On November 18, 2018, the LGBT advocacy group Fortunate & Faithful Families will hold it’s annual “Retreat” at the Chancery of the Archdiocese of Atlanta located in Smyrna, Georgia. Composed primarily of Catholic parents with self-proclaimed “gay” children, in 2014 Archbishop Wilton Gregory first addressed Fortunate & Faithful Families. After the meeting, Gregory said:
Their parents then spoke of the hostile environment that many of them encountered from the Church. The language that the Church uses in speaking of their sexual orientation is often unwelcoming and condemnatory…I spoke of the distinction that our Church makes between orientation and behavior, which admittedly needs reexamination and development.
The group is an offshoot of the dissident Catholic pro-gay marriage LGBT ministry Fortunate Families.
Fortunate Families is a gay-affirmative pro-same-sex marriage advocacy group founded in 2004 by the Catholic parents of a “gay” son – Mary Ellen and Casey Lopata. Inspired by the work of Robert Nugent and Jeannine Gramick and their New Ways Ministry, the Lopata’s decided to form an outreach specifically targeted to the Catholic parents of LGBT children. In 1999, Nugent and Gramick were both officially censured by the Vatican and “permanently prohibited from any pastoral work involving homosexual persons.”
In 2003, the Lopatas published their book “Fortunate Families: Catholic Families with Lesbian Daughters and Gay Sons.” They argued, among other things, that “homogeni-tal acts are not necessarily always a sin.” They also qualified prohibitions in the Bible regarding homosexual activity by stating that: “The biblical writers had no concept of our modern psychological understanding of homosexual orientation.” And, “The prophets, the gospels and Jesus say nothing about homosexuality in the bible.”
In 2015, the Lopatas published a “Letter” addressed to Pope Francis in which they detail their support for same-sex marriage and their experiences related to an ongoing twenty year friendship with a “married” “gay” male couple; the Lopatas are the godparents for the couple’s two adopted children. They describe the two men and their children as “a model Catholic family.” According to the “Letter,” the “married” “gay” couple is very active in their Catholic parish:
“They are very active in parish life: one or the other (or both) has served as president of the parish council, chair of the liturgy committee and on the diocesan liturgical commission, religious education teacher, lector, Eucharistic minister, cantor and choir member.”
The Lopatas continued, with this message to Pope Francis:
“These gay men have accepted their God-given sexual orientations and are striving to follow God’s will in their lives. Though our two godchildren are not being raised by their biological parents, their gay parents through their complementary (though not in the reproductive sense) and loving relationship have created a family every bit as authentic and holy—and life-giving—as that of any heterosexual relationship we know of including our own.”
After the Obergefell v. Hodges decision, Deb Word, then President of Fortunate Families, released the following statement:
“Fortunate Families celebrates with our LGBT children the opportunity to share in the same rights as their straight siblings. The Supreme Court decision brings legal stability to our children’s lives and security to our grandchildren. We applaud this decision and continue our work in the Catholic tradition seeking social justice for all our children…”
In 2014, Deb Word contributed the essay “This Catholic Mom: Our Family Outreach” to the book “More than a Monologue: Sexual Diversity and the Catholic Church: Voices of Our Times .” In it she described her work with Fortunate Families, some of its members, her experiences as the mother of a “gay” son, and her hopes for the future:
Another former board member was able to dance at her son’s wedding a few years ago. She was able to share his joy in having found a soulmate in his partner. But her experience was bittersweet for her because the wedding was not recognized by the church. She has struggled to minister in a Catholic context and finds it hard to remain a practicing Catholic…
In 2015, Fortunate Families repeatedly applied for an exhibit table at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. The group was turned down.
One of the current contact persons for the “Ministry with Gay and Lesbian Persons” in the Diocese of Memphis in Tennessee is Deb Word and her husband Steve. According to the Archdiocese of Memphis website, the “Ministry with Gay and Lesbian Persons” is a support group for the parents of “gay” and “lesbian” children.
Headquartered in the Diocese of Lexington, Bishop John Stowe is listed as “Ecclesial Adviser” to Fortunate Families and has celebrated mass for the group. In 2017, Stowe made the controversial decision to speak at New Way’s Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium held in Chicago, Illinois.
In 2017, Fortunate & Faithful Families held their fifth annual retreat at the Chancery of the Archdiocese of Atlanta. The theme of the retreat: “Building Bridges of Love.” That same year, Jesuit author James Martin publicly supported Fortunate Families and spoke with the group via Skype about his book “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity.”
On the “Resources” page at the Fortunate & Faithful Families web-site, they list three organizations: Fortunate Families, Lost-n-Found Youth (a non-profit for homeless LGBT youth), PFLAG Atlanta, and Atlanta’s Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. On the PFLAG Atlanta web-site, concerning the question: “What did Jesus say about homosexuality? PFLAG Atlanta stated:
Those who use the Bible to condemn homosexuality cannot quote from the teachings of Jesus or cite a single word spoken by Christ because Jesus never spoke about the issue.
Jesus never hesitated to teach and comment on the world of His day.
He took strong positions on divorce, remarriage, adultery, material possessions, hypocrisy, oppression, greed, selfishness, class structure and the accumulation of wealth. Jesus never mentioned homosexuality. Many believe that if God had something to say about the matter, Jesus would certainly have said it.
The Catholic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, with it’s pastor Henry Gracz (see Facebook post [below] where Gracz is invited to participate in a same-sex wedding), is home to an active GLBT ministry as well as a contingent that marches in the annual Atlanta “Pride” Parade.
Fortunate & Faith Families also recommends Jeannine Gramick and Robert Nugent’s book “Building Bridges – gay and lesbian reality in the Catholic Church.” Gramick wrote:
In his ministry of teaching and healing, Jesus challenged the authority of the religious leaders of his day. By the witness of their lives of faith, responsibility, and love, lesbian and gay Christians similarly reject traditional teachings regarding the moral status of homogenital acts and thus threaten the authority of contemporary religious structures.
Fortunate & Faithful Families also recommends Daniel A. Helminiak’s “What the Bible Really says about Homosexuality.” According to their description of the book:
Does God’s word in the Bible really condemn homosexuality? Top scholars show that those who perceive Bible passages as condemning homosexuality are being misled by faulty translation and poor interpretation. The Bible has been used to justify slavery, inquisitions, apartheid and the subjugation of women.
On October 6, 2018, Pope Francis appointed Archbishop Gregory of Atlanta as a member of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life.
(Update: Gracz was appointed by Wilton Gregory as “one of three spiritual advisers the Archdiocese of Atlanta has to help sexual abuse survivors.” In 2019, Gregory was installed as the Archbishop of Washington D.C.)