Broadening the conversation on the Catholic family

Broadening the conversation on the Catholic family

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The announcement that Pope Francis will be visiting Philadelphia next September for the World Meeting of Families is a chance for Catholics and non-Catholics alike to have an honest, open discussion about what it means to be part of a family. Unfortunately, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia announced last

month that there will be little focus on sexuality in relation to the family at the event.

Chaput, like many other traditionalist Catholics, seems to have a “Leave It to Beaver” mentality of the family. He believes any marriage not between one man and one woman is evil and sinful. Trying to define marriage and the family in such limited terms makes the church seem obtuse to a diverse and complicated world.

In a 2009 interview, Chaput said many bishops were slow to condemn slavery and that some even owned slaves. To be clear, Chaput was relating this to many Catholics being slow to condemn abortion. But couldn’t the same be said for those who are slow to defend those who seek love and marriage regardless of sexuality?

Personally, I never would ask the Catholic Church to compromise its beliefs. If the church doesn’t want to wed same-sex couples, that’s its right as a religious institution. However, the church crosses the line when it fires a gay teacher for seeking a civil marriage license — like the case last year with Michael Griffin at Holy Ghost Preparatory School in Bucks County.

Griffin and his partner were seeking civil marriage licenses and, therefore, were not infringing on the beliefs or customs of the Catholic Church. If Griffin was demanding a marriage within the church, I could see where Chaput and other church leaders would have grounds for taking action.

In an attempt to protest state-sanctioned same-sex marriage licenses, Chaput has urged other U.S. bishops to stop signing civil marriage licenses for all couples. This is a clear example of a religious leader trying to infringe on the rights of the people and the democratically elected government they’re represented by.

Another self-inflicted, needless embarrassment for the Philadelphia Archdiocese was when the principal of St. Andrew Elementary School in Bucks County emailed parents apologizing for using Ellen DeGeneres on fliers for an eighth-grade dance, calling her a “poor role model.” DeGeneres is an award-winning talk-show host who is nothing short of a positive role model. In this instance, the school judged a very successful, strong woman based on one small aspect of her life. Imagine what such a judgment could do to an LGBT child who was an otherwise happy, smart and productive member of society. It could be devastating.

That leads to my next point: promoting life. Opponents of same-sex marriage argue that, because LGBT couples can’t procreate, they’re not equal to heterosexual couples. I completely reject that argument. LGBT people promote life by caring for and loving those around them, whether it be family, friends or coworkers. Too often, marriage-equality opponents forget about the life and dignity of an LGBT person.

Many Catholics I’ve talked to who oppose same-sex marriage say they won’t change their views simply because a majority of people approve of marriage equality. They claim that, just because advocates are in the majority, it doesn’t make them right. Fair enough. But realistically, I could use that reasoning for any issue.

Keep in mind, advocates of same-sex marriage have been in the majority for a mere fraction of this ongoing debate. In 1996, only 25 percent of the American public supported same-sex marriage, and support for the LGBT community took courage (not that it doesn’t still today). Still, the attitude toward LGBT people back then was far from positive, and there were fewer allies. After recently watching the 1993 movie “Philadelphia,” I’m reminded of how far we’ve come since Denzel Washington’s character thought catching AIDS was as simple as shaking a gay person’s hand.

For a good part of my life, I was guilty of not caring about the plight of the LGBT community. Yet the more I research, the more I come to respect the courage and strength of LGBT people as they persevere through persistent discrimination and persecution.

With an open heart and mind, Keystone Catholics welcome Archbishop Chaput and other Catholics of good will to join us in promoting mercy, joy and inclusion for the LGBT community. We join our words with the Holy Father: “Let the Church always be a place of mercy and hope, where everyone is welcomed, loved and forgiven.”

Stephen Seufert is the state director of Keystone Catholics, a new social-justice advocacy organization in Pennsylvania dedicated to promoting the common good. For more information, visit or email Seufert at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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