Fresno Diocese’s LGBTQ ministry suspended. Catholic Church officials silent on reasons

Bishop Armando X. Ochoa of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno visits with Sister Disciples of the Devine Master before holding a mass at Kearney Park as part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno’s 50th anniversary conducted through their mobile chapel on Monday, Sept. 19, 2017.
Bishop Armando X. Ochoa of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno visits with Sister Disciples of the Devine Master before holding a mass at Kearney Park as part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno’s 50th anniversary conducted through their mobile chapel on Monday, Sept. 19, 2017. ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

A ministry geared toward the Catholic gay community has been suspended by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno. The reasons behind the suspension are unclear.

Called the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning) Ministry, the group was touted as one of-its-kind in the diocese, and established in 2015 by John Prandini.

Teresa Dominguez, chancellor at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno, told The Bee that the diocese had indefinitely suspended the ministry after Bishop Armando X. Ochoa was made aware of claims the ministry “may have evolved beyond its primary mission.”

But Dominguez and diocese officials declined to say how the ministry may have gone outside that mission. Staff at the St. Paul Catholic Newman Center where the ministry was housed were instructed to not speak with The Bee.

The LGBTQ Ministry’s page on the St. Paul Catholic Newman Center’s website appears to have been taken down.

Dominguez declined to answer questions about what the LGBTQ Ministry’s primary mission consisted of, what activities it had engaged in, who was involved and whether anybody had been disciplined. “Bishop met with the ministry’s leadership,” Dominguez said. “Bishop decided to indefinitely suspend the ministry in its current form.”

Ministries such as Fresno’s are not that uncommon elsewhere.

Other Catholic dioceses in California, like the Diocese of San Jose, have similar ministries. The Diocese of San Jose’s LGBT Ministry is geared toward providing “information and resources to support LGBT Catholics, their families, friends and parishes, as we all walk our journey together as disciples of Christ,” according to the ministry’s guidelines.

Ross Murray, who leads the religious work at GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), a national media advocacy organization for the LGBTQ community, said most LGBTQ ministries tend to have strict guidelines and “walk a very tight frame” on their operations.

He said “ministries that are too open, too public, too allowing people to identify themselves” are the ones that tend to get in trouble for going outside their mission.

“If they are found (to be) too accepting, they often do get in trouble for what might be something – stretching beyond its mission,” he said.

Much of the attention the Catholic Church gives to its LGBTQ members is encouraging them to participate in programs focused on celibacy. One of those programs is called Courage, Murray said. Courage’s support groups, Murray said, see sexual orientation as something that should be treated the same “way one would treat an addiction” or a diagnosis for a disease.

Courage is an organization that’s recognized by the Catholic Church, and it has support group chapters. According to a mission statement on its website, Courage is composed of members who are men and women who “experience same-sex attractions and who have made a commitment to strive for chastity.”

“They are inspired by the Gospel call to holiness and the Catholic Church’s beautiful teachings about the goodness and inherent purpose of human sexuality,” the mission reads.

The program also has a component called EnCourage, and its members are parents, spouses, siblings and friends of people who identify as LGBTQ, according to its website.

Courage’s philosophy will likely replace the suspended LGBTQ Ministry in Fresno. Dominguez said the Fresno diocese’s LGBTQ Ministry will be redeveloped with a focus on using Courage and EnCourage resources. She couldn’t “speculate on the details of the potential implementation of resources from Courage and EnCourage.”

“This is no doubt going to take time with extensive dialogue to be developed as a pilot ministry,” she said.

The leadership at the St. Paul Catholic Newman Center, she said, has been asked to continue to welcome all people while the ministry is reshaped.

Bishop Armando X. Ochoa is working with a review board to determine what info the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno may release about area priests accused of sexual misconduct, including the possibility of publicly identifying those priests by name.

Ochoa was first made aware of the issues surrounding the LGBTQ Ministry before the Diocese of Fresno’s annual congress in October, Dominguez said. An LGBTQ workshop that was scheduled to take place during that congress was abruptly canceled. Dominguez said that was due to the action that had been taken to reform the LGBTQ Ministry.

Murray said he believes it’s been a struggle for the Catholic Church to be accepting of LGBTQ people. Murray said that though the vast majority of Catholics support LGBTQ people, the same is not reflected among the church’s hierarchy.

“The hierarchy is often out of step with what people believe,” he said.

GLAAD calls for people to be “able to live authentic full lives for who they are,” Murray said.

Though, whatever changes are underway as part of the LGBTQ Ministry’s redevelopment, they are also being kept away from active church members.

One member of the LGBTQ committee at Fresno’s St. Paul Catholic Newman Center said she hadn’t been made aware of the ministry’s suspension.

“I don’t know how many people are aware of that,” said the woman, who asked not to be identified, because the committee had not been notified of the issue.

The woman said the Fresno diocese’s LGBTQ Ministry welcomed “all people,” and committee members even wear a rainbow bracelet.

“When you see how it is to be different – outside of who’s accepted as the norm, it’s wearing, it’s hard, it’s lonely,” she said.

Yesenia Amaro: 559-441-6144, @YeseniaAmaro
Related stories from Fresno Bee