September 18, 2002
Dear Bishop Gregory,
I am a local member of Soulforce’s Catholic Planning Team, writing individually with blessings from the team. As you consider our requests of August 22, 2002, I wish to address in greater detail the concerns you raised in prior responses to our calls for dialogue. I hope that by listening more actively and injecting new language and procedures, our dialogue will not devolve into contention, controversy, or confrontation.
I regret communications between Catholic bishops and Soulforce have engendered deep offense. Dialogue clearly does imply the willingness of the parties to try to understand one another with open and benevolent minds. A fundamental principle of Soulforce is continually to scrutinize our own beliefs for error and not to cause suffering when interacting with our "adversaries." I think we can do better, perhaps with greater involvement of people more familiar with the complexities of Catholic sexual doctrine and the role of the USCCB within the Mystical Body of Christ. We have much to learn, and like anyone can be blinded by assumptions.
Nevertheless, I implore you to engage Soulforce in earnest dialogue. Our requests are insignificant compared to the urgent need to bridge the divide with Catholic laity about matters related to gender and sexuality. I disagree strongly that further dialogue would serve no purpose at this time. Our challenge is to define the objective of dialogue in terms both sides find acceptable. It would be helpful to receive a copy of the general rules the USCCB has developed for this purpose (Vatican II, On Dialogue with Unbelievers Humanae Personae Dignitatem, Chapter IV: Practical Rules).
As a 38-year-old Catholic man with strong "homosexual inclinations" it is my right and duty to question whether the Church’s good intentions actually benefit my health and welfare, and to demand accountability when compelling evidence indicates they do not. As a lay person I am obliged to disclose to the Church "with that liberty and confidence that befits children of God and brothers of Christ" my needs and desires to enable me "to receive in abundance the spiritual goods of the Church" (Vatican II, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, n. 37). I regret to disclose I have not been liberated spiritually by the Church’s handling of LGBT concerns. I have in fact felt spiritually abandoned. Neither option provided me – conversion to heterosexuality for traditional marriage or living in complete chastity my entire adult life – have seemed tenable in my natural condition and circumstance, and conflict with the empirically-vetted advice of mainstream counseling professionals in my time. All LGBT Catholics I’ve met share my disappointment. Many feel misunderstood, betrayed, demeaned and excluded spiritually by the Church. A few have been alienated completely from religion, convinced that their welfare was egregiously disdained by those they trusted to shepherd them with benevolence. (I’m pleased to disclose this latter sentiment is far more prevalent among those raised within conservative Protestant denominations.) The lucky find tenable spiritual guidance elsewhere, build strong relationships and stable nontraditional families, and employ their God-given talents to the benefit of society. The unlucky lose hope and slide into dissolution and self-fulfilling caricatures of "the homosexual lifestyle."
However, we must first agree upon the terms of evaluation. Anecdote alone is insufficient for evaluating outcomes, especially when it excludes whole groups of stakeholders such as those who in fact have felt strengthened by Church practice towards LGBTs, or those who in deference to that policy have endured great personal sacrifice. My professional experience and connections are in using survey research and structured dialogue to plan and evaluate controversial social service programs at a Federal level. The US Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have developed several models for reconciling conflicting perspectives between stakeholders with widely diverse opinions about sexuality, health-risk behaviors, and the well being of minorities whose needs appear different than the general population. These models deserve discussion as a way for the USCCB to address the concerns raised by Soulforce and our allies, and vice versa.
We can build up from where we already stand together, and through dialogue agree upon terms and measures that will allow us to discuss without prejudice the obligations of good shepherds towards the temporal welfare of their flock. Together we can build upon our conviction that "The social order and its development must constantly yield to the good of the person, since the order of things must be subordinate to the order of persons and not the other way around, as the Lord suggested when he said that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath." (Vatican II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spies, n. 26).
Surely as bishop you wish to "present the doctrine of Christ in a manner suited to the needs of the times… relevant to those difficulties and questions which men find especially worrying and intimidating" and "to maintain close relationship with the society in which [the Church] lives" by taking "special care to approach men and to initiate and promote dialogue with them … so that truth may be combined with charity, and understanding with love" (Vatican II, Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops Christus Dominus, n.13). Hopefully you agree that "In order to be able to provide for the welfare of the faithful as their individual circumstances demand, [the bishop] should try to keep himself informed of their needs in the social circumstances in which they live. To this end he should employ suitable methods, especially social research. He should be solicitous for all men whatever their… condition…." (Ibid, n.16.). Earnest dialogue with the people of Dignity, who remain faithful to a Church that has condemned and expelled them for following the considered advice of secular mental health counselors, could enable the USCCB to regain moral authority among LGBT faithful by more effectively addressing their difficulties and questions.
We already agree to two standards by which this dispute can be discussed: 1) all people have a fundamental right to dignity, respect, and protection from all harm whether physical, psychological or spiritual, and 2) homosexual people must be treated with respect, compassion, and sensitivity, and all unjust discrimination toward them should be avoided. Our conflict lies only in temporal matters of how best to ensure those rights and obligations for LGBT individuals, and in the practicalities of how to evaluate and weigh the success of such efforts against the greater good. Rational discourse can bring us closer in our grasp of the truth, and lead to a way to fulfill our common objective that also preserves civil, cultural and religious liberty, enhances the objective health and social welfare of LGBT Catholics, and does not jeopardize the integrity of Catholic doctrine that sexual activity is morally permissible only within marriage, and should be exercised with restraint and asceticism.
I implore you not to settle for agreeing to disagree on matters of grave consequence for LGBT Catholics, because one of us is causing great damage by our mistaken beliefs, and we mutually are obliged to seek truth and prevent suffering. Hold us to our own standards (see www.soulforce.org) for resolving this dispute. Our principles derive from Holy Scripture and the most respected agents of social change of the past 200 years. Use us to your advantage to heal and renew the Body of Christ. Include representatives from Dignity, Call to Action, Voice of the Faithful – whoever you think is in need of reconciliation on matters of gender and sexuality in the US Church. Include theologians, historians, cultural anthropologists, ex-gays, mental health professionals – whoever you think has expertise helpful to resolving this dispute and putting to rest charges that Church policy and politics cause unjust suffering and death among LGBT faithful.
Humanae Personae Dignitatem directs the Church towards ongoing dialogue with unbelievers in spite of conflicting perceptions of truth: "Doctrinal dialogue should be initiated with courage and sincerity, with the greatest freedom and with reverence. It focuses on doctrinal questions which are of concern to the parties to dialogue. They have different opinions but by common effort they try to improve mutual understanding, to clarify matters on which they agree, and if possible to enlarge the areas of agreement. In this way the parties to dialogue can enrich each other…. Indeed, dialogue should originate in the common moral obligation on all to seek the truth, especially in the realm of religious problems. Further, although each of the participants thinks that he is in possession of the truth, this does not invalidate dialogue." (Vatican II, On Dialogue with Unbelievers Humanae Personae Dignitatem, Chapter II: On Doctrinal Dialogue, 1. Can such dialogue be justified?).
Clearly the degree our perceptions of truth contradict one another on topics such as LGBT marriage and civil rights will make dialogue difficult. But instead of rendering dialogue futile, these contrasts enhance its potential for renewal. "The truths of faith, since they are revealed by God, are in themselves absolute and perfect. However, they are always imperfectly grasped by believers, who can increase their understanding of them and can meditate further on them. Further, not everything that Christians accept comes from revelation…. Nor does their Christian faith excuse believers from examining in the light of reason the rational presuppositions to belief." (Ibid).
Perhaps we never will reach agreement on idealogies sustained by exegesis and tradition alone. We nevertheless can pursue agreement with regard to practical matters sustained by reason. We can clarify for one another how our contradictory beliefs about LGBT people are founded in truth, built on justice, and enlivened by love. We can pursue agreement on whether the large sums of money spent by the Catholic Church during the past decade on political and legislative actions we believe deny the civil rights of LGBT people are indeed "founded in the love of the Redeemer, contribute towards the spread of justice and charity… and are in accord with the Gospel and the welfare of all men according to the diversity of times and circumstances." (Vatican II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spies, n. 76).
In previous correspondence with the USCCB, John J. McNeil made the point that bad psychology makes bad theology (www.soulforce.org/dc_mcneill.html). It is crucial that the Church’s actions match its words, and that the laity perceive this is so. As it stands we do not. Simple appeals to divine authority and tradition are insufficient to the needs of our time. "The search for truth … must be carried out in a manner that is appropriate to the dignity of the human person and his social nature, namely by free enquiry with the help of teaching or instruction, communication and dialogue." (Vatican II, On Dialogue with Unbelievers Humanae Personae Dignitatem, n. 1)..
If a formal meeting between Soulforce and US Bishops is not possible at this time, perhaps an informal meeting can take place to develop ground rules so our next meeting does not end as our last. Local members of Soulforce are available on short notice, as are leaders of three local chapters of Dignity and the Dignity national headquarters. Mel White will likely be in DC the last weekend of this month, and will be relatively nearby for four weeks thereafter. We only request such a meeting not be used to delay or obfuscate meaningful dialogue.
I sincerely believe your willingness to engage in dialogue will be the measure and the strength of that general renewal which must be carried out to restore full faith and confidence in the US Church today. Pope John Paul II stated August 17th in Krakow that "Mercy is needed in order to ensure that every injustice in the world will come to an end in the splendor of truth." Our sense of mercy does not allow us to stand silent while our brothers and sisters truly suffer. Appeals to divine authority and tradition, when used to justify or disregard human suffering, echo the darkest errors of Roman Catholic history. Have mercy on us.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
September 19, 2002
Most Reverend Daniel E. Pilarczyk
Diocese of Cincinnati
100 East 8th Street
Cincinnati, OH 45202
Dear Bishop Pilarczyk,
We are members of a group called Soulforce that will be conducting a campaign of non-violent spiritual resistance at your National Conference of Catholic Bishops’ meeting in Washington, DC, this November. (You may recall that we have been present at earlier gatherings of your group.) We pledge ourselves not to engage in any form of violence against you, whether in thought, word, or deed. Our purpose is not to attack you, but to inform and persuade.
We are deeply concerned about the position of the Roman Catholic Church against God’s daughters and sons who happen to have been created by God as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered (GLBT) persons. Our purpose in being in Washington, DC, will be to express those concerns and, hopefully, to persuade you and your fellow bishops to take a more loving and gospel-oriented stance toward the GLBT persons who are members of your Church.
We can speak of this subject from personal experience. We are a retired Lutheran pastor and spouse, whose oldest son was born gay, and who at the age of 37 died with AIDS. Having spent years coming to grips with and trying to understand the concept of homosexuality, we have ultimately come to recognize this condition as a special gift of God conveyed to some of his carefully selected daughters and sons. We have come to know personally thousands of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered persons. And we have also become convinced that this condition is part of the "creative given" rather than a personal choice by those individuals. As many GLBT persons have said to us, "Who would choose this, to be scorned, hated, and rejected, even by the Christian Church?!"
We should like very much to have you respond to this concern of ours by letter. And we should also very much appreciate on opportunity to meet with you while we are in Washington. We truly want to communicate to you the reasons we are so concerned about the spiritual violence that is committed against GLBT persons in all of our denominations. We have spent most of our lives struggling against the oppression of African-Americans and other groups within our society who are the objects of discrimination and prejudice. And we consider our ministry with and for the GLBT community to be an extension of that life-long commitment.
We hope to meet you in person in Washington, DC. In the meantime we shall be keeping you in our prayers.
Robert Graetz Jean Graetz
Greetings and blessings. I pray this finds you in the best of health and spirits.
I am writing to you today to let you know that, after careful thought and meditation, I have decided to once again stand with my Soulforce friends at the upcoming USCCB meeting in Washington, D.C., November 10-14, 2002. A letter outlining our concerns, intent and requests was sent to Bishop Wilton Gregory on August 22, 2002. I have enclosed a copy of that letter along with another from a faithful Catholic dissenter.
Archbishop Favalora, at our last meeting on December 6, 2001, you expressed your unwillingness and "hopelessness" concerning further dialog with me or others regarding the Church’s position, teachings, and behaviors towards God’s gay children. Nonetheless, I must continue my call, not just for dialog, but for change. I cannot, in good conscience, stand by in silence and let the Church’s teachings and actions continue to result in physical, emotional and spiritual violence against part of God’s beautiful and diverse creation. So long as I have breath in my lungs, so long as homosexuals and other sexual minorities continue to suffer as a result of the Church’s teachings, actions and inactions, I must continue to call for change, for justice. To be aware of the suffering and to do nothing would surely be a grave sin.
So I ask once more, in Christ’s name, may we meet and pray together prior to our travels or while in Washington? For His glory, will you bless the gifts we carry to D.C. for our neighbors in need? As always, I am available most anywhere, any time your schedule permits. If you are unable to commit or arrange beforehand, I can readily be found in D.C. either in front of the Hyatt Hotel in vigil, at the Holiday Inn across the street (202) 638-1616.
I look forward to hearing from and visiting with you again.
Respectfully yours and faithfully His,
Archbishop Eusebius Beltran
Archbishop of Oklahoma City
St. Francis DeSales Pastoral Center
7501 NW Expressway
Oklahoma City, OK, 73132
Dear Archbishop Beltran,
For the last year, I’ve watched with horror as the Church of my youth – a Church that I still love – has suffered through some of the worst struggles I’ve seen. During this time, I pray daily for the church and her leaders – that you may be guided by the Spirit of Truth.
I am an active participant in Soulforce, a network of friends seeking Justice for God’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Children guided by the nonviolent teachings of Gandhi and King. I am also active in the licensed Soulforce Local Group, Soulforce in Oklahoma. We meet regularly to learn the techniques of nonviolence and apply them to the fight for justice for GLBT issues. I’m sure you’re familiar with our attempts to enter into negotiation with many groups, both nationally and locally.
I’ll be in Washington D.C. as the co-chair for the Soulforce national action this year, and as an interested observer to the Council of Catholic Bishops’ November meeting. Soulforce will be there to vigil, in hopes that we can meet with you and your brother bishops and enter into negotiation.
God’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender people are routinely subject to violence – not only physical, but spiritual. So often, we have the Bible, a book of peace and love, used against us in ways that are simply horrifying. The Council of Bishops took a tremendous step with your document "Always Our Children", and now I challenge you to go one step farther. Meet with us. Listen to our stories of horror. I know that you can’t fail to be touched when we tell you stories of the Catholic Church supporting the removal of children from their homes because parents were GLBT, or when we tell of not feeling free to attend youth groups, or fulfill priestly calls to seminary, or to live our lives as religious and laity. So often we have heard from those who engage in violence against us that they do it because it’s "biblical". >From where do they receive these "biblical" teachings, Archbishop? Every time the bishops remove a gay seminarian, every time a potential seminarian is refused admission, and every time a gay priest is laicized, the church upholds that "it’s just not right – homosexuality’s not right".
Now more than ever before, we need courageous prophetic voices that are willing to stand with the "exiles" that Jesus consistently stood with. I hope that soon you’ll look at us in the eyes, realizing that our sexuality is a GIFT from God, not a sickness to be healed, a sin to be forgiven, or a cross to bear – and invite us back to the table.
In his 1776 Pamphlet Common Sense, Thomas Paine wrote "These are the times that try men’s souls…" The colonists were, at that time, engaged in a struggle to be accepted and given rights by an institution that resisted change – so, too, am I. I seek no more than equal acceptance and love from the institution – the church – that most wants to fight it. Dr. Paine titled his pamphlet Common Sense because he believed that his were matters of common sense – as do I.
Will you meet with me before your trip to Washington? May I tell you my story and the stories of others who are hurt daily by the church? Will you welcome us back to the table?
Praying daily for truth, I remain,
Soulforce Catholic Co-Chair, DC 2002
Most Reverend F. Joseph Gossman
Diocese of Raleigh
715 Nazareth Street
Raleigh, NC 27606
Dear Rev. Gossman:
I am writing to you today because of my involvement in Soulforce and my intent to participate in the Soulforce vigil at the US Conference of Bishops meeting in Washington DC in November.
I am middle-aged protestant Christian woman who returned to faith and to active church participation a decade ago, after many years of alienation. I was alienated because I felt "The Church/Christianity" rejected me as a single woman who was undeclared in her sexual orientation and who was supportive of others who clearly knew they were not heterosexual. My return to the church and my recognition that I am a bisexual were both made possible because I found a supportive Lutheran congregation that was willing to wrestle with issues related to sexuality and gender identity and which continues to grow in its understanding of how to welcome ALL of God’s people.
But sadly, I continue to talk with so many others, both straight and gay, who reject all of Christianity because of the lack of Christian love and understanding they hear the spokesmen of the Church (and in most cases they are indeed MEN, especially in the Roman Catholic context) expressing about gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered people. In some cases, these condemnations are literally causing people, especially young people, to take their own lives.
And I believe that the recent assertions by Roman Catholic leadership, stating or implying that the "homosexual element" among the Catholic clergy (and supposedly now dominant at many Catholic seminaries) is somehow connected to the priests involved in sexual misconduct, will only lead to more violence against gays, some of it self-inflicted by those who are struggling to accept themselves as God made them.
I recently spent a week (the week of September 11, actually) in retreat in Taize, France and returned with a renewed commitment to live each day in full cognizance of God’s love for all of God’s creation. I urge you and your fellow Bishops to pray on this issue with full consideration to the love God has for all people and the harm that hate-filled words and skapegoating can inflict. I will be available to meet with you during your stay in Washington if you would like to discuss this further.
Most Reverend John J. McRaith
Diocese of Owensboro
November 5, 2002
Dear Rev. McRaith,
Greetings! My name is Jamie McDaniel. I am a Christian, and though I am not Catholic, I did grow up in Western Kentucky. My faith background is Southern Baptist, though now I just consider myself Baptist.
I am writing to you because I understand that we will both be in Washington D.C. next week. You will be attending the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. I will be there with a group called Soulforce to respectfully protest the anti-gay teachings and policies of the Catholic Church.
Rev. McRaith, I do not know if you have personally heard the stories of any openly gay Christians in the course of your ministry, but for me "coming out" was a great struggle. While growing up, I honestly believed the teachings of my denomination concerning homosexuality and homosexual people. It is a terrible place to be – in that valley of confusion and despair that comes from being given two core truths and then being told by everything that surrounds you that those two things are polar opposites.
The first truth was that I wanted to live a life that was centered on what Jesus said was most important – loving the LORD with all your heart, soul, and mind and loving your neighbor as you love yourself.
The second truth was that whenever I am attracted to someone, whenever I want to be near someone, that someone is always a man. And so, when presented with this dichotomy of my soul, I could only come up with one word that described my walk with God and I wrote it in a journal. "Betrayed."
Sadly, this is the bondage that comes from misinformation. And there is hardly an issue within the church today that has more misinformation surrounding it than the issue of homosexuality.
I have since made the decision to live my life with honesty and integrity as an openly gay Christian. I am now a member of Soulforce and work to negotiate an end to the anti-gay teachings and policies of our religious institutions. I also volunteer as an adult advisor to a Gay-Straight Alliance youth group in Lexington. I am witnessing the healing of God’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender children who for years have been pressured to live in closets of fear and shame. I am witnessing the healing of God’s heterosexual children, who for far too long have been victims of misinformation regarding their homosexual brothers and sisters.
Rev. McRaith, I would very much like to meet with you sometime while we both are in Washington D.C. I know that you have a very busy schedule at the Conference of Catholic Bishops. However, I hope there might be time to sit down and talk – not to argue or fight over Biblical interpretation, but just to meet each other and listen to something the other side considers important enough to say in person. I will be standing with Soulforce outside. Please feel free to come up and introduce yourself!
Most Reverend William J. Levada
Archdiocese of San Francisco
Dear Bishop Levada:
Greetings from Richmond, Virginia. My name is Diana Westbrook, and I am one of 50 delegates from Soulforce who will be in Washington, D.C., during the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops this weekend to express our concern about the Roman Catholic policy on homosexuality. We will conduct silent, prayerful vigils outside the hotel where you are meeting in hopeful anticipation that your hearts and minds will be changed by our witness.
We also are bringing gifts. At noon on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, we will bring a variety of gifts to the Hyatt where you are meeting and ask you to bless them before we take them to the people for whom we have brought them people living with AIDS, homeless and disabled veterans, and abandoned and abused women and children. We believe that we are following Christ’s command to love our neighbor as we bring those gifts for people who need love and support. But we also see the gifts as symbolic of the gifts and talents that GLBT people bring to the Church, but which the Church has refused to recognize and accept.
Have you heard of us? Soulforce is an interfaith movement committed to ending spiritual violence perpetuated by religious policies and teachings against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. We teach and apply the nonviolent principles of Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. We come from various faith traditions, but a number of us are devout Catholics who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender.
Our coming to Washington, D.C., this month marks the fourth time that we have publicly expressed our concern about the Roman Catholic Church’s policy and teaching about homosexuality. Before each event we have officially communicated our concern in open letters, first to Bishop Fiorenza and now to Bishop Gregory. A number of us also have written letters to other bishops, telling our stories and asking for the opportunity to meet while in Washington, D.C.
In November 2000 we conducted prayer vigils outside the hotel where you were meeting, also distributed a flyer to you and to passers-by explaining the reason for our presence and iterating our requests. That year, more than 100 of us were arrested in an act of peaceful civil disobedience at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. In January 2001 we also took our concerns to the Vatican, communicating our concerns to Cardinal Ratzinger. In November of 2001 we again conducted prayer vigils outside the hotel where you were meeting and distributed a flyer to you and to passers-by. Many of those documents are posted on the Soulforce website at www.soulforce.orgif you are interested in reading them.
All of our activities and actions have been communicated to your leadership in advance and have been conducted in a spirit of peace, love and nonviolence.
The nonviolent principles we follow include researching the position of the person or organization with whom we have a concern. Although a number of Soulforcees are Roman Catholic, I was raised Southern Baptist, so I had a bit of catching up to do in terms of beginning to better understand Catholicism. (I have a master’s degree in English, so most of my acquaintance with the Roman Catholic Church came from the writings of James Joyce, Thomas Merton and Flannery O’Connor).
One of the books I used to further acquaint myself with Catholicism included a chapter titled "The Teaching Church," which cited Anselm’s famous definition of theology: "faith seeking understanding." The chapter further explained that Roman Catholic theology "begins with people’s experiences of faith and talks about them in terms of the meaning they have for life," adding that [emphasis mine] "church teachings are opened up to new insight" when the Church listens to the voices of the people "who are asking questions and demanding answers of their faith for the realities of their human condition."
Has the Roman Catholic Church listened to the voices of Catholics who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender? Has it heard their life-stories of suffering and alienation when they learn from the Church that their orientation is "intrinsically disordered" and that their acts of intimacy are "inherently evil"? Have Roman Catholic leaders opened their minds and hearts to new spiritual insights about homosexuality? Have you considered how "intrinsically disordered" it is for the Roman Catholic Church to say that homosexuality is a given, not a choice, and then to condemn homosexuals as sinners when they express their God-given gift of sexuality?
It is my hope and prayer that you will listen to us this year. It is also my hope that the bishops will bless our gifts this year before we distribute them. And I hope that you are one of the bishops whose heart and mind will be changed by our presence.
In Christ’s love,
Diana G. Westbrook