Florida bishop on Orlando attack: Sadly, religion 'often breeds contempt' for LGBT people

This story appears in the Orlando shooting feature series. View the full series.

by Brian Roewe

NCR environment correspondent

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In the wake of the terrorist attack on a gay Orlando nightclub, St. Petersburg, Fla., Bishop Robert Lynch lamented the role religion has played in breeding contempt for the LGBT community.

“Sadly it is religion, including our own, which targets, mostly verbally, and also often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people,” Lynch wrote on his blog Monday. “Attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence.”

The bishop’s comments came a day after a gunman, Omar Saddiqui Mateen, killed at least 49 people and injured another 53 early Sunday morning at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. While the federal investigation into Mateen’s motives is not complete, his father has told media outlets his son had recently expressed anti-gay sentiments.

“Those women and men who were mowed down early yesterday morning were all made in the image and likeness of God,” Lynch said. “We teach that. We should believe that. We must stand for that.”

Lynch, 75, began the blog post saying he wrote “with a heavy heart,” and that a day earlier he could only muster a sympathetic text to neighboring Bishop John Noonan of Orlando. The St. Petersburg bishop offered his prayers for those who died and who are still in recovery. ​

In a statement Sunday, New Ways Ministry, a national Catholic LGBT outreach ministry, criticized church leaders that omitted references to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in their conciliatory statements. 

“The Orlando murders should move all Catholic leaders to reflect on how their silence about homophobic and transphobic attitudes and violence contributes to behaviors which treat LGBT people as less than human and deserving of punishment. This sad moment in our history should become a time when Catholic leaders speak loudly and clearly, with one voice, that attacks on LGBT people must stop,” said its executive director Frank DeBernardo.

Lynch has previously spoken out against anti-gay sentiments and has advocated a greater pastoral response to same-sex couples.

“I do not wish to lend our voice to notions which might suggest that same-sex couples are a threat incapable of sharing relationships marked by love and holiness and, thus, incapable of contributing to the edification of both the church and the wider society,” he wrote in a January 2015 op-ed column following Florida’s legalization of same-sex marriage.

In his blog Monday, the bishop also echoed calls for a ban on the sale of all assault weapons, which he said extended beyond the scope that the Constitution authors envisioned when adding the Second Amendment to the Bill of Rights.

“If one is truly pro-life, then embrace this issue also and work for the elimination of sales to those who would turn them on innocents,” the bishop said.

Lastly, Lynch labeled attempts to bar Muslim people from entering the U.S. as “un-American, even in these most challenging of times and situations.”

“Singling out people for victimization because of their religion, their sexual orientation, their nationality must be offensive to God’s ears. It has to stop also,” he said.

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]

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