Australian Bishop Overturns School’s Exclusion Decision

December 14, 2011

An Australian bishop has overturned a Catholic school’s decision to exclude a five-year girl from registering because her parents are a lesbian couple.   A story by Natalie Whiting on abc.net.au, quotes Bishop Kevin Manning:

“There’s no way in the world one can penalise a child for what his or her parents do,” he said.

“To penalise a five year old child because her parents are living in a homosexual relationship is just quite wrong and I’ve been in touch with both the school principal and also the parish priests.”

It’s good that the bishop stood up for what is right.  Too bad he couldn’t have done so in a more positive way, citing the wrongness of discrimination.  He could have taken a lesson from Wincen Cuy, the local mayor in Broken Hill, New South Wales, where the school is located, who is quoted in another news story on the topic :

“To be truthful, this whole story came to most people in Broken Hill as a bit of a shock,” Mr Cuy said. “This is not how we do things around here. Apparently, the decision has now been overturned, so one could say that common sense has prevailed. Broken Hill has a very strong gay and lesbian community, who are completely accepted as part of the social fabric of Broken Hill.”

The bishop could have also followed the more positive example of the Archdiocese of Boston, which stated the case more positively, when a similar case happened there in 2010:

“We believe that every parent who wishes to send their child to a Catholic school should have the opportunity to pursue that dream,” [Mary Grassa] O’Neill (Archdiocese of Boston Superintendent of Schools ] said in an official statement. “

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


ALL ARE WELCOME: Say the Words

December 14, 2011

A major focus of New Ways Ministry’s work has always been to help Catholic institutions become more gay-friendly.  For many years, we have consulted with parishes, campuses, vowed religious communities, retreat centers to help them find ways to become more welcoming of LGBT people and their families.   One program we sponsor is the Next Steps weekend retreat/workshop to help people develop a plan of action for themselves and their faith communities in regard to pro-LGBT activities and messages.

Today we are starting an occasional series on this blog called “All Are Welcome.”  We hope to offer some reflections and suggestions for how faith communities can initiate a welcome to LGBT people or how to develop the welcome they may have already begun.   Remember, too, that this blog is social media: the communication works both ways! So in addition to reading the information that we offer, we hope that you will offer your own suggestions, reflections, and experiences, too.

The suggestion for today is “say the words.”  The words to say are “lesbian,” “gay,” “bisexual,” “transgender.”  How powerful a message is sent when any or all of these words is said in a Catholic setting.  When you speak the words, you are validating people’s reality.   In a radio interview once, New Ways Ministry’s co-founder Fr. Robert Nugent, SDS, said that oppression against lesbian/gay people ran the gamut from “silence to violence.”  With this pithy saying, he illustrated the fact that sometimes “silence” can be as harmful as “violence.”  In other words, silence is a form of violence.

Even up to a decade ago, it may have been uncommon to hear these words spoken in general conversation.  Now they are almost household words.  NOT to say them in church settings is a glaring omission.

When do you use them?  When they would come up naturally!  Here are some suggestions:

1.  Use them in the prayers of the faithful, in sermons, in parish bulletins and other publications. Use them in discussions of family.

2.  Use them in discussions of social justice.

3.  Use them in religious education and sacramental preparation.

4. Use them in programs on sexuality.

5.  Use them in youth ministry programs.

6.  Use them in mission statements, non-discrimination policies, and statements of welcome.

7.  Use them in June, which is when many cities and towns celebrate LGBT Pride events.

8. Use them around October 11th, which is National Coming Out Day.

9.  Use them on Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day, to describe the variety of parents that exist in your parish.

10. Use them in presentations on diversity and multiculturalism.

In Always Our Children, the U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter on ministry to families with lesbian/gay members, offers the following recommendation to pastoral ministers:

“When speaking publicly, use the words ‘homosexual,’ ‘gay,’ and ‘lesbian’ in honest and accurate ways.”

The first edition of Always Our Children, before it was edited by the Vatican, had a different wording for this recommendation:

“Use the words ‘homosexual,’ ‘gay,’ and ‘lesbian’ in honest and accurate ways, especially from the pulpit. In various and subtle ways you can give people ‘permission’ to talk about homosexual issues among themselves and let them know that you’re also willing to talk with them.”

Though the Vatican amended that language, they could not amend the human reality that it reflects:  when people hear someone speak of their reality, they not only feel more welcome, but they also hear an invitation to continue the conversation on this topic.

Simply speaking these words may not seem like a major step, yet its effect can be very profound.  In doing so, you are welcoming people, letting them know that you are someone that is interested in them, and you are helping so many others in your parish become more comfortable with these words.

What have been your experiences with saying these words in a welcoming way in your faith community?  What are some other ways that those words can be spoken to help people know that “all are welcome”?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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