Detroit’s Roman Catholic archbishop, Allen Vigneron, has backed away from a statement he made two years ago that Catholics who support marriage equality should refrain from receiving communion.
“Whenever it comes to Communion, the objective is never to steer a person away,” Vigneron said in an email Friday to the Detroit Free Press. In April 2013, he had told the paper that receiving communion while supporting same-sex marriage, which is against church doctrine, would be like committing perjury.
But in his latest statement, he said he recognizes the need for Catholics to strike a balance between being faithful to church teaching and “being loving and compassionate to fellow Catholics in their personal and family lives.” The decision whether to receive communion is an individual one, he said, and “Given the variety of circumstances which go into a person’s particular situation, the best way forward for one person may not be best for another.”
LGBT-supportive Catholics praised the archbishop’s move, the Free Press reports. “He’s really taken a big step forward,” said Tom Nelson, a Detroit-area Catholic who is involved with Fortunate Families, a group for Catholics with LGBT family members. “It’s a very welcoming and loving response. It’s a Jesus response.”
“It recognizes that people, in their consciences, have to weigh the church’s teachings in their own lives and relationships,” added Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, which advocates for LGBT equality in the church. “That is authentic Catholic teaching. He’s not watering down anything. He’s proclaiming the church’s teaching more accurately than he did back then.”
Around the nation, there have been several instances over the past few years of Catholics being denied communion either because they support marriage equality or are in same-sex marriages. Some of these denials have happened at funerals of loved ones.
This week Vigneron will deliver the closing Mass at a conference cosponsored by a Catholic support group for LGBT people that endorses the church doctrine that to act on same-sex attraction is a sin. The conference, Welcoming and Accompanying Our Brothers and Sisters With Same-Sex Attractions, is organized by Courage International, a church-sanctioned group that endorses celibacy for gays and lesbians, and conservative theologian Janet Smith, a professor at Detroit’s Sacred Heart Major Seminary. It opened Monday in Plymouth, a suburb of Detroit, and continues through Wednesday.
The conference is meant to “serve those who find that elements commonly found in the gay lifestyle — promiscuity, anonymous sex, heartbreak, sexually transmitted diseases — is not for them,” Smith told the Free Press via email. She also said the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision makes it “more than a little likely” that incest will be legalized, and she advised faithful Catholics not to attend same-sex weddings.
“We don’t believe that the ‘weddings’ or ‘marriages’ are possible between a male and a male or a female and a female,” she wrote to the paper.
DeBernardo responded that Smith and those who take the same position are “burying their heads in the sand.”
“They have to live and work with the fact that gay and lesbian people are going to get married, and those are people who work in their employment, their communities, and their parishes,” he told the Free Press. “The people who work with them are going to be their family members and friends. They can’t pretend it’s not there. And it seems that’s what they’re trying to do.”