By Marge Bitetti
SAN BERNARDINO—For Gloria Austin, her involvement in the Diocesan Commission that provides outreach to Families of Gay and Lesbian Catholics was personal.
Shortly after her son told her and her husband that he was gay, she looked for acceptance for both her son and her family.
“I am thrilled with being a member of this group because I wanted someone to say that my child was still welcome in the Church,” says Austin.
The Ministry to Families and Friends with Gay and or Lesbian Catholics started more than a decade ago. During this past holiday season, ministry members gathered at the Diocesan Pastoral Center for Mass, fellowship and dinner. Since the celebration was on the Third Sunday of Advent, called Gaudete or Rejoice Sunday, Bishop Gerald Barnes shared a reflection with the group during his homily.
“A lot of times we don’t know how to rejoice because we are such an impatient culture,” he said.
During the meal that followed the Mass, Bishop Barnes thanked the people involved with the ministry and Sister Mary Frances Coleman, R.S.M., who served as a coordinator of the group for ten years, and Sister Cathy White, s.P., who led the group until her retirement in December.
At the gathering Austin gave a brief history of the ministry, which evolved out of a conversation Bishop Barnes had 18 years ago with a parent who was upset because her husband had disowned their son who had come out as gay. The Bishop listened to the concerns of this mother and suggested that she attend an upcoming national conference in Philadelphia that would shed light on the subject. She followed the Bishop’s advice and brought back information that lead to the establishment of a local support group, which became a ministry.
Austin talked about the struggles of Catholic parents who accompany their children who identify as homosexual.
“What upset me was the fear that someone was going to hurt my son,” said Austin, who added that she had concerns that he would no longer be welcomed in the Catholic faith that he had practiced his entire life.
As a result of her personal searching for answers, Austin became involved in the ministry so that she could help others who are impacted by this issue. “One concern is that the suicide rate for young people who are gay, or lesbian is very high,” she said.
Members of the group, which seeks to provide information and resources to the Catholic LGBTQ community, freely share their stories and gain a feeling of acceptance. The commission supports LGBTQ Catholics, their families, friends and parishes in a shared journey as disciples of Christ.
Deacon Mike Juback shared that he has visited several parishes in the Diocese as a representative of the ministry. At the Advent gathering he spoke about his involvement with the Commission and his parish visits. He summarized it in three words, “respect, compassion and sensitivity.”
John Plesser, also a commissioned member of the group, shared his thoughts about the ministry saying, “It’s the best kept secret in the Diocese that no one knows about.”
Through the years, the ministry has had the influence of strong religious leadership including Sr. Mary Frances, Sr. Cathy and Father John Kavcak, M.S.C., pastor of St. Theresa Parish in Palm Springs. Fr. Kavcak has been instrumental in welcoming the group Gifted and Called LGBTQ to his parish.
“The basic point of the Church is that we should be welcoming,” Fr. John shared about his support for the ministry to gay and lesbian Catholics in his community.
Marge Bitetti is a freelance writer and a parishioner of St. Matthew Church in Corona.