When Archbishop Charles J. Chaput was installed in Philadelphia in 2011, many friends of Seth Jacobson wrote the Catholic leader “loving letters about how they were struggling with their faith and asked him to be more compassionate.”
“They got some pretty tough responses from him and one friend even cried,” Jacobson said, noting the feeling was familiar to him. He could remember crying himself to sleep at night as a child. He thought he would go to hell for being gay.
Although Jacobson didn’t have an overly religious upbringing — his father is Jewish and his mother is Catholic — he was still aware of the Church’s teachings regarding LGBT people.
It wasn’t until college at a religiously affiliated institution that he “got to know a beautiful part of the Church” through some nuns who were LGBT-affirming.
To attempt to change the Church from the inside, Jacobson started a group called the LGBT Catholic Community of Philadelphia. Just under a dozen people attended the first meeting last week. Going forward, Jacobson expects to gather the last Thursday of each month in the offices of Emerge Wellness, 1518 Walnut St., Suite 303.
“I tried to introduce an activist spirit beyond supporting each other,” Jacobson said. “When it comes to making any sort of change, we need to spark this discourse and action in our local communities.”
The LGBT Catholic Community of Philadelphia will not host any religious services.
“We want to encourage folks to remain part of their parishes,” Jacobson said, “and come to this group to identify ways we can advocate for the changes we want to see.”
He noted he would like to meet with leaders at Dignity Philadelphia, another LGBT Catholic group in the city, to see how the two organizations could complement each other.
The work of fostering a more welcoming Catholic Church is especially difficult in Philadelphia, Jacobson said. The city is noted as one of the more conservative archdioceses in the country, and Chaput has issued more anti-LGBT guidance than most. This summer, the archbishop declared LGBT Catholics should not hold leadership positions in the Church.
Jacobson said even Catholics who are not LGBT have expressed frustration with Chaput.
“I don’t think there’s a local strong mechanism through which Catholics can express their frustration,” he said, noting he’d like the LGBT Catholic Community of Philadelphia to become “a forum through which more Catholics can come together and say, ‘I love my Church, but I don’t love the harm that’s being caused by this thing in particular.’”
“I would like to see a counter-narrative really emerge,” Jacobson said.
For more information, join the Facebook group “LGBT Catholic Community of Philadelphia.”