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Nine Catholic bishops in the U.S. have signed a joint statement to LGBTQ youth to tell them they are supported and loved.
The group worked with the Tyler Clementi Foundation, which was set up in the wake of the 2010 suicide of a student, Tyler Clementi, to tackle LGBTQ bullying in schools, workplaces, and faith communities.
Among the most prominent figures to sign were Cardinal Joseph Tobin, archbishop of Newark (pictured above), and Archbishop John Wester, who leads the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. Two of the signatories – Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Diocese of Detroit, and Bishop Denis Madden of the Archdiocese of Baltimore – are retired.
The full statement, which acknowledges LGBTQ youth face a greater risk of homelessness and suicide than their straight peers, reads as follows.
“As Catholic Bishops in the United States, we join with the Tyler Clementi Foundation in standing up for at-risk LGBT youth in our country.
“As we see in the Gospels, Jesus Christ taught love, mercy and welcome for all people, especially for those who felt persecuted or marginalized in any way; and the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that LGBT people are to be treated with ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity.’
“All people of goodwill should help, support, and defend LGBT youth; who attempt suicide at much higher rates than their straight counterparts; who are often homeless because of families who reject them; who are rejected, bullied and harassed; and who are the target of violent acts at alarming rates.
“The Catholic Church values the God-given dignity of all human life and we take this opportunity to say to our LGBT friends, especially young people, that we stand with you and oppose any form of violence, bullying or harassment directed at you.
“Most of all, know that God created you, God loves you and God is on your side.”
One of the signatories, Archbishop Wester, told America Magazine, he signed because he wanted young LGBTQ people to know: “you have worth, you have value and you’re a child of God.”
The letter echoes sentiments recently expressed by Pope Francis, who had voiced support for same-sex civil unions.
However, the Catholic Church as an institution continues to adhere to its doctrine of homosexuality being “objectively disordered”, and that same-sex sexual activity is sinful. Gay teachers are routinely fired from Catholic-run schools and colleges in the U.S.
“We have our teachings, which we prize and cherish, but those teachings need to be understood in the proper context of love and mercy,” Archbishop Wester said. “Sometimes people can make equivocations, ‘Well if it’s a sin to engage in a homosexual act, then I must be a terrible person.’ The church doesn’t teach that and it’s important [young people] don’t get that erroneous impression.”
Jane Clementi, co-founder and CEO of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, said in a statement, “This is a great beginning. I am very grateful to the Catholic bishops who have signed the declaration and are courageously adding their voices to an effort to show God’s love by opposing any violence, harassment or bullying behavior against the most vulnerable among us.
“With this groundbreaking statement, these bishops are saying that all God’s children, including our LGBT siblings, deserve kindness, respect and compassion.”
Father James Martin, a New York Jesuit priest and leading voice within the Catholic church for advancing the acceptance of LGBTQ people within the church, worked with the Tyler Clementi Foundation to identify bishops to approach. On Facebook, he called the statement, “an historic document opposing violence, harassment and bullying of LGBT people, especially youth.”
Eight bishops initially put their name to the statement, with a ninth – Rev. John P Dolan, Auxiliary Bishop of San Diego – adding his after it first appeared online. Father Martin and the Tyler Clementi Foundation are encouraging other bishops to come forward and add their name to the statement.