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Marianne T. Duddy-Burke Headshot

An Open Letter to the President of the US Catholic Bishops: Making Public Policy on LGBT People? Talk to Us First

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Dear Archbishop Dolan,

Last week you accepted the resignation of Daniel Avila, who had served as policy adviser for marriage and family to the U.S. bishops' Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage. His recent column in the Boston Pilot suggesting that being lesbian or gay is the result of satanic influence proved an indefensible embarrassment.

That our bishops hired an individual with such extreme views to help influence the public policy of a diverse nation is highly problematic. It marginalizes Catholics in public debate and trivializes our proud history of representing those most excluded from our country's aspiration of liberty and justice for all. It pushes our Church to the fringes of moral relevance.

Even more significant is the pastoral damage done by this incident, and the many others like it in recent months. Catholic officials have sought to ban access to subsidized housing for lesbian and gay elders, terminated foster care and adoption programs rather than place children with trained, certified, loving same-sex couples, fired gay and lesbian people from their jobs for reasons that have nothing to do with professional performance, and banned our children from Catholic schools. Bishops have led the fight against access to equal benefit under the law for same-sex couples in committed relationships. Many of these battles have been brought to the pulpit, with homilies, video messages, and bulletin inserts that make us and our families feel attacked in the very place that should provide sanctuary for all. These actions contribute to the continued flood of members out of our Church, and to diminishing commitment among those who remain.

If the US Catholic bishops wish to have a credible, respected voice in ministering to people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender you need to begin to listen to us. If the bishops want to maintain any credibility in the public conversation about issues of justice for our community, you need to begin a conversation with us first. I urge you to immediately establish a process to meet with lesbian, gay, bisexual (LGBT) Catholics, our parents, siblings, grandparents, and children, the sisters and priests who minister with us, and theologians wrestling with questions that are important to our community and our Church. We can provide both pastoral and political insight rooted in the faith we hold dear.

One bright spot in recent history has been the Michigan Catholic Conference's withdrawal of support for an anti-bullying bill that would have provided sweeping exemptions if perpetrators cited moral or religious motivation for their actions. This stance indicates one agreement from which we can begin a conversation: there is no justification for attacking another person. I believe that ending violence against those who are or who are perceived to be gay or transgender is a goal we share, and that by coming together on this issue the US Catholic bishops, LGBT Catholics and those who love them could make a significant positive change in the lives of countless people who are victims of violent prejudice.

I am happy to assist in identifying individuals who would be willing to serve on a Pastoral and Policy Advisory Committee, or to engage in a series of conversations with you or other representatives of the Conference. Such engagement would surely have profound ramifications for many people, families, our nation, and our Church. I look forward to your response.

Marianne Duddy-Burke
Executive Director, DignityUSA

DignityUSA is a founding member of Equally Blessed, a coalition of faithful Catholics who support full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people both in the church and in civil society. Equally Blessed representatives delivered thousands of signatures on a petition calling for an end to anti-LGBT bullying to the Bishops Conference meeting at its start.