Today, the Catholic Committee of Appalachia released its "People's Pastoral" (pdf file) entitled "The Telling Takes Us Home; Taking Our Place in the Stories that Shape Us." The pastoral document is being released on the 40th anniversary of the 1975 pastoral letter "This Land Is Home to Me." I'm grateful to my friend-colleague Michael J. Iafrate, who chaired the board of the committee producing the pastoral, and who sent me the press release the committee sent out as it released the pastoral statement. Jeanne Kirkhope was coordinator of the pastoral-writing process.
The press release notes that this pastoral statement is the end result of a listening and planning process that took place over four years. It's quite specifically a people's pastoral, since the planning committee "did not seek the signatures of the region's bishops, but rather sought to lift up the authority of the people, their stories, and Earth itself as an expression of the Roman Catholic Church's teaching of the 'preferential option for the poor.'"
A noteworthy aspect of this pastoral letter: it contains a section entitled "The Voices of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered People." Here's an excerpt:
Churches that condemn same-sex relationships end up attacking the very personhood of gay and lesbian people, such that life can feel like a "constant assault."* Many of us have had our hearts broken by the stories of gay family members and friends who have been on the receiving end of abuse from other people of faith. Gay and lesbian Catholics gathering for a retreat in Virginia shared experiences of being treated like lepers in society and in the church. Instead of a place of welcome and safety, the church is often “a hell of pain,” a place where they are “discussed and accused but rarely appreciated.”
But the church has not only been a source of pain. These retreatants also discussed how they continue to be nourished by the church’s spiritual life even though they cannot accept the church’s teaching about their sexuality. Traditional practices such as liturgy and adoration have been a source of comfort and hope. They have been comforted by friendships with gay priests and other individuals who affirm them as they are.
While gay and lesbian people often feel a kinship with the lepers of the gospels, what they need to be healed from us not a "disorder" but alienation from the community and the experience of being treated as less than human. Yet they often find God precisely in their stories of struggle, and healing can come from unexpected places, even from churches that so often reject them.**
There's hope here for LGBT Catholics, in contrast to what has just happened in Slovenia, a country 60% Catholic, which just voted to remove from LGBT citizens the right to civil marriage. This vote on the rights of a minority group occurred with the blessing of Pope Francis, who encouraged Slovenians to "preserve the family as the basic unit of society" — that is, he encouraged Slovenians to vote to strip the nation's LGBT citizens and the families they might be raising of a civil right all other citizens of this nation enjoy.
As Bob Shine concludes at Bondings 2.0,
Preaching mercy to some audiences while simultaneously encouraging other audiences to deny equal rights is disingenuous at best.
Legislators with the United Left party in Slovenia said the referendum is merely a setback, with MP Violeta Tomic saying, "Sooner or later the law will be accepted." In the meantime, LGBT Slovenians will remain second-class citizens without access to marriage or adoption rights, due in part to Pope Francis' intervention against equality. This is not a hopeful start for the Year of Mercy in terms of LGBT human rights and the pope.
Bob Shine is right about that: hardly a hopeful start for the Year of Mercy where LGBT people are concerned. A Year of Mercy for some, but certainly not for others, as some members of a globally powerful Christian church proclaim that respecting the human dignity of LGBT persons is an integral part of what it means to be a faithful follower of the merciful Christ, while other members of that same church — including its top pastoral leaders — present their community with the duplicitous message of mercy for some, but not for others, even as they profess to be offering mercy to everyone.
* A footnote here states that the voices represented in this section of the pastoral document come from participants in a retreat for gay and lesbian Catholics in Virginia.
** The formatting of the original text is in free-verse style. I have formatted this excerpt as prose to make it more legible to blog readers. I hope that in doing this, I'm not altering something that those who produced this fine text did not wish to have altered.
The video at the head of the posting is from the website of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia.