My husband Michael De Leon and I are both “cradle Catholics” having been born into traditional Catholic families, were raised and have remained active in the faith for all of our lives. In our late-50s now, we have been practicing our faith together for all of our nearly 35 years together as a couple, and the last 29 years we have been openly gay and very active members of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Louisville, Kentucky.
Our faith has been so important to us over the years that we sent our two children through the Catholic school system from preschool all the way through Catholic high school. Our son graduated from Trinity High School in May, and our daughter is currently a senior at Sacred Heart Academy. Over our many years at Lourdes, Michael and I have participated in numerous ministries, serving on Parish Council, Worship Committee, Communion Ministry, Youth Ministries (soccer coach, girl scout leader, boy scout leader), Resurrection Choir, Hospitality Ministry, and the list goes on. We love our parish and our faith, and we feel loved by and fully integrated into the larger parish community.
When we move beyond our parish, however, we find a more reticent and often condemning Catholic hierarchy just outside our somewhat insulated community. Over the last few years, the Archdiocese of Louisville has taken discriminatory action to prevent me from returning to service as a Boy Scout Leader at our church-sponsored unit even after the Boy Scouts of America removed its ban on openly gay adult members. Earlier this year, the Archdiocese also denied a proposed gravesite memorial at our local Catholic cemetery for my husband and me just because of our public participation as plaintiffs in the US Supreme Court ruling last year that brought Marriage Equality to the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the whole United States. Legally the Archdiocese has acted within its power to take these positions, but does anybody seriously think this is what Jesus would do?
There are so many pockets of fair-minded and progressive Catholics out there, particular young Catholics, that the loathing and discrimination expressed toward LGBT Catholics seems to be increasingly unjustified and out of step. Many other faiths, some Christian, have already transcended their old ways and have moved toward full inclusion of LGBT members. Our Catholic Church, however, just keeps dragging its feet seeming unwilling to make that leap of faith to stop judging LGBT individuals just because of who they are, the people that God created them to be.
We have seen signs of hope and a change in tone with our new beloved leader, Pope Francis, who has called on Catholics not to judge LGBT people. After the devastating massacre at Pulse in Orlando this summer, Pope Francis sympathetically declared “I repeat what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: that they (LGBT people) must not be discriminated against, that they must be respected and accompanied pastorally.” That doesn’t seem like asking too much, but many Catholic churches and church-sponsored institutions continue to ignore that papal guidance and discriminate prolifically against LGBT Catholics. It seems like not a day goes by that we don’t learn of some new heart-wrenching act of discrimination taking place against LGBT Catholics.
It is this current state of affairs that has inspired my husband and me to join together with my fellow members of the Gay and Lesbian Alumni of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College (GALA ND/SMC) to organize a Pilgrimage of Mercy event in New York City on October 2, 2016. This walk-of-the-faithful is patterned after our successful Catholics for Fairness pilgrimages held here in Kentucky the last several years.
Pope Francis has recently declared “We are in the midst of an Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy in the Catholic faith during which we are to be merciful like the Father” and perform acts of mercy and forgiveness to all. It is in this spirit, GALA ND/SMC has partnered with a wide range of organizations to initiate our pilgrimage in support of this decree issued by Pope Francis. Thus far, partner organizations for the Pilgrimage of Mercy include HRC, GLAAD, Freedom for All Americans, Catholics for Fairness, New Ways Ministry, Dignity National and Dignity New York, Out at Saint Paul, Equally Blessed, Believe Out Loud, and Fortunate Families. So many organizations, and so many Catholics in the pews like the ones at our parish, know that discrimination is wrong and they are ready to step up and insist that it is time for this shaming, judging and marginalization to end. LGBT Catholics should have the same access to full participation in the Church that others have, and the religious freedom of LGBT Catholics should also be protected as we seek to be full, active members of our Church.
My husband and would ask that anyone so inclined please offer prayers of support for the success of this Pilgrimage of Mercy, this pilgrimage that we all share toward God’s plan in which all are created equal, and all are welcome.
9 September 2016