Yesterday was the funeral of yet another esteemed leader of the American Catholic church who has died recently--Bishop Joseph Sullivan of Brooklyn. For National Catholic Reporter, Joshua McElwee remembers Sullivan's advocacy (in his retirement) for LGBT persons in the Catholic church, and for their full inclusion in the life of Catholic communities:
Following his retirement from official duties in 2005, Sullivan spoke several times publicly about the need for the nation's prelates to speak compassionately to Catholics who were struggling with questions of sexual identity.
At a 2006 conference of the National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian and Gay Ministries held in Brooklyn, Sullivan said gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered persons "have to be brought into full participation in the life of the church."
Sullivan also called the tendency by some church leaders to avoid homosexual Catholics "unkind," arguing that "for a bishop to be an effective teacher, he must be in the mix. He must be like Jesus -- with the people."
And at the Bondings blog site of New Ways Ministry, Francis DeBernardo writes about how, even before he retired (and when it was dangerous for any bishop to behave this way), Bishop Sullivan listened actively to LGBT Catholic members and their families, and strongly supported ministries of outreach to these Catholics who are frequently maligned and excluded by many other Catholics:
Bishop Sullivan began his ministry as all good ministry begins: he listened. In the early 2000′s he regularly met with a group of LGBT Catholics and family members in Brooklyn, listening to their stories of marginalization and faith. Moved by this experience, he began to help a number of parishes in Brooklyn and Queens, New York, to develop LGBT outreach ministries. He supported those ministries powerfully, often speaking with pastors to let them know that they had his support if people objected to these programs. He would often visit parishes to speak with parishioners who were not necessarily convinced that LGBT outreach was a good thing to do.
DeBernardo points out that, in the lead-up to the enactment of marriage equality in New York in 2011 (when that state's leading prelate His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan was vocal in his opposition), Sullivan wrote a statement in support of LGBT equality in the Buffalo News. And in 1985, when he was in charge of Catholic Charities for his Brooklyn diocese, Sullivan did the following: when Mayor Ed Koch issued an order forbidding discrimination in hiring practices on the basis of sexual orientation in agencies with contracts with New York City, Archbishop John O'Connor threatened to withdraw $60 million in contracts that his diocese had with the city to run child care facilities.
When O'Connor took this tack in his diocese, Sullivan announced that Catholic Charities in the Brooklyn diocese had no problem following Koch's order, since it prohibited unjust discrimination, and Catholic teaching is strongly oriented in that direction and not in the direction of discrimination. As De Bernardo writes, echoing Paul Moses at Commonweal, "I think that 'in a better church,' we would have more bishops like Bishop Sullivan, who was not afraid to take a minority position in the defense of justice."
He's right. In paradisum deducant te angeli, Joseph Michael Sullivan.