Parish discusses how to reach out to LGBT Catholics

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

CORALVILLE — St. Thomas More parishioner Mary Lu Callahan approached her pastor about hosting a discussion of the book, “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity.”

She said the book takes a pastoral approach that she knew her fellow parishioners would appreciate. Many parishioners, because of friends, family or their own identification as LGBT “are hurting about the issue and feel the church does not want LGBT persons or their gifts. Many other parishioners want to support and help them know they are loved and wanted.”

Contributed
This is the cover of Father James Martin, S.J.’s book, “Building a Bridge,” which was recently the subject of a book study at St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville

Callahan acknowledged that some Catholics have been critical of author Father James Martin, S.J., for his approach toward individuals who identify as LGBT. He affirms the idea that they have gifts to share, and that their sexual identity should not define them.

St. Thomas More pastor, Father Chuck Adam, said any reluctance to allow the book discussion at St. Thomas More quickly dissipated once he saw how many people wanted to be a part of it. “One mother said, ‘I pray every day that my daughter who is lesbian will find a way to come back to the church before I die.’ She was deeply appreciative that we were finally having this discussion.”

He offered to help Callahan lead the discussion. He told The Catholic Messenger, “There is a lot of fear in talking about something that for so many years has been a subject to avoid. But, when a human face is put onto the subject, and when that face is a family member or loved one, it becomes real and unavoidable.”

Father Martin’s book, he said, is “based on the very words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church which says that homosexual persons should be treated with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Father Martin talks about bridge building. If we are to have authentic relationships, there has to be movement on both sides. So Father Martin speaks of building a bridge that goes in two directions: from the church to LGBT Catholics and from LGBT Catholics to the church.”

Pope Francis met with the Jesuit priest in September for a 30-minute conversation. Father Martin felt encouraged by the meeting, later writing on his Facebook account, “(Pope Francis) encouraged me to continue ministering with LGBT Catholics. I hope that this event, a public sign of the Holy Father’s support, inspires many others to reach out to that community in our church.”

Father Adam believes that Vision 20/20 “is all about going out to the margins of society to bring the good news of the Gospel.” The convocation’s breakout sessions included the topic of Ministry to LGBT Catholics.

In preparation for the 90-minute study in late September, participants had the opportunity to pick up a copy of the book in the parish’s main office. More than 50 people attended. Callahan and Father Adam led a discussion of the three sections of the book, which focus on showing respect, compassion and sensitivity to individuals experiencing same-sex attraction, and to the Catholic Church.

She said the book study received praise from everyone who attended. None of the 50 participants expressed a negative reaction, she said. “I think there would be interest in other parishes for such a discussion because so many people have family and friends who identify as LGBT.”

Parishioner Evalee Mickey appreciated having an opportunity to attend a book study addressing the church’s response to LGBT individuals. “We are all children of God,” she said. She believes Father Martin followed the Spirit when he wrote the book. “Even though he was criticized by some in the church, Pope Francis was not one of them.”

Parishioner Karen Grajczyk said the book study provided an opportunity for people “to reflect on the great points Father Martin made and discusses ways that we as a parish can openly welcome our LGBT brothers and sisters.”

The parish decided to follow up the book study with a meeting to brainstorm ways the parish can better minister to LGBT individuals. About 20 people attended, and “lots of ideas came out of that,” Callahan said. The parish added books to its library and plans to expand its mission statement to be more welcoming “for people on the margins.” The parish also hopes to set up a video chat with Father Martin.

Callahan feels encouraged by her parish’s desire to bring a difficult subject to light. Parishioner Karen Grajczyk said the book study and action meeting “has made me really excited to welcome back those who felt they weren’t welcome. … As a believer in Jesus Christ, I know he made us all in his image, and in that image, we are all loved by him.”

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