About Us

Catholics for Inclusion, Western Mass.


Catholics for Inclusion began in 2018, when a small group working within the combined Social Justice Commission of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Northampton, MA, and Our Lady of the Hills Parish in Haydenville, MA, decided to explore the Church’s relations with the LGBTQ+ Community. While we were aware of the historical marginalization of this group within the Catholic Church, we were prompted to learn more after reading a New York Times article reporting aggressions toward LGBTQ+ church staff members.  As part of that article, the Times included a list of what were considered gay-friendly parishes


Starting the Discussion


We began calling the listed parishes in Massachusetts to learn about how they had become known as welcoming spaces for the LGBTQ+ community. We conducted a series of illuminating conversations with priests and laypeople who had made the effort to be welcoming to LGBTQ+ parishioners and their families, and we listened to story after story about how these efforts had changed people’s lives and enlivened parishes. 


Not only had these parishes welcomed members of the LGBTQ+ community, but many had facilitated their participation in leadership roles, which benefited the entire parish. One of our favorite conversations was with a gruff older priest in the western suburbs of Boston who told us, “Listen, every one of my parishioners has a son or a daughter, a brother or a sister, an uncle or an aunt, who’s gay. Why in the world wouldn’t we want to have those people bring their loved ones to church?”


We asked how we could create a welcoming space for the LGBTQ+ community in our own home parishes. This led to countless more questions and prompted complicated discussions about the history of the treatment of LGBTQ+ folks in the Church. It was clear that the solution was not simply to hang a rainbow flag outside of our churches, but to begin with the honest work of critically examining our church culture and encouraging openness and acceptance within our members.


We began an effort within Our Lady of the Hills Parish to institute a church-wide reading of 

James Martin’s book, Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity. A large group of us conducted discussions of the book, meeting by Zoom during Covid, determined to educate ourselves and move ahead. 


The first OpEd


The announcement by Pope Francis of the Church Synod gave us an opportunity for outreach. We conducted Listening Sessions in our church basement and published an OpEd in our local paper inviting non-members of the Church to contact us if they wished to have their feelings known about what the Church should be doing. 


Unsurprisingly, much of what we heard was a wish for more openness within the Church. There was a strong call for more acceptance not only of the LGBTQ+ Community, but of any group or person who had been excluded based on Church doctrine or principle. In our reaching out through the OpEd, we were also able to make contact with a number of Catholic and former Catholic lesbians who professed an eagerness to be able to return home to, and to work toward creating, a more inclusive Church. As we had been up to then a largely straight-identified group of allies, the presence of new voices from the LGBTQ+ community allowed us to expand both our numbers and our understanding.


Involving the Bishop and the Pope


One of the fruitful offshoots of publishing the OpEd was that we attracted the attention of Bishop William Byrne, the Bishop of Springfield. Bishop Byrne expressed a wish to meet with us. Through a series of dinners in Northampton, the Bishop listened to us, asked questions, and in his own words, was “helped along in a journey” that led to his desire to work more closely with us. It also led to his asking Pope Francis directly in a meeting in Rome how to approach the issue. “Everyone, everyone, everyone, everyone should be welcomed,” the Pope told him. “We are all brothers and sisters seeking the Lord.”


Together, the Bishop and Catholics for Inclusion composed another OpEd, published in local papers in Northampton and Springfield, expressing a wish to do the work of acceptance and welcoming, and instructing parishes and schools in the Diocese to welcome the previously excluded.


We know this will be a long journey. As our group expands and diversifies, our energy grows. Our mission is to become a force for change within the Church, offering our knowledge and experience to educate, to inform, to bring into being James Martin’s vision of “a relationship of respect, compassion and sensitivity” for all.