Above: Deb Word and her husband Steve with Fortunate Families.
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, she is the former President, now Communications Coordinator for the dissident group Fortunate Families. 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.
Fortunate Families is a gay-affirmative pro-same-sex marriage advocacy group founded in 2004 by the Catholic parents of a “gay” son – Casey and Mary Ellen 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.” Here are some excerpts.
…one theologian who authored a Vatican document about sexuality, in a newspaper interview discussing the document, said: “When one is dealing with people who are so predominantly homosexual that they will be in serious personal and perhaps social trouble unless they attain a steady partnership within their homosexual lives, one can recommend them to seek such a partnership and one accepts this relationship as the best they can do in their present situation.” This is based on the moral principle that no one is obliged to do what is impossible for him or her to do. In its guidelines for confessors concerning some aspects of the morality of conjugal life, the Pontifical Council for the Family offers the following application of this principle: “the confessor is to avoid demonstrating lack of trust in the grace of God or in the dispositions of the penitent by exacting humanly impossible absolute guarantees of an irreproachable future conduct.”
Since church law restricts marriage to a man and woman, does this mean homogenital behavior is always a sin? The Vatican says: “In fact, circumstances may exist, or may have existed in the past, which would reduce or remove the culpability of the individual [engaged in homosexual activity]…in a given instance.” So Church teaching says homogeni-tal acts are not necessarily always a sin. Of course!
1. There are only six passages generally used to condemn homosexuality.
2. The primary concern of these passages is something other than homogenital activity.
3. There are translation issues suggested by the fact that 1946 was the first time the word “homosexual” appeared in an English translation.
4. The biblical writers had no concept of our modern psychological understanding of homosexual orientation.
5. 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.”
Fortunate Families operates a website which offers the various testimonies from parents with LGBT children. Here is one story related by the parents of a “gay” son describing their involvement with a parish based LGBT ministry –
After ten plus years of ministry to parents of LGBT children we have begun a new journey with our faith community. As a result of parish wide catechesis, two beautiful sets of same gender parents and their children have become our dear and precious friends.
The first gay family to touch our lives, Ron-Michael, his partner of 11 years, Anthony, and their precious son Nate (4) were joined by our second beautiful family, Ellyn, her partner of 6 years, Cathy, and their precious daughters, Grace (7) and Sophie (4)…
All three of the children are enrolled in our Parish Faith Formation Program. Ellyn tells this story;
A couple of weeks ago Grace and Sophie were sitting at the kitchen table creating beautiful works of art while Ellyn prepared dinner. In the midst of her art work Sophie said “Mom, I was thinking about Jesus’ family.” Ellyn asked “ … and what were you thinking?” Four-year-old Sophie responded, “Well, in Jesus’ family there were two dads, Joseph and God the Father, and then there was the birth-mom, Mary”
With great joy, Sophie then proclaimed:
“Mom, Jesus’ family is ‘just’ like Nate’s family”
And so there we have it. Out of the mouths of babes!
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…
The Fortunate Families board members are Catholic parents who are old enough to remember life before Vatican II. We realize that when the unchangeable makes no sense, it somehow changes. For example, my non-Catholic grandmother, who later converted, could not be married inside the church building. She was married in the rectory instead. Years later, she was told she could be excommunicated if she attended her son’s wedding ceremony, which took place in a Methodist church. We all remember “meat eaters’ hell” and women who were counseled to “go home and be nicer” to their physically abusive husbands. Things change in our church, slowly. But things do change, and so we have hope. If Chris’s [her “gay” son] generation is not to see change in the church’s stance on homosexuality, then maybe my grandchildren will.
In 2015, Fortunate Families repeatedly applied for an exhibit table at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. The group was turned down. According to Deb Word, after the World Meeting Families, she wrote to the Archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles J. Chaput, concerning her thoughts on Pope Francis and the “rejection” of Fortunate Families from the event; according to Word, Chaput replied with:
“…please, do not misuse the words of Pope Francis to justify anything contrary to the teachings of Jesus and His Church.”
Most Reverend Martin D. Holley, D.D.
Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Memphis in Tennessee
5825 Shelby Oaks Dr, Memphis, TN 38134