Cardinal Dolan Not So “Charitable,” says Young Gay Catholic

Joseph Amodeo, a 24-year-old New Yorker and openly gay Catholic, made a splash this month when he resigned from the junior board of Catholic Charities in response to Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s rude brush-off of a letter from Carl Siciliano, the founder of the Ali Fortney Center, a nonprofit that offers emergency help and ongoing support to homeless LGBT youth.

Amodeo has since launched a petition through change.org asking Dolan, the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, to meet with LGBT youth.

How did you come to be on the board of Catholic Charities, and why did you resign?

I have been involved with Catholic Charities since I was a child. I have always had, and still have, the greatest respect for them. I was appointed to the executive committee of the junior board in 2012, but have been a member of the board itself since 2010.

I believe that as Catholics and Christians and people of faith we are called to be charitable in our response to each other. The Cardinal’s response to the request that he meet with homeless LGBT youth was not charitable.

The heart of the letter [from Carl Siciliano] was to say, please meet with these young people and witness their humanity and dignity. I decided the best way to show that I disagreed with this response of the hierarchy was to resign my position on the junior board.

What kind of response have you gotten?

The support has been overwhelming. In the 21st century, one measure of response is friend requests on Facebook—and I’ve had more than ever. I have been moved by the emails I have received from Catholics—gay, straight, transgender—and other people of faith.

Of course I got some emails that I believe are both contrary to Christian teaching and fail to see what we’re talking about. We aren’t talking about changing Church teaching, but witnessing to Church teaching, demonstrating the gospel of inclusion.

Have you heard anything from Cardinal Dolan or the archdiocese?

Not in an official capacity. I have heard unofficially from friends who are priests that we needed to keep having this conversation, that if we keep talking the Church may respond in a good way.

There is an opportunity for Cardinal Dolan to exercise a teachable moment, meet and talk with these young people, hear their stories, to show that they have dignity that should be respected.  

We have focused too long on catechism and canon law. We need to focus on people. We should be asking what can we do together, the LGBT community and the Catholic leadership, to address the 30 to 40 percent of homeless youth nationwide who are LGBT. 

What led you to launch the change.org petition, and how has the response been?

I was trying to think of a way to provide Catholics with a way to make their voices heard. I grew up in the same Church that every Catholic across the country did, in which silence sometimes plays a very large role. We have learned every once in a while that we need to stand up and say, “Silence is not a good option.” When we are silent, we aren’t acting like Christ—petitions are an important way for people to speak up.

We are at about 500 signers and hopefully will see that climb over 1000. The Trevor Project and GLAAD are on board. There’s some movement toward making a splash with this to draw the Cardinal’s attention to this being something he needs to do.

Do you see this as a pastoral issue, a political issue, or both?

This is a pastoral issue. It’s about young people in need. It’s not about policy, like an HHS mandate. I can’t say it enough: This is about witnessing to human dignity.  

When Mother Theresa served people she met them where they were at.  We need to meet these young people where they are at, whether they are served by LGBT nonprofits or Catholics.

Polls suggest that Catholics are more supportive of LGBT equality than the general public—has that been your experience?

Absolutely. Throughout my life I have encountered welcoming and affirming Catholics. I have priests, nuns, deacons, and women lay leaders who support me, and I am very grateful for them.

Could you talk about your identity as a gay Catholic?

Always Our Children” [a pastoral letter from the bishops] speaks to this. Sexuality is a key part of who we are, who God created us to be. It helps me to understand how to be compassionate when I witness suffering. We are starting to see great successes in our efforts to achieve equality; I believe that is in part a spiritual experience of responding to suffering.

It helps me witness to my relationship to Christ and to God at a deeper level; not that we are called to suffer, but that we are called to help others that are suffering. When we do that we are seeing Christ face to face. Being honest about my sexuality allows me to do that.

Are you hopeful about the future of the church?

We live in an evolving Church. The Church is so different than it was 50 years ago on a range of issues, including the role of women in the Church. There are far more people in the pews than in the pulpits. And at some point the Church and the pulpits will reflect the people in the pews.

Soon enough the bishops will begin to see that we need to stop preaching the law and start preaching the prophets, that we need to seek peace, love, charity, and justice. Meanwhile, I am going to stand where Christ would stand. And I know that Christ would stand with these youth.

Peter Montgomery, an associate editor for Religion Dispatches, is a Senior Fellow at People For the American Way Foundation where he was on staff for 15 years. Before that he was associate director of grassroots lobbying for Common Cause and wrote for Common Cause Magazine, an award-winning journal featuring investigative reporting about the federal government.