Soulforce Letter to Bishop Wilton D. Gregory (President of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops)

September 30, 2003

Most Reverend Wilton D. Gregory, President
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
3211 4th Street, N.E.,
Washington, DC 20017-1194

Dear Bishop Gregory:

We write to you in preparation for our annual presence at the upcoming gathering of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington DC this November, and in response to the Vatican document “Same-sex Unions ‘Harmful to Society’” (Origins, Vol. 33 No. 11, pp. 177, 179-182) and your own “Statement on Vatican Text” 7/31/03 (Origins, Vol. 33, No. 11, pp. 182-3).

It is difficult to communicate the gamut of emotions we felt as we read the Vatican document and your statement in its support. Needless to say, we were saddened, hurt and upset. We are writing you with an urgent, heartfelt plea to turn away from this harmful path and assume the pastoral and prophetic role God has truly called you to. As President of the Bishops Conference, you are in a unique position to speak out prophetically to the universal Church on this issue, along with your fellow U.S. Bishops.

By way of introduction to our concerns about the urging of the Vatican to oppose legal recognition of homosexual unions and that of the U.S. Bishops to promote a Constitutional Amendment limiting marriage to a union between one man and one woman, we wish to point out:

1. That enacting such an amendment is inconsistent with Catholic practice in other areas: Just as the Catholic Church historically has not attempted to impose its values and dogmas against divorce and remarriage on the civil rights of Americans, it is discriminatory to impose its outdated and hurtful attitudes concerning LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning) people and to deny them basic equal rights under the law.

2. That the “family values” argument is unsubstantiated: While Roman Catholic and fundamentalist churches claim that acknowledgment of LGBTQ relationships will somehow destroy the family, this claim continues to be unsubstantiated by behavioral science research. Too often, this claim is simply used as an incendiary battle cry with nothing to back it up. No one seems prepared to explain how a loving legal commitment between two people of the same sex is a threat to any two other people in a committed relationship.

3. That the logic appears circular: “This is true because we have said it was true in the past.”

Therefore, we ask you to pray over and consider the following:

1. View procreation and shared love in the light of Vatican II: Because of medical and technical advances, the world is no longer underpopulated and the Catholic Church has no need to continue to push a procreation-centered theology. Procreation will continue. Homosexual relationships do not threaten procreation any more than infertile heterosexual relationships do. Over population and over consumption of the world’s resources are major factors in both civil wars and wars of conquest. To limit our God-given creative abilities to procreation – especially in our present world situation – is a denial of the breadth of God’s vision. To confine the fruits of sexual intimacy to those who are capable of procreation denies God’s creative power of change and limits the union of Christ and the Church. The Second Vatican Council in Gaudium et Spes provides us a new and more compassionate paradigm when it writes, “Married love is an eminently human love because it is an affection between two persons rooted in the will and it embraces the good of the whole person; it can enrich the sentiments of the spirit and their physical elements and signs of the friendship proper to marriage…. A love like that, bringing together the human and the divine, leads the partners to a free and mutual giving of self, experienced in tenderness and action, and permeates their whole lives” (GS 49). Such a union is dependent on the connection, trust, joy and unititive experience of the couple and not only the procreative powers they might or might not have.

2. Distinguish between civil and ecclesiastical rights; keep church and state separate: We ask that you keep civil rights and religious rites separate. LGBTQ people are entitled to the same rights as all other human beings in our society. It is inappropriate in a democracy that claims separation of church and state for the Church to “have it both ways” – seeking exemption from some laws while seeking to enact laws to enforce its particular scriptural interpretation.

3. Respond to a call for true justice: The document states (契 8) that “Differentiating between persons or refusing social recognition or benefits is unacceptable only when it is contrary to justice.” How can the document conceivably claim that denial of civil recognition of loving, caring unions between homosexual persons is not “contrary to justice”? How can it state, as it does in the following sentence, that “The denial of the social and legal status of marriage to forms of cohabitation that are not and cannot be marital is not opposed to justice; on the contrary, justice requires it.” The logic escapes us. We respectfully challenge you to reword the sentence to read: “The denial of the civil legal status of marriage is opposed to justice; justice requires such recognition.” To rephrase a quote from document (契 9), “It would be gravely unjust to sacrifice the common good…in order to protect personal sectarian goods that can and must be guaranteed in ways that do not harm the body of society.” In reality, a constitutional amendment would be sacrificing the common good of civil rights and equality and justice for all, in order to protect the sectarian (Roman Catholic / fundamentalist) “good” of insistence on an outdated one-man-one-woman marriage paradigm. It seems both irrational and unjust to commit the power of the Roman Catholic Church against the civil rights of a significant percentage of the population.

4. Recognize your Pastoral and Prophetic Role:

In advocating a constitutional amendment, we believe that you are seriously abdicating your pastoral role. We urge you to assume your authentic leadership as pastor and shephard which is so desperately needed in our world today.

We implore you, and your fellow bishops, to be pastors for this most marginalized part of your flock. We who are LGBTQ Catholics (and families and friends) suffer greatly from such legalism and lack of pastoral concern. What would Jesus do?

Our understanding of Jesus suggests He would come to find us and gather us to Himself. He would not use illogical rhetoric to persecute us under the pretense of nurturing others of his flock. This is precisely what Jesus railed against the scribes and Pharisees for doing.

The Church has spoken prophetically against racism. We beg you to speak equally prophetically against homophobia and discrimination against LGBTQ people. If you truly “condemn all forms of unjust discrimination, harassment or abuse toward men and women with homosexual tendencies” (Gregory, op. cit., p. 183), you must (at a minimum) condemn any movement toward denying us our civil right to equal opportunity under the law.

Bishop Gregory, priests, bishops and lay people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and/or questioning-or who have family members or friends who are – recognize our lives as our witness: we are faithful Catholics, created to be who we are and to reflect God’s love as we are. ;It is time for the Church to separate itself from its outdated, illogical theology (as it eventually did when apologizing to Gallileo) and to live up to its 2000 Year of Jubilee motto, to open wide the doors of the Church to all of God’s faithful.

As a first step to reconciliation, we respectfully await your reply to Kara Speltz, our Chair of the Catholic Denominational Team, and would welcome a meeting with you, or your designated representatives, during the conference. We implore you to pray for and with us that God’s Will will be manifested through this dialogue.

Your brothers and sisters in Christ,
Rev. Mel White, Executive Director

Kara Speltz, Chair,
Catholic Denominational Team
4924 Desmond, Oakland, Ca. 94618

Ed Poliandro
Mike Perez
Michael Harank
Jennifer Adriel
Frances Elizabeth Lamb

cc: Most Reverend Wilton D. Gregory
222 South Third Street
Belleville, IL 62220
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