April 13, 2014 at 5:59 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Francis invited to visit homeless LGBT youth advocacy group

Carl Siciliano, Ali Forney Center, LGBT youth, gay news, homelessness, Washington Blade

Carl Siciliano, executive director of the Ali Forney Center. (Photo courtesy of the Ali Forney Center)

NEW YORK – The executive director of an organization that advocates on behalf of homeless LGBT youth invited Pope Francis to visit his group in an open letter the New York Times published on Sunday.

“I greatly respect you as a leader who has shown deep concern for the plight of the poor,” writes Ali Forney Center Executive Director Carl Siciliano. “I invite you to the Ali Forney Center, to meet our abandoned youths and see for yourself how their lives have been devastated and made destitute by religious rejection. I believe that there is no more compelling witness to the harmfulness of the condemnation of homosexuality than the consequent suffering plainly visible in the eyes of our homeless LGBT youths.”

Siciliano, a Catholic who is a former monk, urges Francis to take “urgent action” to protect homeless LGBT youth from the “devastating consequences of religious rejection” he told the Washington Blade on Friday is the most common reason those whom his organization serves are forced from their homes.

“At the heart of the problem is that the church still teaches that homosexual conduct is a sin, and that being gay is disordered,” says Siciliano in his letter to Francis. “I hope that if you understand how this teaching tears families apart and brings suffering to innocent youths, you will end this teaching and prevent your bishops from fighting against the acceptance of LGBT people as equal members of society.”

Siciliano in his letter notes at least 200,000 LGBT youth in the U.S. experienced homelessness in 2013. Statistics further indicate 40 percent of the country’s homeless youth are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

“The Roman Catholic Church is the largest and most influential Christian organization in the world,” writes Siciliano. “By teaching that homosexual conduct is a sin, and that the homosexual orientation is disordered, it influences countless parents and families in societies across the globe to reject their children. In the name of these children, and in light of the love and compassion at the heart of the message of Jesus, I ask that you end this teaching.”

Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams Home Furnishings paid for the New York Times ad that coincides with Palm Sunday.

Gold told the Blade on Friday he and Faith in America Executive Director Brent Childers had discussed the idea of an open letter to Francis several months ago as a way to further highlight the role they feel organized religion continues to play in the promotion of anti-LGBT prejudice and discrimination. Gold said he realized Siciliano “understood the same thing” after reading something that he had written.

“I’m hopeful that putting this out publicly will put this central question on the table, and that all advocacy groups and news media will learn more about it and frankly see how harmful this ‘sin’ teaching is,” Gold told the Blade. “While others tell me this is a heavy lift or you can’t get the Catholic Church to change, I say ‘let’s try.’”

LGBT Catholics have welcomed Francis’ more moderate tone on marriage, homosexuality and other gay-specific issues since he succeeded Pope Benedict XVI last March. The Vatican’s position on the aforementioned topics has not changed in spite of the Argentine-born pontiff’s more conciliatory tone.

The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child in February sharply criticized the church over its opposition to homosexuality and other declarations that “contribute to the social stigmatization of and violence against” LGBT adolescents and children who are raised by same-sex parents. Francis in October is scheduled to host a meeting of Catholic bishops that will focus on strengthening the family.

Siciliano in 2012 criticized New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan over his opposition to marriage rights for same-sex couples in the Empire State in an open letter the Huffington Post published. He also invited him to visit the Ali Forney Center.

Dolan declined the invitation in what Siciliano categorized to the Blade as a “nasty letter.”

“This is a very ground-breaking pope,” said Siciliano when asked whether he thinks Francis would accept his invitation to visit the Ali Forney Center during any potential visit to the U.S. “I wouldn’t put anything beyond him.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

  • Each day that this systematic condemnation of LGBT youth continues, despite the UN's public admonishing the church, is a day for hurt for all of us. Until change and 'conciliatory tones' see an end to this falsehood both by the church and the families who use this a moral standard for parenting, The Blade needs to advocate for the LGBT homeless in NYC and those in the thousands of dark places where they feel safer but not equal.

  • Ads in the New York Times don’t come cheap. What was the cost of the ad? I’ve not seen this detail disclosed in any of the coverage. Does the Blade have a figure to share with us? Following the money is always important.

  • The Catholic Church is like an ocean liner. It takes centuries to turn that thing around.

    The Catholic Church is a top-down organization in which water does not flow uphill. The clergy do not take lessons from the laity. In their view, if 95% of Catholics disagree with them, then 95% of Catholics need more persuasive instruction.

    The Catholic Church views itself as the dispenser of divine truth. It can't learn from anyone else, because no one else is qualified, so far as they know.

    In the Catholic Church, philosophy trumps empiricism. If you can prove through scientific studies that A=B, they won't accept it until their philosophical reasoning comes to the same conclusion.

    Changes in Catholic teachings about sexuality are exceedingly unlikely. Any change will be maddeningly abstract, and they will continue to make philosophical distinctions that make no sense in the real world, like the way they distinguish between identity and sexuality today.

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