Equally Blessed to Bishops and K of C: Sever Ties With NOM

March 31, 2012

The news this week that the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) had been intentionally trying to drive a political wedge between the LGBT and African-American communities has prompted a national Catholic coalition to call on the U.S. bishops and the Knights of Columbus to sever all ties with the anti-marriage equality organization.

Equally Blessed, a coalition of four national Catholic groups that work for justice and equality for LGBT people, has launched a social media campaign to alert people of the connections between these two powerful Catholic organizations and NOM, and to petition these groups to stop their alliance with NOM, including ending all financial support.

The Equally Blessed coalition (made up of Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry) has set up a Twitter hashtag for the campaign: #CatholicNoToNOM. ReligionDispatches.org has already begun reporting on the campaign.

For more on the NOM strategies that were revealed this week, HuffingtonPost.com has an analysis of the information.  You can also read the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) original revelation of the NOM documents here.

HRC’s “NOM Exposed” website has a page devoted to “Religious Ties,” in which Catholic support features prominently:

“NOM is comparatively unguarded about its ties to the Catholic Church, acknowledging that its early funds in California came from ‘well-off Catholic individuals,’ and NOM openly aligned with the Catholic Archdiocese in Maine. The largest known donation to NOM is $1.4 million from the Catholic fraternal organization the Knights of Columbus in 2009; that comes on top of the Knights’ $500,000 donation in 2008.”

Bondings 2.0 will report more information on Equally Blessed’s campaign as it becomes available.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Videos Advance Cause of Equality at CUA and UND

March 30, 2012

Students at two of the nation’s top Catholic universities are gaining momentum in their campaigns to get their campuses’ gay-straight alliances recognized by their respective administrations.  At Catholic University of America (CUA), Washington, DC, the students of CUAllies launched an online-video and petition drive for their cause.  At the University of Notre Dame (UND), South Bend, Indiana, the 4 to 5 Movement has been amassing additional support from campus and non-campus groups for their campaign to get recognition.

The CUA video was posted at midnight this past morning on YouTube.  In the style of the famous “It Gets Better” videos, students speak about the need for and importance of a gay-straight alliance on campus. The video is part of a new campaign that CUAllies has launched to collect signatures online for a petition to have their organization recognized by the school’s administration.   All Catholics are encouraged to sign the petition, which can be found here.

You can watch the video here:

UND’s 4 to 5 Movement launched a similar video a few weeks back which has inspired various UND personnel to add their own video comments.  You can view all the videos here. The popularity of these messages have inspired the student government at Jesuit-run Loyola University of Chicago to passed the “It Needs to Get Better” Act,  in support of the UND effort. According to a recent article in The Observer, UND’s student newspaper:

“The act finds the Notre Dame administration would be ‘flouting the reigning moral culture of our day and our shared Catholic heritage’ if it were to not allow for such changes.

“Russell Gonzalez, senior senator and chair of the Constitutional Review Board at Loyola Chicago, said the group passed the act to show a school with a similar faith-based mission to Notre Dame has been able to successfully integrate a gay-straight alliance and an inclusive non-discrimination clause.

“ ‘We hope that the administration of [Notre Dame] takes notice that other Catholic universities have achieved a balance between faith and student experience such that no one needs to feel excluded,’ he said.

“A Jesuit Catholic university, Loyola Chicago has both an inclusive non-discrimination clause and an officially sanctioned LGBTQ student organization. Gonzalez said student government was inspired to pass their ‘It Needs to Get Better’ Act by Church teachings.

“ ‘[The] Church has stated very explicitly in many arenas that all instances of unjust discrimination against LGBTQ people should be removed and avoided,’ he said. ‘The exclusion from the official [Notre Dame] non-discrimination statement and from the constellation of student [organizations] is one such instance.’ ”

What makes both the CUA and UND groups so inspiring is not just that students are organizing for their rights, but that they are doing so from such a strong Catholic perspective.  These students are showing their administrations that recognition of LGBT equality and justice are in the best traditions of the Catholic faith.

Bondings 2.0 has reported on both the CUA and UND efforts previously. You can access those posts by clicking on any of these links:

CUA and UND Students Making Great Strides Toward Official Recognition

Catholic U. and Notre Dame Unite to Work for Gay-Straight Alliances

ALL ARE WELCOME: At Notre Dame, Does Buying In Equal Selling Out?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s ‘Case for Gay Acceptance in the Catholic Church’

March 29, 2012

Two plenary speakers from New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium once again made headlines in national publications, spreading their message of the Catholic call for LGBT equality to a wider and broader audience.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend speaking at New Ways Ministry's Seventh National Symposium. (Deborah Winarski Photo)

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, whose Symposium talk was a rousing inspiration at the end of the meeting, condensed her themes into an essay entitled “The Case for Gay Acceptance in the Catholic Church” for The Atlantic magazine.  After describing her experience of meeting Catholics of all stripes at the New Ways Ministry Symposium, Kennedy Townsend introduces the main point of her argument:

“New Ways Ministry has a critical mission, since changing the Church will help those who suffer from ill treatment not only here in the United States but around the world, where the Church has so much clout. The Church has millions of members in Africa and South America, where being gay or lesbian can lead to a death sentence.

“Worse, the Church’s own teaching encourages bigotry and harm. Just last year, my father’s memorial, the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, gave its human rights award to Frank Mugisha, a gay activist in Uganda whose good friend had just been brutally killed in his own home. American missionaries have encouraged the discrimination Mugisha suffers. Refuting their religious arguments is critical, and so is making a moral and religious case for gays. What we need is a transformation of hearts and minds, not merely a change of laws.

“The Catholic Church’s attitude towards homosexuality is at odds with its tradition of tolerance and understanding. The actual practice of the Church is true to this tradition. What other institution separates men and women and encourages them to live together in monasteries and convents where they can develop deep relationships with those who share their kind of love?

“The fight for the dignity of the LGBT community is a fight for the soul of today’s Church. “

Kennedy’s argument is spot on.  Catholics who support LGBT rights are doing so not in spite of being Catholic, but because of being Catholic.  They are doing so not to destroy their church, but to build it up.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (center) with New Ways Ministry's Francis DeBernardo and Sister Jeannine Gramick. (Deborah Winarski Photo)

As the daughter of the late Senator Robert Kennedy, one of America’s greatest Catholic civil rights leaders,  Kennedy Townsend knows how important the role of religion is in the struggle for the expansion of justice:

“My father grasped, as did John Kennedy and Martin Luther King, that in America the leader who wishes to enlarge freedom’s sphere must appeal to an audience’s religious beliefs as well as to their understanding of American liberty.”

A decade later, however, things had changed:

“. . . in the 1970s, feminists and gay rights activists did not adopt the same strategy and tactics. I think this happened because their movement grew out of the non-religious part of the civil rights movement. Recall that the civil rights movement was split between the followers of Reverend Martin Luther King on the one hand and Stokely Carmichael and the Black Panthers on the other. The latter group felt that religion was weak. Why turn the other cheek? Why not fight back? This secular strain also attracted many intellectuals who were, to put it bluntly, uncomfortable with religion.”

I’m glad to note here that those 1970s attitudes have been eroding in recent years. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD),  and Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) have recognized the role that religion must play in the secular and political debates about LGBT rights.   All these national organizations have developed very strong programs to amplify religious voices on LGBT issues: HRC’s program can be accessed here; The Task Force’s program can be accessed here; GLAAD’s program can be accessed here; PFLAG’s program can be accessed here.

Kennedy Townsend notes that while some progress has been made on women’s issues in the church, we still have a way to go when it comes to LGBT issues.  But she has not given up hope. Quite the contrary.  Having seen how changes occurred in other areas of church teaching, and how strongly Catholic lay people support LGBT rights, Kennedy Townsend is optimistic:

“That history can continue with its position on gays — and the laity has a critical role to play in pushing for these changes. As Cardinal John Henry Newman, the foremost 19th-century Catholic theologian asserted, bishops have at times ‘failed in their confession of the faith.’ There can be instances of  ‘misguidance, delusion, hallucination.’ He said that the body of the faithful has the ‘instinct for truth.’

“Already, I have witnessed that instinct for truth in the argument over contraception. Despite the hierarchy’s position, 98 percent of Catholic women in the United States use contraception. I believe that Human Vitae was the Holy Ghost’s way to teach us that we must use our conscience, and not lazily rely on the hierarchy when it is in error.

“At this time, when the hierarchy does not want to recognize that we are all made in the image and likeness of God, and that the one of the two most critical commandments is to love one another, it is critical to assert that God loves the LGBT community equally. Sometimes the Church moves slowly, sometimes quickly. The point is to make sure the voices of dissent are not quiet and the Holy Spirit can be heard.”

For me, the key points here are that we must use both our consciences and our voices for the Holy Spirit to be heard.  If we really believe that the Church is the entire People of God, then we need to accept confidently that, as Newman pointed out, that the Holy Spirit moves among the laity.

The second Symposium speaker in the news again was Bishop Geoffrey Robinson.  When he left the Symposium, he embarked on a U.S. speaking tour to Philadelphia, New York, New Haven and Fairfield, CT, Boston, Detroit, Chicago, Santa Clara, CA, which New Ways Ministry organized.

The National Catholic Reporter caught up with him again in Chicago, and reported on his talk there. While at the Symposium, Bishop Robinson focused on rethinking Catholic sexual ethics, in his Chicago talk he highlighted the problems in Catholic law and culture that abetted the sexual abuse crisis:

“. . . other aspects of Catholic culture Robinson said contributed to the abuse crisis are mandatory celibacy for priests, a ‘mystique’ some attach to the priests as being ‘above other human beings,’ and a ‘creeping infallibility’ of papal decrees, which is used to protect ‘all teachings … in which a significant amount of papal energy and prestige have been invested.’

“The application of the church’s teaching on infallibility is a ‘major force in preventing a pope from making admissions that there have been serious failures in the handling of abuse,’ Robinson said.

“Mentioned in particular was Pope John Paul II, who Robinson stated ‘it must be said … responded poorly’ to the sex abuse crisis.

” ‘With authority goes responsibility,’ Robinson said. ‘Pope John Paul many times claimed the authority, and he must accept the responsibility. The most basic task of a pope is surely to be the “rock” that holds the church together, and by his silence in the most serious moral crisis facing the church in our times, the pope failed in this basic task.’ “

In his Symposium talk, Bishop Robinson was clear that changes in sexual ethics need to be accompanied by changes in how the church is governed.   Bishop Robinson’s insights are a breath of fresh air in a Catholic atmosphere which has been much too stale.

For summaries and analyses of the Symposium talk, with links to articles about and the text  of his Symposium talk, check out these Bondings 2.0 posts:

March 28:NCR Editorial and Columnist Support Bishop Robinson’s Symposium Call to Re-think Sexuality

March 22: Symposium Provides “Shot in the Arm” for Participants

March 17: Bishop, Governor, and Theologian Highlight Symposium’s Second Day

Additionally, the blog QueeringTheChurch.com has a five-part analysis of Bishop Robinson’s Symposium talk:

March 20: Robinson: Hetero/Homo, Catholic Sexual Teaching Stands (Or Falls) Together

March 21: Bishop Robinson on “The Offence Against God”, “God’s Purpose”

March 22: Bishop Robinson: Catholic Assertions, Not Arguments

March 23: Bishop Robinson: Sexual Acts, or Relationships?

March 26: Bishop Robinson: The Middle Ground

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


NCR Editorial and Columnist Support Bishop Robinson’s Symposium Call to Re-think Sexuality

March 28, 2012

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson speaking at New Ways Ministry's Seventh National Symposium

New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium in Baltimore two weeks ago continues to make headlines.   The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) has editorialized in support of Bishop Geoffrey Robinson’s call to re-think the Catholic Church’s official teaching on sexuality, which he made during a talk at the Symposium.  An NCR columnist, Eugene Kennedy, the renowned psychologist and church observer, has also praised the Australian bishop’s proposal.

After summarizing Bishop Robinson’s main points (which can be read in the same newspaper’s article about the talk), the NCR editorial notes:

“Robinson is not the first to articulate the need for a responsible reexamination of sexual ethics, one that takes seriously the radical call to selfless love, but the addition of a bishop’s voice adds new dimension to the conversation. By rebuilding Christian morality in the area of sexuality in the way Robinson suggests, we will achieve a teaching that can better challenge the message about sexuality trumpeted by the dominant culture in television, music and advertising, a sexuality that idolizes self-gratification and that puts ‘me’ before ‘you.’ By placing the needs of the other first, our sexual ethic would reject sexual violence — physical and psychological, the idolatry of self-gratification, the objectification of people, and the trivializing of sex when it is separated from love.”

The NCR rightly points out that Robinson’s approach is not one of a wild-eyed radical:

“In the end, Robinson is making a profoundly traditional suggestion about sexuality, because what he proposes is rooted in genuine personal responsibility. He writes: ‘Many would object that what I have proposed would not give a clear and simple rule to people. But God never promised us that everything in the moral life would be clear and simple. Morality is not just about doing right things; it is also about struggling to know what is the right thing to do. … It is about taking a genuine personal responsibility for everything I do.’ ”

The tradition that Robinson is following is the tradition of Jesus in the Scriptures:

“Robinson’s take on sexuality — that it deserves deeper consideration than the narrow, rule-bound approach that has evolved in Christian circles — takes us to the heart of the radical approach Jesus took toward human relationships.”

NCR columnist Eugene Kennedy has also praised Bishop Robinson’s proposal.  In an essay entitled “Bishop Robinson and the redemption of eros,” Kennedy writes:

“Bishop Robinson’s purpose is, in fact, that set out by Pope John XXIII as his reason for convening Vatican II, “To make the human sojourn on earth less sad.”

“Indeed, in urging a much needed review of what and how the church teaches about human sexuality, Bishop Robinson draws on themes central to Vatican II. The first of these is found in placing the reality of the human person rather than the abstraction of natural law as the central reference point in church teachings and papal pronouncements about marriage and sexual activity.

“The second is found in the shift from an emphasis on objective acts to subjective intentions and dispositions in making judgments on the badness or goodness of how people behave. This rightfully emphasizes the impact that our actions or omissions have on other persons rather than on the ire that has idled within so many church leaders who have been so preoccupied with sin. . . .

“Robinson’s convictions on the need for a thorough examination of the church’s teaching on sexuality are significant in themselves but also because he has found a way to speak about this essential matter from within the church, even if in the mannered traditional way that dialogue moves, however slowly, toward a wider circle of prelates.”

After Bishop Robinson spoke at the Symposium, many people told me that they felt something new and remarkable had taken place. One person told me that it felt  like a new chapter had been opened in the church’s discussion on sexuality.  His talk offered not only hope, but a way forward that people felt was authentically human and authentically Catholic.

His experience as the Australian Bishops’ Conference coordinator of pastoral responses to that nation’s sexual abuse crisis transformed his thinking on how Catholicism approached sexuality and how that approach can be improved.  As was evident from the style and content of his talk, Bishop Robinson had one three things that more bishops should emulate:  he opened his ears, his mind, and his heart.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Are You Ready to Take the Next Steps?

March 27, 2012

Do you want to do something to help further LGBT equality in society and the Catholic church but are not sure what you should do or could do?  If so, then you are a candidate for New Ways Ministry’s “Next Steps” program.

“Next Steps” is a weekend program designed to help people plot out a course of practical, feasible actions to further LGBT equality and justice that they can perform in their home communities.  If you are an LGBT person, a family member, a friend, a church minister, this program can help you find out ways to make a difference.   No pre-requisite knowledge or experience is needed other than a willingness to listen, reflect, and share.  The only requirement for participating in the program is a desire to figure out what YOUR next steps may be.

New Ways Ministry will be sponsoring a “Next Steps” weekend, May 11-13, 2012.  Our hosts will be Dignity/Los Angeles, and the program will be held at the Dignity Center, 126 South Avenue 64, Los Angeles, California, 90042.  For more information on this event, click here.    The weekend will be facilitated by New Ways Ministry’s Co-Founder Sister Jeannine Gramick, and Executive Director Francis DeBernardo.

The program–a blend of presentations, small group discussions, prayer, reflection, and planning–helps a participant come up with a series of next steps that fit their gifts, abilities, limits, and home community.  No one is expected or encouraged to take any particular action.  Only you can decide what the next steps are for you.  Everyone’s next steps will be unique to them and their situations.

For example, as a result of a Next Steps weekend, a pastoral minister may feel called to start an educational program in a parish setting.  A parishioner may decide that it is time to come out to their family, friends, and faith community.  A teacher may discern ways to integrate LGBT topics into classroom discussions.  A parent may realize that it is time to seek support from other parents of LGBT people.  A social worker may feel called to start a support group for LGBT teens.   All these are different sets of next steps that past participants have developed–and all are excellent because they were appropriate for each individual person.

The weekend is divided into five parts:

  • Discerning an Individual Call to LGBT Equality
  • Listening to the Catholic Call to Work for Justice
  • Appreciating the Gifts and Struggles of LGBT People
  • Designing Your Next Steps
  • Sharing Your Next Steps with Others

“Next Steps”  participants learn from the program presenters, but they also learn from each other.  Networking with other Catholics who are interested in LGBT ministry and activities is an important benefit of participating in the weekend.  People learn from sharing each others’ ideas, struggles, and joys.  They gain support by making contact with people who share their ideals and values.

Do you want to be empowered to further the work for LGBT equality and justice?  Do you want to build a church where all are welcome and valued?  Do you want to take the next steps?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


N.H. Diocese Supports Civil Unions as a Way to Forestall Marriage Equality

March 26, 2012

The New Hampshire House last week voted down a bill (HB 437) that would have repealed the state’s marriage equality law, and you can read about the vote and the debate which preceded it in this Concord Monitor news story.

Not mentioned in the news story–and actually not mentioned in most of the coverage of this debate–is that New Hampshire’s Catholic diocese of Manchester, which opposed marriage equality, has come out in support of civil unions as a way to forestall marriage.  According to a PolicyMic.com article,

“Historically, Roman Catholic officials have opposed virtually every regulation, policy, and law proposed to protect LGBT people nationwide, including all proposals for civil unions. However, faced with the choice of either retaining New Hampshire’s full marriage law which was signed on 3 June 2009, or else repealing it and replacing it with civil unions instead, church officials decided – for the first time ever – to endorse civil unions for LGBT people.”

According to the statement on HB 437 found on the Diocese of Manchester’s website:

“The Diocese of Manchester consistently has opposed legislation that would establish civil unions. However, the proposed amendment to HB 437 falls into a category of legislation which the US Bishops have previously considered: bills in civil law which may not reflect the fullness of the Church’s teaching, but which nonetheless provide an “incremental improvement” in the current law and a “step toward full restoration of justice.” (USCCB, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, 32)”

To be clear, the Diocese does not see civil unions as an ideal to be achieved, but as a step toward making sure that full marriage rights are not granted to lesbian and gay couples.   Still, it is an interesting development that shows that the Catholic hierarchy can, if they want to, take a different position on the question of rights for lesbian and gay couple other than outright and total opposition to everything.

The Manchester Diocese’s policy’ decision comes just two weeks after the neighboring Diocese of Portland, Maine, said they would not take an active political role in that state’s upcoming referendum on marriage equality.  For links to stories on that decision, check out Bondings 2.0′s blog posts here and here and here.

Can these decisions be a sign of things to come from other bishops?  Is the hierarchy beginning to learn that opposition to marriage equality is not worth the time and investment?  Stay tuned.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Ignorance Leads to Dutch Catholic Castration Atrocity

March 25, 2012

I hate to report sickening news.  When I do, I try at least to find some important lesson in the story that I think will provide readers with possibility for making improvements in the world.

For several days I have tried to find some such possibility in the horrific story out of the Netherlands that in the 1950s, Catholic Church officials approved of the castration of 11 boys in church-run psychiatric institutions, as a method to cure homosexuality.  (According to a news report in The New York Times, there may also be some evidence that castration was used to punish youths for reporting sexual abuse by priests.)  Very little possibility for improvement exists in such a story.

If these revelations were not sickening enough, it was also reported that the commission that the Catholic church established to investigate sexual abuse by priests was told of these incidents, but decided not to include any reference to them in its 1,100 page report last year.

The lastest development, reported in an online story by U.S. Catholic is that church officials have condemned these acts and promised to cooperate in an investigation:

“The Dutch church has pledged to fully cooperate with investigations into reported claims that Catholic institutions castrated boys and young men in their care to rid them of homosexuality.

“Bert Elbertse, spokesman for the Dutch Catholic bishops’ conference, said the bishops found the reports ‘shocking and appalling’ and that they ‘condemn and regret such practices in the strongest possible terms.’

A further comment by Elbertse reveals how truly low the reputation of Catholic officials has sunk:

“Our church has been badly damaged by accusations of sexual abuse. The fact that people were unsurprised by these latest claims suggests our image couldn’t get any worse.”

Elbertse also tried to explain the castration decisions by saying

“Although the initial public reactions to this newspaper report were very negative, many people are now asking whether the use of castration had more to do with health care at the time than with the church.”

Such an explanation rings terribly hollow, especially in view of a further explanation offered by the Dutch Catholic weekly Katholiek Nieuwsblad.   According to the U.S. Catholic story, this Dutch Catholic newspaper

“. . . said records suggested about 400 men were castrated in the Netherlands between 1938 and 1968. The newspaper said castration and electric shock treatment also were used ‘not uncommonly’ on gay men at state-owned institutions in Britain and Scandinavia.

“There was no specific link with Catholicism. Indeed, Catholics and Protestants were against the use of castration as a blow to the integrity of the body.”

One has to wonder how seriously Catholic officials thought of the integrity of the bodies of young men suspected of homosexuality if these same leaders allowed the youths  to be castrated.

If there is any lesson to be learned from this story, I think it is that ignorance about homosexuality naturally leads to atrocity.  While church officials participating in investigations of these incidents is helpful, a better and more effective step would be for them to educate themselves about  scientific knowledge about the realities of sexual orientation.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Lessons Learned from Cancelling “The Laramie Project” at a Catholic High School

March 24, 2012

One has to wonder what kind of lessons are taught to students when parents’ complaints to New Jersey Catholic high school administrators caused the cancelling of a production of The Laramie Project, a play about the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a young Wyoming gay man.

According to a news story in The Trenton Times, the decision to cancel the show, originally scheduled for Notre Dame high school in Lawrence, N.J.,

“has proved to be just as controversial as the play’s edgy and dramatic portrayal of a Wyoming town gripped in the aftermath of a hate crime.

“On one side, school administrators say parents worried that the choice for the play was inappropriate for high schoolers, too loaded in its tale of the murder of a young gay man beaten and left tied to a fence to die.

“But cast members and students at the Catholic high school said they’ve been unfairly robbed of their ability to put on a thought-provoking and powerful play, one whose message of tolerance resonates powerfully in the wake of the Tyler Clementi cyberbullying verdict and other anti-harassment efforts.

“ ‘I wanted to do a show that had meaning and purpose to it and when I found out we were doing “The Laramie Project” I got really excited because this show teaches the values I’ve been taught my last 12 years of Catholic education,’ cast member and Notre Dame senior Tessa Holtenrichs said. ‘When I was told we couldn’t do it, I felt like it was really hypocritical.’ ”

Clearly, the overwhelming lessons of the school’s action are going to be that censorship is appropriate, that homosexuality is a forbidden topic, and that concerns about sexual activity are much more important that lessons about respect and tolerance.

What makes this decision even more difficult to understand is that that school administrators had previously deliberated over whether or not to stage the play, and had made a conscious decision that it would be beneficial to do so:

“School president Barry Breen and principal Mary Ivins said in a statement the choice for the spring play was originally seen as a ‘powerful and appropriate vehicle’ to address issues of respect and tolerance. But as calls questioning the play’s content rolled in, officials worried that the controversy would become distracting, and the decision was made Tuesday to cancel the show.

“ ‘The expression of these concerns opened our eyes to the realization that different eyes will see radically different messages than the ones we intended,’ they said.

“ ‘This has led the administration to conclude that we might inadvertently be placing our school at the center of an undesired and potentially damaging controversy by moving forward with the production.’ ”

The administration’s rationale teaches the wrong lesson that public pressure, not a principled decision, should be guide one’s thought.

Not all parents were against the staging of the play.  At least one thought the play–and its ensuing controversy–had the potential for an important lesson:

“ ‘I think the people had the assumption that the play was going to do something it never would have done, to encourage students to become homosexuals instead of not killing homosexuals,’ Diane Steinberg, a parent of a Notre Dame student and an alum, said during an interview.

“She said the school missed the chance to turn any controversy into a teachable moment.”

As one student’s comments illustrate, preparing for the play was already producing beneficial lessons for students:

“ ‘My director, Ms. (Diane) Wargo, said something pretty powerful,’  [Tessa] Holtenrichs said. ‘She said Jesus didn’t die on the cross for us to have so many rules about who to love and how to love. I thought that was great.’ ”

What is even more surprising is that many Catholic high schools and colleges stage this play regularly.  In 2010, Xavier High School in Manhattan, produced this play for the second time in less than ten years, and withstood pressure to cancel it.  According to a New York Times article:

“Not only did Xavier’s president and headmaster approve the plan for ‘Laramie,’ they informed Mr. Ostrow [the drama teacher]  that he was not exactly breaking new ground. Xavier had performed ‘Laramie’ in the 2002-3 school year, standing by the production even amid some eye-rolling and grumbling among faculty members and parents and a smattering of picketing from fundamentalist Christians. “

What lessons did staging this production at Xavier teach students?  According to school administrators quoted in theNew York Times:

“ ;I’m thrilled we did it,; Jack Raslowsky, Xavier’s president, said in an interview this week. ‘It’s one of those plays that has the potential to be a springboard to discussion. If you do “The Mousetrap” or “Brigadoon,” you’re not going to be discussing issues of good and evil.’

“Such a discussion, said Mr. Raslowsky and Michael LiVigni, the headmaster, fits firmly in the Catholic theological tradition, with its emphases on social justice and human dignity.

“ ‘When I saw the play,’ Mr. LiVigni said, ‘what struck me most was the scene of Matthew’s funeral when you have picketers with the sign “God Hates You.” But why would God hate what he created? That’s what I want our boys to understand.’ ”

Now, that’s a lesson worth teaching and learning.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


In Italy, A Singer’s Funeral Revives Debate About “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Culture

March 23, 2012

On several trips to Italy over the past two decades, New Ways Ministry has met with several gay rights organizations, both Catholic and secular, learning about their struggles and successes.  One message that many of the leaders of these groups repeated is that a big part of the problem in motivating an Italian gay rights movement is that a cultural “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in place.   Modern Italy never had any anti-sodomy laws on the books, so there has been no strong political rallying point.  The strong family culture that exists in Italy means that few are excluded or ostracized from their families because of sexual orientation.  Instead, Italian lesbian and gay people face a perhaps even more insidious problem: silence, augmented by partial-acceptance.

Lucio Dalla

This phenomenon was highlighted recently at the funeral Mass of a popular Italian singer/songwriter who was very private about being gay, Lucio Dalla.  Dalla’s life-partner, Marco Alemanno, gave the eulogy at the service in the Basilica of San Petronio, Bologna.  According to an article in  The Irish Times, the funeral has revived a debate in Italy about the Catholic church’s approach to homosexuality:

“Total hypocrisy, screamed commentators who suggested the semi-state basilica funeral and the lover’s oration had been tolerated not only because Dalla was a practising Catholic but because he was famous, successful and private about his sexual orientation.

“ ‘Lucio Dalla’s funeral represents a very clear example of what it means to be gay in Italy today. You go to church, they grant you a funeral and they bury you according to the Catholic rite, just as long as you don’t say you are gay,’ said television presenter Lucia Annunziata. . . .

Italian writer Michele Serra took a more optimistic view, stating:

“ “We would like to think that Marco’s brief oration for Lucio has established a precedent. For those homosexuals who are not Catholic, church teaching on the subject does not matter a damn, they could not care less. But for Catholic homosexuals, it is a huge problem. And it is to them that the thoughts of all decent-minded people turn, when we see Marco Alemanno praying for his ‘man’ beside the basilica altar. ‘ ”

Does this example illustrate that money, fame, and power often trump even something as supposedly intransigent as church teaching on homosexuality?  Perhaps.  Does it show that pastoral leaders, at least in this case, were sensitive to the particular situations of this funeral? Perhaps.  Does it offer promise that there might be some “bending of rules” in the future on homosexuality?  Perhaps.

The many “perhaps” answers to these questions are not because I don’t want to take a strong stand on this issue, but because there are so many gaps of information in this case.  One thing that is certain and where a strong stand can be taken is that these gaps exist because of silence on the issue of homosexuality.  Silence can be more damaging than hypocrisy.

The Irish Times article ends on an optimistic note from Italian journalist Marco Politi, who suggests that this incident may lead the way for greater political change in Italy:

“ ‘Now is not the moment to waste time discussing the hypocrisy of the institutional church or why Italians tend to handle their private affairs without any form of ‘outing’. The question is another. If even the church hierarchy now finds it impossible to publicly condemn the gay life, it is hard to understand why the Italian state still has not passed legislation allowing two homosexual partners to publicly testify to their life union.’ ”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Symposium Provides “Shot in the Arm” for Participants

March 22, 2012

Our final story about New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium includes a connection to Chuck Colbert’s Windy City Times article entitled “Catholic conference confronts marriage.”

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson at the Symposium. (Jim Brigl Photo)

This article contains a precise summary of Bishop Robinson’s talk in which he called on the Catholic church to rethink its teaching on sexuality:

” ‘If [ church ] teaching on homosexual acts is ever going to change, the basic teaching governing all sexual acts must change,’ retired Auxiliary Bishop Geoffrey Robinson told the gathering of nearly 400 Catholics at the Seventh National Symposium on Catholicism and Homosexuality.

” ‘For centuries the church has taught that every sexual sin is mortal sin,’ said Robinson, an auxiliary bishop of Sydney, Australia.

” ‘The teaching may not be proclaimed as loudly as today as much as before, but it was proclaimed by many popes, it has never been retracted, and it has affected countless people,’ Robinson said.

” ‘There is a serious need for a change in the church’s teaching on heterosexual acts,’ he said, adding,  ‘If and when this change occurs, it will inevitable have its effect on teaching on homosexual acts.’

” ‘The teaching fostered a belief in an incredibly angry God,’ explained Robinson, ‘for this God would condemn a person to eternity in hell for a single unrepentant moment of deliberate pleasure arising from sexual desire. I simply do not believe in such a God. Indeed, I positively reject such a God.’

Robinson is the author of the 2007 book, Confronting Power in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus, which addressed the clerical sex-abuse crisis and was controversial among his fellow bishops in Australia who faulted him for a 2008 lecture tour in the United States to speak about the issues his book addressed.

Karen Allen and Mary Jo Hoag singing at the Symposium. (Deborah Winarski Photo)

Colbert’s report also contains the perspective of  “Chicagoans Karen Allen and her partner, Mary Jo Hoag, attended the gathering, this their second one.

” ‘What brings me here is the chance to be rooted in my faith and with the people of God and to be sent forth to create loving communities,’ said Allen, who leads a gay and lesbian family-and-friends ministry at St. Nicholas parish in Evanston.

“Allen said the parish group grew out the idea she and others got 10 years ago at the Louisville, Ky., New Ways symposium.

“In proposing the idea, she explained, ‘We were welcomed to do so by our pastor at the time, who said, “Where have you been?’ ‘

“The ministry is about education and prayer and not so much advocacy, Allen said, but ‘more about how can we as gay and lesbian Catholics live fully integrated, authentic lives in our tradition.’

” ‘Many have walked away [ from the church ] but returned in mid-life,’ she explained, while readily acknowledging, ‘struggling mightily’ with ‘clericalism and the hierarchy.’ “

” ‘The church is our church,’ said Hoag, explaining why she stays. ‘Many of us are cradle Catholics who grew up with the rituals, sacraments, and the teachings and feel comfortable. We are gifts to the church and shouldn’t go away, as we provide those gifts of love and understanding and outreach.’

“New Ways Ministry, Allen added, provides us ‘a shot in the arm’ to keep up our work in ministry.

The National Catholic Reporter posted a second article on the  Symposium, this one focusing on Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s remarks there.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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