"Pope Francis Apologizes to LGBT Youth at World Youth Day Event" was the headline I dreamt about last night. The dream went something like this... I woke up in the morning and checked the headlines for the day as part of my morning ritual. The number one story was the Pope's apology. In his apology, the Pope recognized the harm the Church has done to the LGBT community in recent years and vowed to begin the process of healing... and then I woke up.
As I processed this, I realized that my dream has become my prayer for the church. It is inconceivable to me that we as a church are unwilling to connect the dots between the church's teaching on homosexuality and the way it's being implemented by members of the hierarchy and the harm it is causing to our LGBT youth -- especially when 30 percent of all successful teenage suicides in this country are attributed to sexual identity issues.
In January 2011, The 8th Day Center for Justice, a Catholic organization staffed by 30 congregations of nuns, priests, and brothers issued a statement saying, "the teachings of the Church and the behavior of some members of the Church hierarchy have added to an atmosphere of bullying and intimidation."
It is my belief that the hierarchal hostility has only gotten worse, not better.
I recently watched the Laramie Project on HBO, and was inspired by Father Roger Schmidt, a Catholic priest who was interviewed following the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard. Father Schmidt says, "Do you realize it is an act of violence anytime you're called a faggot or a dyke? That is the seed of violence."
This type of violence and open hostility towards homosexuals by Catholic hierarchy recently became highly visible and widely reported by the anti-gay slurs of Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez in the Dominican Republic, who used the word "faggot" when referring to the U.S. Ambassador Nominee for the nation.
It is my belief that allowing Church leaders to use the word "faggot" is an act of violence and bullying against LGBT members.
We all know bullying can lead to an increase in suicide attempts by LGBT youth. The recent suicide of 17-year-old LGBT youth, Carlos Vigil from New Mexico has haunted me these past few weeks. I cannot seem to get him off my mind. His family and friends will remain in my thoughts and prayers as they try to cope with the absence of presence they now face. Carlos' last tweet referenced the bullying he faced on a regular basis for years. The emotional and psychological harmed caused by bullying can be devastating.
While reading an article about Carlos, I stumbled onto the fact that Carlos' memorial service was held at a Catholic church. And while I have no personal knowledge of Carlos' relationship with his parish, my hope is that Carlos, as an LGBT youth, experienced love, support and acceptance from his parish community.
Having said that, I am very much aware that many of our LGBT members have not found the love, support and acceptance they are seeking. Since my announcement and release of my book, Hidden Voices, Reflections of a Gay Catholic Priest, I have heard from many LGBT individuals who have experienced rejection instead of acceptance. One individual writes, "I beg you to pray for me Father." Another writes, "I guess I'm doomed." And another asks, "Am I going to go to hell?" In a church that professes to be rooted in the Love of God, how is it that so many feel rejected, isolated and abused?
The answer is simple, the Church's teaching on homosexuality and the way it's being taught continues to cause harm.
Shortly after the release of my book, I began promoting a website called "RisingVoices.net" which captures the rising voices of hope that recognize the inherent dignity and equality of all persons regardless of who they love. At Rising Voices, we want every person to know that they are loved. Especially those who are made to feel less than by their church or church leaders, by their family or friends, or by their community or community leaders.
While the Pope's apology to LGBT youth at World Youth Day is only a dream, the voices captured at risingvoices.net are not. They are real voices, voices of hope and love that affirm the inherent dignity and equality of all persons regardless of who they love.