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Could a helpline mend fences between LGBTQ Catholics and the Church? Wendell Rodricks hopes so

A one-of-its-kind helpline to help members of the LGBTQ community connect with the Church has been announced by leading designer Wendell Rodricks. Goa-based Rodricks met with Archbishop Oswald Gracias this week, to seek his blessings for the helpline, MidDay reported. Rodricks has conceptualised the helpline along with Ruby Almeida, co-chair of Global Network of Rainbow Catholics.

In an interview with Firstpost, Rodricks explained his vision for the helpline, and why it is necessary. Edited excerpts:

Firstpost: How will the proposed helpline bring LGBTQ Catholics closer to the Church?

Rodricks: For a long time now, the Church has not been compassionate towards the LGBTQ community. This drove many from the community away from the Church. But things are looking up now, and we are confident that the community will return to the Church.

How did you conceive of this helpline? What role will social media play in furthering the initiative?

I didn’t want future generations of LGBTQ Catholics to feel shame, or that they were condemned as sinners, or experience confusion over the church’s reaction. Social media today has touched everyone’s lives as we are certain that using these platforms, we can help, support and counsel not just LGBTQ individuals, also their families and friends. Often, families privately accept an LGBTQ relative, but are uncomfortable with society’s response, or do not know how to react to taunts, snide remarks and general condemning or condescending attitudes. We aspire to correct these attitudes, and work towards a more compassionate nature for all.

File image of members of the LGBTQ community and their allies at a Pride March. REUTERS

File image of members of the LGBTQ community and their allies at a Pride March. REUTERS

What kind of an impact will being closer to their faith have on LGBTQ Catholics?

The impact can only be positive. At the last synod in Rome, the Holy Father has very clearly said that the clergy should be compassionate to the LGBTQ community.

Is the Church’s support for this initiative a sign that we are headed towards a more accepting religious sentiment?

This is a huge step by the Church. It is an initiative which not only makes the Catholic Church progressive, but also is a move in the right direction for society at large. There will be some conservative minds that will not be accepting of this progressive stance, but we are open to dialogue with them.

What role could religion play in changing mindsets, especially now that the scrapping of Section 377 has propelled the discourse around sexuality?

The Section 377 verdict has the law supporting the LGBTQ community. And now with the Church’s support, we have our faith supporting us as well.

Do you see a change in the attitudes of the Church towards members of the queer community in recent times? What to you is the most promising aspect of this change, and what more do you think could be done?

Let us take one step at a time. We have the assurance that the clergy will spread the word to be compassionate to the LGBTQ community. That is a huge step in the right direction. Let’s not put the cart before the horse. People these days expect too much, too soon. We will progress as we go along. For now we need to establish the platform and we have a lot of work to do to secure a future for LGBTQ Catholics in the Church.

***

EXPERT SPEAK:

Mumbai-based counsellor and psychotherapist Divya Srivastava says a helpline such as the one proposed by Rodricks and the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics could play an important role in promoting the mental health and wellbeing of LGBTQ Catholics.

“Religion plays a very important role in shaping the lives of individuals as it provides them with a prescribed set of norms, guidelines and values to be followed. Adherence to religious practices garners acceptance from the religious community one is a part of, and it helps individuals devise a course in life based on positive beliefs that is beneficial for their overall mental health and wellbeing. However, when organised religion tends to stigmatise certain groups of people, such as the LGBTIQ community, it can lead to detrimental effects on mental health. This non-acceptance and prejudiced behaviour not only leads to stress and low mood, and may trigger anxiety, it also makes individuals question themselves and wonder if something is wrong with them. When an individual feels rejected by the religious group they are a part of, they may also feel that God is rejecting them and that can lead to deeper existential crises and feelings of anger, guilt and despair,” Srivastava explained.

She listed the several tangible benefits the initiative could have for the LGBTQ community, and their allies, including cultivating a sense of belonging by reducing stigma, and for families of queer individuals to feel less isolated if their faith is accepting of their loved one’s sexuality.

“Many people feel so anxious thinking they are going against their faith and violating religious rituals,” Srivastava added. “Members of the LGBTQ community have, for a long time, been victims of stereotypical constructs and prejudices just because of that particular label, and having the Church extend their compassion and support to the community would help others overcome their biases and see these individuals beyond their labels.”

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CLERGY SPEAK:

Suren Abreu, a priest at the Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Kalyan West, and a member of feminist collective Satyashodhak and Green Madcaps (a group that looks at issues pertaining to environment, feminism and LGBTQIA rights), lauded Cardinal Oswald Gracias for extending support to the helpline.

“(This) support sends a positive message to LGBTQ individuals as well as the larger community, which has been judgmental or discriminatory before. Such an initiative can empower those on the margins to rediscover their identity within the Church,” Abreu said.

Abreu said that if the Church has been a dominant structure in an individual’s upbringing, then estrangement from it could lead to a sense of being abandoned, rejected by God, unloved and unwanted. “This can affect the person’s self-esteem and ability to live freely. Those who feel rejected could question their very existence or the morality of their choice which, if allowed to fester, can lead to self-hate,” Abreu opined.

He believes that counselling centres with compassionate counsellors are the need of the hour, especially for family members of LGBTQ individuals. Awareness sessions for priests and laypeople, to mitigate prejudices formed over years of moral policing, were also essential, as were special programmes for the LGBTQ community that would enable them to discover that their sexual identity need not compromise their faith identity.

Change in a religious organisation takes more time than in general society, Abreu pointed out, adding, however, that change was evident. “My participation in the Pride March got many people to ask me questions that gave them the opportunity to learn more about accepting LGBTQ individuals. I believe that youth in the Church are more accepting of alternate sexualities,” Abreu said.


Updated Date: Nov 06, 2018 14:14 PM

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