Guest columnists Bishop William D. Byrne and Catholics for Inclusion: A message of welcome to the LGBTQ+ community

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By BISHOP WILLIAM D. BYRNE and MEMBERS of CATHOLICS FOR INCLUSION

Published: 12-05-2023 3:37 PM

In 2021, Pope Francis instituted a call to every Catholic congregation, and beyond, to take part in a worldwide synod, an invitation to even non-Catholics who wished to participate, to listen to people and ask how the Holy Spirit was moving them, and what they most want from their faith communities today.

This Synod on Synodality took place across the world and right here in western Massachusetts, as people came together and spoke about their wide range of concerns. It was a dialogue that formed the basis for the just-concluded first of two worldwide Vatican synod meetings.

Here in western Massachusetts, one of the things many parishioners expressed was a wish for a more inclusive Catholic Church that genuinely welcomes the LGBTQ+ faithful. Understandably, given church teaching, this is a very difficult topic. And while Pope Francis has not suggested changing any teaching, he has been clear that we must be a faith community that is open to welcoming and engaging all people.

For nearly five years, a group in Northampton, now calling itself Catholics for Inclusion (CFI), has been meeting, discussing LGBTQ+ issues, discerning what the church needs to do to create an opportunity for LGBTQ+ individuals to feel genuinely welcomed to return to the church. Recognizing that those in the group are members of his local flock, Bishop William Byrne has joined the group on a few occasions.

Drawing from these conversations, during a September audience with Pope Francis, Bishop Byrne asked the pontiff how we should confront this challenge. Without missing a beat, Pope Francis said with deliberative repetition that, “everyone, everyone, everyone, everyone should be welcomed. We are all brothers and sisters seeking the Lord.”

In that spirit, the bishop and members of CFI have met to discuss how the Catholic churches in our area can become genuinely welcoming to all people. We believe this includes joining together to create an open and loving community that is more welcoming to LGBTQ+ people. Discernment, education, and above all prayer are required to help us all arrive at a place where we are a community that is worthy of the trust of those who have been treated as outsiders in their own faith.

To this end, the bishop strongly encourages all parishes and schools to welcome everyone into your community, particularly those who feel excluded from the church, including the LGBTQ+ faithful. Let’s work together to share and learn from each other as fellow disciples of the Lord.

Already in our area, there are congregations and priests who have begun to do the work of making their parishes more open, acting on the main tenet of our faith: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15;12-13)

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We believe that what Jesus meant by loving each other is that we should be open and loving to all people; we should begin to try to walk with and approach one another with compassion, rather than discrimination or harsh judgments. The church always seeks to make the Body of Christ whole despite the fact that none of us is truly worthy but are all equally loved.

In this spirit, we remain committed to continuing this dialogue and invite others to join our journey of healing. To learn more about the work being undertaken, we encourage you to contact us at catholicsforinclusionwmass@gmail.com

The Rev. William D. Byrne is the bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield. Catholics for Inclusion is a local group of Catholics based in Northampton.