Cardinal George, LGBT People, and the Klan

December 22, 2011

Description: A Ku Klux Klan meeting in Gainesv...

The Catholic hierarchy are starting to let their claws and teeth show.

Fox-TV News in Chicago reports today that Cardinal Francis George of Chicago has compared the gay liberation movement to the Ku Klux Klan.   A story and video of the interview is available on their website.

The Huffington Post report of this incident has the text of the Cardinal’s explanation of his analogy:

“You don’t want the gay liberation movement to morph into something like the Klu Klux Klan, demonstrating in the streets against Catholicism.”

When the Fox host pointed out that George’s comparison was “a little strong,” the cardinal stood by his statement.

“It is, but you take a look at the rhetoric,” he continued. “The rhetoric of the Klu Klux Klan, the rhetoric of some of the gay liberation people. Who is the enemy? Who is the enemy? The Catholic Church.”

This comes on the heels of last month’s statement by Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, where he said, in reference to lesbian and gay people:

“We said the next thing will be we’ll be sued if we don’t do marriage, we’re going to be harassed if we don’t do receptions, we’re going to be penalized if we don’t allow adoption, we’re going to be booed if we don’t hire these people.”

The sheer ridiculousness and callousness of these comments show not only  ignorance of the LGBT movement, but also bespeak an irrational fear.

What else can account for such vicious responses?  Part of the fear may be due to the fact that the hierarchy senses they are losing the argument on LGBT equality.  I do not think that these men are evil.  I believe them to be motivated by good and trying to do good, but that pressure is getting  the best of them and making them act in irrational ways.  I am not excusing their behavior or statements at all, but I think it is important to understand what may be behind these statements.

Regardless of the motivation, an apology is needed in both cases.

I first learned of  Cardinal George’s  statement from our friends at the Unitarian Universalist website,  I agree with their call to action:

“Get in touch with Cardinal George. Ask him to reconsider his comments and issue an apology. Above all else, approach this conversation with the greatest amount of love you can muster, lest we give credence to his beliefs that “the gay liberation movement” is full of angry hate-mongers. Our issue isn’t with Catholics — it’s with those leaders who use divisive, incendiary language and tactics to suppress an entire group of people and our families.

“You can leave a message for Cardinal George through his Facebook page:

“Or try the Diocese Catholic Information Line: 312-534-8204.”

Equally Blessed, the coalition of faithful Catholics who work for LGBT equality and justice (of which New Ways Ministry is a member), has released this statement in response to Cardinal George’s comment.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Catholics Are Not the Problem in Maryland—And Neither Are African-Americans

December 22, 2011

Marriage Equality USA logo

An article in today’s MetroWeekly, a gay news magazine in the DC region,  focuses on the upcoming legislative battles on marriage equality and gender non-discrimination in Maryland.  The article begins:

“Despite large socially conservative Catholic and African-American populations, heavily Democratic Maryland was seen by many at the start of 2011 as primed for marriage equality.

But the bill to legalize same-sex marriage died without a vote in the House of Delegates in March. . .”

Unfortunately, these lead paragraphs propagate the popular myth that Catholics are opposed to LGBT equality.  Not true—particularly in Maryland.  Catholics did not impede the passage of the marriage bill in Maryland in 2011.  During the spring of this year, I spoke with numerous Maryland legislators–Catholics and those with large Catholic constituencies–and only one said that Catholic faith played a role in his decision to oppose the bill.

In fact, it was a Catholic who introduced the bill in the Senate: Robert Garagiola, the majority leader.  In the House of Delegates, many Catholics were in the forefront of the bill:  Heather Mizeur, Joseline Pena-Melnyk, and Kriselda Valderrama, among them.  Even the more traditionally-minded Catholic delegate Anne Healey, who is the former editor of The Catholic Review (Archdiocese of Baltimore’s diocesan newspaper), and who is married to a permanent deacon, spoke out in support of marriage equality from the House floor.

While it is true that the Catholic hierarchy in the state opposed the bill, the Catholic people did not.  A 2009 Greenberg, Quinlan, and Rossner poll revealed that a 49% plurality of Maryland Catholics favor legislative action that would allow gay and lesbian couples to marry, with only 42% opposed.  Given that this poll is now almost three years old, and that support for marriage equality keeps increasing, especially among Catholics, the statistic of support from that poll has most likely increased.

In February, 2011, New Ways Ministry published a book, Marriage Equality: A Positive Catholic Approach, which explains the reason for such growing support among Catholics.  It includes personal testimony from 28 Catholic Marylanders, including former lieutenant governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.  You can order a free copies of the book or download a PDF from New Ways Ministry’s website.

And while the press identified African-American opposition to the bill as a reason for its downfall, this explanation does not do justice to the amazing amount of support for marriage equality among African-Americans.  If you have any doubt about this, visit the website of the Maryland Black Family Alliance.

The same problem plagues both Catholics and African-Americans:  while some leaders of these communities are vocally and stridently opposed to marriage equality, the grassroots folks are strongly supportive.   It’s up to these supportive throngs to contact their legislators to let them know that they support marriage equality–whether it is as a Catholic, an African-American, or both.  Legislators–and the media– need to learn that the leadership of these communities do not speak for the base.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Silence Is Not Golden

December 22, 2011

Towards the end of a recent article on a Canadian’s campaign to end homophobic bullying,  an interesting discussion takes place about how to bring an anti-bullying message to Catholic schools.  You may recall that we reported on a controversy that has been brewing in Ontario, where state-funded Catholic schools are mandated to institute gay-straight alliances, but that church officials do not want to refer to these organizations by those terms.

The Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association is devising a list of names other than “gay-straight alliance” which it will recommend to local school boards.   Nancy Kirby, the Association president, comments on the naming controversy:

“Everyone is getting so caught up on the name of what the club should be that they’re getting away from what we’re trying to do and that’s to help protect our students, help support them.”

Ms. Kirby misses the point.  By not using the word “gay” you are already not protecting children because the omission sends the message that there is something wrong with the word, and by extrapolation, the reality. Not to use it sends the message that this topic is shameful, dirty, secret.

In using the word “gay,” the schools would be acknowledging that the reality is something that can be discussed.

In another earlier post, we mentioned that the first step for parishes who want to welcome LGBT people  is to use the words “gay,” “lesbian,” “bisexual,” “transgender” in natural, normal, and affirming ways.   To do so sends a message of acceptance.

How can there be protection and support of youth if the adults who supervise them are afraid to use words honestly and accurately?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Deadline Approaches for Discounted Symposium Registration

December 21, 2011

December 31, 2011, is the last day to register for New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium to receive a discount on registration fees.

Don’t miss this opportunity to sign up with a more than 15% savings for From Water to Wine:  Lesbian/Gay Catholics and Relationships, which will bring together hundreds of Catholics who are eager to move forward the discussion of LGBT issues in their church.

And Symposium registrations make EXCELLENT last-minute Christmas gifts!  Surprise a friend or family member and bring them along with you to this event which has transformed hearts, minds, and communities!

The Symposium features internationally-known keynote speakers:  Luke Timothy Johnson, Patricia Beattie Jung, Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, Richard Rodriguez, and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.   Complementing this line-up are focus sessions which cover some of the most important topics in Catholic LGBT conversations.

For more information on the Symposium, and to register today, click here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Bad News/Good News for Irish LGB Teachers

December 21, 2011

The bad news in a Reuters article today about lesbian, gay, bisexual teachers in Ireland is that in most schools, these professionals must hide their sexual identity or risk losing their job.   What’s not surprising is the reason for this problem is that nine out of ten primary schools and half the high schools are overseen by Catholic officials.

The good news in this article, however, is that attitudes among the almost entirely Catholic population are changing rapidly and becoming more positive on LGBT issues.  The article details what one observer calls “a quiet revolution,” as Irish people become more and more accepting of LGBT issues, noting:

“This year’s gay pride event attracted 25,000 people, the second-largest procession in the country after the St. Patrick’s’ Day Parade.

“Polls show a majority of the public are in favor of gay marriage, including many practicing Catholics.”

Perhaps most telling is this testimony:

” ‘The Lord made them that way. They should have equal rights,’ said Ita Phelan, 91, on her way into Sunday Mass at Dublin’s main Roman Catholic church.”

It will be a “great day for the Irish” when thinking like Ms. Phelan’s spreads to Irish church leaders, as it is already doing among the Irish faithful.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

The Best and Worst of 2011?

December 20, 2011

As  2011 comes to a close, you’ll be reading lots of year-end reviews on different topics: movies, sports, books, news, deaths, music, TV, and so on.  Some times you’ll see these articles as “best of 2011″ or “worst of 2011.”

So, we ask our readers: what were the top events and news stories in LGBT issues and Catholicism for 2011?  What were the best and the worst?  We’ll take all your suggestions, and perhaps add some that may have been forgotten, and post them as the year comes to a close.

Can’t remember too well what happened in 2011?  Here’s an easy way to remind yourselves.  New Ways Ministry’s website archives past issues of our tabloid newsletter, Bondings (for which this blog is named), and in it we chronicle events, issues, and opinions from around the nation and the globe.  Click on any of the past four issues, and you can read news stories about what has happened this past year in the arena of LGBT issues and Catholicism. That might spark your memory a bit!  (The final issue of the year, vol. 34, n. 4,  will be posted shortly, adding a fifth source for you to scour.)

Please make comments by December 26, 2011, so that we will have time to glean the responses.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Catholic Mom Vs. Maryland Catholic Conference

December 19, 2011

Erma Durkin

In November, the Maryland Catholic Conference published a document entitled, “Religious Freedom:  The Most Sacred of All Property.”  Despite its title, it quickly became obvious that this publication was really focused on the marriage equality debate, which the bishops seem to fear they are losing.  So instead of debating the merits of marriage equality, they have attempted to shift the terms of the debate to “religious freedom,” where they have framed themselves as the victims of a secular government and culture.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops followed suit later in the same month, when at their national assembly they heard an address from Bishop William Lori, Chair of their newly formed Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty.

Much of the commentary surrounding this question of religious liberty showed how Catholics’ liberty is not threatened, but that the bishops’ opposition to marriage equality, in fact, threatens the religious liberty of others.  We posted about one such commentary a few weeks back in this blog post.  You can also read New Ways Ministry’s response to the Maryland Catholic Conference statement here.

But these questions are more than just legal and political.  They are also pastoral and personal.  We were delighted when we read a response from a dear friend of New Ways Ministry, Erma Durkin, which approaches the Maryland bishops’ religious liberty arguments from these more concretely human concerns.  Erma is an octogenarian mother of a gay son, and not only a devout Catholic, but a thought-filled one, too.    She speaks primarily as a parent:

We sincerely wish the Bishops of Maryland, when they campaign against Civil Marriage for gay couples, would focus serious attention to the profound effects this drive has on the families among their flock. Parents are desperate to know how to reconcile the negative messages the Church delivers, or allows to be
assumed about gays, with the truth they know about the children they have brought to birth, and love so well. The arguments, given on p.9 of the Statement we are discussing, are not convincing in the light of what is known today about gender diversity among humans. Parents cannot understand how the State, by legalizing same-gender marriage, would, “infringe upon the religious liberties of individuals and institutions….” The State is simply granting equal rights to persons of all faiths, or no faith, to commit to a monogamous, permanent, and exclusive marriage contract. It is not telling people what to believe “as an article
of faith” p.9.”

She speaks as a Catholic citizen, too:

“I have never felt any coercion or obstructionism from the State, in all my years, while practicing my faith in good conscience. On the other hand, I have noted an area of pastoral need that cries out for attention and conversational engagement with our Shepherds. “

It’s clear from their statements that the bishops have listened to a lot of lawyers and political strategists.  What they need to do is to listen, instead, to the sensus fidelium (the sense of the faithful) which has been expressed so eloquently by Erma Durkin.

By the way, Erma has written eloquently before on the issue of marriage equality.  She contributed a moving reflection to New Ways Ministry’s book, Marriage Equality:  A Positive Catholic Approach.   You can download a PDF of the book from our website.  Erma’s contribution is on page 15.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

A Tale of Two Prayers

December 19, 2011

For Catholics in Minnesota, the debate over a proposed state constitutional amendment to prohibit marriage for lesbian/gay couples has become “a tale of two prayers.”

Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul sent out “A Prayer for Marriage” to all the parishes in the archdiocese, which he said is

“meant for use within the Holy Mass as part of the Prayer of the Faithful. In addition, I would encourage the posting of the prayer within Eucharistic Adoration chapels, along with an encouragement to adorers to pray for the success of the amendment and all efforts to strengthen marriage.”

You can read his letter to parishes and read the full text of the prayer here.

The natural question that comes to mind in response to this prayer is why is the archbishop offering a “prayer of the faithful” to the faithful?  Shouldn’t “prayers of the faithful” come from the laity, not the hierarchy?

Well, the faithful have issued a prayer for marriage.  Catholics for Marriage Equality-MN published a prayer on their website,, which supports marriage equality for lesbian/gay couples.  Written by Chris Wogaman, the prayer asks God for healthy and holy approaches to relationships and also

“God, we ask that you bring peace to the hearts of those who are troubled about the love that some people have for one another. Calm our defensiveness with your comforting Spirit, and enlarge our vision, for we can but see through a glass, darkly, the miracles of love you have empowered among us.”

You can read the entire text of this prayer here.

Since polls keep showing that lay Catholics are more supportive of marriage equality than the bishops are, we suspect that the prayer from Catholics for Marriage Equality-MN will be the one that is prayed more often in Minnesota.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

BEHIND THE SCENES: Annual Christmas Dinner for New Ways Ministry’s Volunteers

December 18, 2011

We are launching another new feature today entitled “BEHIND THE SCENES.”   This will be an occasional feature to show our life at New Ways Ministry as we work, pray, and play together while we strive to build bridges between the LGBT community and the Catholic church.

In this first installment, we feature this year’s annual Christmas party for New Ways Ministry’s dedicated volunteers who, week in and week out, show up for a Tuesday evening of stuffing, sealing, and labeling envelopes to get information about our programs and resources to our constituents around the nation and the globe.

This year’s dinner featured an authentic Indian menu, prepared by Associate Director Dwayne Fernandes, who grew up in Mumbai (Bombay), India.  We feasted on a special holiday dish, chicken biryani (a one-pot dish filled with chicken, vegetables, rice); raita (a homemade condiment of yougurt and cucumber);and Indian-seasoned cabbage.  It all took over a day to make but our volunteers are worth it! The aromatic wafts of cumin, coriander, and cardamom, not to mention ginger and garlic, tempted us until we were ready to sit at the table and feast together.

We hope that your Christmas celebrations are as happy–and delicious–as ours was!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Here are some photos of the event:

Chef Dwayne Fernandes serves up a generous helping of his chicken biryani.

Around the table: Volunteer Mark Clark, Sr. Roni Schweyen, MM, Dwayne Fernandes, and Executive Director Francis DeBernardo

Enjoying Dinner: Volunteers Patrick McNelis, David Lamdin, New Ways Ministry Board Chair Matt Myers, and Volunteer Vern Smith

Homeless for the Holidays

December 17, 2011

“LGBT kids are eight times more likely than straight youth to be homeless,” said Carl Siciliano, founder of the Ali Forney Center, a shelter for homeless LGBT youth in New York City.

Siciliano is quoted in a story on entitled “Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Kids Struggle on the Streets.”

The statistics in the ABC-TV report boggle the mind:

“Resources for homeless LGBT youth are scarce and shelters are at capacity, especially in New York City where the Ali Forney Center estimates 3,800 youth are homeless, about 1,600 of them LGBT. But they have only 250 beds for youth . . ., and state and city funding has been drying up.”

“About 20 to 40 percent of youth who leave home . . . to live on the streets identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT), according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.”

“In one study, 26 percent of teens who came out to their parents were told they must leave home. Others said they were physically, sexually or emotionally abused. The task force added that LGBT youth also reported that they are threatened, belittled and abused at shelters, not only by other residents, but by staff, as well. “

Can you send a donation to a homeless shelter that works with LGBT youth?  Can you get your parish, or some committee or group in your parish, to raise funds for such a place? The report says that besides the Ali Forney Center in New York, there are only two other such shelters:  the Ruth Ellis Center, Detroit, and the Jeff Griffith Center, part of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center. While these are the only shelters, many other cities offer services and programs for homeless LGBT youth.  The Ali Forney Center’s website provides a list of resources around the country.

If you want to do something locally and no shelter exists in your area, you can donate to an LGBT youth support program near you.  All major cities, and even most smaller ones, have such a place which helps to prevent young people from ending up in perilous situations.

We’re coming close to Christmas, a time when giving to charities that work with youth is an especially meaningful thing to do.  If we want our church to change, we have to start the change on the grassroots level.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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