Catholic church works toward LGBTQ integration

By Jessica Brown, @BrownJessicaJ

The word “catholic” mean “universal,” said The Rev. Robert Flannery, priest at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Carbondale.

The church is implementing this title translation toward increased inclusion of those in the LGBTQ—lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community.

LGBTQ assimilation into the church has became an widely discussed topic following Pope Francis’ July 2013 interview, in which he said gay people should be integrated into society instead of ostracized.


“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” the pope said when asked about reports of homosexuals in the clergy.

This statement was met with either great opposition or support from Catholics worldwide. For the Rev. Joseph Brown, an ordained Catholic priest, it was the latter.

“We might not always want to follow what popes say, but on this one, Pope Francis was a model of pastoral sensitivity and common sense,” he said. “That, to me, is a very commonsensical and open approach.”

Flannery said acceptance has always been a characteristic of Catholicism, though it may not have always been clearly articulated.

“In the past, maybe some of the official policies of the Catholic church were not so welcoming,” he said.

Addressing misconceptions and healing past offenses are some of the most important steps to be taken in the mission of LGBTQ integration into the church.

This was stressed during a presentation Monday at the Newman Center by Scott Gimmy, an SIU alumnus from Marion, who is an openly gay member of the Catholic church.


Growing up, Gimmy said he always had a strong affiliation with Catholicism and his church was actually a major support system for him after he came out.

He said his faith never wavered but it was difficult to ignore negativity in regards to his sexuality. 

“How many people have heard others say [HIV] is God’s cure for gayness?” Gimmy asked during his presentation. “God would not create a disease to punish a group of people for something [homosexuality] that they cannot change.”

Julie Robinson, a committee member for the Rainbow Cafe—a support group for questioning or out LGBTQ members—said she can relate to the adversity.

“Unfortunately, there has been plenty of religion used in oppression with the gay community,” said Robinson, a lesbian woman.

Robinson, co-chairwoman of the AIDS Walk, said she experienced this firsthand while attending a Catholic service during her youth.

“One of the folks from the church compared homosexuality to bestiality and child molesting,” she said. “I was just mortified.”

The priest of the church noticed her discomfort and approached Robinson.

“He came up to me and said, ‘I just want to apologize for them, they don’t get out much. That is not what the the Bible is about linguistically,’” she said.

The priest’s support helped Robinson realize there is a large portion of the Catholic community that does not believe in everything the church says.

However, different interpretations of the Bible play a huge role in an individual’s views.

“People often refer to the Old Testament scriptures,” Flannery said. “Jesus never made any references to homosexuality.”

Brown said there are some faulty perceptions of Bible stories.

“When people start to interpret inclusion based on some prescription, especially in the Old Testament, I don’t think they really understand that there were many stories in the Bible about being inhospitable and excluding the stranger,” Brown said.

He said the Bible states humans should not shun those who are alien to them.

Despite this, there is still some reservation among the LGBTQ community, especially in smaller, local churches.

“I know there are churches in Carbondale that are open-minded and not exclusionary, but still may have members who believe homosexuals are going to Hell and will burn for eternity,” Robinson said. “Would I feel comfortable going into any Catholic church around here holding a woman’s hand? Absolutely not.”

Gimmy said it is necessary to acknowledge the pain the LGBTQ community has faced.

“[LGBTQ members] need to hear a recognition to their sorrow before they’re actually going to listen to what [church members] have to say,” Gimmy said.

Justin Broom, a freshman from Lincoln studying radio and television and theater, said understanding and respect must be mutual.

“People are going to believe different things, but how are they going to accept me if I don’t accept them?” said Broom, an openly gay student. “LGBTQ people need to realize this, too.”

Compassion across the board, along with Pope Francis’ acknowledgement that homosexuality is not something to be condemned, are steps in the right direction.

Brown said the efforts need to continue.

“We have to accept, include and embrace our sisters and our brothers no matter where they come from or no matter how they define themselves,” Brown said.

Although, unity between Catholicism and the LGBTQ community is not complete, Gimmy said he is optimistic.

“I hope that one day the church will cease from immediately removing LGBT people from leadership roles in the community for officially celebrating their relationships,” he said.

Jessica Brown can be reached at [email protected].