Culture Clash Envelops Roman Catholic Church

By Lindstrom, Natasha | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, August 2, 2015 | Go to article overview

Culture Clash Envelops Roman Catholic Church


Lindstrom, Natasha, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Once a month in an undisclosed Western Pennsylvania location, two to eight people meet with the Rev. Paul Zywan to pray, reflect and discuss a struggle they share: They are devout Catholics who are gay, and their church officially disapproves unless they remain celibate.

"The biggest struggle is just the raging battle within themselves of their own heart being pulled," said Zywan, pastor of St. Alexis Church in McCandless and moderator of Courage, a spiritual support group under the auspices of Catholic dioceses nationwide. It urges participants to strive for a "chaste" life.

In places across the United States, gay Catholics celebrate Mass openly, filing into pews alongside same-sex partners, children and grandchildren.

About 35 men and women attend a weekly gay-friendly Mass in Franciscan Center in Tampa, which sells buttons with sayings such as "Homophobia: Now That's a Choice," and "Jesus Had Two Dads and He Turned Out Amazing."

"They're living their lives, and they're not ashamed," said the Rev. Michael Cooper, a Jesuit priest, pastoral studies professor and spiritual director for LGBT Tampa.

The stark contrast between the Western Pennsylvania and Tampa groups reflects schisms within the Roman Catholic Church. Those schisms pose a difficult dilemma at a time when many people -- and the U.S. Supreme Court -- accept same-sex marriage as a human right.

It's an issue that gay rights advocates want Pope Francis to address when he visits Philadelphia in September for the World Meeting of Families, which is expected to draw 15,000 people from 180 countries during a weeklong conference and as many as 2 million participants for the closing papal Mass.

"We see your visit to the U.S. as an opportunity for you to hear from us how central our faith is to our lives, and to work together toward creating a church where all families know that we are truly loved and welcomed," DignityUSA, a national group representing gay, lesbian and transgender Catholics, wrote to the pope.

How to approach gay Catholics is among the church's challenges in remaining relevant as Americans stray from organized religion. DignityUSA says church teachings that uphold "systemic, institutionalized discrimination" against gays contribute to an "enormous pastoral crisis," and that gay and transgender Catholics experience alienation and less access to housing, jobs and health care.

Church leaders have voiced concerns about being labeled prejudiced for trying to preserve a core sacramental tradition.

'Incredibly quotable'

Francis stunned the world with five words in 2013: "Who am I to judge?"

He made the remark to a reporter who asked about the pope's attitude toward a celibate gay priest. The response was a far cry from Benedict XVI's reference to homosexuality as an "objective disorder."

Yet some have said Francis' words and subsequent acts appear to conflict. …

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