but the deeper message was that we cannot affirm them for who they are. It was difficult for me then to see how any LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) person would feel welcomed in the Catholic Church.
So how do we respond to the LGBTQ community as Sisters of Mercy? Catherine called us to reach out to those on the margins, those rejected by society. LGBTQ persons are those who are still rejected by most of society. It is difficult for many LGBTQ persons to even enter a church. For them, church is not a place of safety but of trauma. Many experience the “pastoral gaze” and hear “of course we accept you for who you are, but we want you to change.”
How can we lovingly accept each person for who he or she is? Compassion calls us to listen to people. What is it really like growing up as a gay boy, a lesbian girl or a transgender person? We can only find out by listening.
Church teaching tells us to stand by those who are marginalized or threatened.
What does that really mean? So, we ask. What would Jesus do and say?
Love is the answer. Do not judge. Accept a person for who he or she is.
Francis DeBernardo from New Ways Ministry, which advocates justice and equality for LGBTQ Catholics, attended the 2018 World Meeting of Families in Ireland. He stated: “What did I learn at the World Meeting of Families? I learned that through creative ways, strong faith, communal cooperation and confident voices, love will conquer fear as we build a church of equality for LGBT people.”
Perhaps this is something to think about.