Milwaukee-area Catholics gathered Saturday night at a northwest side parish with a message of support for LGBTQ people.
Reverend Greg Greiten, who is openly gay himselfheld the “LGBTQ Celebration and Inclusion Mass” because it was important for the community to feel welcome in the church, he said.
“My first words are: I love you. You are loved. You are loved. You are holy. You are made in the image of God,” he said at the start of his homily.
The mass and subsequent reception at St. Bernadette Parish drew around 100 people, including a handful of young people, eager to stay in the Catholic faith while pushing for change.
Hailey Hable, 22, from Milwaukee, spoke during the homily about her difficulty in accepting herself as a transgender person while enrolled in a Catholic boys’ boarding school. She contemplated suicide but found strength in her faith, she said.
It was important to share her story because, she said, she now had the opportunity to help others feel welcomed and accepted.
“I never felt like this growing up,” she said.
Married couple Deborah and Kim Cavaliero-Keller, who also spoke at the Mass, believe their mission is to create a more inclusive environment for LGBTQ people in the Catholic Church.
“Let’s build a bigger table instead of making marginalized people feel inferior,” Kim Cavaliero-Keller said.
The official teaching of the church is that homosexuality is “objectively disordered”. Meanwhile, support for same-sex marriage has continued to rise among American Catholics, according to polls.
In 2021, 74% of Catholics were in favor of same-sex marriage, according to the Public Religion Research Institute. And 81% supported laws that would protect LGBTQ people from discrimination.
Greiten holds glimmers of hope that things are changing, such as supportive comments from Pope Francis and recent reports from synod listening sessions that show that lay Catholics want the church to cater more to LGBTQ people.
“The church is our rightful home,” Greiten said. “The LGBTQ community is part of this community and here to stay.”
Working for change from inside the church
Those present at the mass said it was an important step towards a better future.
“It means we’re on the right track,” Deborah Cavaliero-Keller said.
Peter Govern, 18, a student at Marquette University, called the Mass “unconventional compassion” for the Catholic Church and an example of how the Church could be accepted.
Govern grew up attending St. Bernadette and changed his work hours so he could attend Saturday night mass. It was important to take the time to attend, he said.
“It’s really a hope that by showing support for something like this, it’s going to continue to grow, it’s going to continue to thrive,” he said.
Mary Syverson from Sussex said Catholicism was her spiritual home, but she still felt like she was betraying her two gay siblings by staying in the church. Get involved in a group called Gay and Straight in Christ at his parish Menomonee Falls has been a way to work for change from within.
“I want to help one person at a time to make a difference,” she said.
Valeria Spinner-Banks, a former Catholic teacher and Mount Mary University administrator, disagreed with the Archdiocese of Milwaukee’s New Transgender Policywhich calls on students in Catholic schools to use the pronouns, uniforms and toilets that match their assigned sex at birth.
“I understand the trauma these children go through day in and day out,” she said. She was annoyed that the students had “something more now put on them”.
Yet Spinner-Banks will not abandon his Catholic faith.
“You don’t let anyone take you away from your God,” she said. “If I leave, I can’t make a difference.”
Home of the “lost sheep”
Stephen, 21, a Marquette University student who asked that his last name not be used for security reasons, grew up Catholic but, as an adult, did not feel comfortable attend a church where he might not be accepted.
Saturday mass brought Stephen to tears at times.
“It’s cool to be accepted,” he said, adding that it was nice to hear Greiten say that LGBTQ people are loved.
Greiten said he knows many people who left the church because they felt unwelcome.
“I will spend my priesthood, and every remaining day, searching for the lost sheep. I will find them. I will welcome them. I will tell them that I love them,” he said in his homily.
After mass, Greiten sat at one of the long tables in the church hall and watched the people bustle, enjoy refreshments and chat.
“It’s just wonderful. It’s what people should be experiencing almost every weekend. It should be this place,” he said.