The mamas and the papas: What it's like for Catholic parents of GLBT children

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Article Sex and Sexuality
Parents have much to say about the church and their children.

The young priest preached on the sanctity of life at a Denver hospice. Afterward an older couple asked him if their son, who had died of AIDS, would be in hell forever. The priest said he couldn’t answer that.

More than 20 years later Shawn Reynolds still remembers the anguish on the couple’s faces. “He didn’t say anything about Christ’s love,” Reynolds says.

Those were the days of “tears and fears,” says Mary Ellen Lopata, co-founder of the support group Fortunate Families. “Now parents are reacting with fire and ire. Things have changed dramatically. The church has lost so much in not welcoming our gay and lesbian children. They have left the church in droves because they are not welcomed. They can stay if they’re silent, suppressing a big part of who they are. Now the church is starting to lose their parents as well.”

Her husband, Casey Lopata, says that the role families play is crucial, and that while gay and lesbian Catholics are often dismissed, their parents are not. “Gay and lesbian children are growing up in our parishes,” he says. “We need to be conscious of that. Are they good or not? Parents have a lot to say.”

Deb Word, a board member of Fortunate Families and a foster mom with a gay and lesbian youth program in Memphis, Tennessee, says that her role as a Catholic is to remind her friends and her church that God loves these kids, always. “We have to start by acknowledging that there are GLBT kids in the pews, and that God loves them,” she says. “ ‘God loves you, but . . .’ is different from ‘God loves you.’ ”

Word has hope for the future. “At some point the church will look around and say, ‘As we’ve always taught, families are the center of society and we must do everything we can to support families. Gay families as well.’ The changes come with the tiniest bit of acceptance.”

For the Lopatas, the concluding sentences of the American bishops’ 1997 pastoral document Always Our Children gives the church’s truest message to gay and lesbian Catholics: “In you God’s love is revealed,” the bishops wrote. “You are always our children. There is no fear in love . . . perfect love drives out fear.”

This article appeared in the March 2012 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 77, No. 3, page 15).

Image: iStock/Robert Dodge