September 19, 2001
Dear Bishop Fiorenza:
In the spirit of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., Soulforce is committed to continuing the dialogue that we began last September with you and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As you may already be aware, we have decided not to conduct any civil disobedience during your November meeting. Instead, while you are gathered in Washington, we will stand in silent vigil and pray that you will meet with us and hear our stories.
Much has happened since we vigiled and were arrested at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception last November during our protest of Roman Catholic policy on homosexuality. In January, we took our petition to end to the anti-gay policies to the Vatican for the Feast of the Epiphany. As the doors to St. Peter’s were closed at the end of Jubilee year, we stood in St. Peter’s Square protesting the ongoing anti-gay teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. We understood, sadly, that those doors being closed had never been open to Catholics who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. The Catholic Church, unfortunately, has continued its discriminatory policies that cause Catholics who are gay lesbian, bisexual and transgender to doubt God’s grace and love.
Some particularly painful experiences we have recently endured include the following:
The Maryland Catholic Conference, which prominently displayed copies of petitions and other information about efforts to repeal the Anti-Discrimination Act of 2001, has taken the lead in the attempt to reverse the civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in that state.
The Roman Catholic Church continues to deny the sacramental life of the Church to Catholics who are in committed same-gender relationships. In the Sacramento Diocese, numerous young people have been told in the confessional not to return until they’ve left their partners, and that while they may continue to attend Mass and tithe to their churches, they will be refused the Eucharist should they attempt to receive it.
During the recent special session on AIDS at the United Nations, the Vatican successfully teamed with the fundamentalist Islamic bloc to remove a passage from a U.N. document that would have stated that "homosexuals, prostitutes and drug-users were worthy of special attention because they were particularly vulnerable to contracting and spreading the disease." The message here is loud and clear, that although gays have been severely affected by this epidemic we merit no concern on the part of the Church.
Dignity remains an "exiled community of faith" from the Church it loves so dearly.
In our first letter of September 20, 2000, we stated that there is no way to make the Roman Catholic Church a safe place until the teachings are ended that declare homosexual orientation "objectively disordered" and homosexual acts of intimacy "intrinsically evil." These words, which may denote a specific meaning to those familiar with Catholic theological teachings, create an atmosphere of spiritual violence, promoting intolerance and discrimination.
We again ask the Bishops to create and publicly announce the appointment of a national "blue ribbon" committee of clergy and laity to re-examine the Church’s teachings on homosexuality. This committee must include Catholics who are openly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender, both those who are single and those in loving, committed relationships. Our voices and our stories must be heard. As Cardinal Henry Newman and Eugene Kennedy have both so eloquently expressed, "The authority to speak arises from the capacity to listen." To date, Catholic authorities have not taken the time to listen and learn from the life-stories and the tremendous suffering of Catholics who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender.
With the assistance of a number of respected Catholic theologians, Soulforce is in the process of creating a critique of Roman Catholic theology concerning gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. The theologians who will help to create this critique find themselves in the position of being afraid to sign their names to the document, however, due to the climate of fear that is so prevalent within the Roman Catholic Church today. Recalling I John 4:18, it is clear to us that fear and love cannot coincide in the life of the Church.
As William Sloan Coffin said in his open letter to the bishops last year, it’s time for the Roman Catholic Church to stop "looking at gays and lesbians from the perspective of Catholic theology … and look at Catholic theology from the perspective of gays and lesbians." He went on to ask, "Shouldn’t a Christian sexual ethic focus on personal relationships and social justice rather than the particular sexual actions, particularly when evidence increasingly emerges that homosexuality is a natural biological variation?"
We ask you to speak with the courage of Sr. Christine Vladimiroff, OSB, the Benedictine prioress, when she chose to follow her conscience rather than to silence Sr. Joan Chittister. Meet with us while you gather in Washington for your conference in November. Enter into dialogue with us. Hear our stories. Get to know us. You’ll find that Roman Catholic leaders and Roman Catholics who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender have much in common: All of us seek God’s will for our lives and love the Roman Catholic Church.
Finally, we again urge you to appoint a blue ribbon committee to study Catholic policy on homosexuality. Encourage the committee to examine the current medical, scientific and biblical evidence. Examine the consequences of the policy and the language used. These are actions that already have been too long delayed. With these actions, you would begin the spiritual healing of Catholics who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and their families, who love the church but who are suffering as a result of its policy.
The Rev. Dr. Mel White, Co-Founder, Soulforce
Karen Weldin, Director of Operations
Kara Speltz, Catholic CoChair
Richard Murphy, Catholic CoChair