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Gay and celibate, Ron Belgau is the official face of gay Catholicism for Pope Francis …

Ron Belgau has the distinction of being the only openly gay person invited to speak about homosexuality during the World Meeting of Families, which leads up to the grand finale of the papal visit in Philadelphia. Photo courtesy of Ron Belgau
Ron Belgau has the distinction of being the only openly gay person invited to speak about homosexuality during the World Meeting Families, which leads up to the grand finale of the papal visit in Philadelphia. Photo courtesy of Ron Belgau

Ron Belgau has the distinction of being the only openly gay person invited to speak about homosexuality during the World Meeting of Families, which leads up to the grand finale of the papal visit in Philadelphia. Photo courtesy of Ron Belgau

(RNS) Of all the delicate issues that Pope Francis will face when he makes his first visit to the U.S. this month, none may pose as many risks to his enduring popular appeal as the question of the Catholic Church’s approach to gays and lesbians. And no one knows the perils better than Ron Belgau.

That’s because Belgau has the distinction of being the only openly gay person invited to speak about homosexuality during a Vatican-approved convention, the World Meeting of Families, which leads up to the grand finale of the papal visit in Philadelphia.

The meeting, held every three years in a different city around the world, is in fact the underlying reason Francis is making his Sept. 22-27 trip. His predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, pledged to attend before he resigned.

U.S. laws and American attitudes — especially those of Catholics — are rapidly growing more accommodating to gays and gay rights, and Francis has repeatedly signaled that he wants the church to be more inclusive of LGBT people, even if he is not changing any doctrines.

But many Catholics leaders are upset at the legal changes and uneasy with the pope’s approach.

Their statements, plus repeated stories of gays and lesbians getting fired from church jobs — including the recent example of a teacher dismissed from a Catholic school in suburban Philadelphia over her marriage to her partner — have ramped up demands for Francis to meet with gay Catholics in the U.S. or to speak more extensively about his own approach.

Enter Belgau, 40, who will have the chance — and challenge — of leading a session on homosexuality at the World Meeting of Families on Sept. 24, two days before Francis arrives in Philadelphia.

“This is a very, very large issue to try to tackle in one hourlong panel discussion,” Belgau said with a laugh, and a bit of understatement, during a phone interview from his home in Washington state.

Religion News Service graphic by T.J. Thomson.

Religion News Service graphic by T.J. Thomson.

Belgau, a writer and lecturer, will be presenting, together with his mother, a panel on “Homosexuality in the Family,” one of dozens of workshops and panels — most focused on safer and more orthodox topics — that will draw some 18,000 attendees and volunteers to the four-day event. (The papal visit itself is expected to draw as many as 1.5 million pilgrims and tourists to the city.)

Belgau admitted that “there’s a lot of pressure” in trying to address the many aspects of such a contentious issue, but he says that he is determined that his remarks not be “a speech just to Catholics who agree with me.”

That shouldn’t be a problem, given that Catholics on both right and left have frequently criticized him.

Many liberals are uncomfortable with Belgau’s commitment to being celibate, which he sees as the ideal for gays who, like himself, follow a “traditional Christian sexual ethic” that says homosexual activity is sinful.

Belgau curates a blog, “Spiritual Friendship,” along with New Testament professor Wesley Hill, that focuses on how gay Christians can live chaste and celibate lives, especially through strong friendships that focus on spiritual growth.

While Belgau readily acknowledges that his path is not one every gay Catholic could follow — “I’m not banging people over the head with that” — some gays and lesbians go further and say his ideal denies LGBT believers a central aspect of human experience.

They argue the church has to find ways to accept sexually active LGBT members, and  the World Meeting of Families ought to allow Catholics whose views differ from Belgau’s to offer their voices.

As evidence, they point to the fact that LGBT-friendly Catholic groups were denied applications to purchase exhibit space or offer presentations. And a leading ministry to gay Catholics was barred by Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput from running a workshop at a local parish. The New Ways Ministry will instead hold the seminar at a Methodist church.

When asked about the rejections, Chaput, a leader of the U.S. hierarchy’s conservative wing, said “we don’t want to provide a platform at the meeting for people to lobby for a position contrary to the life of our church.” Chaput also backed the recent firing of Margie Winters from a Catholic school run by nuns, saying the move “showed character and common sense.”

Many conservatives, on the other hand, aren’t happy with Belgau because they actually think he is too squishy on church teaching on homosexuality.

They don’t like the fact that he accepts his sexual orientation as part of his identity (Belgau calls the practice of conversion therapy “appalling”), or that he is even talking openly about being gay and Catholic.

There are “certain people who say we shouldn’t talk about this but who almost can’t stop” talking about it, Belgau said. They insist on giving their own views on homosexuality, he said, “but then if I try to talk about my own experience they say, ‘We shouldn’t be talking about this.’”

Belgau insisted that there is no way the church, or the World Meeting of Families, can avoid the topic. It’s a huge issue in the U.S., and if the Philadelphia meeting had not included anything “that itself would have been a major source of news coverage.”

Also, while he says he understood the enormous demands on the organizers of the World Meeting of Families, he does wish other gays and lesbians with other viewpoints could have been heard. (Equally Blessed, a ministry for LGBT Catholics, says 14 of its member families had signed up as participants at the World Meeting of Families.)

And Belgau is among those who hope that Francis will talk about gay and lesbian Catholics when he visits.

For his part, Belgau will try to echo and elaborate what the pope has already said about being more welcoming and inclusive. The title of his talk, “Always Consider the Person,” is a quote from the pope.

“My biggest theme would simply be moving away from the culture wars’ focus on ‘us versus them,’ and saying, respond to people as people,” Belgau said.

Too often, he said, gay Catholics are treated differently from others in the church. He said, for example, he wants to encourage parents “to respond to their (gay) children as people rather than as an extension of the culture wars.”

“There’s way more focus on gays and lesbians who fall short of the ideal than there is on straight Catholics who fall short of the ideal,” he said.

“I have heard of cases of women being dismissed for having a child out of wedlock, but as far as I can recall I’ve never heard of a case of a male teacher being dismissed for having had a child out of wedlock,” he added. Likewise, he said, there is a lot of attention on a gay teacher “but there’s no public outrage about a teacher who doesn’t go to Mass.”

“It’s a concern to me that the reasoning is protecting the Catholic identity of a school,” he said. “But it seems to shake out that single women who get pregnant and gays and lesbians tend to bear the brunt of this maintaining Catholic identity.”

Belgau acknowledged that the audience at the World Meeting of Families will be “more orthodox Catholics” who may be uncomfortable with some of his views.

But, he added, “I think in some ways those who have been hurt by the church, those alienated by the church or in some way outside the church, are a more important audience.”

YS/AMB END GIBSON

About the author

David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series.

58 Comments

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  • When I saw the headline I thought it was Ryan Anderson. These people are easy targets for opprobrium — I think it’s an unfair bargain to trade libido for faith. Yet I have to admire them for their conviction to a point.

    Some of these folks have actively campaigned against gay rights (eg Doug Mainwaring). That is when I get very angry. They know perfectly well that sexual orientation a)exists and; b) is innate. It is celibacy that is a choice, not being gay. Most conservative Christians (Catholics and Protestants) disagree and that is at the core of how gay people expect to be treated.

  • “a “traditional Christian sexual ethic” that says homosexual activity is sinful…”

    What an anti-human, uncivilized approach to normal sexuality.
    Of course priests are all supposed to be celibate (masturbators for Jesus?) and many of them are Gay anyway – but to promote it as a ‘good’ thing is simply madness. This is cultish behavior and it is completely against nature.

    I mean, what good is this? How is it good for there to be one more lonely person walking the planet denying himself a loving relationship with someone?
    Some other guy out there is lonely, too!

    Religion is a nuisance.

  • Max,
    ” I mean, what good is this? How is it good for there to be one more lonely person walking the planet denying himself a loving relationship with someone?
    Some other guy out there is lonely, too! ”

    A very very meaningful assessment of the situation.

  • I think Belgau is a good example of one who strikes the right balance. He acknowledges that he has homosexual challenges, but Loves our Lord much more than persons who claims to, but refuse to do what Jesus requires us to do. Good for you Mr. Belgau, more should look to heaven (as you do), and not be so concerned with the things of this world. Keep up the fight!

  • What a laugh. My husband and I have been happily together nearly eighteen years.

    I’m sorry you hate God’s creation too much to find similar happiness for yourself.

  • Balance? No, he insults God’s creation by buying the man-made lie that gay people are born broken, when we are simply different.

  • Jesus condemned ALL forms of fornication. For example in Mark 7:212, He said, ““For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality (fornication), theft, murder, adultery,” And he is not speaking in a supportive way here. Fornication includes both male and female prostitution. And the New Testament is clear that engaging in homosexual behavior is outside of the Plan of God (Jude 7, Rom 1:26-27, 1Tim 1:10, 1Cor 6:9).

  • I think what is missing in the gay agenda, especially those who compel God Almighty to accept their lifestyle, or bug off. The problem I sense is they NEVER ask GOD to let His Will be done in them. I believe we are all guilty of that to some degree, some worse than others. We instead always pray for, and tell God that we want it done our way, instead of saying, “Lord, God, I am opening myself up as a vessel for you to operate through without restriction. Do with me as you please; lead me where you please, and let me do whatever it is you want for me to do. I am open to whatever that is, and I no longer want to tell you how You must accept my choices, but instead I want You to decide the direction for my life. Please Lord, I am a vessel for You!” I would ask just one person here to truly try that. It’s not easy, and the surprises are many, but it is the pinnacle of Freedom.

  • And perhaps it is God’s will that we live our lives as we were born to live them. That pesky thing called science is settled on the normality of homosexuality. It’s time for ignorant religionists to start believing that God loves his own creation.

  • Greg,

    “Jesus condemned ALL forms of fornication….”

    And there is no reason to believe anything Jesus said – these are fables. If you like something in the Bible, fine. But it isn’t any more true than Gandalf or Harry Potter.

  • The speakers for the World Meeting of Families were chosen by conservatives who clearly hope doctrine and pastoral care will remain what they were in 1975. They are likely to be disappointed.

    But probably less than 5% of Catholic families live in the United States, and probably less than 1% of Catholic families involve a same sex couple. So the meeting has reason to give most of its attention to such things as the declining marriage rate, the frequency of divorce and remarriage, and so forth. While I should be pleased if Pope Francis spoke in favor of gay civil marriage, I doubt that is what he will want to address at this meeting. Learning that he is only attending to fulfill a pledge made by his predecessor seems to me to increase the chance he will say as little as he can.

  • I see how when someone wants to freely choose homosexuality as their lifestyle youre all pro-“A person can choose any lifestyle they want.” But now when someone wants to chose celibacy you attack them. Is he not just as free to choose celibacy as homosexuality you bunch of hypocrots

  • Bob you’ve become the Leftist Karla the robot. Actually, you should broaden your writing skills to include one that uses reason, and not talking points. God is everywhere, but you refuse to neither listen, nor see. Go to your nearest Catholic Church that has Eucharistic Adoration, and stop in for an hour or so. Just keep quiet, and listen. Many of the saints have used what is known as Contemplative Prayer. That is what should be done during Adoration of the Eucharist. Our Lord quickly fills our minds with his thoughts for us. And you will quickly see that God is very very near; we only need to take off our blinders, pull out the earplugs, and shut off the phone. You must communicate with God on His terms, not yours.

  • “Chaput, a leader of the U.S. hierarchy’s conservative wing.” Gibson, the Vatican lapdog, knows well that the pope, his Vatican and his bishops around the world are vociferously opposed to gay rights. There are no “liberal” pope or prelates, only some whose speech is more moderate than others.

  • Science does not say homosexuality is normal, the Psychiatric community does. It is an informed, reasoned opinion. The Church has an equal, though opposite, informed and reasoned opinion about it.

  • Unfotunateley, they are born “broken” due to an attraction to their own sex, and not the natural attraction to the opposite sex. It is not a condemnation, for many in the world are born “broken” in hundreds of ways…..far worse than being gay.

  • The reality is that religion is a nuisance. The most secular places on earth rank highest in every measure of human achievement, prosperity, and general well-being. The places where religion is dominant consistently rank lower in those same measures. And the places where religion has a stranglehold over the populace rank the lowest. We can easily see it to some degree among the states right here in the U.S.

  • No, Greg1. Stop dodging. You have yet to respond with any substance to the straightforward points that I have made about your god myths, and you are unable to answer my questions with answers that you can back up with reason or evidence.

    Now, given your latest nonsensical spiel, present verifiable recent evidence that your “god” has answered a request or otherwise communicated with a human. There is no such evidence. Your set of beliefs is simply rubbish, and it is high time you got over it. Grow some courage and think that through for a change.

    Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement.
    Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.
    http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/

  • Dominic,

    “Science does not say homosexuality is normal…”

    In one tone of voice you say scientific method is the authority.
    in another tone of voice you say science is worthless.

    Make up your mind. You can’t have both.
    Religion is a multi-generational cultural delusion. A primitive way of thinking.
    THAT is what the science says and THAT is how you are behaving.

  • Dominic,

    “they are born broken”

    And you say this is a loving god? Nonsense!
    Do you really think people would choose to be gay – choose to live as outcasts in their own society – knowing what hell people like you will put them through!?
    The bullies in the school yard are cruel enough – yet they grow up to be people like you. Who would choose such a tragic path, to be mercilessly badgered and insulted for their whole lives by thousands of people like you?

    You are against freedom, civility, humanity and you would replace it all genuflecting to an invisible sky pocket. Delusions and nonsense!

  • Sorry, Dominic, you’re wrong. Science has conclusively demonstrated that homosexuality is normal behavior for a predictable percentage of the population of virtually every mammalian species, including us. Every significant medical association in the West agrees.

    I know this doesn’t fit your magical Young Earth Creationist worldview. Yet, eventually humans tire of insulting God’s creation, and the intelligence he gave us to explore and understand it, and come to acknowledge that the planet is, in fact, round.

  • Dominic, you insult God’s creation when you pretend that the natural born capacity for love of a predictable percentage of humanity is defective. Just because you speak a hateful ancient ignorance, does not render your ignorance correct.

  • Beglau is a shill for the Bishops although he claims to support gay teachers who r fired, he toes the USCCB line in opposing anti-discrimination legislation, ANY relationship recognition, even civil unions, and he subscribes to the noxious language that gays are “intrinsically disordered”! As far as his objection to conversion therapy, talking about lowering the homophobic bar! He still pushes a message that is toxic to gay kids and his website w/ Wesley Hill is just a rearguard action to maintain anti-gay orthodoxy and despite its non-political rhetoric, Beglau didn’t waste any time denouncing his fellow eunuch Julie Rodgers when she stopped towing the “gays must be celibate” line, even though she is still celibate herself! Beglau makes his living off this self-loathing schtick and he knows where his bread is buttered. http://spiritualfriendship.org/2015/07/16/spiritual-friendship-and-julie-rodgers/ http://goo.gl/ruxmfJ

  • “Whiskers”, your question is flawed. Sex preference is not a choice, and homosexuality is not a “lifestyle” per se. Once you realize those biological facts, you might be on your way to escaping your religious shackles to a more moral life.

  • Ted wrote:
    Science has conclusively demonstrated that homosexuality is normal behavior for a predictable percentage of the population of virtually every mammalian species, including us. Every significant medical association in the West agrees.

    You are correct, it is “normal behavior” in a fallen world such as we live in. The sin of Adam and Eve corrupted everything or doesn’t anyone remember that part? Seems most, if not all here, have no plumbline other than their own feelings and opinions. The Word of God sets the standard of right wrong and acceptable, no one else.

  • Jim, that’s obviously not what Ted meant, so you should retract. Re the “Word of God”, if it’s the Christian god and bible you are thinking of, that is an awful basis for right and wrong. That disgusting book decrees horrid guidances such as these:

    Numbers 31:17-18
    17 Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man,
    18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.
    Deuteronomy 13:6 – “If your brother, your mother’s son or your son or daughter, or the wife you cherish, or your friend who is as your own soul entice you secretly, saying, let us go and serve other gods … you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death”
    1 Timothy 2:11
    “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.

    Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement.
    Be free of Christianity and other superstitions

  • To me, homosexuality is a cross to bear. We all have been given challenges by our Lord, and how we respond to them is how we are judged in the end. Ted, I’d ask you to consider my earlier post, and just see where things go.

  • Bob, your posts are nothing more than one way rivers of rhetoric. Please come up with some well thought-out questions, and not someone else’s talking points. You need to be creative, and thoughtful. Study first, and then post. You sound like a robot.

  • Greg1,thanks for acknowledging that you have no evidence to support your claims. Please retract them.

    Now, re the questions, stop dodging. Summon some courage for a change and make an honest attempt to examine and respond to what you are being asked. That might help cure you of your terrible religious delusions.

    Again, the whole Jesus-sacrifice story, the foundation of your crazy superstition, is a steaming pile of nonsense. How is it again that your omnipotent being couldn’t do his saving bit without the whole silly Jesus hoopla? And how was Jesus’ death a “sacrifice”, when an omnipotent being could just pop up a replacement son any time with less than a snap of his fingers? Pretty pathetic “god” that you’ve made for yourself there.

    Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement.
    Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.
    http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/

  • The anonymous “Greg1” asks other people to adopt his faith, but he refuses to adopt theirs.

    That’s hypocritical, counterproductive, and unworkable.

    This is what happens when the world’s 40,000 competing religions each claim to be genuine, and each claim that all the others are false.

  • The anonymous “Whiskers McCoy” compares the lifestyle of celibacy to the biological facts of sexual orientation and gender identity.

    He is wrong.

    Celibacy is a lifestyle, but genitalia, sexual orientation, and gender identity are biological facts. Those facts are separate, distinct, and independent of each other, and wholly unrelated to the celibacy lifestyle.

    Finally, it is possible for a person to choose a lifestyle of celibacy, but sexual orientation and gender identity are never chosen.

    People claiming to be “ex-gay” are just bisexuals with new dating habits.

  • The anonymous “Dominic” assumes that people of LGBT sexual orientation and/or LGBT gender identity are just what the Vatican says they are: disobedient, dishonest, defective, disordered, demonic, and doomed.

    He is wrong.

    Sexual orientation and gender identity are biological facts. All sexual orientations and gender identities are equally “natural” because all occur naturally. The fact that some variants (blondes) occur less often than other variants (brunettes) does not make blondes “unnatural” or illegitimate, or less human, or sinful, or any other deficiency.

  • The anonymous “Greg1” thinks that Ron Belgau “strikes the right balance.”

    He is wrong.

    There is no balance to be found in Belgau, or in his work, and he deserves heaps of criticism:

    Belgau rejects modern medical science, and replaces it with Bronze Age religious superstition.

    He was invited to WMOF only because he touts the same ignorance (modern health, mental health, sexual science) that is spouted by the elderly, single, celibate Cardinals who run the Vatican.

    Belgau and his mother pose themselves as authorities, but they are experts on nothing.

    Belgau’s advice is known to be scientifically false, and harmful to patients receiving it. He violates the industry practice of informed consent when he dispenses mental health advice.

    By regurgitating what the Vatican’s cardinals preach, and by rejecting modern science, and by posing as an authority (when he is not), Belgau is in no way balanced; in fact, he is dangerous to anyone seeking scientifically valid…

  • Bob, over and over and over and over. Do you ever get tired of talking points? Do you just copy and paste the same thing every time?? Stop, put down your phone, and read a book. Here, tell you what, open this photocopied book, and start by clicking on chapter 9, and then read all the way to the end of the book. That is done by clicking on Next Document at the end of each chapter. Once you get Chapter 9 finished, it will be hard to put down. These are the communications of a religious sister who lived in the 1700’s, and saw every day in the Life of Christ. Anyway, here’s the link. Open Book 4, and start with Chapter 9, and read until the end of Book 4. The other 3 volumes are here too, but start with this one. And if you refuse to read it, then you have no right to ask questions anymore.
    http://tandfspi.org/ACE_vol_04/titleList.html

  • Greg1, what you have presented there is merely specious anecdotal claptrap, not valid, verifiable recent evidence.

    Since you clearly can’t back up your claims about communication with your nasty god, please show some courage and retract them.

    2000+ years without a peep from the sky fairy of your god myths, and with no verifiable evidence for its existence is more than sufficient grounds for doubt, to say the least. Pretty pathetic “god” that you’ve made for yourself there.

    Ask the questions. Break the chains.
    Join the movement. Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.
    http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/

  • He only hasn’t communicated with you, Bob. You shouldn’t act so offended. Realize that God responds to those who reach out to Him. If you humble yourself, you will experience Him.

  • Greg1, stop dodging. You’ve been challenged to provide valid, verifiable recent evidence and you have not done so.

    Since you clearly can’t back up your claims about communication with your nasty god, please show some courage for a change and retract them.

    2000+ years without a peep from the sky fairy of your god myths, and with no verifiable evidence for its existence is more than sufficient grounds for doubt, to say the least. Pretty pathetic “god” that you’ve made for yourself there.

    Ask the questions. Break the chains.
    Join the movement. Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.
    http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/

  • Are we not evolving? Why would we look back to animals for direction on what is acceptable behavior due to “natural” correlations. Correlation doesn’t amount to causality and it certainly doesn’t regard anything as morally acceptable. I find it funny that using natural percentages somehow deems it good and ok when it still would require an unnatural means to reproduce and thus evolve. Evolution follows trial and error, it also requires reproduction. Every person deserves a loving Father and Mother, however just because that isnt the norm for animals and humans (distinct) doesnt make it not true. I prefer to look foward to what human beings are evolving too, and this requires reproduction and nuturing in the best environment. There are plenty of disorders ppl are born with and develop. Is sexual orientation is the one aspect of humanity that is untouchable to disorder? Those that engage in homosexuality, abortion, and contraception are actively harming evolution.

  • Are we not evolving? Why would we look back to animals for direction on what is acceptable behavior due to “natural” correlations. Correlation doesn’t amount to causality and it certainly doesn’t regard anything as morally acceptable. I find it funny that using natural percentages somehow deems it good and ok when it still would require an unnatural means to reproduce and thus evolve. Evolution follows trial and error, it also requires reproduction. Every person deserves a loving Father and Mother, however just because that isnt the norm for animals and humans (distinct) doesnt make it not true. I prefer to look foward to what human beings are evolving too, and this requires reproduction and nuturing in the best environment. There are plenty of disorders ppl are born with and develop. Is sexual orientation is the one aspect of humanity that is untouchable to disorder? Those that engage in homosexuality, abortion, and contraception are actively harming evolution

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