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

 

 

 

 


Parish Bulletin Tells the Story of a Lesbian Couple’s Commitment

August 25, 2014

Parish bulletins often tell a person a lot about the atmosphere of a Catholic community.  Even in many gay-friendly parishes, pastors and lay leaders are sometimes reluctant to mention, in print, their welcome of LGBT people. A recent example shows how one parish is working at breaking that wall of silence.

St. Francis Xavier Parish, Manhattan, N.Y., has long been known as a welcoming and affirming community.  They have marched in NYC’s Pride Parade many times, and they have two strong spirituality programs in the parish, one for gay men and one for lesbian woman.  LGBT people are integrated intimately in all aspects of parish life.

Earlier this summer, in the June 22nd, 2014 bulletin of St. Francis Xavier parish, a lesbian couple told the story of their relationship over the course of more than four decades.  Entitled “Forty-Four Years of Love and Commitment,” the short piece by Maria Formoso and Joan O’Brien, describes the difficult early years of their closeted relationship:

“We had the lucky fortune to meet in 1968 when we were employed as teachers in a Catholic high school in New York City. We became a couple in 1970 but we never disclosed it to our parents. It was difficult enough for ourselves to accept this relationship since we had been brought up Roman Catholic in Pre-Vatican II. We tried hard to reconcile our faith and our sexuality.

“Other people whom we suspected were gay were secretive and closeted as well, but we were eager to meet folks with whom we could openly share our lives and our values.”

Little by little, they began to reach out to others for support, including other Catholics:

“. . . at Dignity New York, we met Karen Doherty and Christine Nusse, who started the Conference for Catholic Lesbians in 1983. We were astonished and astounded to meet people from all over the United States who were struggling just like us to live their lives as Catholic lesbians.”

After praising a number of Catholic leaders including Sister Jeannine Gramick, Mary Hunt, Sister Theresa Kane, Father John McNeill, Barbara Zanotti, for their assistance in helping them to reconcile their lesbian and Catholic identities, the couple ended their essay with praise for St. Francis Xavier parish:

“Finally, Christmas Eve 1994, we, accompanied by Maria’s brother José, who also was gay, went to the Church of St.
Francis Xavier. Our good friends Anne and Frank Sheridan invited us. We had not attended mass in a number of years because, as lesbians, we did not feel welcome. The church was packed with people, many standing in the back. Sister Honora Nicholson came to our rescue, and we found ourselves seated on the left side of the altar. The service was beautiful. We were home! “

It was so refreshing to read such a positive piece about a lesbian relationship in a parish bulletin.  It’s quite an example of acceptance and affirmation, and also a wonderful way to educate the entire community about the lived reality of lesbian lives.  It’s a perfect way to let the rest of the parish benefit from the spiritual journey of two of their parishioners.

May other parishes do likewise!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Having Their Marriage Doctrine–and Changing It, Too

August 24, 2014

Christine Hernandez

The Catholic hierarchy’s position on marriage is clear to all: one man, one woman, for life. Defending this belief has caused bishops to spend millions of dollars in a decade-long attempt to stop marriage equality’s spread. Public discourse around same-gender couples attaining marriage rights has been framed in near-apocalyptic language by some bishops, and much pastoral harm has been caused as a result.

Yet, a court case in Alabama reveals just what it might take for Catholic officials to “redefine” marriage, as they often claim LGBT advocates are trying to do.

St. Pius X Catholic School in Mobile has had three lawsuits filed against it by parents claiming the school failed to protect their children from severe bullying, one of which comes from the lesbian mother of a child known in court documents as “A.S.” AL.com reports on the strange development:

“In court, lawyers for a Catholic school in Mobile seemed to endorse the view that a lesbian partner is an equal parent to the birth mother…Lawyers for the school sought permission to take sworn testimony from Christine Hernandez, the partner of the student’s mother who has helped raise the child.”

St. Pius X’s lawyers claim Hernandez has represented herself as the parent of A.S. in the past, including in official capacities where parental consent was needed. The child’s mother sought to block Hernandez from being forced to give testimony “on the grounds that state law bans recognition of same-sex marriage,” and Mobile Country Circuit Judge Sarah Stewart agreed saying Hernandez and A.S. are “legal strangers.”

A further twist is that Hernandez is co-counsel, with David Kennedy, in the bullying lawsuits, and she would need to be removed from this case and potentially the two other ones if forced to testify. Hernandez is also involved in an adoption lawsuit which claims the same same-sex marriage ban being used to prevent her from testifying is unconstitutional. The newspaper article explained:

“In an interview, Kennedy said that notwithstanding his view of the law, it remains on the books until a court decides otherwise.

” ‘In Alabama, the law of the land is still that a child can have one mother and one father but certainly not two mothers,’ he said.

“Even without the same-sex marriage issues, Kennedy argued, Hernandez still should not be made to testify. He pointed to legal precedent setting a high hurdle for compelling lawyers to testify as fact witnesses in cases involving their clients.”

Kennedy added that even if the same-sex marriage ban were deemed unconstitutional, Hernandez could not be considered a legal parent in the bullying lawsuit without marriage or adoption paperwork on file.

For her part, Hernandez released a short statement on the issues involved, saying:

” ‘This case is not about me. This case along with the other three that we have filed to date is about the children…The children that cried out for help and were ignored.’ “

Does this mean that the possibility of losing a legal case, and the resulting financial payout, can make Catholic officials change their definition of marriage?  It certainly seems they are willing to so for such circumstances.

This is not the first incident where Catholic leaders have sought to maintain their doctrine, while simultaneously changing it when advantageous for them. In 2013, lawyers for a Colorado hospital claimed fetuses were not, in fact, unborn children and did not possess legal rights.  The hospital was being sued for the deaths of two seven-month old fetuses, and the lawyers for the hospital defended the institution by saying fetuses were not people–a position in direct contradiction with the Catholic hierarchy’s consistent stance against abortion on the grounds that fetuses are indeed unborn children.  Perhaps there are more cases like this, when Catholic doctrines once declared infallible and immutable shift for legal and/or financial reasons?

If Catholic leaders want to claim moral positions in society then, at the very least, they must at least be willing to follow them. It adds insult to injury when bishops who ignored pleas from LGBT people and their families to stop the harm being done by opposing equal rights suddenly change those very beliefs just to win lawsuits. They cannot claim a principled position when it is so readily changed for advantage.

This case in Alabama is a prime example of how flawed and fragmented thinking on LGBT issues is, whether in the court system or in the church’s theology. I hope our bishops will one day welcome each person and every family for who and what they are, as created by God. We ask the simple question: would it not be better for every Catholic before the law and before God to stand on the side of justice and equality for all?

And when that day comes, I hope the church’s leaders’ shift in thinking will come as a result of love, not lawsuits.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Social Ills Linked to Marriage Equality? Really?

August 23, 2014

The new Catholic bishop of Springfield, Massachusetts, spoke against marriage equality, and seemed to name it as the cause for a variety of social ills.

Bishop Mitchell Rozanski

It seems odd that Bishop Mitchell Rozanski, formerly an auxiliary bishop in Baltimore, would use this opportunity to speak out a about a political issue which was decided 12 years ago in Massachusetts, when it became the first state to institute marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples.

What’s even more surprising is, according to the report of the interview on MassLive.com, Rozanski brought up the topic of marriage in response to a question about social ills:

“In terms of secular culture, he said, today’s ‘crime, drugs, general lack of respect for one another, is really based on in the disintegration of family life.’

” ‘What we offer as Catholics is to strengthen the family as the basis of society. When there is a solid family life, there is less likelihood of crime, there is less likelihood of drug use. The children grow up with a solid foundation. And that is a foundation they can take all through their lives,’ Rozanski said. ‘And, as a Church, what we are saying is that God made us male and female, and that the institution of marriage is so crucial. It is a sacrament of the Church, if the sacrament is well lived, then the children and future generations will benefit.’ “

(You can read the entire interview here.)

Taken in this context, it seems like the bishop is including marriage for lesbian and gay people as part of the reason that many other aspects of society are disintegrating. The news reporter noted that Pope Francis has asked bishops not to “obsess” about gay marriage:

“Last September, Francis, in an interview, said abortion, contraception and gay marriage had become an “obsessed” focus in the Church.”

The reporter also noted that U.S. bishops have not followed this advice:

“U.S. bishops continue to speak out against abortion, oppose same sex marriages, and to support legislation that would ban them.”

From his statement, it looks like Bishop Rozanski fits this profile.

Besides the dubious connection of marriage equality to social ills, Rozanski’s comments are flawed in three more ways.

First, he attributes the major parts of society’s ills on the disintegration of the family.  While family problems almost certainly contribute to these problems, other problems such as unemployment, poverty, homelessness, untreated mental illness also are major contributing factors.  Why select a personal issue, such as family, and not one of these more social issues, to highlight the causes of society’s problems?

Second, while Rozanski may lament the disintegration of the family, he fails to recognize that marriage equality actually strengthens families rather than contributing to their disintegration.  Marriage equality provides protections for all families, not just those headed by heterosexual couples.  And marriage equality teaches respect for lesbian and gay people, which is an important factor in strengthening their families of origin.

Third, the bishop notes that marriage is a sacrament, but that is not a view that is shared by all people in our pluralistic nation.  While Catholics view marriage as a sacrament, others see it as purely a civil matter, governed by legal realities, not ecclesial or spiritual ones.   Confusion of church marriage with civil marriage is one of the most insidious strategies that marriage equality opponents employ.

Let’s pray that Bishop Rozanski’s tenure in Springfield, Massachusetts will be met with more enlightened and pastoral approaches to LGBT issues than he has already displayed.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Open Letter to Pope Francis: Help Save My Vocation

August 22, 2014
Benjamin Brenkert

Benjamin Brenkert

Guest Blogger: In an open letter to Pope Francis,  Benjamin Brenkert explains his decision to leave the Jesuits because of LGBTQ issues, and asks the pontiff to be stronger in his statements about LGBTQ equality.

Dear Pope Francis,

              In your time as Pope, your commitment to poverty has awakened the world to the evils of globalization, capitalism, and materialism. Many now understand poverty to be a structural sin and a social evil. Through your public statements you have sparked the interest of Catholics and non-Catholics, believers and atheists. The world looks to you as a shepherd, a man filled with the joy of the Gospel.

Yet, while you have focused on physical and material poverty, members of my community–lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgendered and queer/questioning men, women and youth–have been neglected. They remain on the frontiers, the margins, living spiritually poor lives. Some need the voice of Cardinals like Walter Kasper to tell them that God loves them. Others know that God loves them, but Church leadership rejects them as disordered and disoriented. Your prophetic question “Who am I to judge?” encourages people everywhere to have a non-judgmental attitude towards members of the LGBTQ community. But being non-judgmental is not enough; especially when Jesus tells us to be like the Good Samaritan and “Go, Do likewise.”

But who am I to write you?

As an openly gay man, I’ve spent the past 10 years pursuing the priesthood in the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). I am full of gratitude for this time. I loved being a Jesuit, a son of St. Ignatius of Loyola. This July, I left the Jesuits in good standing.

Today, I can no longer justly or freely pursue ordination to the priesthood as a gay man in a Church where gay men and lesbian women are being fired from their jobs. The last straw for me was when a married lesbian social justice minister was fired from a Jesuit parish in Kansas City. 

Such marginalization is contrary to what many have called the “Francis Effect.” These firings negate your emphasis on eradicating poverty because the firings bring men and women closer to physical and material poverty. Firing people because of their sexuality, or their right to marry, is discriminatory. It is unjust, especially since many Catholic institutions have employment non-discrimination disclaimers that state they are equal opportunity employers that comply with all federal, state and local laws which prohibit discrimination in employment based on race, color, national origin, age, gender, religion, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, veteran status and arrest record.

In my decision letter to my Provincial I noted my awareness of how LGBTQ injustice contradicts the Gospel. Furthermore,  I pointed out how anti-gay legislation in countries like Uganda and Russia, and the subsequent lack of action by the Church, led me to start questioning my membership in the Church. As I pray about why I left the Society of Jesus, because of LGBTQ injustice in the Church, I continue to pray St. Ignatius’ Suscipe Prayer:

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own. You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

I pray that God continues to give me the grace to fulfill my vows, to respond to the needs of our world, an Incarnated reality that needs an ecumenical Church–one that responds to the needs of the physically and spiritually poor together, as evidenced by Matthew 25. I long to not be a safe outsider or a fringe character.  Yet, I, an openly gay man, was told by my superiors to focus on other pastoral concerns. Why?

As an openly gay man I sought ordination because of God’s calling me to the priesthood. From the age of 15 I prayed to understand that question. I prayed not to run but to be found. Time and again vocation directors, spiritual directors, and superiors tested my deepest desires, my holiest longing, these men saw me as oriented not disordered, available to the priesthood for good and holy reasons.

As I entered the Jesuit Novitiate, God helped me to know myself, to see myself as a fully self-loving and integrated gay man. Over time, I saw that I had gifts to offer as a sensitive, empathic, joyful, loving, prayerful, articulate, multi-dimensional, well-educated minister. I understand myself to be priestly, despite my humanness and frailty.

Pope Francis, with my vocation evolving, I remain priestly. I write you to help save my vocation, whatever that might be in the future. I ask you to instruct the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to tell Catholic institutions not to fire any more LGBTQ Catholics.  I ask you to speak out against laws that criminalize and oppress LGBTQ people around the globe. These actions would bring true life to your statement “Whom am I to judge?”

As I continue my transition as a member of the laity, I am reminded that like every Jesuit, I am “a sinner yet called to be a companion of Jesus as our founder Saint Ignatius of Loyola was.” And like many of my Jesuit brothers worldwide, gay or straight, I still reflect on the three principle questions of Jesuit and Ignatian prayer: “What have I done for Jesus?, What am I doing for Jesus?, and What will I do for Jesus?” For this, I am full of gratitude.

As a former Jesuit, I know that at the core of Saint Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises is a meeting of God, others, and self. This meeting takes place in a dynamic way that draws on our human and godly desires for relationship and love. In short, it is a pilgrimage that places Jesus at the center of one’s life. This pilgrimage is open to homosexuals and heterosexuals. Jesus instructed us all to be good Samaritans,to “Go, Do Likewise.”

With love and affection,

Ben Brenkert

 

Related resources

Bondings 2.0  “Catholicism, Employment, & LGBT Issues”

Call To Action:  Church Worker Justice

The Riverdale Press: “Priestly, but no longer a candidate for priesthood”


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