Back to Forum

A Space Where God Shows Up: The Traditions of Catholic Family Teaching and an Invitation to Listen to LGBTQIA+ Families

This essay discusses recent contributions to understanding marriage and family life in Catholic contexts from CTEWC members and other scholars, the Vatican and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). While recent magisterial interventions rely on outdated “straw person” arguments disconnected from the reality of people’s lives, scholars are positioned to listen and share the beauty and the challenges of people’s experiences with family life, presenting the lived experience of the body of Christ in its many faces across the globe.

Thanks to the contributions of many CTEWC members and scholars in other theological disciplines, my colleague Jacob Kohlhaas (Loras College, Iowa, US) and I have gathered commentary on the documentary heritage of Catholic magisterial teaching on the family since the late nineteenth century in Modern Catholic Family Teaching: Commentaries and Interpretations (Georgetown University Press, 2024). The project had a number of goals, among them a careful analysis of teaching on family life in its dynamic relationship to Catholic social teaching more broadly considered that moves beyond apologetics, leveraging international collaboration and insight for both the critical reception of the documents and the future trajectory of the field.  We were not naïve about the past nor sanguine about the future:

Families the world over have weathered the suffering and separation brought on by the seismic changes of industrial and technological revolutions as well as war and violence on local, national, and global scales. Families have been impacted by genocide, economic upheaval, debt and structural adjustment policies, political instability and disenfranchisement, environmental devastation and climate change, globalization, migration and internal displacement, and the pernicious phenomena of poverty, racism, sexism, and xenophobia of every stripe. Families have also persistently made their way in the world even when other institutions have either failed or actively undermined them, for example through corporate policies and practices that undermine the flourishing of families, governments that abdicate their responsibilities to this “first cell” of civil society, and religious and ecclesial communities that impose heavy burdens resulting in exclusion rather than community.[1]

Contributors to the volume noted the missed opportunities, inconsistencies, and betrayals of the gospel throughout the history of the Church. Yet, they remained hopeful. As Kohlhaas and I wrote in our conclusion to the volume:

The world church, this family of families, can indeed do what families of all shapes and sizes do best: provide for and welcome one another, seek and offer forgiveness, navigate the claims of self-care, fidelity, and justice, educate for solidarity with the vulnerable, reach across difference, and hand on the stories and practices that shape us from generation to generation. The Church, the people of God, the body of Christ is happening. It arises in families, around kitchen tables, beside sick beds, on the dangerous routes of migration, in moments of celebration and loss, and so much quotidian muddling through.[2]

We remain committed to that vision of family life for the Church even as recent documents and pronouncements from the Vatican and initiatives within the U.S. Catholic Church have equivocated on the dignity of all people and families.  Fiducia Supplicans (FS), Dignitatis Infinita (DI), and the USCCB’s “Love Means More” project are cases in point, all exacerbated by Pope Francis’ reported use of homophobic slurs in discussions about vocations to the priesthood.  FS was viewed as a “small big step forward” in LGBTQIA+ inclusion and pastoral care:

Ultimately, a blessing offers people a means to increase their trust in God. The request for a blessing, thus, expresses and nurtures openness to the transcendence, mercy, and closeness to God in a thousand concrete circumstances of life, which is no small thing in the world in which we live. It is a seed of the Holy Spirit that must be nurtured, not hindered. (FS 33)

Yet, ultimately, the back-and-forth of responses and clarifications regarding the message of the document was disheartening: blessings for individuals, not couples nor the graced union between them.

The aim of DI, according to the Presentation by Víctor Manuel Card. Fernández, “is to offer some points for reflection that can help us maintain an awareness of human dignity amid the complex historical moment in which we are living.” Paragraph 55 reads,

The Church wishes, first of all, “to reaffirm that every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, while ‘every sign of unjust discrimination’ is to be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression and violence.” For this reason, it should be denounced as contrary to human dignity the fact that, in some places, not a few people are imprisoned, tortured, and even deprived of the good of life solely because of their sexual orientation. (DI 55)

Yet, two paragraphs later DI raises the specter of the straw person of “gender theory” in ways that misrepresent the lived experiences of women, girls, and LGBTQIA+ persons,

Regarding gender theory, whose scientific coherence is the subject of considerable debate among experts, the Church recalls that human life in all its dimensions, both physical and spiritual, is a gift from God. This gift is to be accepted with gratitude and placed at the service of the good. Desiring a personal self-determination, as gender theory prescribes, apart from this fundamental truth that human life is a gift, amounts to a concession to the age-old temptation to make oneself God, entering into competition with the true God of love revealed to us in the Gospel. (DI 57)

Ultimately, claims about the intrinsic dignity of the person created in God’s image and likeness in DI were undercut by repeated tropes about “gender ideology,” reproductive justice, and the lives of LGBTQIA+, particularly trans, persons.  In the U.S. the Conference of Catholic Bishops unveiled a repackaging of their “Marriage: Unique for a Reason” campaign which now goes under the banner “Love Means More” and includes an interactive website that continues to advocate for sexist and anti-LGBTQIA+ policies and practices while at the same time claiming to be not sexist, homophobic, or transphobic.[3]

It becomes increasingly difficult to maintain that there is “a baby in the bathwater,” something worth preserving amid what we might prefer to discard, in Catholic teaching about marriage and family life. I wonder if the teaching is too tainted by misogyny and homophobia to claim any connection to the gospel or the reign of God. The temptation to despair is great, but in some ways, despair is a luxury of the straight, cisgendered, white folks in Church- and state-sanctioned relationships. Advocates for families, LGBTQIA+ families in particular, cannot go down the path of despair.  Theological ethicists who strive to ally themselves and their work with families must Acknowledge and respect the experiences of others, Listen in order to understand, Leverage the access and influence their work affords, and Yield the floor to queer families.[4]

Bridget Burke Ravizza practices this kind of allyship in her new book, The Sacrament of Same-Sex Marriage: An Inclusive Vision for the Catholic Church (Sheed & Ward, 2024).  The Sacrament of Same-Sex Marriage is framed as a response to an invitation to listen with “the openness of the heart” that is called for in Fratelli Tutti (xii), but perhaps even more importantly, to the invitation extended over and over again by LGBTQIA+ couple and families. Burke Ravizza conducted in-depth interviews with over 20 same-sex couples with meaningful relationships to the Catholic tradition, enabling the Church as a whole to hear the witness of these couples and their love.

While the Vatican has strained to avoid any “confusion” about what blessing a gay couple might imply, Burke Ravizza makes the unequivocal assertion that the couples with whom she entered into transformative conversation are living sacramental marriages in families that are striving for holiness.  She is clear that the spouses are sacraments to each other, that they and their families are sacraments to the community, and that they engage in the sacramental practices that are the stuff of family life.[5] Because Burke Ravizza has listened with “the ear of the heart,” she is able to hear, really hear and stand in awe of the grace at work in the lives of queer couples and families and how they experience, in the words of one interviewee, “A sliver of how God must love someone so much, like me. A new depth of awareness of unconditional love. Deep, vast, wide admiration and joy and honor.”[6] These couples and families are “making God visible in the world” in ways both profound and mundane.[7] They are drawing strength and sustenance from the sacrament of their relationship, “The holy and sacred space between people where God shows up.”[8] They experience the mercy of God who is with them and for them through all of life’s trials and tribulations, caused in no small part by rejection from family, community, and Church. Love means more indeed.

A practice of deep and reverent listening, keenly aware that she was in the presence of something and someone sacred, opened the way for Burke Ravizza to learn and then to leverage her theological acumen to bring the stories of queer couples and families together in a compelling argument for the sacrament of same-sex marriage – or rather, the argument that the Church must recognize and honor the de facto sacramentality of these relationships in word and deed. Because The Sacrament of Same-Sex Marriage also yields the floor to the words of the couples interviewed, their stories stay with the reader every bit as much as Burke Ravizza’s theological insight.  These are the experiences absent from so many documents and pronouncements and without which our theological ethics of sacrament is compromised.

We celebrate our membership in a world Church where the Body of Christ rises in many cultures and contexts, and where the Holy Spirit is always breathing new life into our stories of liberation.  Let us take our cue from Bridget Burke Ravizza as we chart a course for the future of Catholic family teaching.

Works Cited

Bridget Burke Ravizza, The Sacrament of Same-Sex Marriage: An Inclusive Vision for the Catholic Church. Sheed & Ward, 2024.

Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Declaration Fiducia Supplicans On the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings,” December 18, 2023,

—. Declaration “Dignitas Infinita” on Human Dignity. March 25, 2024.

Jacob M. Kohlhaas and Mary M. Doyle Roche, eds. Modern Catholic Family Teaching: Commentaries and Interpretations. Georgetown University Press, 2024.

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “Love Means More.” 2024.

[1] Jacob M. Kohlhaas and Mary M. Doyle Roche, eds., Modern Catholic Family Teaching: Commentaries and Interpretations(Georgetown University Press, 2024), 258,

[2] Kohlhaas and Roche, 260.

[3] I have written about Love Means More for New Ways Ministry, “Love Means More…Or Less” 04/19/24, See New Ways Ministry daily blog for further commentary and the sharing of lived experience at

[4] Thank you to CTEWC colleague Mary Jo Iozzio, who alerted me to this helpful definition of “ally” from the Centers of Disease Control during the 2024 meeting of the Institute on Theology and Disability.

[5] Bridget Burke Ravizza, The Sacrament of Same-Sex Marriage: An Inclusive Vision for the Catholic Church (Sheed & Ward, 2024), 1,

[6] Burke Ravizza, 9.

[7] Burke Ravizza, 13.

[8] Burke Ravizza, 15.