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Examining the Marquette Diocese's directives regarding LGBTQ congregants


A tweet recently brought to light directives from the Catholic Diocese of Marquette that some consider restrictive to the participation of LGBTQ people in the Church.

The directives released in July supply guidance to pastors regarding school policies, leadership positions and LGBTQ congregants—specifically, transgender people and those in same-sex relationships. They say those who are transgender or living in a same-sex relationship can’t get baptized or confirmed unless they “repent,” give up the relationship, and/or stop the transition process.

John Doerfler is Bishop of the Marquette Diocese. He says “repent,” at its root, means a change of mind and heart.

“Where we acknowledge that our behavior has been wrong and that we desire to change that behavior, with the grace and the help of God.”

Those in same-sex relationships and transgender people also may not receive Communion, Doerfler says, because we have to be in right relationship with Jesus to receive Him.

“So if there are things in our life that have seriously led us away from Jesus Christ in one way or another, we want to reconcile and turn away from those behaviors to turn back towards Jesus. That’s the point of it.”

But Francis DeBernardo doesn’t agree with the directives. He’s Executive Director of New Ways Ministry in Mount Rainier, Maryland, a national Catholic educational and LGBTQ advocacy ministry. He thinks it’s wrong to ask people to repent of who they are or who they love. He says LGBTQ people have often gone through a discernment process that is very spiritual in nature.

“And they’ve come to discover that this is who God made them to be. And they feel that the love they have for another person is a love that is divinely inspired.”

DeBernardo says the Catholic Church teaches one’s conscience is the highest moral guide in their lives, and many lesbian and gay people have often gone through a discernment process to recognize and understand what God is calling them to be.

“And their conscience has told them that it is okay, and not just okay but good, for them to be in these relationships.”

One part of the Marquette Diocese’s directives compares being transgender with having anorexia. Bishop Doerfler says the basis of the analogy is that in both cases there’s a misperception about one’s bodily reality.

“So a person who has anorexia may think that they are overweight, but in reality they are very thin. Similarly, someone who might be suffering from gender dysphoria has these feelings where they believe that they’re trapped in a body that’s perhaps not their own.”

DeBernardo says that’s like comparing apples and oranges.

“An eating disorder is something that causes ill health and sometimes death. And yet, transgender people report that when they do transition, they experience new life.”

People with same-sex attraction and/or gender dysphoria are most welcome in the Church, Doerfler says. Just having the thoughts and feelings isn’t sinful. It’s our behaviors that separate us from God—behaviors that we freely and willingly have chosen.

He states most of the document centers on pastoral accompaniment and walking with each other on the path toward Jesus.

“And that also means helping each other avoid sinful behaviors.”

He’s not afraid the directives will affect Church attendance.

“Because if one reads the whole document, it is fundamentally about a journey to faith in Jesus Christ. And that’s what we’re all about.”

DeBernardo says a handful of dioceses have issued somewhat similar directives, but the Marquette Diocese is the only one he knows of that has issued ones that cover sacramental reception, school policies and who may participate as a liturgical minister in a parish.

He finds that to be a scary thing.

“Because it shows an unwillingness on the part of the diocese to even pay a little bit of attention to the experience of LGBTQ people.”

He says the Church has been guilty of discriminating against other groups by not recognizing what their experience is. He thinks that’s what’s happening in Marquette.

“I think that they make the mistake of seeing LGBTQ issues as primarily sexual but they are very much an experience of spirituality and self-affirmation and discovery of God.”

If the directives are left as-is, DeBernardo is afraid they will decimate the Church.

“So, I think that this is a dead-end approach, not just for LGBTQ people but for the entire Church, because people are going to see it for what it is—and it’s a very discriminatory practice.”

But Doerfler says the directives are rooted in love. The first two sentences read as follows:

“There is an ever-greater need today for the pastoral care of persons with same-sex attraction and persons with gender dysphoria. Let us open our hearts to the love of God that we may overflow with love and kindness and respect for others.”

But DeBernardo says pastoral accompaniment is not just giving people rules to follow; it’s a process of dialogue.

“And I think that if Bishop Doerfler and the Marquette Diocese truly want to do pastoral accompaniment, they have to be willing to open up to change some of their points of view, as well.”

Nicole was born near Detroit but has lived in the U.P. most of her life. She graduated from Marquette Senior High School and attended Michigan State and Northern Michigan Universities, graduating from NMU in 1993 with a degree in English.