Labor Day Prayer for LGBT Workers in the Catholic Church

September 1, 2014

As the United States celebrates Labor Day, a time to honor workers, we take a moment to remember LGBT people who work in Catholic institutions, such as schools, parishes, hospitals, and social service agencies.  Many have faced extreme discrimination lately, as witnessed by the terrible trend of unjust firings and establishment of repressive contract clauses.

So, today, we take a moment to remember them in prayer:

Loving God,

From age to age, you call many to serve your people by working as professionals in Catholic workplaces.   In Your wisdom, you have included in that call LGBT people, whose lives and faith are a gift to our Church.

We thank you for this gift, and we remember the countless LGBT people who serve selflessly in parishes, schools, hospitals, offices, social service agencies, retreat centers.  They serve those in need and they build up your reign of justice and peace.

We know that many serve despite having to be guarded about their lives.  We know that many have lost their jobs because of who they are or whom they love.  Unjust attitudes, policies, and behaviors motivate these wrongdoings, but we remember St. Paul’s words:

“God is not unjust;God will not forget your work and the love you have shown as you have helpedGod’s people and continue to help them.”  (Hebrews 6:10)

We know that LGBT workers who serve the Church do so out of a strong love for You and for Your people. We are grieved when we have learned that many are dismissed because they chose to live lives of authenticity, integrity, and commitment.  Such unjust actions by employers go against the attitude expressed about work in Your Scriptures:

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”  (2 Timothy 2:15)

We share the pain of those who are fired and we pray that our support will be a sign of hope. We offer these words of encouragement to them and to ourselves as a reminder of Your love, even in difficult times–especially in difficult times:

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” 2 Corinthians 4:8-9

We ask for Your wisdom and guidance,  Loving God, so that we can know best how to support our LGBT brothers and sisters and how to build up a church community that values and respects the many different ways that You have created love.   Grant us patience and creativity as we search for ways to bring about Your justice and love in our Church institutions. Help us to remember that You keep us all in Your care, and that You will never abandon us.  

Amen.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


UPDATE: Firing Lesbians Because of Pregnancies is Still LGBT Discrimination

August 31, 2014

Shaela Evenson

Earlier today, Bondings 2.0 reported on a church worker firing in Michigan about which details were limited. Late yesterday, the fired teacher Barbara Webb clarified that she claims she was fired for becoming pregnant by “nontraditional means” and not her sexual orientation as was initially speculated.

If Webb’s claims are correct, this would be at least the third lesbian educator fired from a Catholic school for becoming pregnant. Neither the high school nor archdiocese have confirmed the reasons for her firing.

In Montana, Shaela Evenson is suing her former employer Butte Central Catholic Schools for breach of contract and discrimination. The former grade school teacher, who is a partnered lesbian woman, was terminated for becoming pregnant outside of marriage. Neither party claims Evenson’s sexual orientation was a reason behind the firing. Yet neither church policies nor state law allowed her committed relationship to be recognized as marriage. The Montana Standard reports:

“As a result of the firing, she has incurred damages including lost wages, benefits and emotional distress. She is asking for back pay, compensatory and punitive damages — and a jury trial.

“Evenson taught sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade literature and physical education at the Catholic school for nine years. She was dismissed Jan. 10 after the Helena Diocese received an anonymous letter about her pregnancy.

“The district has said it fired Evenson for violating the terms of her contract, which required her to practice the tenets of the Catholic faith inside and outside the classroom.”

She has also filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Evenson is represented by lawyer, Brian Butler, who successfully helped Christa Dias, a computer teacher fired from Cincinnati Catholic schools after becoming pregnant outside of marriage through the use of assistive reproductive technologies. Dias won $171,000 in a 2013 lawsuit that found the Archdiocese of Cincinnati had indeed discriminated against her. In that case, Butler argued that so-called morality clauses often added to church workers’ contracts do not waive employment protections guaranteed under federal, state, and local laws.

Though lesbian women are not alone in having children outside of marriage and becoming pregnant through assistive reproductive technologies, LGBT church workers are doubly affected in areas where marriage equality is not yet law — and by the failure of Catholic officials to respond to same-gender relationships in just ways.  How does firing pregnant mothers fit in with the Catholic hierarchy’s pro-life project?

For the good of all, church leaders should reflect this Labor Day on their treatment of LGBT church workers in the context of church teachings on justice, conscience, and human dignity. An honest evaluation would make clear the inconsistencies in their teachings and actions related to church worker justice and LGBT rights.

If church leaders need inspiration, they could always look to Pope Francis’ close ally Cardinal Cláudio Hummes who last week called for a new openness from the church towards same-gender couples.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of ‘Employment Issues,’ click the category to the right. For a full listing of LGBT-related firings, with links for further information, click here. And if you are interested in helping protect LGBT and ally church workers by implementing an inclusive non-discrimination policy at your local parish or Catholic school, more information on how to do this is available by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Lesbian Teacher’s Firing Yields More Questions than Answers

August 30, 2014

Marian High School, Bloomingfield, MI

Update: In a follow-up statement, Barbara Webb clarified that it was her pregnancy outside marriage and not her sexual orientation that was the cause of her firing. There is still no comment from Marian High School officials.

There are more questions than clear answers in the firing of Barbara Webb, a former chemistry teacher at Marian High School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. In a Facebook post, Webb states the Catholic school fired her for being a gay woman and mlive.com quotes the post for further explanation:

“Kristen and I are expecting our first baby. I’m about 14 weeks. We are very excited and blessed and look forward to all that parenting will be.

“On the flip side of the coin, Marian was unwilling to offer me any type of leave and of course they were not willing to grant me the same right that a half dozen other teachers are enjoying this year while starting their families. In fact, Marian’s options to me, after 9 years of dedication including league winning coaching, 4.0 averages in AP chemistry scores, PD for the school based on my personal best practices, and dozens of students and family testimonials is 1) resign or 2) we will terminate you.”

Webb notes that administrators at the all-girls school offered to continue her health insurance through May if she signed left willingly and remained quiet, but the fired teacher’s response was that “$4k of health insurance wasn’t enough to buy my silence.”

The former teacher, who was also a volleyball coach, linked her firing over maternity leave issues to her identity as a partnered lesbian woman, writing:

“It is part of Marian’s mission to educate women about human diversity and in this have really missed out on a true life opportunity to set an example. Instead they are only perpetuating hate…

“My job can’t be saved but the torment that the poor LGBT students at Marian must be feeling (right let’s be real they exist too) the other LGBT staff (again let’s be real people) and those that are silenced by fear can be helped.”

What remains unclear are the exact reasons for Webb’s firing, as both diocesan and school officials have remained quiet. Ned McGrath, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Detroit,  confirmed only that a teacher from the high school was no longer employed after a “personnel matter” and there would be no further comment. Marian administrators, as well as representatives of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters of Monroe who sponsor the all-girls school, have been silent after repeated requests for comment.

It is certainly a possibility that Barbara Webb was fired for a number of reasons: her sexual orientation, her relationship status, becoming pregnant while not officially married, a combination of these, or something else entirely. The firing of more than a dozen LGBT and ally church workers this year alone adds credibility to Webb’s claims, but until school officials and the IHM sisters are willing to clarify publicly what happened, the public is left to guess. Hopefully, information on just what happened between Barbara Webb and Marian High School will be forthcoming as a matter of truth and justice for all involved.  Since we live in an atmosphere where LGBT people are regularly being fired from Catholic institutions, the church leaders in this case need to be clear what their motivations were.  They owe it to Webb and the public, but they also owe it to themselves, as a matter of integrity, to state their reasons.  Injustice is always perpetuated by silence.

That said, Webb’s closing of the Facebook post (which has been shared more than 650 times) is a message worth repeating:

“Here is what you can do: make one conscience effort to stand up to hatred. Whether it is for LGBT rights or racial, or religious or socioeconomic or women’s or special needs… Make yourself take that leap of faith to do the right thing and I promise you will not regret it, you may even find it catchy…Every act of justice that we can do collectively gets us one step further to a truly recognized human diversity.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Pastoral Committee Closes Its Doors, Though Work Continues

August 29, 2014

The Twin Cities’ Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM) has been one of the oldest and most effective regional LGBT ministries in our Church since it first began its work in 1980.  Because this Minnesota group has a long and valued history, it was with more than a little sadness that I learned this week that they were closing up shop.  My sadness was ameliorated somewhat, though, when I learned that the Committee’s work will be continued by two other organizations.

The news was announced on The Wild Reed blog, which is maintained by Michael Bayly, who for many years was the executive coordinator of the group, which offered programs and resources to LGBT Catholics, their families, and pastoral ministers.  Bayly notes that members of CPCSM determined that their work was completed–and that includes a very impressive list of accomplishments which helped transform the Catholic LGBT landscape in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.  Bayly wrote:

“Basically, the board feels that CPCSM . . . has run its course. We’ve accomplished some incredible things in our 33-year history, including groundbreaking LGBT sensitivity training in local parishes in the 1980s; safe staff training in eight of the eleven Catholic high schools in the 1990s; publication of the first (and to date only) safe staff training manual for Catholic high schools in 2007; and the forming of Catholics for Marriage Equality MN initiative in 2010, which played an important role in defeating the anti-marriage equality amendment of 2012,  paving the way formarriage equality in Minnesota in 2013. There’s still work to be done, but we’re confident that both Dignity Twin Cities and the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (which CPCSM helped co-found in 2009) are more than able to carry forward many aspects of CPCSM’s mission and work.”

The CPCSM has had a distinctly Catholic vision of their identity and mission.  On their web page, they state:

“. . . [L]ike many Catholics, we believe the hallmark of our Catholic faith is a trusting openness and loving response to the presence and action of God within all of creation, including the vast and diverse arena of human life and relationships. We see this “trusting openness and loving response” as a profoundly catholic (i.e., universal) endeavor. We work toward recognizing and celebrating a catholicity of life, by which we mean the discovery and celebration of God as creator and lover of all humanity, a God who desires all people to experience both personal and communal flourishing.”

Michael Bayly and David McCaffrey

CPCSM began officially in 1980 by a group of people from Dignity/Twin Cities and pastoral ministers who worked in the local archdiocese.  In another Wild Reed blog post, the early history was remembered:

“[The founders were] David McCaffrey, who at that time was serving as Dignity Twin Cities’ pastoral coordinator (1980-1981); Bill Kummer, Dignity’s pastoral coordinator and outreach director from 1977 to 1980; Father Herb Hayek, OP, a Dignity Twin Cities co-founder ans regular Mass presider; Cindy Scott, then a staff member of the Archdiocesan Urban Affairs Commission and later an editor and writer for various local LGBT and women’s publications; Donna Kurimay, then vice-president of the local chapter of the Association of Pastoral Ministers; and Karen Chicoine, then an administrative assistant in the Archdiocesan Catholic Education Center and a former religious for 15 years.

“It should also be noted that the first stirrings of CPCSM’s outreach and pastoral efforts predate its May 9, 1980 founding by almost two years. In the fall of 1978, in an attempt to help educate ministers working in parishes, Bill Kummer, David McCaffrey, and a number of other members of Dignity Twin Cities began a series of monthly speaker-luncheons. Over the next two years, these meetings were held at various parishes, usually hosted by a local pastor whom Dignity had contacted and who, in turn, invited other priests who were known to be hospitable to LGBT persons and sensitive to their pastoral needs.

“Initially, 20-30 priests attended these monthly events where they would listen to a local professional speak on some aspect of the lives, needs, and gifts of LGBT people. Seated among the priests. Dignity members attempted to make their guests feel welcome as they chatted with them over lunch. More than a few priests remarked that this was the first time they had met psychologically and spiritually healthy gay men and lesbians. Most of their previous encounters had been either in the confessional or in a counseling situation.

“Eventually the speaker-luncheons were expanded to include the non-ordained Catholic pastoral professionals in the archdiocese. “

Archbishop John Roach and Bill Kummer

This same blog post also recounts a productive meeting the leaders had with Archbishop John Roach, who led the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis at the time, and was also president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. (For a series of Wild Reed blog posts exploring the history of CPCSM’s relationship with the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, see the Related articles section at the end of this post.)

Last year, CPCSM conducted a survey at the Twin Cities’ Gay Pride Festival, and one of the top issues people wanted to see the group work on was anti-bullying programs.  While CPCSM had already made great headway in that area by publishing Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students:  A Catholic Schools Perspective, edited by Michael Bayly.  Bayly noted that the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform, which is one of the groups that will continue CPCSM’s work in this area.

One CPCSM achievement that was not mentioned in Bayly’s blog post is the fact that this group represented a model of regional coalition work that can be replicated in other areas of the nation.  It is so important for Catholic parishes and individuals to support one another in LGBT ministry because the work can sometimes seem daunting.   In the New York metropolitan area, a number of gay-friendly Catholic parishes meet regularly to support, encourage, and learn from one another.

While it is sad to see CPCSM close, it is comforting to know that their agenda has been taken up by the broader Catholic Church reform movement in the Twin Cities area.  More importantly, the good work that CPCSM has done over the decades will live on in the many lives and institutions which they have touched and transformed.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles

The Wild Reed:  CPCSM and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis (Part 1)

The Wild Reed:  CPCSM and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis (Part 2)

The Wild Reed:  CPCSM and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis (Part 3)

The Wild Reed:  CPCSM and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis (Part 4)


Indian Lay Leader: Synod Must Bring LGBT People ‘In From the Cold’

August 28, 2014

Virginia Saldanha

What does Virginia Saldanha want from this fall’s Synod concerning marriage and family life? Bringing LGBT people ‘in from the cold’ would be a good start.

Saldanha, who is former executive secretary of the Office of Laity for the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, recently wrote an op-ed in UCA News that expresses just that desire and shares her thoughts on what LGBT issues look like for Catholics in India.

She begins by noting that Synod questionnaire responses regarding whether one’s Catholic community accepted  same-gender marriage were overwhelmingly negative, prompting her to why her fellow Catholics are “so strongly homophobic.” Saldanha lays out some of the anti-gay beliefs present in Indian society:

“Is it because we have heard some priests say that homosexuality is sinful so by inference, homosexuals are bad people?

“I recall one religious sister involved in the family ministry exclaim with horror, ‘homosexuality is spreading rapidly in the West, and soon it will spread to Asia’. It sounded like she was talking about an epidemic.

“Sections of Church authority imply that homosexuals choose their sexual orientation. Or worse still, feminists are blamed for the ‘problem’. They argue that women have become so liberated that they make poor ‘wife material’. So women have chosen to shack up together and men prefer to be with other men, making homosexuality so common.”

Indian society still adheres to rigid gender roles, which Saldanha cites as one reasons so many young gay men have killed themselves. She continues:

“Our insensitive and conservative Indian society has ensured that life will be hell for homosexuals who are looked upon as deviants…Homosexuals suffer much because they agonize over their sexuality that is seen as abnormal. They are born that way and do not choose their sexuality. Adolescence can be quite traumatic for these young people; parents who are judgmental only compound their problems.”

One specific problem she notes is that heterosexual marriages are arranged by parents for lesbian or gay children who live outside of India. These children return to India and are married to please their parents, but return to lives in Western societies where “the hapless bride is left alone and bewildered in a foreign country, while the young man continues to live life as he did before.” Saldanha says the choice then is to either divorce or continue living a lie, both of which are an “injustice to both partners.”

Saldanha concludes strongly, with a call to both Indian Catholics and the Synod to expand the church’s welcome for and acceptance of LGBT people:

“Today young people have the courage to be honest and open about their sexuality, but we have to be open and sensitive to allow them the freedom to be who they are. A group of lay people from different parts of India who gathered to deliberate on issues they wish to discus at the Synod, hope that the Synod fathers will take note of the reality of homosexuals and show them the understanding and inclusiveness of Jesus to live their life as they were created to be. The group wants ‘the third gender [to] be respected not only by all Catholics but especially the official Church.’

“Jesus was inclusive and welcoming to all so he would not force homosexuals to remain in the closet. Let us hope that the Catholic Church will have the courage to be inclusive like Jesus and Pope Francis and say ‘who are we to judge’, and allow homosexuals the opportunity to live their lives in freedom and truth.”

Whether or not the bishops will take up same-gender couples or LGBT pastoral care at the Synod is not solidified. Saldanha’s piece should remind them that LGBT issues are not merely a ‘Western’ problem, but are present throughout the universal church. Though the specific causes of homphobia and transphobia may vary by location, it would not be hard for the Synod to make a statement which affirms the dignity and goodness of LGBT people and seeks their full inclusion in the church and the world. Even if the teaching on same-gender marriage is not changed, at the very least it is indeed time to bring LGBT people “in from the cold.”

You can read the full piece at ucanews.com by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Cardinal Close to Pope Calls for Openness to Gay & Lesbian Couples

August 27, 2014

Cardinal Claudio Hummes

Another cardinal has expressed openness to lesbian and gay couples, and once again, the positive remarks come from someone who is very close to Pope Francis.

In a recent interview with the newspaper Zero Hora, Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, the retired archbishop of São Paulo, Brazil, gave the following answer to the reporter who asked “If Jesus were alive today, would He be in favor of gay marriage?”:

“I do not know. I make no assumptions about it. The Church as a whole should answer that. We must take care not to be raising questions as individuals, because it ends up creating more trouble to get a conclusion that is valid. I think we have to get together, listen to the people, those who are involved in the issue. It is the Church that must indicate the paths, and there must be way for everyone.”

(Original Portugese: “Não sei, não faço nenhuma hipótese sobre isso. Quem deve responder isso é a Igreja em seu conjunto. Temos que cuidar para não ficar levantando questões individualmente, porque isso acaba criando mais dificuldades para a gente chegar numa conclusão que seja válida. Acho que a gente tem que se reunir, ouvir as pessoas, os próprios em jogo, os bispos. É a Igreja que deve indicar os caminhos, e deve haver caminho para todos.”)

Pope Francis, in his first appearance on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, following his election. Cardinal Claudio Hummes is at the far right of the photograph.

Hummes’ statement is important because he is a close friend of Pope Francis. In the conclave, Hummes sat next to the future pope, and is reputed to have had a hand in encouraging his election.  When Francis first appeared as pope to the crowds in St. Peter’s Square immediately following his election, Cardinal Hummes stood next to him. This accompaniment to the balcony was a break with tradition, as the new pope usually appears by himself.

Such a statement takes on more significance since the upcoming Synod on Marriage and Family in October will be examining the question of pastoral care for families headed by same-gender couples, and already a number of bishops have indicated that there must be more openness in this regard.

In the same interview, Hummes also affirmed the right of children of gay and lesbian couples to be baptized and the right of  gay and lesbian people to be godparents at baptism:

“The godfather is one that should help educate the child religiously, and a person who has a [homo]sexual orientation can be a saint. If he lives the gospel within its conditions, he can be a saint.”

It is interesting that the cardinal emphasized the duty to “live the Gospel,” and not “church teaching,”  which has been the phrase more often used in previous eras.

Hummes, who like the pope is a strong advocate of social justice, also served as the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy.  When the reporter asked him what proposal he would make to the pope to renew the church, his answer was:

“Decentralization is key, in fact, to renew the Church.”

Next Magazine, which reported on the interview in English, editorialized about Hummes’ remarks:

“It’s probably unrealistic to hope the church really will be changing its stance that far. But taken together, Hummes’ and Francis’ remarks can be seen as at least an indication that the Vatican may be signaling that the overblown rhetoric from Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George, who compared the city’s Pride marchers to the Ku Klux Klan and Scotland’s Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who compared same-sex marriage to slavery and child abuse.”

I may be more hopeful than Next Magazine.  As I’ve noted before, I think these statements are like “test balloons,” and the fact that now so many cardinals and bishops are making them seems to indicate that something is brewing.  I’m not sure it will be a big change, but I think it will be a step in the right direction.

As Next Magazine pointed out, the change in rhetoric is already a major step forward!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Coming Out as a Gay Priest: “If not me, who will?”

August 26, 2014

The existence of gay men in the Catholic priesthood is one that is surrounded by so many clouds of mystery.  The reason for the mystery is that so few gay priests publicly acknowledge their sexual orientation.  One priest who has “come out” reflected on the experience, and his insights shed some light on other priests’ reluctance to do so.

Father André Samson

Father André Samson of Ottawa, Canada, went public about his orientation on a popular Canadian talk show last year.  The Ottawa Citizen recently interviewed him about his declaration, and his observations are important and poignant.

Samson sees it as an important responsibility for him to speak out:  “If not me, who will?”

Most importantly, Samson said that the experience of being open has led to a strong sense of affirmation in his life. “It’s good to be me,” he stated.

Such affirmation was not present in his early life, where he said that growing up in a conservative Catholic family kept him from acknowledging his feelings.   Adolescence found him bullied and beaten in school. He turned to the priesthood, he said, as a way to explain why he didn’t marry and to “regain a sense of dignity.”

After being ordained over 30 years ago, he came to realize that he was not the only gay man in the priesthood.  His reflections since coming out explain why many priests are reluctant to be public:

“He added that many priests and bishops continue to hide their sexual orientation because of their dependence and their fear of being rejected by the church, but he wants others to revel in who they really are.

“ ‘I know it’s not healthy to live with that kind of fear,’ said Samson, who has lived a life of service, teaching counselling as a University of Ottawa professor and serving as a chaplain during the Persian Gulf War.

“I would like to see the Catholic church recognize that many of its priests are gay and many of its bishops are gay — and that’s OK,” he added.

Samson is no stranger to truth-telling.  In 2013, he was relieved of duties at a Montreal church, which he believes was because he tried to raise the issue of clergy sex abuse there.

Fear is such a powerful and harmful force in our lives.  So much harm in our Church is caused by fear, particularly fear of authority.  We need to remember that Jesus’ constant message to his disciples was: “Be not afraid.”

There is great reward in facing up to fear, and Samson expressed that powerfully.  Describing what it was like immediately after his television declaration, he said: “I really felt for the first time in my life, I felt free.”

What surprised Samson the most was that he received hundreds of supportive emails and messages.  Not one email came from a fellow priest.  I think that shows how deeply entrenched the fear of homosexuality is in clerical culture.

Catholics, as polls continually show, support LGBT people very strongly.  The people in the pews, I think, are ready for learning that their priests and bishops may be gay.  What lay people respect more than anything from their priests is honesty.

What can you do to let your priests know that you would support them if they “came out” as gay?  How can Catholics support their gay priests?  Leave your ideas in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related posts: 

Author Behind Book on the Life of a Gay Catholic Priest ‘Comes Out’

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Father Gary Meier, In His Own Words

 

 

 

 


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