Joseph Amodeo led a group of gay Catholics who tried to get into St. Patrick's church in New York City but were turned away. Photo courtesy Gay Marriage USA

ANALYSIS: Can gay Catholics find a home in the Catholic Church?

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York prays during a Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York May 2, 2013. RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York prays during a Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York May 2, 2013. RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz

 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

NEW YORK (RNS) When Cardinal Timothy Dolan used the morning talk shows on Easter Sunday to say the Catholic Church could do a better job of welcoming gays and lesbians, his remarks were hailed by one activist as an “Easter miracle” and by another as an encouraging “first step.”

But two months later, it’s still not clear what the second step in this fraught process might be, or even if there is a second step. And there are signs that things may only get more complicated.

Since Easter, three more states have passed same-sex marriage laws, and next month the U.S. Supreme Court will hand down a gay marriage ruling that will again spotlight the bishops’ full-throated opposition to a whole host of civil protections for gays and lesbians, particularly marriage.

Moreover, as Americans -- and American Catholics -- grow increasingly accepting of homosexuality, and as foes of gay rights grow increasingly determined, conflict at the parish level seems inevitable. The uneasy “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell” policy that once allowed gay and lesbian Catholics to take church positions is clashing with their increasing visibility in the form of marriage licenses or wedding announcements.

Nicholas Coppola (left) with his husband David Crespo at home. Photo courtesy Nicholas Coppola

Nicholas Coppola (left) with his husband David Crespo at home. Photo courtesy Nicholas Coppola

 This image is available for web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Soon after Dolan's comments, for example, Nicholas Coppola went public with his story of being dismissed from his duties at a Long Island parish after an anonymous letter tipped off the local bishop to Coppola's marriage to another man.

In Columbus, Ohio, officials at a Catholic high school prompted an outcry in April by firing a teacher, Carla Hale, after someone pointed out that she listed her lesbian partner’s name in her mother’s obituary.

“How just is it to fire someone whose life or practices are not in accord with official church teaching?” Francis DeBernardo, head of New Ways Ministry, which advocates for gay and lesbian Catholics, wrote after two men were fired from their parish music director jobs because they were gay.

“Where do you draw the line?” he wondered in a column for National Catholic Reporter. “Do you get fired if you have remarried without an annulment? Do you get fired if you don’t attend Mass on Sunday regularly? Do you get fired because you are a Protestant who does not recognize the Catholic hierarchical structure?”

In the year since he wrote those words, DeBernardo noted recently, there have been a dozen similar incidents. Those are are in addition to past episodes in which the children of gay parents have been rejected from Catholic schools, or the case of a gay Catholic who was denied Communion at her mother’s funeral.

According to a number of priests, most of whom spoke on background to avoid publicity that could spark protests, the inevitability of such clashes is a growing concern.

“The fact is that it is going to get worse,” said the pastor of a large Midwest parish who has had to fend off complaints about a lesbian member of his staff. As critics become more insistent, and as gay and lesbian Catholics become more public, he fears the resulting controversies will take a serious toll on the church.

“We have to come to some kind of pastoral accommodation,” he said.

Joseph Amodeo led a group of gay Catholics who tried to get into St. Patrick's church in New York City but were turned away. Photo courtesy Gay Marriage USA

Joseph Amodeo led a group of gay Catholics who tried to get into St. Patrick's church in New York City but were turned away. Photo courtesy Gay Marriage USA

 This image is available for web publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

Such an accommodation is also necessary, said DeBernardo, because the flip side of the high-profile dismissals is that more and more parishes are publicly welcoming gays and lesbians and are thus potential lightning rods. A New Ways roster now boasts over 200 gay-friendly parishes, up from 20 a decade ago.

One of those parishes is St. Matthew’s in Baltimore, where the pastor, the Rev. Joe Muth, not only started a ministry for gays and lesbians a few years ago but he also supported parishioners who were lobbying for a Maryland referendum last fall that legalized same-sex marriage -- despite strong opposition from the bishops.

Gays and lesbians “just move into the regular life of the church” at St. Matthew’s, Muth said, as he believes is perfectly normal.

But he also said they are aware of the “sensitivity” of their presence, so they have made a concerted effort to reach out to other groups in the parish, and the parish has also made sure to include one of Baltimore’s bishops in meetings.

That dialogue has been invaluable, he said, and he has received few complaints or protests. But Muth also had to cancel a parish-sponsored forum on the same-sex marriage law last year at the behest of Baltimore Archbishop William Lori.

Muth also said that if some of his gay parishioners get married under the new law and their marriage becomes public, Lori could well remove them from ministry. “I probably wouldn’t have too much of a say in it. That’s the way things work.”

In fact, the patchwork nature of the responses is part of the problem, say gay advocates. “It’s not that there is a witch hunt out there,” said DeBernardo. “But there are witch hunters. … For the most part I don’t think bishops go after these folks. They don’t create controversy; they only respond to controversy.”

At the moment, there are no guidelines to help pastors and parishioners deal with these issues, and there doesn't seem to be an effort to develop anything comprehensive.

The Rev. Paul Check, head of Courage, a church-approved ministry that encourages gay Catholics to remain celibate, declined to be interviewed. A spokesperson for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said questions would have to be answered by each diocese. Prominent diocesan ministries for gays and lesbians, like Chicago’s Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach, did not respond to requests for comment.

When ABC’s George Stephanopoulos tried to pin down Dolan on exactly how the church could be more welcoming to gay and lesbian Catholics, Dolan confessed that he wasn’t sure: “Well, I don’t know. We’re still – we’re – we’re trying. We’re trying our best to do it. We gotta listen to people.”

When Dolan later blogged that all sinners are welcome in the church so long as they wash their "dirty hands" before dinner, a group of gay activists showed up at St. Patrick's Cathedral with ink-stained hands in a bid to test that welcome. They were turned away.

The upshot: Even if such a dialogue does take place, it is not likely to end the controversies. But advocates for gay and lesbian Catholics say it may be the only way forward for now.

“Right now it’s a step-by-step process of helping people to be church,” said Muth, of St. Matthew’s in Baltimore. “That’s the way I see it.”



  1. Nothing says confused more than the fact that the Rev. Paul Check, head of Courage, a church-approved ministry that encourages gay Catholics to remain celibate, declined to be interviewed. The Church is simply confused, IMHO because its hierarchy of old men chooses to isolate itself. [See Sisters Religous]

    The Church must find a way to remake its catechism on sexuality, and its near exclusive focus on biological reproduction. The old dogma makes sense only if we, like other mammals, had a limited rutting season. However, sexuality is a continuing gift from Gd that extends beyond mere reproduction.

  2. Of course it’s possible for LGBT Catholics to “find a home” in the Catholic Church – countless numbers of us already do. At the level of practical pastoral practice, many Catholics find that they experience no difficulty at all in finding a genuine welcome and full acceptance in their local parishes. What makes the exceptions newsworthy, is precisely that they are exceptions.

    The evidence from opinion polls, in the US and elsewhere, is that most Catholics just don’t buy the party line that same – sex relationships are even a matter of morality – much less gravely disordered. It’s not gay and lesbian Catholics that are out of step with the Church, but many bishops. It’s not same – sex orientation that is “gravely disordered”, but the dangerous and destructive sexual doctrines that emanate from the CDF in Rome.

    The main reason this is hitting the news, is that it’s becoming increasingly evident that bishops like Dolan simply don’t have a clue – as they themselves acknowledge. They have a steep learning curve to go through, but go through it they will, aided by the vastly superior example of Francis in the Vatican, whose every step and utterance seems to emphasise, like the Gospels, that love and pastoral sensitivity are vastly more important than doctrinal laws an the trappings of ecclesiastical office.

  3. tehre are some churches (cath) that are far more progressive, eg St. Bernadetts in Severn MD. A progressive catholic friend was decrying the church and its ancient ideeas and political BS so I told her of this chruch andd I’m sure there are others

    But the ultimate solution to the church is for everyone who beleives that gays are part of Gods creation should leave it, keep their money and join the Episcopal church, which will even in some dioceses do gay religious marrriages (I have no idea how many but rumor is a majority) I’m told the liturgy is similar.

    You’ve got to get the catholic church via their pocketbook, but IMO the church will go to their grave with their backwards dogma and mch of the world will celebrate.

    BTW all you have to do to find in most cases gay friendly denominations is see if they allow women to be religious leaders and support birth control so women are not just baby factories

  4. One could equally ask, “Can adulterers or fornicators find a home in the Catholic Church?” The answer is the same, “Only if they repent their sins and agree to try not to sin in the future.”

  5. Well seeing as how the pope said even atheists are now redeemed, Gays, YOURE IN! Yaaayyy….

  6. Nope, the pope sais even atheists are a ok. They are without a doubt a bunch of non believing fornicators.

  7. Some of my gay Catholic relatives, very religious, very generous with donations, were perfectly happy in the the church … until … the sarcasm of snide Adam & Steve chuckles and other sarcastic insults made them realize that there is very little Christian charity among Catholic clergy. They are now happy in another congregation, made up primarily of kind-herated ex-Catholics, mostly straight and married.

  8. The short answer: in the long run, no. They will leave or be forced to leave.

    The unasked question is: Will approving parents of gay kids stay in the Catholic church? I think the answer is the same: in the long run, no.

  9. The more important question is: why try? The salvation of my soul is not dependent on being a Catholic. Life is too short and too important to spend it dealing with issues that are, in the final analysis, irrelevant, i.e., trying to by LGBT Catholics.

  10. The 11th commandment is: Thou shalt NOT fund fiends and fools. If you continue to do so, then kwitcherbitchin.

  11. I find it troubling that Father Paul Check, head of Courage, seems to be quite silent when it comes to mistreatment of gay Catholics. He seems to be afraid of offending people that hate the gays. In New York City, a man was recently murdered and there have been several attacks on gay men. Where is the voice of Courage here? Courage needs to find some courage and speak out against attacks on gays and discrimination against them.

  12. I was so very naive 55 years ago that I did not even know what a homosexual was.
    I did know what “impure thoughts” were, and I sure had plenty of those.
    I still have them and I am old.
    The classic story told by the nuns back then was little Johnny was walking home from school and he was thinking about how delicious little Mary was in her knee socks and scratchy wool uniform when he stepped off a a curb and got hit by a bus.
    Not only was little Johnny (11 years old) dead as a door nail, but his poor little soul was now burning in Hell… for ETERNITY…(where it belonged) for enjoying those thoughts about little Mary.
    Basically, the Catholic Church hates sex.
    Booze and gambling and maybe smacking the old lady up the side of the head on a Saturday night after a few drinks was understandable, but sex…without following all the rules of engagement with the Church in bed with you…. well….that is simply punishable by the fires of everlasting torment….and that is in spite of what Father Horntoad was doing on the side…when no one was looking.

  13. Home is a place where one is welcome. We continue to see numerous places called “home” that are anything but, both at the personal level and in groups. The Catholic Church, like the Boy Scouts of America, are two such groups. As long as they maintain one bit of the ignorance and fakery that continues to pervade and support their hateful prejudice toward gays, there is no home, there can be no home. When the clerics of the Catholic Church, from popes to parish priests, honestly face their own sexuality, stop creating male-only havens of distorted sexual maturation like their seminaries, rectories, and community houses, stop their sexual abuse crimes, and stop the cover-up of those crimes and court-ordered awards for abuses, only then might they begin to face the reality that God created queers just as God created straights.

  14. If you’re serious, your right and good.

  15. So true. But the “righteousness” of the Catholic clergy and many of its illiterate lay people will be bigger hurdles impeding the “charitable,” much less intelligent and informed acceptance of gays than it was for the acceptance of the declarations of Vatican Council II.

    As long as people like John Paul and Benedict can get away with their negative, deceitful descriptions of homosexuality as an “intrinsic disorder,” nothing will change. Francis or his successors must make that clear.

    Better still would be that the Catholic Church separate into independent national communions who “council” from time to time in the spirit of Jesus, and not in the spirit of Catholic history. Churches can be catholic without dogmatic dictatorship. That has been modeled by many of the Reformation churches.

  16. The Catholic Church is slow to change but it does change. The general public has very mixed emotions on the subject same sex marriage so how could anyone expect the Catholic Church to throw open her doors over the course of a couple of decades. To people who feel that a couple of decades is long enough please keep in mind how long the church has been in place. As a Catholic I have conflicting thoughts on sexuality but the one thing I feel strongly about is that there are far too many non-Catholics expressing feelings on how my church should be run. If you are gay and Catholic I want your voice to be heard. If you are a non-Catholic then this is really not of your concern.

  17. You cannot remake truth. The Catechism teaches the Truth, handed down by Jesus Christ, Himself. Go ahead, tell God to change what he created. What an audacious thing to say.
    The reason why he refused to be interviewed — if he truly was — is he knew he wouldn’t get an honest interview. They have their agenda. Why bother.
    And, furthermore, one is not born homosexual. And that’s the truth. Don’t look for the Catholic Church to change, That’s why they’re trying to wipe it out. Good luck with that. It takes COURAGE to tell the truth.

  18. WE are supposed to change for God, both the other way around. The Bible is not a bag if of trail mix that you pick and choose what you like and ignore the rest. If you disagree with the Catholic church… Go be great some place else, don’t expect the Church to change just to make YOU happy. Right and wrong is clearly defined in the Bible… Its lasted over 2000 years… If you don’t like it, too bad. Written by God and should not be edited by man. Idiots can try and call all priests names because of a few bad men who abused and happened to be priests. Abusers are also teachers, police men and women, mail carriers, etc. Etc. So get over yourselves. If you don’t like the rules of the church written by God (He trumps you btw) then move along. Stop trying to force your beliefs on others. You have a choice in your religious organizations.

  19. I support your stand theresa we are called to change our evil ways to be one with our mighty creator. if not the choice is ours ” in front there is water & there is fire have your pick and enjoy your life. in Kenya we say “BARIKIWA” meaning “BE BLESSED”

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