The Los Angeles Times reports on a Mass offered for the twenty-fifth anniversary of a ministry program created by Cardinal Roger Mahony catering to those hit by the HIV crisis:
The [then] relatively new Roman Catholic archbishop of Los Angeles, Roger Mahony, spoke to an audience of gay and lesbian Catholics about the scourge that was racing through their community. He spoke of treating victims of HIV/AIDS with "dignity" and "respect" and called for the creation of outreach ministries to care for them and to foster "a spirit of community and fellowship among gay Catholics."
Those were not words gay Catholics were used to hearing.
"It was bold," Schaefer recalled Saturday night after singing at a Mass celebrating the 25th anniversary of the gay and lesbian ministry that Mahony established on Feb. 2, 1986. "I'm very grateful to Cardinal Mahony for doing that."
Much has changed in the intervening quarter century — and some things not at all.
Mahony is retired as archbishop. HIV infection is no longer an automatic death sentence. Society is far more tolerant of homosexuality. Same-sex marriage is legal in some states, a development that was scarcely imaginable in the mid-'80s. Some Christian denominations ordain clergy who live openly in same-sex relationships.
And the Catholic Church? Its position on homosexuality was clarified in October 1986 by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. Homosexuality, he wrote in a letter to bishops, is an "objective disorder," and "a person engaging in homosexual behavior … acts immorally."
That is still official church policy. Unlike some evangelical churches, however, the Catholic Church acknowledges that some people are intrinsically gay, and its policy is to welcome them as members of the community — with the understanding that they should remain celibate.
That puts the gay and lesbian ministry, overseen by Father Chris Ponnet of the St. Camillus Pastoral Center, in a rather difficult position.
What struck me from this short article is the language used by Mahony 25 years ago when he spoke to "gay Catholics." Church leaders today seemingly do not use that kind of language; they tend speak about "homosexuals," but rarely engage in dialogue with "gay Catholics." Has the Church's language harshened over the past couple decades? Would a ministry such as the one profiled in the article get off the ground today?