Years ago, in the mid-1980s, my younger brother Bill and I sat alone in the tiny kitchen of my mom’s house. It was very late.
We were a family that didn’t confront issues head-on. We walked around the elephant in the room, and if that meant sometimes we had to take turns cleaning up after the big fellow, we did so silently and in a way that wouldn’t offend anyone.
So it was with fear and faltering tones that my brother confided to me that he was gay. I had long suspected — no, I assumed — as much. His “roommate” was practically a member of the family whom everyone loved, even while we tiptoed around the nature of their relationship. We feared my mother learning the truth, although later we all realized she’d always known it.
Nevertheless, we’d continued our private version of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
So, the revelation was not startling. The stinging memory of that evening came in another way. My brother told me he had confided in a few other family members but had feared telling me because I was such a “good” Catholic.
I have spent the past 30 years trying to recast the image of a “good” Catholic. I want to be the Catholic who offers compassion and a listening ear. I do not want to be the judgmental, self-righteous Christian. I want to be the Catholic to whom another brings his story to share in safety and love. I want to be part of a church that welcomes and comforts the marginalized.
I want to be part of the church that knows God’s name is mercy.
The other night, I watched a 2013 documentary called, “God Loves Uganda.” This film, broadcast on public television’s “Independent Lens” program, produced an almost physical revulsion in me. In it, Uganda debates and passes a bill to criminalize homosexuality and even considers the death penalty for repeated gay behavior.
Throughout the film, we see American evangelical Christians preaching in Uganda a strident anti-gay message, helping to stir up the crowds. We see the inevitable violence against gay people go without condemnation by the “good” Christians.
There are American Christians who do wonderful work in African nations. Many build hospitals and schools and preach and live a loving example of Jesus Christ.
But those who allowed themselves to be filmed in “God Loves Uganda” were hateful and dangerous, even while their young fresh-faced youth workers sang sweet Jesus songs. It occurred to me that evening that homophobes aren’t getting very far in the U.S., so they ply their hate in far-off lands.
Then I awoke two days later to the slaughter at the gay bar in Orlando, Florida. Although the issues were complex, including anti-American extremism and our crazy romance with assault rifles, it was also, clearly, an anti-LGBT assault.
Catholic leaders spoke out with sympathy for victims. But not everyone addressed the elephant in the room: who these victims were. Those who did acknowledge the LGBT community deserve our applause.
For example, Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida, wrote on his blog the Monday after the attack, “Sadly it is religion, including our own, that targets, mostly verbally, and also often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people. Attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence.”
And Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich wrote to an archdiocesan gay and lesbian outreach immediately after the massacre, “Know this: The Archdiocese of Chicago stands with you. I stand with you.”
Thank you to these leaders.