This month's Synod of Bishops of the family gained unprecedented world media attention, particularly after a midterm report from Rome suggested that the bishops were considering a significant pastoral shift in outreach toward the LGBT community. While the discussion and, at times, infighting among the bishops have made it unclear what direction and how significant this pastoral shift will actually be, we do know that the process has begun.
As the church goes forward on this journey, there will be more and more areas of profound internal disagreement, including the possibility of same-sex couples being allowed to receive the sacraments and the church's political posture toward states that allow same-sex unions and marriages. But there is one area about which there should be no disagreement: ending the menacing violence against the LGBT community.
As we mark the fifth anniversary of President Barack Obama signing the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law, we must realize that we still live in a nation where the violence against members of the LGBT community remains steady. Just last month, a gay couple was attacked on the streets of Philadelphia.
At its best, the Catholic church can and should be a leader in fighting discrimination against the LGBT community. Even 30 years ago, at the height of anti-gay discrimination worldwide, the Vatican said: "It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves condemnation from the Church's pastors wherever it occurs. It reveals a kind of disregard for others which endangers the most fundamental principles of a healthy society. The intrinsic dignity of each person must always be respected in word, in action and in law."
But the church's ideals must be lived out in the grittiness of daily ecclesial life. Pope Francis tells us, "If someone is gay and searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?" But since his election as bishop of Rome, dozens of teachers in Catholic schools have been fired because of actions related to their sexual orientation. Though this invisible violence against the LGBT community isn't as noticeable as what happened in Philadelphia, it can be just as deadly.
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Pope Francis tells us that the church and human society should "always be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed, loved and forgiven." The contours of what this place of mercy ought to look like will be discussed by the church's best theologians and social practitioners during this yearlong ecclesial reflection on family.
But let's be clear: For people of faith to say "yes" to welcome, we must say "no" to violence whether it be on the streets of Philadelphia, the personnel decisions at our Catholic institutions, or the intentions of our own heart -- intentions that build up and tear down.
When we say "yes" to welcome and "no" to violence, we can begin to reimagine and reconstruct human society into the dreams God has for it: a place where everyone experiences God's redeeming love in Jesus, where no one is excluded and no one is left behind.