An Open Letter to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops

September 20, 2000

Most Reverend Joseph A. Fiorenza
Diocese of Galveston-Houston
P.O. Box 907
Houston, TX 77001

Dear Bishop Fiorenza,

We are Soulforce…people of faith from a rainbow of faith traditions committed to ending religious policies of exclusion and discrimination against God’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered children. Our work on behalf of equality for sexual and gender minorities is guided entirely by the principles of nonviolent resistance as taught by Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, and Christian saints and martyrs through the ages.

We know that all Christian churches share responsibility for the mistreatment of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered Americans. For that reason, during this past summer, Soulforce volunteers have conducted quiet, candlelight vigils and nonviolent acts of civil disobedience to protest the anti-homosexual teachings and/or practices of the United Methodist, Southern Baptist, Presbyterian, and Episcopal denominations. We are writing to advise you that we will take our STOP SPIRITUAL VIOLENCE campaign to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, DC, November 12-14, 2000. Because you will preside at this historic event, we want you to know in advance exactly who we are, why we are coming, and what actions we will take.

We begin by saying thanks to you and to your brother bishops for the pastoral wisdom found in "Always Our Children." We know that this document represents your desire to make the Roman Catholic Church (and Church families) in America more sympathetic to the needs of their lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered children. Unfortunately, the document also reinforces Vatican teachings that lead to discrimination, suffering and even death for sexual and gender minorities. There is no way to make the Roman Catholic Church a safe place for us until the teachings that declare our orientation "objectively disordered" and our acts of intimacy "intrinsically evil" are ended.

Already in this new millennium, the Pope has attacked legislation that would allow us to marry and adopt children. In the past twelve months, American bishops have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to state ballot measures that deny same-sex couples in loving, committed relationships the 1,047 rights and protections that go automatically with heterosexual marriage. In May, our hearts were broken when Sister Jeannine Gramick and Fr. Robert Nugent were silenced by the Vatican for their ministry with sexual and gender minorities. In June, John Paul II condemned "with bitterness" an International Pride event in Rome. In his desire to help the world "discern what is good from what is evil" he once again declared that homosexuals are "objectively disordered" and that "homosexual acts go against natural law."

The anti-homosexual teachings of the Roman Catholic Church (and the statements from the Vatican and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops that reinforce them) have tragic consequences not just in the lives of Roman Catholics but in the lives of millions of God’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered children around the world. We are especially concerned about your treatment of our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers in Dignity who celebrate their sexual orientation as a gift from God and desire only to "live the sacramental life of the church" without hiding or denying who they are, or denying the sacred call to intimacy that stirs deep within them. Because they refuse to closet God’s gift, you and your brother bishops have denied Dignity the right to meet on Church property or to have a priest officiate at a Dignity Mass.

As you celebrate Jubilee 2000 and your theme for the new millennium, "Open Wide the Doors to Christ," we will be in Washington, DC, to remind you that in fact you and your brother bishops have closed and barred the doors against your gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered children. When you see us in our vigil at the Hyatt Regency or in our act of spiritual resistance at the Basilica, remember that we come in peace, asking lovingly and respectfully that you STOP SPIRITUAL VIOLENCE against us.

On Monday afternoon, November 13, from 4 – 6 PM, Soulforce volunteers (one for each bishop) will line the sidewalks around the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception where you and six thousand guests will be celebrating the Mass. Each volunteer will carry the name of an individual bishop that he or she has "adopted" for this nonviolent action asking the he "open wide the doors" to God’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered children. One by one each bishop’s name will be called out in prayer, asking God to move his heart and change his mind about these teachings that lead to suffering and death.

There will be no disruption of your Mass. We have no desire to create fear or anger by our presence. We will be there simply to remind you of the tragic consequences of your policies of exclusion. Once your service has begun inside the Basilica, we will return to the National City Christian Church for a 7:30-9:30PM civil rights rally and training in nonviolence.

On Tuesday morning, November 14, hundreds of us will return to the Basilica. We wanted to bring our grievances directly to your meetings at the Hyatt Regency, but an act of spiritual resistance at a downtown hotel on a busy street in Washington, DC, would only confuse and congest. And though we considered conducting our direct action Monday evening during your opening Mass, we refuse to risk disruption that could undermine our goals of understanding and reconciliation. Therefore, while you are meeting in the Hyatt, we will be marching to the National Shrine. After a press conference at 10AM, we will gather in the shadow of that great church, the largest Catholic church in all of the Americas, to make three simple and loving demands.

First, we ask you to "open wide the doors" of the Roman Catholic Church in America to God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered children. Hundreds of the marchers in our front lines will be from Dignity chapters across the country who come with other Catholic sisters and brothers seeking an end to the teachings that demean and exclude them. As a symbol of that exclusion we are holding up the teaching that forbids Dignity from meeting on Catholic property. On that Tuesday morning, Soulforce stands in solidarity with Dignity and with millions of other lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered Catholics, asking you to end your policy of exclusion.

If you send word that we should be invited in, if you make it clear that Dignity is welcome to use the National Shrine openly for worship and meditation, we will celebrate your act as a precedent ending Dignity’s years of exile. But this act of welcome is not just about Dignity. It will be seen by our sisters and brothers around the world as an act of welcome to millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered Catholics who have been made outcasts by current Roman Catholic teachings. If you refuse us entry, many of us will remain until we are arrested and taken away.

Second, if we are invited in, we ask that you or one of your brother bishops celebrate a Mass for Dignity. This will be an act of conscience on your part, signaling an end to Church policies prohibiting priests from celebrating the Mass for Dignity. Once again, this is not just about Dignity. This is about Church teachings that exclude and demean all Catholics who accept and celebrate their sexual orientation as another of God’s mysterious gifts. We invite you and the other bishops to join lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered Catholics in this special Mass of reconciliation and thanksgiving. What a symbol that would be to the entire nation to see us kneeling in prayer together. If you allow us entry to the Basilica but refuse to appoint a priest to celebrate this special Dignity Mass, many of us will remain in the Cathedral until we are arrested and taken away.

Third, whether we are invited into the Basilica or left at the steps of this great church, we ask in the spirit of Jubilee, that the National Conference of Catholic Bishops offers an apology to sexual and gender minorities for their tragic treatment by the Roman Catholic Church for the past twenty centuries. And we ask that you appoint a national blue ribbon committee of clergy and laity (with openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered Catholics, including those in loving, committed relationships) to re-examine the Vatican’s teachings against us and to begin a dialogue with us that will lead to hope and healing for us all.

My dear brother Fiorenza, I want with all my heart for you to understand that my spirit is not one of anger or arrogance. I respect your authority and the difficulty of your task. But since the release of my autobiography, Stranger at the Gate: To Be Gay and Christian In America, I have received more than 100,000 letters from gay brothers and sisters crying out in pain, confused by Christian teaching, denounced and demeaned by their pastors, priests, parents and friends, harassed by school bullies, threatened, beaten, terrorized. You are not my enemy. You are my brother in Christ, but Roman Catholic teachings are killing us. They ignore all the scientific, historic, pastoral, and even biblical evidence that we are God’s children, too, created for God’s own purpose in God’s own mysterious way. I come to you in love and peace begging for understanding, willing gladly to call the whole thing off if you agree to negotiate our requests.

If you would like to meet with Soulforce Roman Catholics before or during the NCCB meeting in November, we would accept gladly and with gratitude. We will not be releasing this letter to the media until next week. If you want to discuss this matter with us before its release, you can reach me on my cell phone almost anytime (949) 933-3592 or at my hotel room in Atlanta through the weekend of September 24.

Sincerely,

Mel White, Executive Director, Soulforce, Inc.

SOULFORCE, Inc., P.O. Box 4467, Laguna Beach, CA 92652
P: (949) 455-0999 F: (949) 455-0959 C: (949) 933-3592
RevMel@aol.com.

Read the Bishop’s reply.
Read the second letter to the Bishop.

Bishop’s Response to Letter of September 20

September 22, 2000

Dear Reverend White,

Thank you for your letter of September 20, 2000, introducing Soulforce and the plans your organization has in conjunction with the General Meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in November. We have heard from other religious bodies at whose general meetings you have protested that you acted in a nonviolent and professional manner, and we hope that will be true in connection with the meeting of the NCCB.

As you indicate in your letter, the Catholic Church teaches that, while the homosexual orientation is not in itself sinful, "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." We believe this is so, since such activity cannot fulfill the twofold purpose of sexuality in the God-given order of creation – to build up the community of love between a wife and husband and to enable them to be co-creators with Him in bringing children into the world.

However, the Catholic Church also teaches that homosexual persons "must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided" (The Cathecism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2358). Catholics who do not observe this teaching are not in accord with the mind and heart of the Church. They are in need of repentance and a conversion of heart by which they will come to see all of God’s sons and daughters as equally worthy of love and respect, since all are loved by God. Certainly the Church can do more by way of education to fully explicate her teaching.

In addition, the Catholic Church has though seriously about the matter and does not make assumptions about homosexuality beyond the bounds of her own competence. As the Catechism says, homosexuality’s "psychological genesis remains largely unexplained." A series of articles in the Holy See’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, dealt extensively with the issues surrounding homosexuality. I enclose a copy, because I think it demonstrates that the Church wishes to be pastorally aware and sensitive in dealing with individuals who come for counseling about sexual concerns.

At the same time, those of us who believe that we are bound by the teaching about homosexuality which we find in Scripture and constant Church teaching often feel that it is we who are demeaned and looked down upon. Our contemporary culture is skeptical of absolute truth. We feel that we have been the subject even of hatred and violence, such as the disruption of the Eucharist in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York, and the "celebration" of that action in the documentary "Stop the Church" in which the late Cadinal John O’Connor was spoken of in terms of hate.

I know that you understand the sincerity of our beliefs and that we are not interested in such things as purchasing favorable media coverage by compromising them. We cannot agree with you about morality of homosexual activity or engage in actions which would seem to suggest that we do. In these matters, we simply are not together. However, together, we can condemn hatred and violence and unjust discrimination aimed at homosexual persons. Together, we can persuade those tempted to hate religious people because we believe as we do that the way of hate ought not to be anyone’s way. I think more can be accomplished in this way than in any other fashion.

I too will not release this letter until next week. I will be in touch with you after I have had an opportunity to consult further with some of my brother bishops.

Sincerely yours in Christ

Josep A Fiorenza

Read the first letter to the Bishop.
Read the second letter to the Bishop.