LGBT Catholics React to Vatican Survey Results

Copyright © 2006 Bay Area Reporter, a division of Benro Enterprises, Inc.

LGBT Catholics react to Vatican survey results
by Chuck Colbert

Recently released survey results from thousands of U.S. Catholics show widespread rejection of church teaching on contraception, sexual morality, gay relationships, and divorce. And while these results, coinciding with any number of findings from public opinion polling, are not new, what is new and noteworthy is an attitudinal gap of decreasing animosity to LGBTs from the hierarchy down to the grassroots.

For example, as the geography of the institutional entity became more local – from diocesan to parish to small faith community level – attitudes toward LGBTs were viewed to be less hostile and condemning, according to the survey.

When respondents were asked to gauge attitudes at diocese, parish, or small faith community levels, more than one-third (37 percent) viewed their dioceses as hostile and condemning of marriage equality and same-sex couples.

But at the parish level, only 11 percent viewed their parish as hostile or condemning of marriage equality, with 13 percent saying their parish held similar views of same-sex couples. A smaller number of respondents, 3 to 4 percent, said their faith communities were condemning or hostile of marriage equality and same-sex couples.

Findings on marriage equality for same-sex couples are strikingly at odds with hierarchical leaders, who often vociferously oppose legal gay wedlock. At the same time, however, support for marriage equality for same-sex couples is extremely important for 47 percent of respondents and very important for another 26 percent among the laity. In all, a whopping 73 percent of respondents strongly favor marriage equality.

Nonetheless, for Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, the nations oldest LGBT Catholic organization, hostility and condemnation point to suffering – feelings of rejection and ostracism experienced by many LGBTs.

One of the saddest things the survey revealed is how many people feel pain due to church teaching about relationships and families, she said, referring to the nearly three-quarters of respondents who said couples are aware when their relationships are not accepted by the church and the nearly 70 percent who said these couples feel marginalized.

These numbers are tragic and heart-breaking. It indicates a deep pastoral crisis in our church, and is a good indication of why we see so many people leaving the church, Duddy-Burke said in a statement.

The evidence continues to mount about the huge gaping chasm between the attitudes, beliefs, and practices of ordinary Catholics and the stance and actions of our church leaders, she added during a recent telephone interview. The credibility of the hierarchy has eroded very quickly and has policy implications as well as pastoral implications.

Surveys genesis, its purpose
Last November, 15 U.S. Catholic church reform organizations responded to Pope Franciss call for bishops globally to survey Catholics on family issues, including same-sex couples and families.

The online questionnaire was completed by more that 16,000 Catholics in English and Spanish.

Analyzed independently by Peter J. Fagan, M.Div., Ph.D., from the Department of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, the survey results highlight seven core issues of concern, including pastoral care; pedagogical and evangelism challenges; separated, divorced and remarried Catholics; same-sex marriage; women in the church; sexual abuse scandals; and skepticism and hope, according to a news release.

In all, 53 percent of survey respondents self-identified as weekly Mass-goers, which is higher Mass attendance than the overall U.S. Catholic average of 31 percent in 2011.

In December 2013, a short summary of the quantitative data and a document containing each and every written comment and response was sent to Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, general secretary of the Synod on the Bishops and Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The survey analysis was delivered to the U.S. cardinals attending a recent consistory, or assembly of cardinals and pontiff in Rome, in preparation for the Synod on the Family in October, and to Baldisseri.

Local reaction
Local LGBT Catholics said that the church needs to change.

I find the teaching of the church to be too theoretical and heartless. As a gay man from divorced parents, the church would be the last place in the world where I would seek advise or help for my relationships, said Ernest L. Camisa, secretary of Dignity San Francisco. The teachings must change, and the fact the pope put out this survey is a sign that he is considering a change in the teachings on marriage and the family.

Camisa pointed out some Catholic officials are changing the discussion, and pointed to Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Austria, who in April 2013 voiced support for civil law protection for same-sex relationships at the same time he defended traditional marriage.

I believe as Cardinal Schonborn does, that gay people should be allowed to marry, and there should be married men and women priests, Camisa said. What dose a celibate clergy know about marriage? Listening to them is like learning to drive from a person who has never put his hands on the steering wheel of a car.

Back in November, San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone asked local parishioners for feedback to a 39-question preparatory document issued by the Vatican, according to reporting by Catholic San Francisco, the official archdiocesan newspaper.

However, the Reverend Brian Costello, pastor of the Castro neighborhoods Most Holy Redeemer Church, said in an email, We got the Vatican survey very, very late.

I talked with the MHR staff, and it was decided that we would not participate, not because we didnt want to (we did!), but because we received it so late and had to turn it in in less than a weeks time. Costello said.

He added that many San Francisco parishes did the same thing because of the quick turnaround time.

I would have loved to do the Vatican survey as a parish, but the 39 questions were very poorly worded and we really did not have enough time to do a good job, Costello said.

That differs from what a local Catholic publication reported.

The anonymous questionnaire asked Catholics to express their understanding and acceptance of church teachings on sexuality, marriage and family life, and report on how effectively they feel the church supports those teachings, Catholic San Francisco reported, with many pastors providing the Vatican-supplied document to parishioners to complete on their own.

Attempts to reach Cordileone for comment through Christine A. Mugridge, director of media relations, were unsuccessful.

National reaction
Nationally, some Catholic leaders called the Vatican survey a good first step.

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of Mount Rainier, Maryland-based New Ways Ministry, sounded a positive chord in his assessment.

This news is hopeful in a number of ways, he said, referring to the survey. First, the sheer volume of the laitys response means that bishops cannot ignore such obvious empirical evidence. Second, the fact that these responses are coming from people who are concerned enough about the future of Catholicism to respond to the questions means that bishops will have to pay attention to these results. Third, a number of European bishops have already noted that these results are opening their eyes to realities they did not know existed.

Nevertheless, DeBernardo voiced caution about becoming too optimistic that sweeping change is right around the corner. As he explained, Change in the church is evolutionary, not revolutionary.

Altogether, The best part of this survey is that it has set up an example of dialogue, said DeBernardo. I think that example will be emulated by bishops and pastors who may have previously been fearful of opening such a discussion.

New Ways Ministrys co-founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick, also welcomed the surveys findings.

The survey results confirm the mission of New Ways Ministry as one of justice and reconciliation of LGBT Catholics with the wider church, she said, giv[ing] us hope to continue our work.

The major challenge for us is the U.S. hierarchy, mostly appointees of Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II who are resisting Pope Franciss call for a pastoral approach, Gramick explained. In the future, we can reasonably expect even greater acceptance from Catholics in the pew, but welcome by pastors and bishops will be slower to come by.

In Boston, Charles Martel, an advocate from Catholics for Marriage Equality, said [The faithful] place a great value in lived experience, and the survey reflects this by the support given to the LGBT community, including affirmation for civil same-sex marriage.

The survey reveals how much Catholics value their faith, and they want church teachings to reflect what are the contemporary areas for discussion, Martel added. The mass exodus reflects a significant disengagement by many Catholics, but those who responded to the survey clearly indicate that they maintain a tentative hope of being listened to. What happens at the Synod of the Family will be crucial in terms of whether many will feel that their hope in the future has any substance to it.

Lesbian feminist theologian Mary E. Hunt, Ph.D., co-founder and director of the Silver Springs, Maryland-based Womens Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual, or WATER, offered a more sobering assessment.

The survey data make clear that same-sex loving people and their families find scant welcome and plenty of rejection in most parishes, she said, pointing to One [Maryland] parish I know had sign-up times after masses to oppose a same-sex marriage referendum with no opportunity for the other side to speak, much less gather support.

For Hunt, real hope lies outside the institutional church.

It is only because of DignityUSA, women church groups, and other progressive Eucharistic communities that LGBTIQ Catholics have any reliable links to their tradition, she said.

My view is that those groups, rather than the hierarchical church, are the carriers of the Gospel in our time. Perhaps the hierarchy will one day learn from them, Hunt added. In the meantime, I urge people to engage in sacrament and solidarity where their lives are respected and their loves are taken seriously.

European, Asian bishops survey reports
Unlike Bishops in Germany, Switzerland, and Japan, U.S. bishops have been slow in reporting survey results.

Japanese and German bishops, moreover, were blunt in their publicized comments.

As the German bishops 18-page report put it: The churchs statements on premarital sexual relations, on homosexuality, on those divorced and remarried and on birth control are virtually never accepted, or are expressly rejected in the vast majority of cases.

German Catholics are about 30 percent of the overall population, which is 82 million.

Equally pointed, Japans bishops, in a 15-page report, said, Contemporary [Japanese] Catholics are either indifferent to or are unaware of the teachings of the church.

The numbers of Japanese Catholics are small, only .0.35 percent of the population, which is 127.6 million.

However, a recent article in the National Catholic Reporter found 78 U.S. dioceses had clear, easily accessible information about what the survey was and how Catholics could participate, either through online surveys, direct consultations (a bishop in Alaska hosted a town hall meeting) or parish input. Some bishops announced they would be consulting priest councils or other diocesan structures to gather responses to the questionnaire. Of those, about a dozen reported the results of their surveys and consultations publicly.

DignityUSA and WATER were among the 15 sponsoring groups for the survey.

The report is available online at