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LGBTQ pastoral directives examined amid controversy in Marquette

A new study finds that up to 20 percent of the LGBT population in this country live in rural America. For the most part, they chose that life for the same reasons others do: tight-knit communities with a shared sense of values.
A new study finds that up to 20 percent of the LGBT population in this country live in rural America. For the most part, they chose that life for the same reasons others do: tight-knit communities with a shared sense of values.

A tweet recently brought to light directives from the Catholic Diocese of Marquette that some consider restrictive to the participation of LGBTQ people in the Church.

The directives supply guidance to pastors regarding school policies, leadership positions, and LGBTQ congregants, specifically, transgender people and those in same, sex relationships.

They say those who are transgender or living in a same, sex relationship can’t get baptized or confirmed unless they “repent,” give up the relationship, and/or stop the transition process.

John Doerfler is Bishop of the Marquette Diocese. He says “repent,” at its root, means a change of mind and heart.

“Where we acknowledge that our behavior has been wrong and that we desire to change that behavior, with the grace and the help of God.”

Those in same, sex relationships and transgender people also may not receive Communion, Doerfler says, because we have to be in right relationship with Jesus to receive Him.

“So, if there are things in our life that have seriously led us away from Jesus Christ in one way or another, we want to reconcile and turn away from those behaviors to turn back towards Jesus. That’s the point of it.”

But Francis DeBernardo doesn’t agree with the directives. He’s Executive Director of New Ways Ministry in Mount Rainier, Maryland, a national Catholic educational and LGBTQ advocacy ministry.

He thinks it’s wrong to ask people to repent of who they are or who they love. He says LGBTQ people have often gone through a discernment process that is often very spiritual in nature.

“And they’ve come to discover that this is who God made them to be. And they feel that the love they have for another person is a love that is divinely inspired.”

People with same, sex attraction and/or gender dysphoria are most welcome in the Church, Doerfler says. Just having the thoughts and feelings isn’t sinful. It’s our behaviors that separate us from God, behaviors that we freely and willingly have chosen.

He states most of the document centers on pastoral accompaniment and walking with each other on the path toward Jesus.

“And that also means helping each other avoid sinful behaviors.”

He’s not afraid the directives will affect Church attendance.

“Because if one reads the whole document, it is fundamentally about a journey to faith in Jesus Christ. And that’s what we’re all about.”

DeBernardo says the Church has been guilty of discriminating against other groups by not recognizing what their experience is. He thinks that’s what’s happening in Marquette.

“I think that they make the mistake of seeing LGBTQ issues as primarily sexual, but they are very much an experience of spirituality and self, affirmation and discovery of God.”

If the directives are left as, is, DeBernardo is afraid they will decimate the Church.

“So, I think that this is a dead, end approach, not just for LGBTQ people but for the entire Church, because people are going to see it for what it is—and it’s a very discriminatory practice.”

But Doerfler says the directives are rooted in love. The first two sentences read as follows:

“There is an ever, greater need today for the pastoral care of persons with same, sex attraction and persons with gender dysphoria. Let us open our hearts to the love of God that we may overflow with love and kindness and respect for others.”

But DeBernardo says pastoral accompaniment is not just giving people rules to follow, it’s a process of dialogue.

“And I think that if Bishop Doerfler and the Marquette Diocese truly want to do pastoral accompaniment, they have to be willing to open up to change some of their points of view, as well.”