It is difficult for faithful Christians to understand why they are being blamed by some of their own religious leaders for inspiring a terrorist attack that killed 50 and wounded dozens more in a gay nightclub in Orlando. Earlier last week, Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, the bishop of St. Petersburg, Florida, posted a statement on his blog that blamed the teachings of the Catholic Church for breeding the kind of “contempt” for the LGBT community that caused the violence in Orlando. Claiming that “it is religion, including our own [Catholic teaching], which targets, mostly verbally, and also often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people,” Bishop Lynch appears to believe that Catholic doctrines “plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence.”
Likewise, United Methodist Bishop Minerva Carcana of the California Pacific Conference blogged that her denomination’s teachings are to blame for the terrorist attack:
I have been struck by a concern that has penetrated my heart. Is it possible that we United Methodists with such a negative attitude and position against LGBTQI persons contribute to such a crime. When we say that those who are of a homosexual gender identity are living lives that are incompatible with Christian teaching, that they are not to be included in our ordained leadership, and that they are not important enough for us to invest resources of the Church in advocating for their well-being, in essence when we say that our LGBTQI brothers and sisters are not worthy of the fullness of life that Christ offers us all, are we not contributing to the kind of thinking that promotes doing harm to these our brothers and sisters, our children, the sacred children of God?
Perhaps these religious leaders are attempting to show solidarity with the grieving families mourning the loss of their children—a misguided attempt to remind those who lost loved ones that they are all children of God—regardless of their sexual orientation. Or, maybe it is an effort to deflect attention away from the harsh teachings on homosexuality held by adherents of Islam by implying that the teachings of the Catholic Church or most Christian denominations are no different from those of Islam—and should be rejected. Whatever the reason, the scandalous statement from the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg, Florida cannot be justified.
Indeed it is naïve for Bishops Lynch and Carcana to think that an Islamic terrorist would be motivated by traditional Christian teachings on the morality of homosexual behavior and the sacredness of the marital bond between one man and one woman. There is certainly no evidence to support their claim. Their attempt to find moral equivalency between the teachings of Christianity and the brutality of Islam suggests a profound ignorance of both.
Still, this is not the first time Bishop Lynch has drawn the ire of faithful Catholics. Just this month, when Bishop Lynch announced his impending retirement as the leader of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, the family of Terri Schiavo took the opportunity to reflect on Bishop Lynch’s legacy as it would relate to Terri. The Schiavo case was a contentious one in which Terri’s husband argued that his wife would not have wanted to be kept alive in what he believed was a “vegetative state,” while Terri’s parents, the Schindlers, maintained that Terri was not in a vegetative state; rather she was responsive to them and would suffer greatly from the withdrawal of life supporting sustenance. To the Schindler family, Bishop Lynch appeared to take the side of the husband and the medical “experts” against the parents’ wishes—and the family has not forgiven him.
Claiming that Bishop Lynch “failed my daughter,” Mary Schindler stated that “Bishop Lynch visited my daughter just once, for a few moments. And at a key moment in my daughter’s legal defense, Bishop Lynch allowed a local priest named Fr. Gerard Murphy to testify—against my daughter. Fr. Murphy admitted his testimony was contrary to Catholic teachings, and that he had permission from Bishop Lynch to share it. As a mother, I take comfort in the fact that God knows all the ways that Bishop Lynch failed my daughter.”
Conforming to the Culture
In an attempt to be “inclusive,” Bishop Lynch has always attempted to help the Church conform to the culture—and seems to decry the fact that the Church’s teachings are universal and cannot be changed as the culture changes. Just last month (on his May 16, 2016 entry), Bishop Lynch referred to having to pay a “heavy price for being a universal Church”:
Because we sometimes pay a heavy price for being a universal Church (much much larger than these United States) what might be acceptable in one cultural milieu would be unacceptable in another (think the Church in African on the homosexual matter for example).
And, in January, 2015, following the legalization of same-sex “marriage” in Florida, Bishop Lynch drew upon Pope Francis to distance himself from Catholic teachings on marriage in an op-ed column for the Tampa Bay Times writing that he “did not want to lend his voice to notions which might suggest that same sex couples are a threat incapable of sharing relationships marked by love and holiness and, thus, incapable of contributing to the edification of both the church and the wider society.”
Concerned about “social justice” throughout his priestly career, then-Monsignor Lynch was a leader in the National Conference of Catholic Bishops / U.S. Catholic Conference. Serving as Associate General Secretary of the NCCB/USCC from 1984 to 1989 and as General Secretary from 1989 to 1995, Bishop Lynch published “Communities of Salt and Light: Reflections on the Social Mission of the Parish” in 1993 in an attempt to help move the Church further into the direction of social justice. This document—still posted on the website of the USCCB as having been “authorized for publication as a statement by the NCCB by the undersigned, Monsignor Robert N. Lynch General Secretary of the NCCB/USCC”—calls on Catholic parishes to “act on the social dimensions of the gospel in their everyday lives … seeing themselves as evangelizers who recognize the unbreakable link between spreading the gospel and work for social justice.” And, while there is much that is laudable about the document, the movement toward community organizing for social justice within parishes was strongly encouraged. In the document, “Creating Community: Organizing for Justice,” parishioners are called to “provide leadership in unions, community groups, professional associations and political organizations at a time of rising cynicism and indifference.”
Appointed to become bishop of the Diocese of St. Petersburg in December, 1995, Bishop Lynch has faced several challenges throughout his tenure. In a 2002 scandal, the bishop publicly had to confront charges of sexual harassment from Bill Urbanski, 42, the former head of communications for the diocese. The St. Petersburg Times reported that Urbanski complained that he had been forced to share a room with Bishop Lynch when they traveled and that the bishop had made “inappropriate advances” toward him—touching him inappropriately and asking to photograph him without his shirt on. Claiming that the charges of sexual harassment were “unsubstantiated,” Church officials provided a $100,000 severance package to Urbanski once he agreed not to file a lawsuit. Still, the diocese maintains that it was severance pay that was given to Urbanski—not “hush money.”
In addition to the Urbanski harassment charges, there were allegations that Bishop Lynch had an inappropriate relationship with David Herman, a contractor who had relocated from Fort Lauderdale to St. Petersburg with Bishop Lynch when he was installed as bishop. According to newspaper reports, Bishop Lynch had awarded several large “no-bid” construction jobs to Herman. The newspapers also reported that Bishop Lynch had vacationed with Herman in Hawaii, San Francisco, Key West, Bermuda, Israel and Rome.
While the allegations of sexual harassment were unsubstantiated, the no-bid contracts awarded to Herman’s construction company are public record. Local newspaper reports claimed that Bishop Lynch stated it was “within my prerogative,” to award more than $27 million in no-bid contracts and jobs over a five year period to David Herman’s construction company. According to the St. Petersburg Times, “In each case, Herman Construction Services of Broward County faced no competition from established local contractors who had previously done work for the church. Lynch solicited no other bids and conducted no interviews with other contractors before awarding the jobs to Herman.” According to a spokesman for the diocese, “normally our projects all go out for bid… It doesn’t mean that that’s the only way you can do it.” A St. Petersburg architect told a reporter for the St. Petersburg Times that at least one of the major jobs was “overpriced,” claiming that the Herman contract to build the Pasco high school was “a sweetheart deal.”
Still, Bishop Lynch has many supporters within the diocese and beyond—especially those who appreciate his promotion of “social justice” and his willingness to call upon the Church to welcome changing social attitudes, especially on human sexuality. New Ways Ministry, which calls itself a “gay-positive” organization of advocacy and justice for lesbian and gay Catholics, praised Bishop Lynch’s recent statement decrying Catholic teachings on homosexuality. New Ways Ministry has been lobbying for change in the Church’s teachings on homosexuality and has appreciated Bishop Lynch’s support. But, Bishop Lynch must know—as all faithful Catholics know—that the Church cannot change her non-negotiable teachings on marriage and sexual morality no matter how much the bishop wishes she would.