With support for same-sex marriage growing and its legalization appearing inevitable, some senior Catholic prelates seem to be softening their tones. David Gibson reported on Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s comments, in which the New York archbishop said that the church hasn’t done a good job in welcoming gays and lesbians and that it should do better. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, said that the church might support civil-unions for same-sex couples. This, admittedly, is an idea whose time has passed, but who could have imagined a Catholic cardinal making such a statement even a year ago?

While the conversation may be changing at the top (a very qualified “may”), what’s life like on the ground for everyday gay and lesbian Catholics? It may depend on where you find yourself.

Here’s a Catholic priest gabbing with Fox News’ Megyn Kelly about how he and his fellow Catholics are supposedly persecuted for standing up for their traditional beliefs.

He said:

This nonsense that we want to disadvantage blacks, when we say that homosexual activity is sinful, to call that equivalent to denying them their basic rights — no, we’re telling them if you want to live a good life, you have to follow what Jesus said. Basically, this is an attack on our freedom to preach what we believe.

Putting aside for a moment that there is absolutely no limitation on what a pastor can preach, can you imagine being a gay Catholic in his parish? Not the kind of welcoming Dolan has in mind, I’d imagine.

In New York (though not in Dolan’s diocese), a married gay Catholic man, Nicholas Coppola, was told by his pastor that he was no longer welcome to participate in parish life. He had been active in many parish activities, but by marrying his partner, Bishop William Murphy said, Coppola was taking a public stand against church teaching, and thus was ineligible to serve as a catechist:

“I was in shock. I had just come home from my honeymoon. I went to mass on Martin Luther King Day, where we heard a great sermon about justice and equality,” said Mr. Coppola, recalling the meeting. “After mass, I was summoned into the pastor’s office and told that I could no longer be active in my own parish.”

But there is another side to the Catholic Church that welcomes gay Catholics. I know a Catholic monk who has supported numerous collegee students through their coming out processes. A thriving parish in New York owes much of its vibrancy to a gay lay minister. There are countless priests and nuns who share the joys and sorrows of gay families in parishes throughout the country. Most of the time, these stories aren’t reported; it’s not exactly news when Christians act Christian. But sometimes they are.

The principal of a Jesuit high school in New York, the Fr. Edward Salmon, defended two gay students who requested to attend a dance together, as a couple, causing some outrage from parents. He sent home a letter, stating:

In conclusion and in the hope that I and all of us at McQuaid Jesuit will let a ray of light break through the darkness and the heavy clouds that have surrounded us, I have made the decision that, if our two brothers who have asked to attend the Junior Ball together wish to do so, they will be welcomed.

With support for same-sex marriage growing, especially among the Catholic faithful, the Catholic Church will face many decisions about how to respond to this pastoral challenge. Whether it hunkers down and marginalizes itself or responds with a more Christian approach remains to be seen, but it’s clear that both options are already at work in today’s church.

Categories: Institutions


Michael J. O'Loughlin

Michael J. O'Loughlin

Michael J. O’Loughlin writes about religion and politics from Washington, D.C., paying close attention to the role of the Catholic Church in public life. His writing has appeared in Religion & Politics, the Jesuit magazine America, on BustedHalo.com, and in Duke Divinity School’s Faith & Leadership.


  1. Forget about the labels (Catholic, Protestant, etc etc). We’re all in trouble this time. Gay marriage is turning American Christianity into spiritual roadkill.

  2. I know many monks, the same ones you reference, who support the teachings of the Church and are compassionate to those who struggle with the teachings of the Church, but they don’t muddy the water by riding the back of a political wave and personal feelings. The Catholic Church pursues truth, founded in natural law and divine revelation, and has always reached a compassionate hand to those that disagree. But ultimately truth is truth. We should not redefine words and social institutions to appease a vocal minority. There are many other churches that would welcome these individuals and ultimately if you don’t believe what the Catholic Church offers for your assent, then you should find a community that you can fully assent to and clear your conscience.

  3. Any church people, lay or clerical, who speak in such ignorant, crude, and unchristian ways about homosexuality as Tim Dolan and his henchman Bill Lori need to get off their dogmatic soapboxes, quit mimicking the ancient biblical or church party lines, and be guided in objective learning about sexuality in general and orientation in particular. I realize that might be hard for celibates who ignore or try in various ways to hide the sexual abuse of the church’s children, but first things first.

    Tim Dolan, especially, ought to run over the long block to 5th Av. & E. 50th St. from his episcopal mansion on Madison Av., get a load of those hotdogs he claims to love so much, have Bill Lori in from Baltimore for lunch, and counsel each other as to how to shut up until the two of them learn what they’re talking about. A good start would be to quit deceiving people about inhibiting their religious liberty. That liberty works both ways, and Dolan and Lori are not appointed parts of our government just because they’ve been appointed to their individual bishops’ chairs by Benedict.

    Everyone, bishops included, even cardinals, especially bishops and cardinals, ought to know what they’re talking about before they spout off.

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