NEWS NOTES: January 31, 2012

January 31, 2012

Here are some links to items you might find of interest:

1) The controversy surrounding the naming of anti-homophobia student groups in Ontario’s Catholic schools has added a new wrinkle with a Toronto Star report that the Province’s Education “College [is] asked to investigate principal who banned gay-straight alliance.”   Bondings 2.0′s  latest posting on this controversy can be accessed here.

2) The Washington Blade reports that “religious institutions receiving federal funds for housing programs will have to abide by a new HUD (Housing & Urban Development) rule prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people.”  Details can be found in the article “HUD: Religious groups must abide by LGBT non-bias rule.”
In a letter to President Obama, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops had opposed the non-discrimination rule. Equally Blessed, a Catholic coalition of LGBT justice and equality, also sent a letter to Obama in support of the rule.

3) The Buffalo News‘ Donn Esmonde writes how a “Priest’s legacy of tolerance is all-embracing.”  It’s an inspiring memoir about the late Msgr. William Schwinger of whom he writes:  “Back when society treated gays as incomplete people, long before anyone envisioned the state sanctioning gay marriage, this priest— despite the Catholic Church’s institutional condemnation of homosexuality— welcomed them into the fold.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Barney Frank Remembers Kevin White

January 31, 2012

Barney Frank

Kevin White

If openly gay Congressman Barney Frank is praising an Irish Catholic former mayor of Boston, you have to stop to take notice.

Indeed that is what Frank did the other day in a news story circulated by the Associated Press, and which I read on the website of The Herald News of Fall River, Massachusetts.  Kevin White, who passed away on January 27th, was the subject of Frank’s praise.

Describing White as “the first modern mayor,” Frank lauded him for his inclusive spirit:

” ‘City Hall was pretty much a Whites-only — almost an Irish-only — place,’ Frank told The Associated Press. ‘He opened it up, hired people of all races, genders’ and even embraced the gay rights movement.”

Most importantly, as Frank tells the tale, if it weren’t for the Catholic White, there would have been no “Congressman Frank:”

“ ‘He was an enormously important figure for the city, for many of the values I cared about and, in my case, really made a great difference in my life,’ Frank said.’I was still, when I met him, planning on an academic career, figuring I would dab in politics. He was the one who persuaded me to try fulltime government political work.’ ”

White had served four terms as Boston’s mayor, being elected for the first time in 1967 and serving until 1983.  Before this tenure, he had served as Massachusetts’ secretary of state three times.  The article also notes:

“White also was the first major state-level political figure to open up the political system to new people, including African-Americans and gays, Frank said.”

White’s funeral will be held at St. Cecilia Catholic Church, Boston.  This gay-friendly parish was in the news in 2011 when the Archdiocese of Boston told them that they could not host a Pride Mass during Gay Pride week in the city. The mass was re-schedule for one month later, after the pastor, Fr. John Unni, had preached a sermon of unconditional love and acceptance.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


NEWS NOTES: January 30, 2012

January 30, 2012

Here are some links to items you might find of interest:

1) The Washington Post editorialized in favor of  “Same-sex marriage in Maryland,” chastising the Maryland Catholic Conference for criticizing Governor O’Malley’s support “as a distraction from more pressing economic needs. What may be a distraction for the conference is a fundamental concern for the state’s gay and lesbian residents.”

2) In “Moving Ahead on Marriage Equality,” The New York Times editorialized in support of New Jersey’s legislation, which is opposed by Governor Chris Christie, a Catholic.  In the closing paragraph, they cite three other Catholic governors who support marriage equality: New York’s Andrew Cuomo, Maryland’s Martin O’Malley of Maryland,  and Washington State’s  Christine Gregoire.

3) New York State Assemblyman “Daniel O’Donnell To Marry Boyfriend John Banta on Sunday,” reports OnTopMag.com.  According to the article O’Donnell, brother of openly-lesbian entertainer Rosie O’Donnell, met Banta in 1978 as students at Catholic University of America.

4) Coming to the defense of lesbian/gay people against a claim by a prominent Christian minister in Australia is the editor a Catholic church newspaper there.   In “Margaret Court says being gay the result of sexual abuse” in the Sunday Sun Herald,  Peter Rosengren, editor of The Record said “he had ‘never heard of any scientific study’ linking abuse and homosexuality, and that ‘everyone has to be respected.’ “

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Catholic vs. Catholic on Marriage Equality in Maryland

January 30, 2012

MarylandReporter.com has a unique video clip on their website today:  two Maryland Catholic legislators, one Democrat and one Republican, debate the upcoming marriage equality bill, moderated by the Reporter’s Len Lazarick.

Delegate Heather Mizeur and Delegate Cathy Vitale have a very civil disagreement in which many issues are explained, not least of which are issues concerning their common Catholic faith. Watch the video for yourself, and then you can read our comments below, and add your own in the “Comments” section for this post.

I think it will be no surprise to Bondings 2.0 readers to hear that we think Delegate Mizeur won the debate. She won it not only because she had the better legal and political arguments, but because of the personal and genuine way she spoke so eloquently about her faith.

A Catholic lesbian woman, Mizeur tells of her adolescent struggles with sexuality and religion, and with coming to the realization that she, like everyone else, is “a child of God” and is equally loved by God.  She praises the church’s social justice teachings, which she states are the “core mission of the church,” and she praises the church’s teaching on the primacy of conscience.

In the area of law and politics, Mizeur acknowledges that any concerns about religious exemptions that the Maryland Catholic Conference may have are open to discussion and debate so that religious organizations can feel comfortable with the new law.  She rightly points out that it is “disingenuous” of the Catholic conference to be so concerned about legal problems with same-sex marriage while it turns a blind eye to heterosexual marriages that do not meet the hierarchy’s ideals, and to a myriad of problems that the institution of heterosexual marriage has.

Thank you, Delegate Heather Mizeur, for speaking so forthrightly about marriage equality from a Catholic perspective.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


When Arguments Coincide

January 30, 2012

I’m not sure what it means, but in the last week both sides in the marriage equality debate used the same Catholic argument to bolster their positions.

The Washington Post,  on January 24, 2012, in an article entitled “Catholic conference chides same-sex marriage supporters,” the following excerpt appeared:

“The Maryland Catholic Conference on Tuesday called a new same-sex marriage bill introduced by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) a distraction from more important issues and dismissed language in the legislation that seeks to clarify religious exemptions as “ambiguous.”

“ ‘At a time when Marylanders are struggling to find jobs, keep their homes and feed their families, our elected officials should focus their attention on the pressing needs of the state, not on dismantling Maryland’s long-standing law defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman,’ Mary Ellen Russell, the organization’s executive director, said in a statement.”

MinnPost.com (from Minneapolis), on January 27, 2012, in an article entitled “When inequality and injustice abound, why does Archbishop Nienstedt focus so much on the threat of gay marriage?”, we read:

“In the past two years, the Catholic Church has spent considerable resources opposing contraception and gay marriage, but has expended little to extend unemployment insurance or raise the minimum wage or stop foreclosures or raise the income tax on the wealthy or curb the excesses of Wall Street.

“At a time when the richest 400 American families have more wealth than 120 million Americans combined, when the average salary of a CEO of the nation’s largest companies is 343 times greater than that of the average worker in that corporation, when millions of Americans are losing their homes because of often fraudulent foreclosures, when domestic violence is soaring, does the Catholic Church really think Jesus would be spending his time trying to stop two people from making a lifelong commitment to each other?”

As a student of argument and rhetoric, I find this coincidence fascinating and very curious.  The fact that these arguments were made in separate states only makes it even more puzzling, as it is obvious that one didn’t simply copy the other one.

What does this coincidence mean?  I wish I could give a good answer, but I find it simply baffling.  What is clear is that both sides are trying to claim the moral high ground by being seen as defenders of the poor and casting their opponents as callous and obsessed.

When the same argument shows up in opposing camps, perhaps it means that both sides should put it to rest.  The repetition of the argument highlights how both are using the poor as a rhetorical strategy to further their ends.  Maybe the best that each can do is instead of using the poor as rhetorical fodder, they themselves should go out and work for the poor in earnest either by direct service or advocacy.

That’s one theory.  Does anyone have any others?  This coincidence is an intriguing mystery–one that I have never seen mentioned in any textbook or analysis of rhetoric and argument.  I’m sure there are many other lessons to be learned from it, and I’m eager to hear what readers think.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


CATHOLIC LGBT CALENDAR

January 29, 2012

Today we inaugurate CATHOLIC LGBT CALENDAR, a new feature which will provide information on upcoming events and actions that are of interest to the Catholic LGBT community.  Let us know of events in your area that you would like us to consider for listing here.  Send information to director@NewWaysMinistry.org .  You can always refer to events listed in these posts by clicking on the “Catholic LGBT Calendar” tab, above. Information will remain there for as long as the event is current.

1) Equality Maryland’s Prayer Breakfast and Clergy Lobby Day for Maryland’s marriage equality and transgender rights bills will be held on Tuesday, January 31, 2012, 8:30 a.m., Maryland Inn, 16 Church Circle, Annapolis, Maryland, 21401. For information: http://equalitymaryland.org/events/prayer-breakfast-and-clergy-lobby-day

2) DignityUSA will initiate a webinar series “Queer Catholic Faith,”  with Bill Baird,  Tuesday, January 31, 2012, 9:00-10:00 p.m., Eastern Time.  For information: http://t.co/l3gV9mew .

3) New Ways Ministry’s 7th National Symposium, From Water to Wine:  Lesbian/Gay Catholics and Relationships,” will be held March 15-17, 2012, Baltimore, Maryland.  Featured speakers:  Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, Patricia Beattie Jung, Richard Rodriguez, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Luke Timothy Johnson.  For more information: http://newwaysministry.org/symp2012.html or click “7th National Symposium” tab, above.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over

January 29, 2012

A New Ways Ministry friend from Ontario wrote  to say that our post yesterday about what to name GSAs in Canada’s Catholic state-funded schools may have left the impression that the controversy was over.

It’s not.

While the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association’s (OCSTA) debate about what to name the groups has ended, their decision still has to be reviewed by the Ontario’s Education Minister, Laurel Broten.   Broten’s initial response to OCSTA’s announcement was printed in an article on Xtra.ca:

“”We have set our expectations out clearly in the Accepting Schools Act. We have said that if requested by a student, every school and school board must support the establishment of a single-issue club to support students with a range of issues, including groups like a gay-straight alliance. This bill is still before the House and I hope that every member of the legislature will support the work we’re doing to make Ontario’s schools safe for every student.

“I understand the Catholic trustees have released a paper. And I’ll take a look at that paper. We are creating a law – an accepting school law – that will lay out expectations for every school in Ontario and their obligations around supporting all students.

“My expectation is that every board in this province will abide by our policies – policies that very clearly state that schools need to support student-led initiatives such a gay straight alliance.

“Boards may choose different approaches to meet that expectation, but all must work to the same goal: ensuring every student feels welcome, safe and supported in an environment free from discrimination and harassment.

“If requested by a student, the board must find a way to support the student. For example, the Ottawa Carleton DSB has a Rainbow coalition. This is not about the name but about what support is provided to students.”

So before the naming decision is finalized, it still has to be reviewed, a legislative battle looms, and, most likely court challenges will follow.

Meanwhile, the naming controversy has raised the issue of whether Catholic schools should be receiving government funding. Grant LaFleche in St. Catherines’ Standard opined:

“If anything, this entire ordeal shows that maybe it’s finally time to revisit the complicated political question of public funding for Catholic schools. The provincial government has guaranteed gay students in taxpayer funded schools they can have peer support groups (although they are allowing schools the right to name those groups). The association is trying to marry incompatible ideas — the rights of those students and the church’s view on homosexuality. Were these schools privately funded, it would not be an issue. But they are publicly funded. Which means tax dollars are going to be a measure of discrimination, even if that discrimination isn’t obvious at first glance.”

Chris Selley, in Canada’s National Post was a bit stronger.

“I didn’t think Queen’s Park [site of Ontario's government buildings] had the stomach for a fight with the Church on this matter, or most any other matter, beforehand. . . . I’ll leave it to gay students in the Catholic system to decide if clubs conducted under the OCSTA’s new policy would constitute an improvement. But politically, this smells to me like yet another attempt to be seen addressing a problem without angering a powerful stakeholder. And it illustrates yet again that when push comes to shove, publicly funded Catholic education, in Ontario, in 2012, makes very little sense at all.

Stay tuned.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


What’s In a Name?

January 28, 2012

The highly controversial debate over what to name the government-mandated anti-homophobia clubs in state-funded Catholic schools of Ontario has been settled.  Though they are commonly called “gay-straight alliances” (GSAs), Catholic officials balked at this title. After eight months of wrangling, the Ontario Catholic Schools Trustees’ Association (OCTSA) has settled on a choice, and it has also issued guidelines for how to run these groups, reports the Toronto Star:

“Now, at last, the puff of white smoke has emerged. In a report sent Thursday to schools, the committee suggests anti-bullying groups be called “Respecting Difference clubs.” They must have a staff advisor committed to the Catholic faith, they are not to provide personal counseling in a group setting, and are not to be a forum for “activism, protest or advocacy of anything that is not in accord with the Catholic faith foundation of the school,” says the 15-page blueprint sent out this week to all Catholic school boards.

“ ‘This is about helping kids feel safe against bullying, not as advocacy for a lifestyle,’  said Nancy Kirby, president of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association. ‘We have nothing against homosexuals, but it’s the (homosexual) act that is in contradiction of the teachings of the church.’ “

Why is there such a controversy over what to name these groups?  In an article on Xtra.ca, a Canadian lesbian/gay news organization, quotes Kirby’s reasoning for opposing “gay-straight alliance:”

“ ‘It won’t be a gay-straight alliance,’ she told Xtra in past interviews. ‘When I look at a gay-straight alliance, I see an activist group. We are answering the students’ request for support and assistance, not for activism. Students don’t want to become activists; they want to be supported in being bullied by their peers.’ ”

At least one observer disagrees with Kirby’s assessment.  In The Windsor Star‘s article,  Larry Lavender, vice-president of Windsor Pride says that gay-straight alliances are not activist organizations and that, in reality, they function pretty much in the way that Catholic trustees want the groups conducted. He states:

” ‘They’re just meeting once a week after classes, and socializing and talking about their problems and being there for each other.’ ”

Lavender has no problem with the new name:

“ ‘As long as they allow them and don’t impede them, don’t suppress their function, is it really important what they’re called?’ Lavender asked. ‘No, not really.’ ”

However, one of the people at the center of this controversy and who stands to be one of those most affected by the decision is not happy with the Trustees’ decision. Leanne Iskander, a student who has been asking for a GSA at her school since last March and who has organized Catholic Students For GSAs,  doesn’t like the new term at all. In an interview with the Toronto Star explains her position:

“ ‘It highlights the difference, rather than the similarities, and it should be about more than just respect — it should be about accepting people as they are. . . ‘ “

In The Globe and Mail article on the topic, Iskander added a thought which highlights how futile it is for authorities to try to pull the wool over young adults who can smell phoniness a mile away:

“ ‘We wouldn’t use this name if they [the school] tried to push it on us.’ ”

Is something’s name really important? Definitely.  The name sets a context for an organization and sends a message about what is permissible and not permissible for discussion.  A name is not only a label:  it also contains values.  Part of the problem in this controversy is that the (OCTSA) sees that the word “gay” only can mean illicit sex and/or political activism, and so it is devalued.  In  The Globe and Mail article, Kirby stated:

“ ‘We may not agree with the advocacy of a lifestyle, but still believe that gay students, and for that matter any students, should not be bullied. . . .We are totally against bullying on the basis of sexual orientation and have nothing against homosexuality. But this is about anti-bullying specifically, not promoting a lifestyle that goes against our Catholic teachings.’ ”

While it is admirable that Kirby is against bullying, her worries about “promoting a lifestyle” are overblown and reveal a defensiveness that, if enacted in these organizations, will guarantee their failure.

If sexual activity and political activism are one’s starting points for understanding LGBT people–particularly young LGBT people–this assumption reveals that there is really no understanding at all.

–Francis DeBernardo,  New Ways Ministry

Bondings 2.0 reported earlier about this controversy in the following postings:

NEWS NOTES: January 18, 2012

Silence Is Not Golden

Abolish ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ in Ontario’s Catholic Schools”


NEWS NOTES: January 27,2012

January 27, 2012

Here are some links to items that you might find of interest:

1) While the big news from the Creating Change conference this week is that the “NAACP president says group supports extending rights to transgender residents in Maryland,” the same Washington Post article notes that Maryland’s Catholic First Lady also addressed the conference on the state’s marriage equality bill, noting ““We’re all very diverse and that’s what makes us so strong, but religion should never play a part in what the laws of our state are, and that’s what we’re trying to convey to religious leaders who are opponents of the bill.”

2) The Catholic diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, supports a legislative state “Bill [that] would let wedding vendors refuse service to engaged same-sex couples,” according to The Nashua Telegraph.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


‘Catholic Church Doesn’t Need to Take Another Battering’

January 27, 2012

The Catholic hierarchy’s opposition to marriage equality during Maine’s 2009 referendum has had a “devastating” effect on the church there.

That’s the opinion of a Maine parish administrator, and also of William H. Slavick, who penned an op-ed in the Portland Press Herald entitled, “The Maine Catholic Church doesn’t need to take another battering.”  Slavick, a veteran church reformer and peace activist who ran for U.S. Senate in 2006, points out that the hierarchy’s supposed “victory” has been a decisive defeat on the pastoral level, with financial consequences, too:

“Recently, a parish cluster administrator acknowledged that the referendum repeal campaign was, for the church in Maine, ‘devastating.’ No explanation was necessary. We know. The lack of charity occasioned wide discomfort. Some left, often among the better educated and more generous. More stopped attending Mass after weeks of campaign bullying. With $200,000 of diocesan referendum contributions unexplained, many refused to make contributions from which the bishop received a cut. That includes the Sunday offertory collection.”

Slavick’s concern is timely because  supporters of marriage equality have gathered enough signatures to stage another referendum on the issue in November, so a new struggle is very near.   Details about the referendum can be read in an article, “It’s on: Same-sex marriage supporters give it another try,” from Maine’s Sun Journal.

Lest you be inclined to think that Slavick’s worries might be isolated to his corner in Maine, allow me to relate what I learned from a California friend this past summer.  While visiting Los Angeles, I chatted with a friend involved in Catholic LGBT ministry there.  When I asked how his parish’s thriving LGBT outreach was going, he said it had closed.  Why?  Because the hierarchy’s strong rhetoric in the Proposition 8 campaign there in 2008 drove away the LGBT Catholics who had found a home in the parish.

Similarly in the heat of the New York debate about marriage equality in June, 2011, J. Peter Nixon wrote a blog post on dotCommonweal in which he counseled bishops:  “Don’t lose ugly.”

“The bottom line is that opponents of gay marriage—among whom I would include the U.S. bishops—are going to lose this fight.  They may win this year and perhaps even the next few years.  But judging from the polling data I’ve seen, their ultimate defeat is as certain as the passage of time. . . .

“There’s losing, though, and then there’s losing ugly.  The way in which the Catholic Church loses this particular campaign will have an impact on its ability to communicate the Gospel to younger Catholics, to say nothing of the broader culture.”

One of those younger Catholics, Michael O’Loughlin, a blogger for America, offered similar advice in an article on HuffingtonPost.com, “Relationships and the Church:  How to Create a Welcoming Catholicism.”  O’Loughlin offered a plan for the future that has already passed the test of time:

“What is the antidote to this institutional downward spiral, where the church is viewed not as the defender of the weak and vulnerable, but as the enforcer of an antiquated morality? The hope lies in the truth that relationships hold unparalleled power in helping individuals find self-acceptance through God’s radically unconditional love. For every rigid religious doctrinaire, there are scores of individuals, lay and ordained, and even some Catholic bishops, who strive daily to protect and care for those who hurt. Relationships have the power to transform how people relate to the church. Those who long for an inclusive and loving church, to witness prophetically with the hopes of a constructing peaceful and just world, can realize this goal through the power of their relationships. These relationships need not be filled with heroic acts. Rather, simple, kind words and gestures, especially from a friend or pastor, do much to combat the harmful words hurled from the powerful.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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