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Official ministry among gays, lesbians needed ‘now more than ever’


Peg Black, a member of the board of directors of the National Association for Catholic Diocesan Gay and Lesbian Ministries and co-chairperson of the association’s 2002 conference, said she was unsure what was going on outside the Clarion Hotel in Cincinnati before the meeting’s closing liturgy Sept. 22. “But I know the Spirit was really at work inside.”

As delegates from almost three dozen dioceses prepared to share Eucharist, protesters were gathering to voice their displeasure with both the meeting and the ministries. The ministries provide a network of persons offering or supporting pastoral care for lesbian and gay persons and their families through diocesan, parish or other church ministries. Membership includes ministers from 35 dioceses throughout the United States and Canada.

“Some people are not happy you’re here, but I’m happy you’re here, and I’m happy for your ministry,” Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk told those assembled. Pilarczyk was the celebrant of the Mass.

In May 2002 the board of directors of the national organization issued a statement addressing the pastoral implications of blaming gay clergy for the current abuse crisis in the church. The statement urges that those seeking solutions to the crisis refrain from targeting persons of homosexual orientation.

“Such scapegoating will have profound pastoral implications in all areas of Catholic life, affecting not only gay clergy, but also all lesbian and gay Catholics, their families, their parish communities, even their non-Catholic friends and acquaintances,” the statement said.

Accusations against gay clergy are often based on false assumptions and are the result of a skewed perspective on church teaching on human sexuality, the statement said.

Fr. Jim Schexnayder, resource director and the organization’s co-founder, said the yearly meeting is often met with apprehension and misunderstanding. This was particularly the case with this year’s conference.

“People have complained that we shouldn’t have this ministry because it encourages pedophilia,” he said. But the ministry is not about sexuality, but inclusion, he noted.

“Sexuality is an integral part of who we are, not just our behavior or our activity. Our ministry is not about homosexual activity, but about homosexual persons. The association and the local groups teach us to look to the whole teaching of the church and the whole person,” Schexnayder said.

The conference theme, “Family of God: Growing Together in Holiness” underlined the association’s mission for encouraging pastoral care with gay and lesbian persons and their families.

The organization’s ministry is crucial to the church, said Bishop Carl K. Moeddel, auxiliary bishop of Cincinnati and one of the conference’s plenary speakers. Its mission of acting as a resource and network for ministers providing pastoral care to gay and lesbian persons promotes and upholds the official teaching of the Catholic church, that homosexual orientation is not sinful, but prohibits homosexual activity, he said.

“This ministry respects the human dignity and human rights of lesbian and gay persons and affirms that all who are baptized are called to full participation in the life, worship and mission of the church,” says the association’s mission statement.

“The culture in which we all live believes that if you can, you do, so trying to draw the distinction between activity and orientation is difficult,” Moeddel said. “There is assumption that everyone is sexually active.”

JoAnn Constantini of the diocese of St. Augustine, Fla., began her term as president of the association at the Cincinnati conference. She embraces the organization’s motto: “There’s always room at the table.” The gay and lesbian ministry group in Jacksonville, Fla., participated in a gay pride event and with other church groups had information available about the local association and its activities.

“In this ministry we have people coming forward and we hear their pain. It’s the responsibility of church ministry to be present, to hear their anger and pain and help them be accepted as members of the body of Christ. We’re seeing people come forward after years of painful separation,” Constantini told NCR.

When she asks people for the specific activities they are seeking, Constantini said she frequently hears, “ ‘We want to go to Mass.’ I’ve found that they are only waiting to be asked.”

In addition to Moeddel, plenary speakers for the conference included St. Joseph Sr. Anne Bryan Smollin and Jeanne Hunt, an author and director of religious education.

Smollin, an author, therapist and group facilitator from the diocese of Albany, N.Y., opened the conference on Friday night, talking about how joy and laughter can help deal with a lonely, stressful culture.

“Our church needs you more than ever before to heal the brokenness that exists in our church,” Smollin told the audience of more than 100.

In order to provide that ministry of healing, Smollin said it is essential for ministers to care for themselves in order to care for others, and to slow down and enjoy the moment. “You can’t change yesterday and there’s not a lot of power in tomorrow -- seize the moment. Think of the people on the Titanic who passed up dessert.”

On Saturday morning, Moeddel and Hunt explored issues of reconciliation, forgiveness and surrender, emphasizing that in order to be holy one must be whole. “That is meant for all of us and especially for those we minister to,” Hunt said. “Unless we model it, they can’t live it. The most important aspect of spreading the gospel message of reconciliation is to live it.”

The church exists, Moeddel said, to be a support group for its members, a place where members come to be energized and go out the rest of the week and do the work of the church, he said.

“There are so many questions today about the church rather than its mission. I think that’s evil at work, getting us to belly-gaze. The hot issues have us focused inward rather than focused on the mission and the work of Jesus Christ.”

The national association and its network of local groups bring two significant gifts to the church, said Msgr. John J. Strynkowski, executive director of the Secretariat for Doctrine and Pastoral Practices of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“They have a way of helping parents to support each other,” Strynkowski told NCR. “Their major thrust has been to help the community come together and find support. The second gift they bring is to try to provide a welcoming environment both for parents and for gay and lesbian people.”

Margaret Gabriel is a free-lance writer who lives in Lexington, Ky.

Related Web site
National Association for Catholic Diocesan Gay and Lesbian Ministries

National Catholic Reporter, October 18, 2002