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NEW HAVEN, Conn. (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Catholic Chapel and Center at Yale University publishes pro-LGBTQ reflections but is refusing to publish opposing Catholic ones.
Saint Thomas More Chapel at Yale recently published a pro-LGBTQ reflection through its electronic newsletter channel called "Flocknote." The email, titled "The Work of Pride," was sent as a standalone message to everybody on the email list.
The student author, who identifies as Catholic, began the reflection by writing, "I'm not going to lie: Pride is hard this year. 2023 has seen alarming setbacks for the LGBTQ+ community, and particularly for our transgender siblings." The student ends the reflection by writing, "Saint Thomas More is committed to walking alongside our LGBTQ+ community, on Good Fridays and on the Easter Sundays to come."
But one faithful Catholic student, Zach Thibodeaux, sought to rectify STM's use of a Catholic channel to promote an ideology that blatantly contradicts Catholic teaching.
He spoke directly to the author of the pro-LGBTQ reflection to no avail. After a little back and forth, the author admitted he did not believe the Church's teachings on human sexuality and he thought the Church should marry same-sex couples. The student has written for America Magazine and Outreach, a so-called LGBTQ Catholic resource.
Thibodeaux spoke to members of Yale's Federalist Party, which, on its website, states, "Members of our Party coalesce around a shared emphasis on religious faith, traditional family values, strong communal ties, and righteous living." That was also to no avail.
He spoke with the STM's chaplain, Fr. Ryan Lerner, who agreed with Thibodeaux. Father Lerner even called the reflection a "heresy," especially the parts on transgenderism. He further claimed he knew nothing of the pro-LGBTQ email sent through Flocknote. But the chaplain did not want to issue a statement for "pastoral reasons."
So Thibodeaux asked to write a reflection to offer his own story and clarify Catholic teaching on the matter. Father Lerner seemed amenable. In fact, Fr. Jim Gigliotti, the pastor of Thibodeaux's home parish, St. Andrew in Fort Worth, Texas, called Fr. Lerner to discuss the matter. Father Gigliotti told Church Militant he thought Fr. Lerner would publish Thibodeaux's reflection based on how the conversation ended.
But Fr. Lerner soon sang a different tune. When Thibodeaux gently pushed for the publication of his reflection, Fr. Lerner became stern and insisted he would publish neither a statement nor a reflection.
Church Militant made multiple attempts to reach Fr. Lerner for clarification and comment but received no response. Church Militant then reached out to the Hartford archdiocese but received no response.
Father Lerner has been the chaplain of STM since 2019.
Church Militant reported on Fr. Lerner in 2021, noting he oversees STM's so-called LGBTQ Ministry, which has a history of publishing pro-LGBTQ reflections. For example, in 2020, the head of the so-called LGBTQ Ministry, Jacqui Oesterblad, wrote a piece published on STM's website titled, "LGBTQ History Month: Silence at Church is Not a Blessing."
After publication of Church Militant's 2021 report, a Catholic in Connecticut informed Church Militant she reported Fr. Lerner's questionable involvement with a ministry that so clearly contradicts Church teaching.
She later saw Fr. Lerner at a talk given by the well-known pusher of normalizing sodomy, Fr. James Martin. After the talk, Fr. Lerner gave Fr. Martin a standing ovation. In the lobby, where Fr. Martin was signing books, she took a picture of Fr. Lerner, who waved at her.
On his bio page for the chaplain's office, Fr. Lerner includes his pronouns as "he/him/his," something Yale University does not seem to require, as evidenced from viewing the bios of various professors who do not include their pronouns.
The LGBTQ community often seems to be on Fr. Lerner's mind.
A 2020 YaleNews article titled "Yale's Faith Leaders Bridge Social Distance to Foster Fellowship" included Fr. Lerner, who talked about routine check-ins from the pastoral team with student members of his congregation for those struggling emotionally or financially at home.
"For some of our students, such as members of the LGBTQ community, for example, Yale may have been a safe space," asserted Fr. Lerner. "Are they feeling welcome at home? It is difficult for anyone to be torn from the communities in which they feel encouraged, but for those who may have difficulties at home, it is even harder."
His enthusiasm for the LGBTQ community also finds a place in his homilies. For example, at the morning Mass on Sunday, April 4, 2021, he proclaimed, "Christ is in the young and those advanced in years, in the healthy and in the sick, in straight persons and those who identify as LGBTQ, in the married and in the divorced and every race and ethnicity."
Under Fr. Lerner's chaplaincy at STM, so far, pro-LGBTQ voices have a platform but faithful Catholic ones do not.
I'm not going to lie: Pride is hard this year. 2023 has seen alarming setbacks for the LGBTQ+ community, and particularly for our transgender siblings. From Florida to Texas, there are hundreds of bills targeting queer people's existence, and even more to come. Many of these setbacks are well-documented — across the country, legislators are trying to keep queer expression out of the public sphere, rollback antidiscrimination protections, and separate transgender children from medical care or even from their families.
What's less documented, perhaps, is that this has already created an internal refugee crisis in the United States — survey estimates indicate that over 100,000 trans people have already fled their home states in response to anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. Put simply, an unfathomable amount of anger, vitriol, and hatred is being directed at the LGBTQ+ community — and particularly at queer children — right now.
No one can afford to mince their words. Our country's treatment of its queer citizens is dangerously incompatible with Christian love. It is both scandalous and sinful.
Having said that, Pride is about more than homophobia, and the queer community is not defined by those who hate it. If you scoured the entire world, you could not find a more resilient, hopeful group of people. This is evident in the experiences of queer Catholics, who have been mistreated in their faith communities and by the institutional church, but who still commit to loving and celebrating the person that God has "beautifully and wonderfully made" in them.
At Saint Thomas More, the fruits of our fortitude are already sprouting. Going to my first meeting of our LGBTQ+ ministry, without a doubt, was the best decision I made at Yale, and this parish community has helped me at least see my faith and my sexuality in a new light — not as crosses to be borne, but as loves to be treasured.
This is the work of Pride. Even when it is hard, Pride is still about subversive, irrepressible love.
As Christians, we believe that the empire could not keep Love buried in the ground. This is the story of Easter, and it is the focal point on which our entire religion rises and falls. As Paul observes, "if Christ has not been raised, then empty is our preaching; empty, too, your faith."
Our faith does not end at the foot of the cross — it rejoices at the empty tomb, and it awaits the Kingdom of God. The LGBTQ+ community at STM lives out this conviction every day, and their witness makes our community so much stronger.
Saint Thomas More is committed to walking alongside our LGBTQ+ community, on Good Fridays and on the Easter Sundays to come. We hope you will join us.
To the St. Thomas More Community,
I ask for God's inspiration while I write this reflection. I also pray to the Holy Spirit that my words can be heard as God wills.
I write to express my great gratitude and faith in the teachings of the Catholic Church. For many years, I had a limited moral structure in my life. I felt lost in how I was supposed to conduct my relationships with others. When I was 19, I turned to the Catholic Church for moral understanding. I felt that if I said I believed in God, then I should follow his path and teachings to the fullest. This proved increasingly difficult as my temptations in life multiplied.
I felt confused because I thought I should have a "Come to Damascus Moment" in which my faith would translate into feelings. I then realized, though, that faith comes when one chooses God despite his or her own feelings. One can only believe if they commit to an action despite feeling otherwise. Over time, I gained an appreciation for the Church's beliefs, which stabilized my life.
This transformation also included my sexuality. When I was 14, I started to feel attraction to both sexes. This proved confusing, since every person could become a potential relationship that society directed me to explore. Individuals had many opinions on this matter, and I felt more confused and depressed.
As I began to meet with a priest on a regular basis, he informed me that [the] vocation of men towards one another was one of friendship that was underappreciated in society. One could come to know and could have boundaries. If these boundaries were broken, it would lead to destruction of a friendship and for no other reason than my own pleasure in the moment. It would also be an improper way to conduct myself with other men.
I wanted to grow with others and not to use men or women for my own satisfaction, but to truly love them, or will the good in them. In pursuing relationships with women, I learned to see them as individuals who deserved the time to understand and become close with and not to use as a means to personal satisfaction. I was to come to know a woman through friendship and eventually become one with a woman through the Sacrament of Matrimony.
As it is written in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman. In marriage the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a pledge of spiritual communion. Marriage bonds between two baptized persons are sanctified by the sacrament. Sexuality by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses is not something simply biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such. It is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and a woman commit themselves totally to one another until death. The acts in which marriage by which the intimate and chaste union of the spouses takes place are noble and honorable; the truly human performance of these acts fosters the self-giving they signify and enriches the spouses in joy and gratitude" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1997, para. 2360–2362).
With men, I learned to see them as compatriots and my friends, sacrificing fleeting moments of desire for the betterment of a friendship. Moreover, I would demonstrate my fidelity to the Commandments and come closer to Jesus in empathy and understanding of his transcendence of temptation. I would demonstrate to him that my love for him wills me to obey him despite my own desires. As the Catechism states, "Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection" (CCC, 1997, Para. 2359).
All these personal revelations I received through studying the scripture and many important encyclicals including St. John Paul II's Letter to Families and his encyclical Veritatis Splendor and Humanae Vitae by Pope Paul VI. These two great men wrote incredible works for the Catholic tradition, and I highly recommend reading them. I am so grateful for the Catholic Church and its commitment of truth in its teachings. I have grown and matured greatly because of them, and despite the doubts that some may cast over them, I encourage this community to come closer to its teachings and to embrace them as truly liberating.
I know it can be difficult to resist one's own desires, especially when many say they should be embraced as virtue or that if they are not embraced, one will be miserable for the rest of his or her life. However, Jesus calls us to follow him and throughout the scriptures tells us, "Do not be afraid" (Matt. 28.10). and to "not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will take care of itself" (Matt. 6.34). He also says, "Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in Heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who came before you" (Matt. 5.10:11). "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life? For the son of Man will come with his angels in his Father's glory, and then he will repay everyone according to his conduct" (Matt. 16.24:27). "So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5.48).
This may seem impossible, but one can take one step and then another toward this path. By praying the rosary daily, I have come to have a deeper love of God and found it easier to adhere to his commandments. Through God's grace, one can find strength to resist any temptation, and our goal in life is to join our Lord in Heaven. As a community, we can help each other to serve God in his ministry on Earth and join together in God's call to be perfect both in our thoughts and actions.
As written in the Catechism, "The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for: The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God. This invitation to converse with God is addressed to man as soon as he comes into being. For if man exists, it is because God has created him through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence. He cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and entrusts himself to his creator" (CCC, 1997, Para. 27).
St. Augustine, in his Confessions, also writes, "In seeking him they find him, and in finding they will praise him. Lord, I would seek you, calling upon you — and calling upon you is an act in believing in you" (Confessions, I.i.3). Jesus also says "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light" (Matt. 11.28:30).