Building a bridge: our gay brothers and sisters

Auckland Bishop Patrick Dunn

Like many others, I have friends and family members who are gay.

For some years I have been troubled by the sense of rejection they often feel with regard to the Church.

Could we find some new way to converse with the LGBT community?

A recent book from Jesuit Fr James Martin seems like an answer to prayer. (The book is titled: “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT community can enter into a relationship of respect, compassion and sensitivity.”)

Fr Martin uses the image of “Building a Bridge” between the institutional Church and the LGBT community.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that we are called to treat homosexual persons with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity”.

Fr Martin asks how we might build a two-lane bridge between the two groups so that we could walk in both directions with these attitudes in our hearts.

Some good people fear that if we celebrate Masses with LGBT groups, or sponsor programmes to help gay friends know that they are loved members of our community, it may be seen as giving tacit approval to everything that anyone says or does within that community.

But we do not raise this objection with other groups. A diocesan Mass for Catholic business leaders does not mean that the Church supports everything that such people say or do.

Respect also means that we call people by the name they prefer.

I have friends who call themselves respectively “Jim” and “James”, and it is a simple courtesy to use the right name. We no longer use the word “negro”, and Fr Martin argues that official Church teaching should similarly avoid the word “homosexual” because it is no longer favoured by the LGBT community.

Compassion calls us to “listen” to people.

What is it really like growing up as a gay boy, or a lesbian girl, or a transgender person?

Deeply embedded in Catholic Church teaching is the call to stand by all who feel marginalised or threatened.

Sensitivity prompts us to be alert to the “feelings” of others, but we cannot know their feelings unless we are their friends.

Devout Catholics may say that our first responsibility is to tell people to stop sinning.

But that was generally not the approach taken by Jesus. He was more often the butt of criticism for dining with sinners and clearly enjoying their company.

When Jesus noticed Zacchaeus looking down with interest from the tree he had climbed on the main street of Jericho, he did not first tell him to stop sinning. Instead he invited himself to the home of Zacchaeus for a meal.

For Jesus it was most often friendship first, and conversion second. We all listen most intently to those we love and those whose company we enjoy.

If the institutional Church is going to be sensitive in its use of language, we may need to move away from the phrase “objectively disordered”, which the Catechism itself uses to describe the homosexual inclination. Saying that one of the deepest parts of a person is “disordered” seems needlessly cruel.

When considering movement from the LGBT community towards the institutional Church, keeping with the bridge image, Fr Martin tries to spell out how they too might try to walk with “respect, compassion and sensitivity” towards the hierarchy and the teaching authority of the Church.

LGBT Catholics also have power, especially with the western media who are often more sympathetic to their cause than to the Church.

Despite the sense of pain or rejection which some may feel, Fr Martin invites them to resist the temptation to mock or ridicule those who may have hurt them deeply. That was never the way of Jesus.

Fr Martin concludes his beautiful book with a selection of Scripture passages accompanied by questions for reflection both for gay readers and for their friends. It is well worth reading.

— Bishop Patrick Dunn, Auckland.

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Reader Interactions


  1. Sarah says

    This is all well and good but I think we need to call a spade a spade. I suggest people search Joseph Sciambra, a same sex attracted former gay porn star who has now come to the fullness of catholic faith and lives a chaste life in accordance with its teaching. He gets a lot of hate from those in active same sex relationships which troubles me.
    While Jesus did engage with sinners, He taught us that we should *go and sin no more*. (ALL sins, not just homosexual genital activity.) I worry that we are too concerned about pandering to people’s earthly sensitivities and not concerned enough about leading people away from hell.

    • Beverley Bennett says

      A very good post, Sarah. True compassion is based on the absolute truth, as found in the moral teachings of the Church.
      I helped a young man for seven years once who thought he was meant to be a woman. He really had no interest in God or His Love for him. He just wanted human love and attention. After 7 yrs I realised he was just using my generosity. I still pray for him.

  2. Delia says

    Honestly Sarah you completely missed Bishop Dunn’s message of compassion and kindness. Other Catholics surprise me, I would have thought we had a whole lifetime to correct our sins instead of worrying about others.

  3. Joshua says

    Due to my job, when I encounter a gay person for the first time and introduce what I do, I am often immediately asked my opinion about “homosexuals”. I am openly honest that I think same sex interactions result in a life less flourishing for the individual than one which they could achieve without such interactions. However, I do not do so without first letting them know I can’t help but have this view from the psychological case books and health science understanding of their behaviours. Then again, before mentioning any of this, I ensure they know that I don’t care to have the conversation with them if they are not interested, as I do not care to force my views upon them or force them to live the way I believe will be most fruitful for them. For the conditions under which they choose the lives they live is also a factor which affects flourishing. In this I respect and love them in their sovereignty within the context of my culture.

    Funnily enough, every gay person I ever speak to about this subject seem to love talking to me about their journeys, theories and beliefs on the matter. It’s like they’re finally able to discuss their many studies with someone who has also studied the same content but isn’t just a yes-man. Afterwards, they always want to continue hanging out with me, becoming my friend almost instantly, even though this is the only significant conversation we’ve ever really had…

    I don’t know that saying one of the “deepest parts of their nature” is disordered is particularly cruel. Not anymore than saying that human nature itself is very disordered in the fall since Adam. If one starts from this very Catholic proposition, such a comment about another’s same sex attraction seems to say nothing about them apart from an intellectual technicality, which the person hearing probably doesnt even understand. Such language should be left for those learning or seeking to understand the orientation of God’s creation. Such people studying such things should only do so that they might have guidance in where to look for loving solutions to the problems which insue, or evidence in creation which can indicate how best to help those in a given circumstance. Science and Sociological studies come to mind.

    We must not be swept up by language we don’t understand and be quick to eliminate it… But equally important is not using said language in any context where either the user or recipient lacks understanding of it, or is highly likely to misunderstand it. These things seem obvious to me.

    It does seem to be true that truth without love is unbearable. Being charitable I would hope this is the only thing that is being said by Father here. In the end, truth is about reliability, authenticity, realness, straightforwardness and the absence of lies. Humans thrive to live according to these attributes. There is a reason love rejoices in the truth as the scriptures say.

  4. Lisa says

    Thank you for speaking up about this. The exclusion felt by many LGBTQ Catholics is an issue that is swept under the rug far too much. The whole “Us-Them” dichotomy is so unbelievably toxic and also contrary to the Jesus’ key message of unconditional love.

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