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The executive director of a homeless LGBT youth shelter in New York City writes in a full-page New York Times ad and open letter to Pope Francis today that the church must stop teaching homosexuality is sin. The letter also invites the pope to visit with homeless youth affected by the church’s teachings.

“I write on behalf of the homeless LGBT youths I serve. I ask you to take urgent action to protect them from the devastating consequences of religious rejection, which is the most common reason LGBT youths are driven from their homes,” wrote Carl Siciliano, founder and executive director of the Ali Forney Center and a former Benedictine monk. “At the heart of the problem is that the church still teaches that homosexual conduct is a sin, and that being gay is disordered. I hope that if you understand how this teaching tears families apart and brings suffering to innocent youths, you will end this teaching and prevent your bishops from fighting against the acceptance of LGBT people as equal members of society.”

Siciliano added, “The Roman Catholic Church is the largest and most influential Christian organization in the world. By teaching that homosexual conduct is a sin, and that the homosexual orientation is disordered, it influences countless parents and families in societies across the globe to reject their children. In the name of these children, and in light of the love and compassion at the heart of the message of Jesus, I ask that you end this teaching.”

MORE: See the ad and read the full letter

The Palm Sunday ad was sponsored North Carolina furniture company Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams and Gold’s Faith in America, a non-profit founded to counter religion-based stigma and hostility.

Gold and Williams are celebrating their company’s 25th anniversary and using the milestone to bring awareness to causes like Faith in America and the Ali Forney Center.

“So much has been accomplished for LGBT legal equality,” Gold wrote in a letter to supporters announcing the ad. “Now we hope the next wave will be an all-out effort for LGBT spiritual equality — one that will especially protect vulnerable teens and one that will enable all legislation to be passed. Just imagine for a moment if so many of the kids that have killed themselves did not grow up being taught that homosexuality was sinful, if when they came out to their parents they were totally embraced rather than being told they were ‘disappointed’ and needed counseling, if they felt they had family and church to turn to?”

Gold added, “I’ve come to see that in the final analysis it is this ‘sin’ hurdle that is the basis for too many to be against LGBT equality and it is clearly one of the most harmful parts of an LGBT teen’s life. Just a few months ago a precious 13 year old in my community told me how he agonizingly contemplated suicide for over a tortuous year. Why? Because he thought he was a sinner. On a very basic, simple level I believe we must dismantle this wall of outdated, misguided and ill-informed religious teachings. Not an easy task, but one that has to be done — by all of us, with a concerted effort.”

Siciliano has also invited Pope Francis to meet with the homeless LGBT youth at the Ali Forney Center.

“I greatly respect you as a leader who has shown deep concern for the plight of the poor. I invite you to the Ali Forney Center, to meet our abandoned youths and see for yourself how their lives have been devastated and made destitute by religious rejection,” he wrote. “I believe that there is no more compelling witness to the harmfulness of the condemnation of homosexuality than the consequent suffering plainly visible in the eyes of our homeless LGBT youths.

In concluding his letter, Siciliano said he hoped the pope can “find common ground in seeking that [youth] be protected and loved.”

Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.

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