I love a great tableau of the saints—15, 20, 30 people surrounding Mary or Jesus and facing us, their heads framed by halos as yellow as the sun. It’s like getting to see the members of the Justice League or the X-Men all together. There’s that game of trying to see if you can recognize all of them, remember their backstories and superpowers. But for me, it is also reassuring to see them all gathered together. Particularly if they include more than just celibate white men, it feels like a glimpse of the kingdom of God, a home where there is a place for all of us.
But then a couple years ago, I was at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, showing some friends the gorgeous tapestries of the saints that line the walls of the church. Created by the artist John Nava, they are just extraordinary—young people and old, Europeans, Africans, Asians, Latin Americans and Indigenous people, women and men all surrounding us and looking with us toward God.
As I sat there in the church with my guests, looking up at all these beautiful images, it suddenly hit me that not a single one of these people has been identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, though undoubtedly some of them were. In fact, the Catholic Church has yet to recognize a single L.G.B.T. saint.
Now, depending on how you were raised, just the fact that I am raising this as a problem might seem scandalous. Honestly, I instinctively feel that way myself, and I’m gay. No matter how much work Pope Francis, various bishops, clergy and others have done to try and normalize the place of L.G.B.T. people in the church, the fact is, for many Catholics of a certain age, being L.G.B.T. still seems wrong or disobedient. It’s right there in the way the church has often tried to talk about L.G.B.T. people: “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” Those who use this phrase argue that it makes clear that the problem with us is not our identities, but our acts and desires. But the line only identifies L.G.B.T. people as sinners. It teaches people to love us anyway. And when you hear that enough as an L.G.B.T. person, you start to believe the same.
So yes, in proposing that it’s a problem that there are no L.G.B.T. saints, I feel like I am saying something transgressive. But the fact is, as Catholics we believe that each of us is born in the image and likeness of God. Not just straight people, white people or men—everyone. There is no asterisk in the Catechism on this point. This is the teaching of the church, even if some Catholics discuss or treat us in ways that suggest otherwise.
It is this truth of our faith, in fact, that allowed Francis to say, when asked a question about gay priests, “If a gay person is in eager search of God, who am I to judge them?” It is what has allowed him to praise the work of organizations like New Ways Ministry and people like Jeannine Gramick, S.L., and my colleague James Martin, S.J., all of whom have been ministering to L.G.B.T. Catholics, in Sister Gramick’s case for over 50 years; or to invite a group of transgender people to the Vatican to receive their Covid vaccine; or to restore the openly gay theologian Father James Alison to active ministry after two decades of what he described as a “Kafkaesque” nightmare in which he was not allowed to know what the charges against him were, could not make legal representation of his case and was not allowed any appeal. If we are children of God like everyone else, then we should be afforded the same care and respect that they are. “Know that God created you, God loves you and God is on your side,” Cardinal Joseph Tobin and 13 other U.S. archbishops and bishops wrote in a statement last December, speaking to L.G.B.T. youth.
But there is more to it than respect and love. To say that God created us or that we are made in God’s image is to say that we offer a glimpse of who God is, that we are each a means by which other people can know that they, too, are an image of God, seen and loved by Him. It’s an incredible statement, to think that any of us could be such a gift, a way by which others may come to know God and themselves better. And yet we believe that to be true of all human beings….
The above comes from a June 2 posting in America magazine by Jim McDermott, S.J, associate editor of the magazine.