New York — On Palm Sunday, Carl Siciliano, a Catholic advocate for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) homeless youths, made an impassioned plea to Pope Francis on their behalf.
To ensure his request did not go unnoticed, Siciliano chose a very public forum to print his written letter to the pope: a full-page ad in Sunday’s New York Times. The ad was paid for by Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams Home Furnishings. Gold is the author of Youth in Crisis: What Everyone Should Know About Growing Up Gay and a fervent advocate for at-risk young people.
“I hope that you will open your heart to the suffering of youths,” Siciliano wrote. “As LGBT youths are finding the courage to speak the truths of their hearts at younger ages, epidemic numbers are being rejected by their families, and driven to homelessness.”
Siciliano, a former Benedictine monk and current executive director of the Ali Forney Center, a New York homeless shelter for LGBT youths, cited unsettling statistics to show how and why these young people are disproportionately affected by homelessness. “LGBT youths make up 40 percent of the homeless youth population in this country, despite comprising only about five percent of the overall youth population,” Siciliano wrote.
Parental rejection based on religion, Siciliano continued, often drives these kids to the streets.
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“A recent study of family rejection found that parents with high religious involvement were significantly less accepting of their LGBT children,” he wrote.
But for Siciliano, these homeless young people are more than just a statistic. Referring to kids he’s met at the shelter, Siciliano put a human face on the suffering of those rejected by religious parents.
“I think of Justin, whose mother summoned her priest who held him to the ground and tried to drive the devil out of the 16 year old boy,” Siciliano wrote.
He continued: “Or Terry, who was sent to a Catholic religion class where the instructor set him aside as someone "possessed by demons." I think of the boy whose name I never learned whose father was so disgusted by homosexuality that he threw his son out of his home and said he would kill him and bury him in the backyard if he tried to return.”
The Catholic church, Siciliano argued, could have a transforming effect on the relationship between religious persons and the LGBT community. But this would have to begin with an understanding of homosexuality as something other than a sin.
“By teaching that homosexual conduct is a sin, and that the homosexual orientation is disordered, it influences countless parents and families ... to reject their children,” he wrote. “In the name of these children, and in light of the love and compassion at the heart of the message of Jesus, I ask that you end this teaching.”
Siciliano further questioned the church’s view of homosexuality as a sin, writing: “The teaching that homosexual conduct is a sin has a poisonous outcome, bearing fruit in many Christian parents who abandon their LGBT children to homelessness and destitution. How could a good seed yield such a bitter harvest?”
The letter comes at a pertinent time with Catholics around the globe celebrating Holy Week this week, marking the end of Lent and the celebration of Easter. Furthermore, the pope will hold a global meeting of bishops on "Pastoral challenges to the family in the context of evangelization," in October.
[Ben Feuerherd is a freelance writer in New York.]