Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath.
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I was going to write an open letter to the Catholic bishops of this country, upbraiding them for the paltry response they gave to the massacre in Orlando. But I did see that several bishops, including the president of the USCCB, mourned and condemned the shooting; and of those, a handful expressed sympathy in particular for the LGBT community, particularly Archbishop Cupich of Chicago and Bishop Lynch of St Petersburg. And I wondered whether it was grateful, or fair, to be indignant and angry.
Then I thought, no, it is absolutely fair to be indignant and angry. The number of bishops that have expressed compassion for the wounding and the fear of the queer community can apparently be counted on your fingers. That isn’t okay.
Maybe I am harsh. After all, as a gay man, this happened to my family. But when Dylann Roof murdered nine people a year ago, it never once occurred to me to ask any of my black friends how they felt during the aftermath. I hope I’ll be more reflective and compassionate in future.
The one hundred and two people that Omar Mateen shot were not just targeted at random; they were targeted because of their sexuality, or at any rate because they were in a place that’s specifically designed to be safe and welcoming for LGBT people. Call it terrorism if you like—if shooting up rooms full of people isn’t an act designed to cause terror, I don’t know what is—but terrorism in that sense can’t be spoken of as though it excludes homophobia. And the number of our shepherds who have condemned that homophobic attack for being homophobic is shamefully small.
Are they afraid that, by speaking against hatred for gay people, they’ll risk scandal by seeming to approve of ‘the gay lifestyle’? If that’s the reason, it’s a shite reason. Anyone can see you don’t need to agree with somebody to be horrified by a massacre. If it were a Hindu temple that had been shot up, nobody would worry that the bishops were promoting idolatry by expressing a solidarity of grief with Hindus as Hindus. And it isn’t like the Catholic Church’s teaching is a secret. Well, maybe except this part:
It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church’s pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law.1
You know what scandal is? It isn’t just giving somebody the impression that you’re okay with gay—though somehow, that seems to be the only context where I’ve ever seen it brought up by Catholics. It’s moving someone away from God by your example. And an example that doesn’t put into practice the instruction that homophobic violence should be condemned whenever it happens, that allows charity to seem less important than chastity—that, Fathers, Excellencies, Eminences, that is scandalous.
Has the LGBT movement treated the Church altogether fairly—about this or anything else? Of course not. I was personally attacked (verbally) within hours of the news breaking just for being a Catholic; and I was bitterly discouraged to see how ready a lot of queer people I know were, Christian and non-Christian, to anticipate and blame the lack of empathy they expected the churches of this country to show, not even giving them the benefit of the doubt; particularly since the news broke on Sunday morning, when many Christians were after all at church rather than watching the news. But that ugly behavior cannot be comfortably dismissed as only the innate distrust and hostility that darkness has for light.
We were attacked, and many of you said nothing. Most of you said nothing about why it happened. Four hundred and forty-nine of you, in a hundred and seventy-seven dioceses across the country, and I can name most of the ones who spoke audibly.
We’re your children. You are our fathers, our shepherds. You’re supposed to take care of us. Step. Up.
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1On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, §10. This is an official Vatican translation, so I take no responsibility for the absence of the Oxford comma.