Lesbian and Gay Ministry: Los Angeles

When news of Cardinal Mahoney’s retirement as Cardinal Archbishop of Los Angeles hit the news recently, numerous commentaries on his tenure and achievements began to appear. I read several of these, looking for observations on one particular aspect of his period in office – but in vain. What I was looking for was information on the diocesan ministry to lesbian and gay Catholics, about which I have twice watched a recording of the television programme,  “A Journey for Understanding”, produced by Rick Flynn. The model that LA has adopted is rather different from that of the Soho Mass that I am familiar, but one that I thought, when I saw the TV programme, had strong potential. That programme, however, was made back in 1992, a long time ago, and only a few years after the ministry itself was founded. I have been wondering how the ministry has developed since then.

I have no need to wonder any longer. By courtesy of my friend and colleague Martin Pendergast, I have been sent by email just such an assessment that I was not able to find for myself. (The full assessment is online at The Tidings). From this, together with the ministry’s page at the diocesan website, from its own impressive website and from its active participation in the Religious Education Conference coming up, it is obvious that the program is very much alive and flourishing.

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels , Los Angeles

What I particularly liked in the video I saw, was that the LA approach was locally based, providing support at parish level, rather than in separate, explicitly “gay” masses. This has the dual advantage of becoming more accessible to a greater number of people “where they are” (physically),  rather than only the limited number within reach of any one more specifically dedicated church.  It also aims to reach people where they are spiritually, without imposing any one approach. See these extracts from the MLGC page at the diocesan website:

MLGC chooses to follow a prudent pastoral course, accepting people where they are in their discipleship with Jesus Christ, and their membership in the Church, and challenging them to live out fully the call of Christ and the teachings of the Church.

This is seemingly simple, innocuous statement is in fact masterly. There cannot be many who would object to the call to “live out fully the call of Christ and the teachings of the Church”. The point is, as regular readers here will know, there are many sides to the “teachings of the Church”, including those on the importance of fidelity to conscience, inclusion and  justice for all, and the canon law requirement to make known to our pastors our unhappiness when we disagree with their actions. There are also enormous contradictions between the disordered teachings of the church on sexuality specifically as reflected in Homosexualitatis Problema, and the call of Christ as we know it from the Gospels. The subtext of this short passage therefore, is quite clearly that all are welcome – whether they are attempting to live fully within the parameters of HP, or are departing from it in good conscience.

The emphasis on a parish – based ministry has an additional advantage: it is reaching out not only to lesbian and gay Catholics themselves, but also to their families, their friends – and all other Catholics, who might otherwise simply ignore our existence. There are also important words  for the rule book Catholics who reflexively and selectively parrot the Catechism clauses on sexual expression:

MLGC calls on concerned Catholics and all people of good will to know and share in the challenges, burdens and blessings of homosexual persons living a Christian life within the Catholic tradition.

This is in strict accord with the Catechism – but “knowing and sharing” in our challenges is made far more difficult for those Catholics who never meet us where they are – in their own home parishes.

The extension of this leads to an emphasis on an aspect of Church teaching that is far too often ignored in the context of sexuality:

MLGC supports movements for homosexual and lesbian persons that are consonant with Church teaching, especially those which safeguard human dignity and promote human rights.

MLGC supports the Church as pastors in condemning any treatment in which lesbians and homosexual men are the object of violent malice in speech, action, and law, wherever it occurs.

The MLGC in Los Angeles is now in its 25th anniversary year. During the past quarter century, it has clearly consolidated its position, and even expanded its influence as an established part of the Diocesan structures, adding to the methods it used at the start. One of the ways it could now be having a much wider influence comes from its active presence and participation at the 2011 Religious Education Congress, which is to be held in Los Angeles next weekend.   This four day annual event, held under the auspices of LA diocese, describes itself as “the largest annual gathering of its kind in the world, with 40,000 people attending each year”. Originally targeted specifically at religious educators in LA, it now attracts a much wider audience, including Catholics who just want to know more about their faith, and others from much further away.

There are two aspects of the MLGC involvement that I like. One is the guide to the congress that they have prepared for visitors, giving them suggestions on the sessions that could be of particular value to queer Catholics. The other will be their visible presence, in an information stall. No doubt this high profile visibility as a fully accredited part of the wider Diocesan ministry will anger some conservative visitors – but there will be far more fair minded Catholics, more attuned to the Catechism and Church teaching as a whole, who will welcome their presence as an opportunity to develop a more rounded understanding of complex issues.

Twenty five years ago, this initiative started by Cardinal Mahoney had a specifically local focus. This involvement in what has become an  international congress shows that even purely local activities can grow to have a potentially global influence. Congratulations to MLGC on 25 years of constructive ministry.

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