Pastoral Letter to Homosexual Catholics After Passage of Proposition 8

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jan 3, 2009 | Categories: Bishops, Lesbians & Gays, Politics

Proposition 8 was a California constitutional amendment that defined marriage as between a man and a woman.   Much to the utter shock of many people, especially gay people in California  that took tolerance for granted, the measure passed on election day.   The people who voted for it  in the largest numbers were black Christians who also pulled the lever for Democratic presidential candidate Barak  Obama. Obama won, but so did Proposition 8. knights.jpg

The California dioceses and  California Catholic Conference  weighed in against the measure, and the Knights of Columbus provided  over $1 million for media and public relations efforts. Against this flood one gay priest spoke out against it, Father Geoff Farrow. Who said all the good men were gone from the priesthood?

Shock, anger, bitter disappointment,  hostility, disillusionment, grim resolve…Quo Vadis, lesbian and gay Catholics? Walk away from Rome, or walk back to your people?

Two of the Roman Catholic dioceses in California have made an effort to extend an conciliatory hand to homosexual Catholics and others who support gay marriage, and worked for the defeat of Proposition 8.

Shortly after the vote,  when name-calling  and tempers on both sides were starting to rise,  Archbishop George H. Niederauer of San Francisco made an appeal for public civility, gently chiding everyone that “tolerance, respect and trust are two-ways streets, and tolerance, respect and trust often do not include agreement or even approval. We need to be able to disagree without being disagreeable.”

“While we argue among ourselves,” he continued, “the people who need our help with hunger, unemployment, homelessless and other problems wait for us to turn together toward them.   More particularly, we Catholics in the Archdiocese of San Francisco need to minister to the needs of all Catholics in this local church.   Whoever they are and whatever their circumstances, their spiritual and pastoral rights should be respected, together with their membership in the church. In that spirit, with God’s grace and much prayer, perhaps we can all move forward together.”

On December 3, 2008, about a month after the passage of Proposition 8,  Cardinal Roger M.  Mahoney, and all six of the auxiliary bishops signed a letter titled –  A Pastoral Message to Homosexual Catholics in the Archiocese of Los Angeles.

“As bishops of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles,” the letter begins, “we are addressing this message first of all to homosexual members of our church. Given the controversy generated by the passage of Proposition 8, we want to reassure each of you that you are cherished members of the Catholic Church and we value you as equal and active members of the body of Christ.” mahoney2.jpg

“The passage of Proposition 8 in the state of California does not diminish in any way the importance of you, our homosexual brothers and sisters in the church. Nor does it lessen your personal dignity and value as full members of the body of Christ. The church’s support of Proposition 8 was our effort to resist a legal redefinition of marriage.”

“We were disappointed that the ballot information about Proposition 8 stated that the purpose of the initiative was ‘to ban gay marriage.’ From the very beginning, this was not our purpose.”

“Proposition 8 was never intended, directly or indirectly, to lessen the value and importance of gay and lesbian persons. Your intrinsic values as human beings and as brothers and sisters continues without change. If we had ever thought that the intent of this proposition was to harm you or anyone in the state of California, we would not have supported it.   We are personally grateful for the witness and service of so many dedicated and generous homosexual Catholics.   We pledge our commitment to safeguard your dignity.”

“We welcome thoughtful and civil dialogue with you so that we can deepen our realization that all of us cherish God’s creative life which we equally share. We are committed to find ways to eliminate discrimination against homosexual persons and to help guarantee the basic rights which belong to each of us.”

Read the whole letter here.

The remaining  California Dioceses of San Diego, Orange, Fresno, San Jose, Oakland, Sacramento, San Bernadino, Monterey, Santa Rosa, and Stockton have apparently declined to offer any post-Proposition 8 reconciliation.

Archbishop Niederauer and Cardinal Mahoney did go out on a limb to reach out and reassure gay Catholics. Their statements were  disingenuous in spots, but for the most part I believe they are sincere.

I hope one of them is willing to offer Fr. Geoff a pastoral position, if he needs to leave Fresno.

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7 Responses to “Pastoral Letter to Homosexual Catholics After Passage of Proposition 8”

  1. Terence Says:

    As you say, disingenuous in parts, but still a sincere attempt at conciliation, and so encouraging. The silence of the rest is disappointing.

    To me, the most puzzling part of the statement is the assertion that the purpose of the initiative was not ‘to ban gay marriage’. What on earth else what it? I can accept the argument that they value LGBT persons and their contributions, that they are not opposed to civil rights, and were merely opposed to changing the ‘legal definition’ – but that is precisely what is meant by the wording of the proposition – to change the legal definition, in order to ban gay marriage!

  2. Karen Doherty Says:

    Terence, the other negative is that their focus is carefully placed on the “homosexual person.” This studiously avoids mention of the words “relationship,” or “family.”

    And that is a problem, when it comes to dialogue with most gay Catholics.

    My wife and I, and another couple, requested to meet with the head of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Doctrine re: a statement they released on the Pastoral Care of Homosexuals. Here is a link to our letter –

    We wanted to talk about the goodness of our lives, and the importance of both our Catholic faith and family life.

    The end result – so long as we weren’t following church teaching (i.e. celibate), they would not meet with us, because it could be seen as condoning our “lifestyle.”

    If the LA and San Francisco dioceses are willing to remove that roadblock, then gay people and the institutional Church can begin an honest dialogue.

    If they leave out church-going gay Catholics who date, who have have lovers, partners and spouses, or want a same-sex partner, they’re missing most of the people they say they want to reach.

  3. Benny the Bridgebuilder Says:

    Surely the Church’s position is inconsistent.

    In valuing the person whose sexual orientation is homosexual or lesbian it is accepting that these are not mere lifestyle choices but God given attributes. At the same time is demanding celibacy (or non expression of these God given attributes).

    Even from the Church’s current (misguided) position one would imagine it should be prepared to engage with those it classes as “sinners”. Perhaps the Bishops are not as emotionally or intellectually secure in their convictions as they would have us believe. And if this is so, is not simply following orders an abrogation of responsibility on their part.

    Ruat caelum.

  4. Benny the Bridgebuilder Says:

    I don’t know what your readership is. I assume you have a tracker.

    But it strikes me that the paucity of comments is totally out of kilter with the quality of the site.

  5. davis Says:

    In response to Benny – Sometimes there is very little to say when faced with such contradictions on the part of the Church.

  6. Karen Doherty Says:

    Benny, thank you for the compliment! The blog attracts a good number of regular visitors, but few correspondents. This may be partially due to the deliberately reasoned tone, or the topics I choose to write about. I haven’t done much writing on Catholics and politics. When I have, some conservative Catholics descended on the site, and we get a pretty good exchange going until they get frustrated and retreat into nasty sex talk. Then I have to end the discussion. But with Obama going in the White House, and Catholic Democrats pushing another kind of “family values,” it will be interesting to see how Catholic conservatives handle their change of fortune. I guess we’ll find out!

  7. Benny the Bridgebuilder Says:

    The compliment is well deserved.

    Your reply is very interesting. As you say it will be interesting to see how Catholics respond to the need to have substantive discussions on how to pro-actively nourish the flock instead of retreating into the old theological/catechetical mantras.

    Institutions like the World Bank have had to face up to this sort of change when the cold war subsided and they had to view projects on their actual merits as opposed to just finding out “whose bastards” they were dealing with.

    You are in a good position to make a real contribution to the upcoming debate.

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