Listening is good; hearing is good. Effective outreach to a minority population requires an authentic awareness of the specific issues affecting them. Archbishop Cordileone's invitation to "get to know us first as fellow human beings" goes both ways; we as a Church need to really get to know the realities of the lives of LGBTQ people if we intend to share Jesus with them. The first thing Jesus did, in seeking to save souls, was to acknowledge who was on the margins, and then reach out in love.
How can the Church follow Christ's example? What do queer people want and need to feel welcomed and supported in the Church where they may find him? How can the Church support queer people already in the pews, let alone the many on the street? What do they hope for from the Church, and how is the Church failing those hopes, thus contributing to a sense of hopelessness?
These are some of the questions that will hopefully be seriously entertained during the Extraordinary Bishop's Synod for the Family, in October. Research suggests that social support is an essential factor for the physical and material well being of all marginalized people; everyone has a need for community, and a connection with others. For the spiritual well being of queer people, spiritual support is needed as well. Jesus showed us time and time again the importance of reaching out to the social outcasts by meeting them first where they were, and inviting them along. He first made genuine connections with them, and his love radically changed their lives.
It takes a genuine connection to make the vulnerable feel truly safe, and truly seen. This is a big risk for many queer persons in the Catholic community who fear that allowing themselves to be truly seen might lead to an experience of intense social stigma. The USCCB document, Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination, states, "In the context of parish life, however, general public self-disclosures are not helpful and should not be encouraged." Does this help create a safe environment for a queer person? How does this create a safe environment for queer youth as they process their understanding of gender identity and sexuality?
If Cardinal Dolan means what he says about listening, and if we truly want to outreach to queer people, we need to do more, starting with real dialogue. Without being defensive, we need to see queer people through Jesus' eyes, understand why they feel like outcasts, and then ask what we as a community can do to bring them home.
If we listen, we will hear that we all share the same desires: for connection; for community; for hope; for love; for a place where we may safely graze.
Queer people are created by God and beloved of him, just like everyone else, and they are in need of support from the Catholic community.