Catholic parish rejects homophobia

by Matthew E. Pilecki

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday October 28, 2010

The Roman Catholic Church is not often associated with embracing LGBT people, but an increasing number of parishes continue to challenge these homophobic attitudes.

Founded by the Augustinians of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, St. Mary of Grace Independent Catholic Parish hopes to serve LGBT parishioners other congregations have turned away. Father Joseph Augustine Menna, pastor at St. Mary of Grace, told EDGE the idea of papal infallibility, which the First Vatican Council defined in 1870, has never sat well with him as it does not allow for change.

"I have always had an early church ecclesiology where communities gathered more locally around a bishop and the bishops were collegial in their approach to church-power was not as centralized," said Menna. "With regard to the Roman denomination of Christianity, and some other mainline denominations, their centralized structure of power allows for very little chance of change. I do hope more faith communities through reflection and prayer and openness to the Holy Spirit come to see LGBT persons as those on the margins who Jesus himself reached out to save and release from the bonds of injustice."

Renting space out of the Unitarian Church of Delaware County in Media, Pa., St. Mary of Grace holds Mass every Sunday at 6 p.m. While the sermon and liturgy are almost identical to those given in traditional parishes, Menna stressed the message is always one of acceptance and love. [Pope Benedict XVI described homosexuality as "a deviation, an irregularity [and] a wound" in his 2008 holiday address to the Curia.]

"I would encourage them to know that God has made them wonderfully just as they are and has a plan to use them in salvation history," said Menna, describing what he would tell a LGBT person struggling with their faith. "I would also humbly ask them not to run against all religion, and certainly not God. Finally, I would encourage them to find another Catholic tradition that embraces and celebrates who they are."

Not all LGBT-friendly Catholic groups reject the Roman Catholic Church. DignityUSA works within the church to promote respect and justice for all LGBT people through education, advocacy and support. But Bishop Timothy Michael Cravens, who presides over St. Mary's, questions whether it is possible to promote equality within the Catholic patriarch.

"I certainly wish the people of Dignity well, but I think that the way the Roman Catholic Church is structured where the Pope has absolute power-it's not a democratic organization and I don't really think ultimately organizations like Dignity are going to be successful in their quest for equality within the Roman Catholic Church," Cravens told EDGE. "That said, for people who want to stay within the Roman Catholic Church, if they find Dignity a viable spiritual community then I wish them well and that while we might not have an identical approach we're happy for people to hear the gospel from whoever preaches it."

Cravens, who has married countless same-sex couples, is confident marriage equality will become a reality within the next few years. He said a "lack of courage" among legislators will force the courts to decide the issue once and for all.

"We have one sacrament of marriage, so there is a same sex marriage and an opposite sex marriage-from a modern theological standpoint it's completely the same," said Cravens. "It's about two people who love each other making a lifelong commitment to be faithful to one another, to love one another, to start a family together with or without children. As a gay man, it's always been very moving for me to see people who may have never thought this was possible within the context of the church to be able to share their love together."

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