Is Elton John Correct? Is Pope Francis a ‘Hero’ for LGBT People?

October 31, 2014

Elton John

This week, Pope Francis received exuberant praise from openly gay British rock star, Elton John.  At an annual HIV/AIDS fundraiser, John called the pope his “hero.  The Guardian newspaper explains the context and elaboration of that remark:

“Sir Elton John has called Pope Francis his ‘hero’ for his compassionate drive to accept gay people in the Catholic church.

“At John’s annual AIDS benefit concert in New York City, the singer said Francis was pushing boundaries in the church and told the crowd: “Make this man a saint now, OK?”

“ ‘Ten years ago one of the biggest obstacles in the fight against AIDS was the Catholic church. Today we have a pope that speaks out about it,’ said John, earning cheers from the attendees at Cipriani’s on Wall Street. . . .

” ‘He is a compassionate, loving man who wants everybody to be included in the love of God,’ John said of the pope. ‘It is formidable what he is trying to do against many, many people in the church that oppose [him]. He is courageous and he is fearless, and that’s what we need in the world today.’ ”

Praise from such a prominent secular gay advocate surely shows how positively Pope Francis’ message of inclusion is received by the world beyond the Catholic Church. But it shows something else, too, I think.

Is Elton John right? Is Pope Francis a saint?

Elton John’s praise shows that probably a good portion of the world sees that Pope Francis is trying to develop a new approach to LGBT issues.  Despite the minor setback that the synod’s final report caused in the movement for greater welcome, people are picking up, instead, on the idea that Pope Francis is pushing for greater reforms.

Perception vs. reality?  Pope Francis has certainly done more for LGBT people than any other pope, by his simple and powerful gestures and statements.  Yet, we have yet to hear direct support for LGBT inclusion.  We see him nudging the Church in a direction that is more welcoming, but we don’t see him making bold statements.

Is his nudging a strategy?  For example, would making bold statements alarm too many conservatives?  On the other hand, is his simple nudging a way of simply providing new window dressing for the same old, same old?  Frankly, it’s hard to say.

I tend to be an optimistic person and one who favors pragmatic solutions over ideal ones.  So, I guess I lean toward the side that Pope Francis may be more genuine in his welcome than not.  Part of my perception is that I see the pragmatic effects of his nudging:  pastoral leaders are becoming a little more courageous.  Perhaps not much, but somewhat less fearful.

What do you think?  Is Pope Francis really as good as Elton John says he is?  Why do you think he is or isn’t?  Leave your answer in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Murdered Transgender Woman’s Catholic Funeral Is a Moment of Hope and Healing

October 30, 2014

” ‘We don’t eat without praying first. We don’t sleep without saying a prayer. Where were you [God] when this happened?…She had so many dreams and that killer destroyed them all’ “

These are the laments of Julita Laude, mother of Jennifer Laude, a transgender woman allegedly murdered by a US Marine in the Philippines. The killing has made headlines for increasing tensions between the countries and raising questions about an ongoing American military presence in the Philippines.

Less noted has been the Catholic community’s response in helping Julita mourn her daughter’s death and showing respect to LGBT people in the heavily religious nation. According to PhilStar, Jennifer was “a devout Catholic,” but as an openly transgender woman it is not a given she would be granted a Catholic burial in the highly conservative Filipino church.

Jennifer Laude

Thankfully, compassionate (and Christ-like) principles guided Laude’s funeral and her life was celebrated in a way respectful of her gender identity. While Laude’s death emerges from the most tragic of circumstances, her funeral is a healing moment and one of great hope for Catholics, LGBT people, and Catholic LGBT people, especially in the Philippines. ABSCBN News notes:

“For many people watching along the streets of Olongapo City, the spectacle that is the funeral procession for transgender woman Jennifer Laude speaks of many things.

“To the religious, it is an indirect acceptance of the lesbian, gays, bisexuals, and transgender (LGBT) community into the Roman Catholic mainstream, something that was previously a cause of concern. This is the first time that a transgender woman’s funeral has been thrust into the spotlight and together, the issues surrounding it.

“For the LGBT community, it is a chance to put forward the rights of their kind, while battling the shaming that is ongoing not only in the streets but in social media as well.”

Laude’s funeral procession from the church to the burial site included dozens of family, friends, LGBT advocates, and mourners of all types, who can be seen in this slideshow.

This is not the first high-profile funeral of a transgender person, as the Jesuit mother church in Rome held one last year for Andrea Quintero who was murdered on the streets of that city. However, this moment is quite worthy of Catholics’ reflection. There are still too many damaging experiences at church for LGBT people, like denying communion to same-sex couples, for us to disregard the really good moments too quickly.

This moment shows a more positive approach is plausible and more life-giving. In the wake of a painful tragedy and in the midst of conflict, Catholic ministers mediated God’s love through the sacramental life of the church. A priest responded to a mother’s anguish by celebrating her daughter’s life in a Catholic church, respectful of the victim’s gender identity. A victimized community, whose suffering is in no small part due to ingrained Catholic prejudices, could be respected by Catholic leaders in this moment for who they are, who they love, and how they identity.

Yet, there is a challenge for the church too. Jennifer Laude’s death was, by all accounts, a hate crime. She was killed because transgender people are routinely dehumanized, and religions are deeply implicated in  transphobia. The Catholic community must step back when transgender people face such elevated levels of violence and of discrimination to ask how we are complicit.

As Catholic leaders consider issues around family life in the coming year, perhaps they can look to Jennifer Laude’s funeral as both a hopeful sign that LGBT pastoral care is possible and an informative moment for how much work remains to be done when it comes to LGBT human rights.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Social Worker Bridges Gaps Between Religious Parents and LGBT Youth

October 29, 2014

Though our society has made great strides towards greater acceptance of LGBT people, it can’t be forgotten that there are still many places where people who are coming to self-awareness and self-acceptance face great struggles.  The wider discussion of LGBT issues in our culture is helping people come out at younger ages because they are more knowledgeable about sexual orientation and gender identity questions than other generations were able to be. But this also means that young LGBT people are facing more family pressures at ages when they are more vulnerable than people in years past who came out when they were more established in their lives.

Caitlin Ryan

Perhaps no one knows more about what theses family pressures are than Caitlin Ryan, PhD, a social worker and researcher, who started the Family Acceptance Project (FAP) at San Francisco State University. The Project, according to their website is “a research, intervention, education and policy initiative that works to prevent health and mental health risks for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) children and youth, including suicide, homelessness and HIV – in the context of their families.”

Through her research, Ryan, a lesbian woman and a Catholic, has identified scores of responses that families give to their young LGBT members, and shows how the negative responses put these youth at greater risk for poor sexual health, HIV infection, substance use, depression, suicide, and low self-esteem.

In a New York Times profile about her work, Ryan explained that principles from her Catholic upbringing helped to shape the way she approaches her research.  The article describes her early work with HIV patients, and how that opened her eyes and heart to the important work of human reconciliation that needed to be done:

“ ‘I saw something very few people saw,’ Dr. Ryan recalled. ‘This deep, profound connection that superseded dogma and doctrine. I saw the language of the heart.’

“Right then, she recognized her calling: to enable those reconciliations during life rather than at the portal of death. As Dr. Ryan received her validation the way scholars do — publication in peer-reviewed journals, six-figure grants as a principal investigator on research projects, a faculty position at San Francisco State University — she conducted extensive field work among homeless gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teenagers in the Bay Area, as well as with parents of gay children. She and her academic colleagues documented a strong correlation between rejection by families and such dangerous youthful behaviors as drug abuse, unprotected sex and suicide attempts.”

Ryan’s research and educational efforts now extend to specialized resource materials for families from particular faith backgrounds.  As she describes her work, she recognized that though some religious parents may have moral objections to a child’s sexual orientation or gender identity, almost all parents want what is good for their children, and do not want harm to come to them.  Her work builds on this common ground and helps parents to avoid behaviors that can result in harmful outcomes for their children.

Her research fosters reconciliation and helps people, regardless of their morality, to protect young people.  Indeed, Ryan sees the spiritual side to her work, and self-effacingly noted in the Times profile:

“ ‘I’m still a Catholic schoolgirl,’ said Dr. Ryan, who regularly attends church to this day. ‘Modesty and humility were values that were instilled in me. I don’t feel right taking credit. It’s not my work. It’s a spiritual practice and a sacred trust.’ ”

Ryan is a featured speaker at this year’s Call To Action conference in Memphis, November 7th to 9th.  Along with Fortunate Families President Deb Word, she will be conducting a day-long program entitled “Parent Day of Advocacy, Support, and Reflection.”  The conference brochure offers this description:

“This pre-session day will be spent with parents and families of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender children and is also open to those who advocate for LGBTQ persons. Education and prayerful reflection the morning session will include a presentation by Dr. Caitlin Ryan on the Family Acceptance Project’s award winning Best Practices approach to prevent suicide and homelessness for LGBTQ youth. The afternoon will concentrate on parent stories, shared reflections and spiritual direction.”

For more information about the day, click here.

Caitlin Ryan’s work is life-saving.  The fact that she can work with parents who would usually be described as “homophobic” or “transphobic” and can help them to follow their hearts to do what is best for their child’s well-being is a blessing for all. It forces me to wonder:  Wouldn’t it be great if such a program existed for Catholic Church leaders to deal in healthy ways with the LGBT people in their congregations?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Oh, The Things Bishops Say…

October 28, 2014

Just because the media (including us here at Bondings 2.0) was focused on the synod, that does not mean other bishops have not made statements in recent months about a variety of LGBT issues.

Below are public statements from bishops worth noting, though not for their positive and Pope Francis-like inclusion. While progress is happening, these comments are an important reminder that church leaders still have a long way to go towards full acceptance of LGBT people.

Missouri – Bishop James Johnston of Springfield-Cape Girardeau wrote a letter against the city’s LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance that has since passed city council, according to KSPR 33. Johnston argued that religious liberty was being infringed, saying in part, ” ‘Do the people of Springfield really want to make criminals of persons who are merely trying to live their faith?’ ” Fortunately, city officials understood that nowhere in the United States has the advancement of LGBT civil rights impeded religious belief, and they passed the ordinance.

Bologna, Italy — Bishop Giovanni Silvagni called that city’s decision to recognize foreign same-gender marriages a “surprise attack” and that these “sensitive subjects that are dealt with slogan attacks and and an approach a bit ideological,” according to Gazzetta del Sud.

Arkansas — Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock filed a harshly worded legal brief in support of failed lawsuits to stop marriage equality from coming to that state. In the brief, the Human Rights Campaign reports Taylor suggested “that allowing committed same-sex couples to marry would lead to unions of ‘couples such as mother and daughter, sister and sister, or brother and brother.’ ” He also called for LGBT civil rights to be put before voters.

Trinidad & Tobago — Archbishop Joseph Harris of Port of Spain reaffirmed his opposition to the Draft Gender Policy, while criticizing the nation’s prime minister, Persad Bissessar, for claiming it was “tremendous opposition, especially from the Roman Catholic group” which was blocking the LGBT-positive law. Bissessar is also facing criticism from an LGBT group for suggesting a referendum about decriminalizing homosexuality, reports the Jamaica Observer.

Statements by Catholic bishops against LGBT people and their civil rights can cause tremendous harm, not only to LGBT people, but to the church and society, as well. Yet, there are also positive signs that negative and even prejudiced remarks like those above are not the only messages being offered by Catholic leaders. Indeed, there are already many cardinals, bishops, and clergy who have openly expressed support for LGBT people and even their relationships in limited, varied ways. You can access a full listing of “Church Leaders Supporting Same-Gender Couples” by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


NEWS NOTES: Synod Perspectives from Catholic Writers and Commentators

October 27, 2014

News NotesContinuing to follow-through on our promise to provide links to the wealth of opinion and analysis that the synod on the family has generated, we offer these links to articles from the Catholic press or by Catholic authors and commentators:

1.  In The Washington Blade, Kathi Wolfe offers her views on the synod, noting that Catholic feminist theologian Mary Hunt pointed out an important shortcoming of the synod participants who were all celiibats men: “They don’t make the mature adult decisions that you make when you’re part of a family unit – with spouses and children.”

2.   Women-Church Convergence, a coalition of feminist Catholic groups, issued a statement affirming the holiness of all families, and criticized the synod for failing to include the voices of women in the decision-making process, saying in part: “A group of men who fail to protect the children of our Church from sexual abuse, and who repeatedly sacrifice children to shield the offenders, has no credibility saying anything about what families need. A group of men who have no need for contraception has no standing to deny women access to appropriate reproductive health services. A group of men without experience of wedded life has no right to legislate who should and should not be married. The egregious omission of women and families in forming Church policy has a devastating impact on Catholics and others worldwide.”

3.  Writing at AlJazeera.com, Nathan Schneider observes that part of the reason LGBT issues were not more positively accepted at the synod is because the call for equality still remains a Western value: “The conversation about same-sex partnerships has hardly even begun on the Catholic time scale, and in the context of a global church. Just because some of us in certain parts of the world are sold on an idea doesn’t mean we can impose it on the whole church; that’s a habit of the church’s colonizing past that needs to be put to rest. The Roman Catholic Church has stretched over the centuries to incorporate the gifts of non-European cultures, and it still has much stretching left to do.”

4.  Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a commentator for America magazine, wrote about “The Promise of Synod 2014,” pointing out a number of important contributions the synod process made, including these three:

  • “The 2014 Synod elevated the conversation. Whispered questions about why Aunt Jane never goes to Communion and why Uncle Jack never married have made it into the parlor. The presence in the church community of people who divorced and remarried without an annulment and lesbians and gays found a healthy acknowledgement. . . .
  • “The church acknowledges there may be pastoral solutions to long-standing problems. Nothing heals better than fresh air. For many, the pain silently endured by people forced to the fringes has developed individuals beloved in their families for their generosity and kindness and particular sensitivity. Now they just might receive some of the generosity, kindness and sensitivity they’ve offered others for years.
  • “There is proof that doctrine is not dead. What’s dead does not change; what is alive does. So long as doctrine addresses current reality it shows it is alive and holds meaning for people today.”

5.  At Crux.com, Michael O’Loughlin presented a variety of opinions about the synod from Catholics concerned about LGBT issues, including Deb Word, president of Fortunate Families, who said:  “The conversation that began at the Synod on the Family isn’t over — in fact it’s just beginning. . . .[P]ro-gay Catholic groups will keep reaching out to the bishops to offer suggestions about how the Catholic Church can better minister to Catholic families like mine.”

6.  Jesuit Father James Martin has been quoted widely in the religious and secular press on the synod’s report and processes.  In addition, he has written two online essays which provide insights:

  1. In an America magazine blog post, “Five Things the Synod Just Did,” Martin notes that the meeting brought a new conversation to the Church, and that the pope’s process very much reflects the Jesuit value of “discernment.”
  2. Fr. Martin elaborated on the above theme in a separate essay for Reuters.com, in which he discussed “What the Synod of Bishops that discussed divorced, LGBT Catholics did – and didn’t – do.”  In both essays he stresses the point that the real answers will be discussed at the 2015 synod.

7.  In a National Catholic Reporter blog post which carries the opinions about the synod from three Catholic academics, Julie Hanlon Rubio of St. Louis University, author of Family Ethics: Practices for Christians, stated: “The major shifts I see at work in the document released today are these: a willingness to see the diversity of Catholic families and listen to their ideas, a desire to find creative pastoral solutions that allow the church to welcome everyone, and a willingness to see good in the imperfect. All of shifts seem rooted in a more fundamental move to imitate Jesus, especially embracing his call for mercy.”

8.  The Baltimore Sun reported on a group of about 30 Catholic LGBT advocates who held a prayer vigil at the city’s Basilica of the Assumption of the BVM on the day that the synod’s final report was issued.  The event was organized by the Human Rights Campaign and Call To Action.

9.  During the synod, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) ran a series of blog posts written by Catholic leaders about their hopes for the meeting and the future of the Church.  These posts were written by HRC’s Lisbeth Melendez Rivera,  the Pacific School of Religion’s Bernard Schlager, DignityUSA’s Jim Smith, Call To Action’s Ellen Euclide, transgender leader Hilary Howes, Cincinnati’s Anna Brown, and  New Ways Ministry’s Francis DeBernardo.

10.  In a National Catholic Reporter blog post.  Sister Christine Schenck, CSJ, former executive director of FutureChurch, offered this suggestion: “It is my sincere hope that church leaders will actively seek out the lived experiences of divorced and remarried and gay and lesbian Catholics before making any decisions about pastoral practice. They should also listen carefully to Catholic parents using unapproved methods of family planning.”

11. Catholics in San Antonio, Texas, responded to the synod in an article in The San Antonio Express-News.  Members of the local Dignity chapter expressed their views, and Fr. Stephen Bernal, a local pastor offered the hope:  “We believe the Holy Father is very simply wanting us to look at all people the way God looks at them — with love and understanding and compassion — that everyone is a precious gift.”

12. In a very tongue-in-cheek essay on Philly.com, Orlando Barone says that the synod’s unfinished business leaves him in a quandary about whether or not he should invite lesbian/gay people and divorced/remarried Catholics to his Thanksgiving dinner.  He ends, however, on a very serious note:  “My imagination falters in its efforts to conjure anything more awful than lifting the Bread of Life and turning it into a rock to throw at the lost sheep, the prodigal son, the woman caught in adultery. I could never allow such a horrible thing to happen at my Thanksgiving table. I pray the church, following its pope’s lead, will not allow such a thing to happen at its Thanksgiving table, the Table of Jesus, the Bread of Life.”

13. Fordham University theology professor Patrick Hornbeck penned a CNN.com essay in which he explains that neither the first draft nor the final report of the synod went far enough in dealing with LGBT issues.  He concluded:  “Many believe that the synod reversed course with regard to LGBT people and same-sex unions. But that reversal seems much less dramatic when one considers the full implications of the synod’s much-celebrated initial document. Far from accepting and celebrating same-sex relationships as the signs of divine and human love that so many people — gay, straight, Catholic, non-Catholic — are finding in them, that document actually charted a path where those relationships could at best have only been tolerated in the church. It is clear that by avoiding a more searching examination of the presumptions about gender and sexuality that Catholic theology has inherited, the synod members did not fully confront the truly seismic anthropological, cultural and theological shifts that have occurred in the past few decades.”

14. In an essay on NJLive.com, Father Alexander Santora, a pastor in Hoboken, praised the synod’s attempts to affirm LGBT people, and noted that though a rocky road is still ahead, there is reason for hope:  “. . . [T]his process is filled with land mines, most notably some conservative prelates, even in the Vatican curia, who do not want any change in tone, theology or teaching. But that also happened at the Second Vatican Council and St. John XXIII dispatched them graciously. Francis has been compared to John and some see his two-year synod process as almost important as the teachings that emanated from Vatican II.”

15. Dignity/New York voices were featured in a CBSNews.com report on synod reactions, including the opinion of longtime member Brendan Fay, who said: “We may not personally need the affirmation [of Vatican bishops] because we have found that among ourselves.”

16. Though much of the synod headlines focused on LGBT issues and divorce, National Catholic Reporter columnist, Jamie Manson, a Catholic lesbian, asks the question: “Why isn’t anyone talking about the synod’s paragraphs on contraception?”

17.  Gay Catholic blogger Terence Weldon, who posts at  QueeringTheChurch.com, summed up the synod with the headline: “For Gay Catholics, Nothing Has Changed – Everything Is Changing.”  At the conclusion, he notes: “Above all, what has changed is the simple fact that what for so long was presented as “constant and unchanging tradition”, delivered from on high to a meek and acquiescent laity, is now firmly up for frank discussion. That has already occurred at the synod in a manner that would have been unthinkable under the previous two popes, and will now be starting worldwide, at all levels of the Church.”

18. USA Today queried college students about the synod in an article entitled “New Vatican document stirs discussion and hope among Catholic students” and found that they welcomed the meeting and its open discussion.
19.  New Ways Ministry’s Francis DeBernardo and DignityUSA’s Marianne Duddy-Burke gave their responses to the synod’s final document in an article by The Advocate entitled “After Catholic Synod: Disappointment, Yet Hope Remains.”
20. New Ways Ministry’s Francis DeBernardo gave further reactions to the synod when he appeared on MSNBC’s News Nation with Tamron Hall.  You can view that segment by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Celebrating 50 Years, National Catholic Reporter Comes Out (Again) for LGBT Church Workers

October 27, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 1.14.34 PMThe National Catholic Reporter‘s most recent editorial comes out strongly in support of fired church workers, responding to the spate of LGBT-related employment actions that have caused at least 17 people to lose their jobs this year alone.

Noting the rapid expansion of marriage equality, with the list of states allowing same-sex couples to marry expanding from 19 to 32 in the month of October alone, the editorial explains:

“Just 10 years ago, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, and just two years ago, the country was evenly split on the issue, 46 percent in favor and 44 percent opposed, according to one poll. Now the majority of Americans favor such unions, and that majority is growing more solid.

“The U.S. bishops, their lawyers and personnel directors have some hard choices to make in the next few weeks. What will they do with Catholic employees who enter valid legal marriages with partners of the same sex? To date, their track record on this issue has been bleak.”

That track record has been more than 40 LGBT-related employment disputes made public since 2008,  the first year in New Ways Ministry’s tracking of such actions.  Many of these church workers were committed and gifted people with years of experience and, as NCR notes, “There was no problem until they entered legal, civil marriages.” The editorial concludes:

“Church actions against these employees are unjust and must be rectified.

We do not here speak of the sacrament of matrimony. The issue we address is legally contracted civil marriages and employment. Church personnel policies must allow employees to enter into such marriages without fear of losing their jobs. The church can depend on First Amendment protections for the right to worship to safeguard the sacraments, and policies could delineate narrow ministerial exemptions when it comes to civil marriages, but for the vast majority of church employees, a legal marriage should not be a job impediment.”

Yet, the editorial is not optimistic about how American church leaders will respond and worries about a “protracted fight through the court system” similar to the high rhetoric against the HHS contraception mandate that “yields dubious results” and “will give no one justice.” You can access the editorial in full by clicking here.

Legal considerations should not be the only criteria informing church officials’ response as more and more church workers enter into and openly support same-gender marriages. In the footsteps of the synod’s initial recognition that gay people offer the church many gifts, Catholic institutions should also consider the value that LGBT employees offer.

One teacher, writing at The Huffington Post, explores what a gay teacher as role model would have meant for him. In a piece deeply applicable for Catholic schools, Blake O’Bryan Montgomery notes:

“Coming out to my students frightens me…But I want to say it, I want to say it; I want the queer among them to know they can grow up…

“LGBTQ visibility allows us to envision the lives we might lead; on an even more basic level, to learn that such lives are possible. I had no idea what I would be as an adult because I didn’t see anybody I could be…What I would have given to hear a high school teacher say, ‘I’m gay,’ ‘I’m a lesbian,’ ‘I’m queer;’ to tell me that I could grow up to be a person a young man would respect?…

“I was a queer student who would have gained a great deal of self-respect from a role model, and I’m asking you now, as a queer teacher, to please come out. If you might lose your job for your queerness, do all you can without coming out. I hope your workplace is a safe one.”

Catholic schools and parishes should become those safe workplaces where LGBT and ally church workers can teach and minister openly and in ways that enhance the lives of all. The employment disputes are deeply unjust and in violation of Catholic social justice teachings. Indeed, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, a leading US prelate, admitted as much in saying they “need to be rectified.”

Yet, excluding and expelling LGBT church workers is also about the deficiencies caused by such actions. There are the forgone possibilities of how dedicated employees could have enhanced classrooms, school activities, and spirituality. There is the pain inflicted on LGBT and questioning youth whose feelings of being unsafe or unloved are exacerbated by being in church institutions with no visible role models. There is the loss of younger Catholics turned off by institutional hatred who walk away from the church altogether.

The words of the National Catholic Reporter are worth repeating as the principle by which church leaders should instead proceed: “a legal marriage should not be a job impediment.”

For Bondings 2.0′s full coverage of these and other LGBT-related disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right or click here. You can also find a full listing of the more than 40 incidents made public since 2008 by clicking here.

On a final note, as the National Catholic Reporter celebrates its 50th anniversary, Bondings 2.0 applauds the newspaper for not only providing phenomenal journalism, but for being an early and ongoing voice of solidarity with LGBT Catholics.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


What Makes a Catholic Family–Especially When Discord About LGBT Members Exists?

October 26, 2014

Peter Manseau

A recent piece in The New York Times asked the provocative question, “What is a Catholic Family?” Today, Bondings 2.0 samples a few reflections on Catholic families, and we hope our readers will continue the discussion ‘Comments’ section below by sharing a bit about what “family” means to you.

The original esssay by Peter Manseau was published in mid-October, during the Synod,  and  it includes historical background on just how greatly Catholic understandings of marriage and family life have changed over the centuries. He writes the synod’s discussions are “an indication that the idea of family is again evolving in Rome.” What does he mean by ‘again’?

Manseau reminds Catholics that, in the church’s earliest days, marriage was second to celibacy for it was “full of situations regarded as unpleasant by the saintly.” This mentality is pervasive up through the Second Vatican Council, and unofficialy today. In the  16th century’s Council of Trent, the participants noted the “pastoral issues” of their time such as kidnapped brides, and priests who were marrying. Of this, Manseau writes:

“In every instance, the question of who might constitute a family was a matter of how far those involved fell short of an unattainable ideal.

“Which is perhaps not so far from the supposedly ‘wounded’ and ‘irregular’ families that are largely the focus of the synod’s report…the synod’s bishops have not opened a big tent welcoming all those mentioned to fully participate in the life of the Catholic Church, and indeed they are unlikely to do so.

“Yet even quibbling over words of qualified welcome, they have reminded the faithful that their church has developed over time through conflict and contradiction, and may again.”

Manseau concludes with an allusion to the Holy Family–” a woman who conceived a child before she was married, a chaste stepfather who nearly divorced her as a result, and that original sign of contradiction, the human son of God”–and he asks two questions: “What family is not wounded?” and “Was any family ever more irregular than that?”

Anne Marie DeMint

In an essay for the Washington Post, Elizabeth Tenety explores one Catholic family’s struggle to welcome and to love their lesbian daughter and sister, Anne Marie DeMent. Tenety opens her piece on the 30-year-old from Maryland by writing:

“It’s hard to come out as gay…It is even harder when your parents are profoundly committed conservative Catholics, your brother is a prominent priest who represents traditional church views on Fox News, and you were raised to believe that everything the church teaches is true.”

DeMent came out to a highly conservative Catholic family, a family that her brother, celebrity priest Fr. Jonathan Morris, called an “idyllic Catholic family.” Her parents did not respond well, nor did extended relatives who used pastorally damaging language. Yet, she found her wife, Katie, to be “life-giving” and the two were married four years ago after DeMent recognized the Catholic Church was wrong on homosexuality and marriage equality.

Her family, however, has not fully evolved. Her mother, Sharon Morris, says “We’re trying to figure out what love is…We wanted to live our whole life for God.” DeMent’s parents and brother skipped the wedding, though a few siblings were present, and since then the couple has not been welcomed to Christmas.

The arrival of Pope Francis changed some of DeMent’s relationships, healed divisions between siblings, and even led to a softening tone from her brother, Fr. Morris, in his public appearances. As for her mother’s journey:

“When people try to remind Sharon Morris that the Catholic Church ‘loves the sinner but not the sin,’ she says: ‘It goes through me, because I think, “You don’t know my daughter. Do you know your own sin?” ‘ “

“Talking about gays as if ‘they’re a different creature…affects me differently now…That’s why I consider this [experience] a great grace.’ “

DeMent acknowledges the struggle, but continues to press on in relating to her conservative Catholic family.  She offers these inspiring words, perhaps the most Christian quote in the article:

” ‘I truly do not want to strong-arm or persuade my siblings or my parents to at any point go against their conscience in trying to accept me. And vice versa…I don’t want to move away from my personal conscience or what I think is right just in order to have this relationship…

” ‘That’s where, for me, my fundamental call for life is to pursue that. To pursue the good, to pursue love. When it hurts, to be able to look at my sister and understand that we might have these differences but that our learning to love each other is what lasts, is what is everlasting. . . . We’re called to a radical trust in love, a radical trust in each other, as our way forward.’ “

Indeed, growing up in my own family, it was a most radical love which held us together in diversity and even stark differences.  When asking what makes a Catholic family, I fathom the answer is something involving trust, love, and care. And I know DeMent and I are not the only ones who share this experience of love.

So what do you think? What makes a Catholic family? How do families respond in love when there are differences? Leave your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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