Symposium Coverage Continues with Discussions on Marriage Equality and Sexual Fidelity

March 21, 2012

Seventh National Symposium coverage continues today with a pair of articles from Chuck Colbert, veteran reporter of the Catholic LGBT scene.   His main article in the Rainbow Times entitled “Catholics gather in support of LGBT equality in church and society” features two of the Symposium’s plenary speakers: Maryland Governor Martin O’ Malley and theologian Patricia Beattie Jung.

Governor O'Malley addressing the Symposium

Two weeks before the Symposium began, O’Malley signed marriage equality into law, making Maryland the eighth state (plus the District of Columbia) to legalize unions for lesbian and gay couples.

Introducing the governor, New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick thanked him for

“. . .his service to God’s people who are lesbian or gay, by his signing the marriage equality bill in Maryland. . . . I am proud of him because he is a Catholic. I am proud that the people of Maryland, and this nation, know that a Catholic practices his faith by serving the people, just as Jesus did, even when it may be unpopular or when it may engender criticism from the religious establishment. I am proud that our Governor is giving a lot to the Church through the service of God’s people.”

Colbert’s article quotes from O’Malley’s speech:

“ ‘I am not here as a Catholic, I’m here as the governor of all Maryland,’ he said.

“ ‘At the end of the day, all of us want the same thing for our kids — we want our children to grow up in caring, committed, and loving homes, protected equally under the law,’ said O’Malley, adding, success in the state legislature rested on a ‘belief in the dignity of every individual.’

“O’Malley has framed marriage equality as a balancing of protections for religious liberties and provisions for equal rights.”

Patricia Beattie Jung addressing the Symposium (Jim Brigl Photo)

Patricia Beattie Jung made a case not only for extending civil marriage to same-sex couples but also to promote the idea that sexual fidelity is an essential part of all marriages, heterosexual and homosexual:

“ ‘Sexuality is ambiguous,’ she said. ‘It can be dangerous and a grace. So we channel it in marriage. Monogamy entails promises to be steadfast and sexually exclusive.’

“ ‘I’m pretty conservative,’ explained Beattie Jung, who said her main reason for promoting sexual fidelity is its service to ‘love’ and to ‘life.’

“ ‘Great sex is wholehearted,’ she said.  ‘This is what makes it graceful and us vulnerable and vicious. These promises give us the time and focus to learn how to love.’

“ ‘Can fidelity serve same-sex lovers the same way?’ asked Beattie Jung. ‘Yes!’ ”

Jung’s talk generated a substantial discussion about sexual fidelity both during the question-and-answer period, as well as throughout the Symposium.  Colbert’s article highlights some of this discussion.

Barbara Johnson with New Ways Ministry's Sister Jeannine Gramick (Mark Clark Photo)

In another Rainbow Times article entitled “Lesbian denied communion addresses Catholic symposium,” Colbert features the Symposium appearance of Barbara Johnson.  He notes that while Ms. Johnson spoke,

“. . . any number of symposium attendees fought back tears.”

You can read excerpts from Ms. Johnson’s talk by reviewing yesterday’s Bondings 2.0 blog post.

Symposium coverage should conclude here tomorrow.  For previous posts on the Symposium, check out:

“From Water to Wine: Lesbian/Gay Catholics and Relationships” Starts Today!

Bishop, Governor, and Theologian Highlight Symposium’s Second Day

Barbara Johnson’s Symposium Appearance is Highlight of the Closing Day

Barbara Johnson:  “All That Matters Is Love”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry




Barbara Johnson: “All That Matters Is Love”

March 20, 2012

“What matters…and all that matters…is love.”

Barbara Johnson arrives to the Symposium with Francis DeBernardo (All photos by Deborah Winarski)

Those words were spoken by Barbara Johnson, the Catholic lesbian woman who had been denied communion at her mother’s funeral, when she appeared  at New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium on St. Patrick’s Day last week. For many participants, Ms. Johnson’s visit was the highlight of the three-day event.

New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo introduced Ms. Johnson, pointing out how though she had been the victim of this liturgical abuse, she, because of her courage, strength, and faith, was also the main healer of many who experienced her pain vicariously.

Barbara and Ruth

After a brief talk to the assembled Symposium participants, Barbara was joined on the stage by her partner, Ruth, DeBernardo presented them with flowers and then led the Symposium participants in a blessing of the couple and of their family.

Excerpts from Barbara Johnson’s talks follow:

“The past several weeks have been extraordinary for me. One day my mother was fine and we were meeting to see the progress on the new house my partner and I are building, and the next day she was in ICU on a respirator after suffering full cardiac arrest.

“After weeks of slow improvement, my partner and I shared a beautiful evening with her and the next day…she lay dying in another ICU bed.

“It’s been difficult to wrap my mind around just these events. But then… No, I don’t want to tell you the story of the woman who was denied communion at her mother’s funeral. As my mom would say, “For heaven’s sake,” you’ve heard or read it enough!

“What I want to share with you today is the story of a daughter, a lesbian daughter, who felt her mother’s love and acceptance deeply.

“I remember when I first came out and my mom was not happy. Each year at the gay pride parade I would stand and applaud those PFLAG moms and dads for their courage and their compassion. And I would pray that one day my mom and dad would walk beside me in that contingent.

“As I got older, I stopped needing parades. And what I got was even better. I got a life where my mother and father adored my life partner. I got a life where my parents walked me down the aisle at our (not so legal) wedding. I got a life where, on our last happy time together, I thanked my mom for accepting and embracing me and for loving my partner so much…and her response was to pat Ruth on the leg as she looked her in the eye with the most beautiful smile and said, ‘I wouldn’t have it any other way…right?’ ”

Ruth, Barbara, and Francis during the communal blessing.

“It is my mother’s love, compassion, and willingness to stand up for what is right that you see standing before you today.

“You see Midge and Dick Johnson’s youngest daughter who is deeply heartbroken that her parents are no longer on this earth with her and her family.

“You see this daughter who wound up in a whirlwind of media spectacle. You see this daughter who was placed in a state of grace by none other than her beloved mother. For there is no more amazing state of grace than the one I was honored to receive as my mother allowed me to witness her passing from this life and into the dancing arms of my dad.

“Some people have said, ‘How have you done this? How have you maintained your grace and composure during all this?’

“On one level, once you’ve been present at your mother’s dying, nothing else seems to really matter.

“But on the deeper level, I was witness to one of the holiest moments in life. I was present as my mother gently left her body to become spirit. I was given a spiritual gift that night. And I was transformed by the peace I felt in her peace. There is no more fear for me. There is only transformation.

“I admit that my initial response to the ‘events’ was to say that I would never return to the Church. And that’s where each of you, and so many more Catholics and people of many faiths come in.

Cathy Burke, Dwayne Fernandes, and Cynthia Nordone participate in the blessing of Barbara and Ruth.

“I received such an amazing outpouring from so many people of so many faiths, that I couldn’t help but see the error in those thoughts. I couldn’t help but see the love all around me.

“What matters…and all that matters…is love. The love that you, and so many others have shown me during my darkest hours, has been uplifting and healing. . . .

“My mother loved the Catholic Church. I would ask that each of us dedicate some piece of our future work to her and her love of what is good and holy in the Catholic faith and all faiths. She was a mighty, mighty woman. She was a hard worker, she loved a good party, and she loved her family. . . .

“I join you in celebration of St Patrick and offer you my thanks and deep gratitude for being part of my family of the faithful.”

–Francis DeBernardo,  New Ways Ministry

Sacramento Diocese Decision to Withdraw Shelter Funds Begs the Question: Whose Money Is It, Anyway?

March 19, 2012

A little over a week ago, the Catholic diocese of Sacramento withdrew their funding of  Francis House, a very effective social service agency which serves homeless people in that city.  The reason for this decision is that the center’s new director, Rev. Faith Whitmore, a United Methodist minister, has publicly supported abortion rights and marriage equality.

The Sacrmento Bee, which first reported this story notes Rev. Whitmore’s response:

” ‘I have never represented any of those positions on behalf of Francis House. . . .I was speaking as an individual. So for me, this came out of the blue.’ “

The same news story carries the comments of the diocese:

“Diocesan spokesman Kevin Eckery said the decision to drop Francis House as a beneficiary of the pastoral center’s annual fundraising appeal stemmed in part from public confusion about the agency’s affiliation with the church. Although Francis House was born at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic parish in Sacramento, it has long been nondenominational and no longer is part of the church.

“However, ‘a lot of people still think Francis House is a Catholic charity,’ he said, and some are concerned that Whitmore’s views are a reflection of those of the church. . . .

” ‘Francis House is a great charity, and we respect the fact that the director’s views are different from the diocese’s. But money collected during the annual appeal is very much Catholic parishioner money,’ said Eckery.”

Acknowledging that the money belongs to parishioners is noteworthy, however, it should also mean that diocese should have inquired of the parishioners if they wanted to fund Francis House.

The reason that they didn’t do so may be because the diocese doesn’t actually believe this to be true.  Later in the article, the same diocesan spokesperson is quoted as saying:

” ‘It’s the diocese money, and they get to decide how to spend it,’  he said.”

So, whose money is it anyway?

An interesting comment in this article highlights the corner that diocesan officials are painting themselves into:

” ‘Clearly the bishops have been very vocal on their views about some of these issues,’ said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a Catholic priest and senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University.

” ‘But if the bishops are going to defund every organization headed by someone who disagrees with their views on gay marriage, birth control and abortion, they are going to find very few agencies to fund.’ “

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Barbara Johnson’s Symposium Appearance Is Highlight of the Closing Day

March 18, 2012

New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium, From Water to Wine:  Lesbian/Gay Catholics and Relationships, ended on St. Patrick’s Day, with plenary talks by Luke Timothy Johnson and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who each received richly-deserved standing ovations from the assembled participants.

The largest ovation, however, was reserved for the appearance of Barbara Johnson, the Catholic lesbian woman who had recently been denied communion at her mother’s funeral.

Ms. Johnson thanked the participants for the outpouring of support that she received from them and from Catholics all over the country.
She told how throughout the ordeal she felt the love of her mother leading and guiding her.  She told how faith in knowing of God’s love for her and her family kept her strong when the going got rough in recent weeks–including times when she received hate-filled and threatening messages from detractors who were purportedly “defending” the church. Bondings 2.0will provide excerpts from the text of her talk and photos of the event when they become available to us.

After her remarks, Ms. Johnson was joined on the Symposium stage by her partner, and both received a blessing from the assembled participants.  The text of the blessing follows:

“For you, Barbara, your partner, and your family, we, the People of God, the Church, raise our hands in blessing.

“We believe our Life-Giver and Love-Maker God is present; may every breath we take, flow into our world full of peace, hope, compassion and courage. Amen.

“We believe that Jesus’ love can heal all our hearts and all our losses. May we be open to the gifts of new life that the Resurrected Christ wants to share with us.  Amen.

“We believe all are welcomed and invited in this space and around this table of sharing; may we all become the Church inclusive, where the outcast and the stranger bear the image of God’s face. Amen.

“Go now, in the name of Jesus, Our Christ, who said ‘follow me’ without saying where he was going, just promising transformation and relationship with the Triune God along the way. Amen.

The Washington Post today carries a front-page story, “Denying Communion: A priest and a lesbian set off a Catholic culture clash.”  The article focuses more on Fr. Guarnizo, the priest who denied Ms. Johnson communion, than it does on Ms. Johnson herself.  Most interesting is a quote from Fr. Thomas Reese, SJ, a scholar at the Woodstock Theological Center of Georgetown University:

“If I was Cardinal [Donald W.] Wuerl, I’d buy him a one-way ticket to Moscow. . . .These days, arch-conservative priests feel much more comfortable attacking their bishops than do liberals because they feel they’ll get support from conservative Catholic blogs and maybe some in the Vatican.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Bishop, Governor, and Theologian Highlight Symposium’s Second Day

March 17, 2012

On the second day of  New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium, From Water to Wine: Lesbian/Gay Catholics and Relationships, in Baltimore, Maryland, Bishop Geoffrey Robinson of Australia summoned the Catholic Church to rethink its teaching on sexuality, for heterosexuals and lesbian/gay people.  (The full text of his talk can be found on his website.)

The National Catholic Reporter news account of the bishop’s talk cites his call for

” ‘a new study of everything to do with sexuality’ — a kind of study that he predicted ‘would have a profound influence on church teaching concerning all sexual relationships, both heterosexual and homosexual.’

” ‘If [church] teaching on homosexual acts is ever to change, the basic teaching governing all sexual acts must change,’ he said. . . .”

” ‘If the starting point [as in current church teaching] is that every single sexual act must be both unitive and procreative, there is no possibility of approval of homosexual acts,’ Robinson said.

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson

“He proceeded, however, to question that natural law argument, especially as laid out by recent popes, and to suggest that a more nuanced reading of divine commandments in scripture and of Jesus’ teaching would lead to a different set of moral norms — starting with a change in church teaching that every sexual act or thought that falls outside a loving conjugal act open to procreation is a mortal sin because it is a direct offense against God himself in his divine plan for human sexuality.

” ‘For centuries the church has taught that every sexual sin is a mortal sin. The teaching may not be  proclaimed as loudly 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.

” ‘The teaching fostered a belief in an incredibly angry God,’ he added, ‘for this God would condemn a person to an eternity in hell for a single unrepented 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’s talk was the last of three highlights of the day.  The first was a talk by Professor Patricia Beattie Jung of St. Paul School of  Theology, Kansas City, Missouri, who highlighted the social and individual benefits of sexual fidelity and marriage for both heterosexual and lesbian/gay couples. (More on her wonderful talk in a separate posting.)

Governor Martin O'Malley

The other highlight was a luncheon visit and talk by Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, a Catholic who recently signed marriage equality into law in his state.

A  WYPR-FM interview with New Ways Ministry Executive Director Francis DeBernardo about the governor’s appearance at the Symposium is available on the web page for the Midday with Dan Rodricks show.  Look under the section for Friday, March 16th.

The Washington Post carried an Associated Press story about his talk which began:

“Maryland’s same-sex marriage debate may end up being decided in the voting booth, but Gov. Martin O’Malley told a conference on Catholicism and homosexuality Friday that he believes voters will come down on the side of human dignity.”

The article goes on to cite selections from  the governor’s talk:

“ ‘I’m not here as a Catholic, I’m here as the governor for all of Maryland,’ O’Malley said. ‘Each one of us in the public arena brings with us our own perspectives, our own traditions, our own faith traditions, our own ethnic backgrounds. What we hope and what we should expect of all our leaders is when they look at the Constitution is to protect rights equally among all people.’

“O’Malley said after his address to the group that it was important for him to articulate what was accomplished with the same-sex marriage legislation, which he framed as a debate on how to protect religious freedoms and equal rights, and said he’ll be taking that message to people of many different faiths.

“ ‘The conversation in the General Assembly is concluded, but the conversations at workplaces and dinner tables and kitchen tables will just be starting. I have a lot of faith in people in our state. I do believe with full consideration people will come to the conclusion that as we have in the past we can protect rights more fully and equally while also protecting religious liberty,’ he said.”

The Edge newspaper’s article noted that O’Malley thanked New Ways Ministry for supporting  the state’s marriage equality law:

“O’Malley, who is Catholic, received standing ovations as he entered the hotel ballroom and took the stage to deliver his speech. He specifically thanked New Ways Ministry for their support of the marriage equality bill.

” ‘Thank you especially for your voice in the debate that we just concluded in the General Assembly of Maryland on the issue of how we will protect freedom of religions and rights equally,’ said O’Malley. . . .

“Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, welcomed the governor’s remarks.

” ‘As Catholics, we are proud of Gov. O’Malley’s ardent support of marriage equality,’ he said. ‘His support is in the best tradition of Catholicism’s legacy of social justice for all.’  “

Photos of the Governor’s visit and talk to the Symposium will be posted when they become available from his press office.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Priest’s Defense of His Communion Denial is Contradicted by Statements from Lesbian Woman and Her Brother

March 16, 2012

Rev. Marcel Guranizo, the priest who denied communion to a lesbian woman, Barbara Johnson, at her mother’s funeral has issued a statement defending his decision.  In separate statements responding to Rev. Guarnizo, Barbara Johnson and Larry Johnson, her brother, refute a number of Guarnizo’s facts.

The Washington Post carries a news story about Guarntizo’s first public statement, which comes less than a week after he was removed from ministry by the Archdiocese of Washington.  You can read excerpts from his statement in this report.

The texts of the statements by Larry Johnson and Barbara Johnson follow:

Larry Johnson

Arrogant, Repugnant, Deceitful – Just a few of the adjectives that describe the written statement of Father Marcel Guarnizo. I am the oldest son of Loetta Johnson and the brother of Barbara Johnson. Barbara has been characterized, among other things, as a social activist. I am decidedly not. My goal is simply to ensure that the truth be told.

My family had finally hoped some sense of peace regarding my mother’s funeral had been achieved and we could finally grieve her loss. But the reprehensible Fr. Guarnizo has reinforced and confirmed how egregious his conduct was and how repugnant a person he is.

His “first time” public statement had clearly been disseminated by him from the beginning of the public dialogue; one need only read reported witness accounts that were posted on the internet that from the outset contained his fabrications.

And what of this “public statement.” My sister introduced her partner as her “lover.” An outrageous lie. Fr. Guarnizo did not “walk out” of my mother’s funeral, he just “quietly slipped for some minutes into the sacristy” (coincidentally when my sister’s eulogy began). He communicated to “our funeral director” that he was “incapacitated;” there was nothing “our” about this person, he was simply the representative of the funeral home that my family engaged to oversee my mother’s burial. And Fr. Guarnizo’s incapacity – another coincidence?

This is not a he said, she said. I personally witnessed these events. And anyone seeking to objectively evaluate this matter should consider one irrefutable fact. The only two people who have any first-hand knowledge of these events, exclusive of Fr. Guarnizo and my family, are the same two people that even Father Guarnizo has acknowledged are the source of the “intimidation” assertions about his conduct. Still another coincidence?

And finally, consider what Fr. Guarnizo has said about Bishop Knestout. The statement of Bishop Knestout that was read at St. John Neumann’s was itself a lie according to Fr. Guarnizo. There are no bounds to this man’s arrogance and deceit.

So Fr. Guarnizo has been busily collecting testimonies and affidavits (and intimidating?) rather than seeing to his ministry while at the same time refusing to speak in any public forum. And as to Fr. Guarnizo’s statement that contains “a warning to the Church” that these circumstances “can and will be repeated multiple times over,” I can only say the real warning is that which attaches to the conduct of someone like this priest who acts in such an un-Christian manner and then attempts to bully others into participating in his cover-up. I am truly grateful that this diocese (even though “Cardinal Wuehrl is not [his] bishop”) has seen him for who he really is.

Fr. Guarnizo has offered to discuss this publicly with any of the persons involved. Said most simply, where and when do you want to do this?

Barbara Johnson

I am once again deeply saddened by the actions of Father Marcel Guarnizo. At a time when my family should have been allowed to begin our mourning in peace, he has chosen instead to politicize my mother’s death once again.

I stand by every word I have spoken in the press, and in private, regarding the events of February 25th 2012.

When my 9 year old great-nephew who recently received his First Communion, and was present at my mother’s funeral, heard Father Guarnizo’s statement, he asked his mother, “Mommy, why is the priest lying?” His mother responded, “You know how sometimes when you get in trouble you tell a lie to try to get out of it?” He understood and then he asked, “Can we complain to the government?”

Since the government in this case is the Archdiocese, we have indeed brought our case to “the government.” And as we all know, this body has acted appropriately.

Please, Father Guarnizo, let my mother rest in peace, and let my family move past the traumas you have already visited upon us.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

“From Water to Wine: Lesbian/Gay Catholics and Relationships” Starts Today!

March 15, 2012

It’s here!  After months and months of planning, today is the day that New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium begins!  Entitled From Water to Wine:  Lesbian/Gay Catholics and Relationships, the three-day meeting will be held at the Renaissance Harborplace Hotel, 202 East Pratt Street,Baltimore, Maryland. Over 350 Catholic leaders from across the country will gather to discuss the state of LGBT issues in the church and society.

You’ll be able to follow the Symposium on Twitter by checking out its hashtag: #NWM12.

The Baltimore Sun carries a  news report today announcing the Symposium, citing the need for discussion on LGBT issues in the Catholic church:

” ‘Across the country, Catholics are facing the issues of marriage equality, bullying, whether or not lesbian and gay people can work in church institutions,’ Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, said Wednesday. ‘All of these items need further discussion in the church, and people are eager to discuss them. . . .’

“DeBernardo says support among churchgoing Catholics for lesbian and gay church members is growing. He predicts that the issue will go the way of artificial birth control, which is prohibited by the church but practiced widely by Catholics.

” ‘The Catholic people are supporting lesbian and gay issues not in spite of their faith but because of their faith,’ he said. ‘Catholic laypeople see this is an issue of human dignity, of justice, of equality.’

” ‘The statistics keep showing that the next generation is far more supportive than previous generations. I think that the bishops have to start realizing that these are not dissenters of the Catholic faith. These are solid Catholic people’ “

The meeting’s timely theme of “relationships” will be examined from a variety of different perspectives from national and international Catholic speakers and thinkers:

1)      Bishop Geoffrey Robinson of Australia, author, Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church

2)      Patricia Beattie Jung, Professor of Christian Ethics, St. Paul School of Theology, author,Catholic Sexual Ethics in the 21st Century;

3)      Luke Timothy Johnson, Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins, Emory University, author, The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation;

4)      Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland, author of Failing America’s Faithful: How Today’s Churches Are Mixing God with Politics and Losing Their Way;

5)      Richard Rodriguez, a gay author, whose book Days of Obligation: An Argument With My Mexican Father was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

Additionally, eight workshops facilitated by national leaders on Catholic LGBT issues will focus on: youth and young adults; African-American issues; Latino/a issues, marriage, transgender issues; gay priests; lesbian nuns; and coalition-building.

Maryland’s Governor Martin O’Malley, a Catholic, who recently signed a law establishing marriage equality in Maryland, will address the gathering at a luncheon on Friday, March 16th. 

“As Catholics, we are proud of Governor O’Malley’s ardent support of marriage equality,” said DeBernardo in a press statement. “His support is in the best tradition of Catholicism’s legacy of social justice for all. We are happy to have this opportunity to thank him for his work and to show how faithful Catholics support full equality for LGBT people.”

Barbara Johnson, the Catholic lesbian woman who made national news recently when she was denied communion at her mother’s funeral Mass will also be addressing the Symposium, to offer thanks for the outpouring of support she has received from Catholics around the country.

“We are honored Ms. Johnson will be present at our meeting,”DeBernardo added. “Her presence will help heal the pain that so many Catholics have felt because of the disgraceful way she was treated.”  Ms. Johnson will speak during the morning on Saturday, March 17th.

Bondings 2.0 will try to provide Symposium updates over the next few days.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Faith Lessons Learned from Grace-Filled People Who’ve Suffered the Worst

March 14, 2012

I’m always inspired when people in the worst situations can not only survive the emotional trauma, but do so with grace and optimism.

In two recent stories where an ugly side of Catholic practice has harmed people–in one case, a gay couple, and in the other, a lesbian woman–both have become profound examples of this grace and optimism. In the first case, a gay man in Missouri was fired from two church music jobs (one at a school, and one at a parish) when it became known that he planned to marry his long-term partner in New York. In the other case, a lesbian woman in Maryland was denied communion at her mother’s funeral Mass. I blogged about both of these experiences in a post entitled “Is It Possible to Find Hope in This Week’s Painful News?”

This past week, there have been updates on both of these cases and they tell the stories of how these people’s grace and optimism have persevered over the ugliness that was used against them.

The update for the Missouri case came in the form of a blog post on The New York Times website, appropriately titled “When Love Conquers All, Even the Loss of Two Jobs.”  The post recounts the marriage ceremony weekend in New York that Al Fischer, the fired musician, and his now-husband, Charlie Robin, enjoyed recently. The description highlights the painful drama behind the simple exchange of vows:

“For the couple, the small ceremony, a commonplace occurrence in New York since the state legalized same-sex marriage last year, has uprooted their lives, and created a firestorm of controversy in which church doctrine, employment, love, law and the passions of school parents have all come into heated conflict.”

Yet, the story goes on to point out that both men remain committed to their Catholicism:

“Both men say they remain committed to the Catholic Church, though they plan to look for a new church to attend. ‘I’ve been Catholic all my life,’ Mr. Robin said. ‘It’s the way I know how to worship.’ ”

“Mr. Fischer said that even with his firings, he received nothing but support from the pews. Even of the people who fired him, he said: ‘These are good people in a tough situation, having to toe a particular line.’ ”

And Mr. Fischer has already

“. . .accepted a job offer from a secular private school for next fall and has received ‘solid offers’ of church work, he said, declining to name the school or the churches. He has kept his other two part-time jobs, as artistic director of a gay men’s chorus and musical director at a Reform synagogue.”

The update for the Maryland case appeared in a blog post on The Washington Post website, entitled “Barbara Johnson’s Buddhist Catholicism.”  The interview that reporter Michelle Boorstein conducts with Ms. Johnson reveals a woman of deep faith who has found guidance from Buddhist principles, while retaining her Catholic identity.  Boorstein comments:

“Johnson’s depiction of her faith mirrors that even of some clergy, including famed Trappist monk Thomas Merton who embraced and deeply studied Buddhism before his death in the 1960s. More recently, two Episcopal priests — including a bishop — described themselves as followers of Christianity and other faiths, one of Zen Buddhism and one of Islam.”

Ms. Johnson describes a faith development that has had its struggles, but that was rooted in Catholic practices, discussions with others, and, most importantly, her own life experiences:

“Barbara describes a deep if sometimes conflicted relationship with Catholicism, which she calls a basic, unchangeable part of her identity.

“In her 20s, Johnson remembers her growing doubt about Catholic institutions as she wrestled with accepting her sexuality, and later as she watched the clergy sex abuse crisis unfold. She went to services in other Christian churches: Unitarian, Baptist, Episcopalian.

” ‘During that time I found a lot of answers in Buddhist teachings and texts,’ she said.

“In the last decade Johnson returned to her alma mater, Elizabeth Seton High School, to teach art, a move she said was part of a process of coming back to Catholicism on her own terms. She describes long talks with colleagues about Buddhism and the Gospels. And of watching both her parents get sick and the power of their faith, of rituals like reciting the traditional prayer the Memorare with her dying father, of holding her mother and chanting ‘Hail Mary’ as the elder woman passed away.”

“ ‘This is so surreal because I was getting closer and closer to my faith,’ she said of those who assail her for seeking Communion with her blended faith identities. ‘I had really integrated my Catholic identity into my larger identity as someone who is very influenced by Buddhist teachings.’ ”

“Johnson says she never stopped seeing herself as a Catholic, and never stopped attended Mass or taking Communion – albeit not very regularly.”

The final part of the interview reveal that Ms. Johnson has maintained her Catholic faith and identity, despite her recent ordeal:

“ ‘The words in the Mass have been my guidepoint. It says, “Lord I am not worthy to receive you,” and these words, before Communion every Mass I’ve said those words with as much conviction in my body and soul as possible, and been guided by the feeling of what was in my body and my conscience. If I felt I wasn’t worthy, I wouldn’t go.’

“Today she says that Buddhism and Catholicism are both part of her identity. The two traditions ‘inform one another in this constant internal conversation,’ she told the Post.

“Johnson is aware of the criticism she is getting, and wonders: Does it disqualify her from her faith to challenge it?

“ ‘Wasn’t the doubting Thomas good because he was in dialogue with his faith? It’s not between me and other Catholics, it’s between me and God.’ ”

So many lessons to be learned from these three heroic people. When I read about people like Al Fischer, Charlie Robin, and Barbara Johnson, I pray in gratitude for their examples.  I also pray that I might be able to exhibit even a fraction of their grace and optimism were I to find myself in similar circumstances.  These examples of LGBT faith-heroism illustrate why the perfect symbol for our community is a rainbow.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

In Maine and Minnesota, Different Catholic Responses to Marriage Equality Ballot Initiatives

March 13, 2012

Both Maine and Minnesota have marriage equality on the ballot this November.  The Catholic hierarchy in both states are opposed to legalizing marriage for lesbian and gay couples.  In Maine, as we noted a week ago, the Catholic bishop has said that the diocese will not take an active part in the referendum campaign, yet at the same time, he issued a pastoral letter on the sacredness of marriage.  In Minnesota, the bishops have taken a more activist approach to try to keep marriage equality from becoming law.

So, it seems appropriate that the responses to these two different strategies will also be different.  Responses this weekend in both states highlight the difference.


In Maine,  since the bishop has cast his opposition in the form of education, a proper response came from William Slavick, a retired professor and veteran church and social reformer, who set out to educate his fellow Catholics by penning an op-ed  entitled “Bishop Malone’s argument fails to persuade” in The Lewiston Sun-Journal. (Readers of this blog may remember Slavick’s other recent contribution to the marriage debate, “Catholic Church doesn’t need to take another battering.”)

Slavick offers a comprehensive critique of Bishop Richard Malone’s pastoral letter, “Marriage. . . yesterday. . . today. . . always.”  He argues against Malone on  cultural, historical, and philosophical grounds:

“For Malone, the ‘created order of nature’ — natural law — is determinative: a single man and a single woman marry. Only in a monogamous heterosexual relationship is the unitive, complementary, spiritual bond of love between a man and woman realized, a union that bears fruit in procreation and nurture of children.

What Malone calls the ‘truth of marriage’ sounds unarguable until one remembers that, in the East, the ‘created order’ includes a long history of multiple wives or husbands. And until one takes into account the millions of fellow human beings whose gay or lesbian sexual orientation is also part of the created order of nature and who experience a love for another human being that seeks a spiritual and bodily union akin to heterosexual marriage.

Rome largely ignores polygamy and polyandry. It ignored — possibly accommodated — homosexuality for centuries. But as homosexuals came out of the closet, the Vatican weighed in: it declared respect for gays’ and lesbians’ human dignity but found them ‘objectively disordered.’ ”

Slavick also critiques Malone’s process of developing the letter’s content:

“Catholics today have become acclimated to the hierarchy singing solo. But theologians and the wisdom of the faithful are part of the Church’s teaching authority. What light does theology and life experience provide? Christian mercy? Christian charity? The informed consciences of the faithful? Malone’s letter is indifferent to these voices. Nor does he walk one step with gays and lesbians in their life journeys.

“Malone regularly ignores the complexity of reality. He recognizes two vocations, celibate service of God or a loving, fruitful marriage, ignoring centuries of priests marrying, centuries of economic or political marriages, and good reasons not to have children.”

Were I to quibble with Slavick’s critique, it would be over his phrase, “Fathers and mothers contribute distinctly to parenting, as Malone observes. . . ”   The phrasing here makes it seem like a heterosexual couple are necessary to child-rearing.  But, clearly, this is not Slavick’s intent, since he ends the same sentence with  “. . . the evidence confirms that loving same sex couples are as successful as heterosexual couples in raising children.”   I would call his word choice a stylistic infelicity; perhaps “Each parent contributes distinctly to child-raising” would have been better, not highlighting the parents’ genders.  A small point in an excellently argued essay.


In Minnesota, where the bishops have taken a more activist approach to the marriage debate, an activist response seems proper.  Catholics for Marriage Equality MN have been organizing Sunday vigils during Lent at the archdiocesan cathedral in St. Paul.  (Readers of this blog may remember reading about plans for this action in “Will Minnesota Bishops Follow the Maine Example?”

The St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that this past Sunday, the “Gay-marriage ban protest draws 100 at Cathedral.”   Such a large turnout is evidence not only of Catholic support for marriage equality in Minnesota, but of Catholics for Marriage Equality MN’s excellent skill at organizing.  The article shows that the protest has been growing–and it likely will continue to grow–as well as offers some of the rationale for staging the protest:

“On Sunday across from the Cathedral of St. Paul, about 100 people held signs and rainbow flags and marched on the sidewalk. On the first Sunday of Lent, about 80 attended, and about 120 came out March 4, said organizer Michael Bayly of the Catholics for Marriage Equality MN, which supports gay marriage.

“Bayly said organizers hope attendance will increase through Palm Sunday.

” ‘It’s an attempt by Catholic people to stand up and say no to the priority the archbishop has set in spending last fiscal year, 2011, $650,000 of the diocese’s money to promote passage in November of the marriage amendment,’ said former priest Ed Flahavan of St. Paul. ‘It comes at a time when social agencies, including Catholic Charities, are hurting for adequate resources to feed the hungry and give shelter to the homeless.’ “

For more information about the protest and Catholics for Marriage Equality MN, visit their website and their blog.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Priest Who Denied Communion to Lesbian Woman Is Removed from Parish Ministry

March 12, 2012

Rev. Marcel Guarnizo

Rev. Marcel Guarnizo, the priest who denied communion to Barbara Johnson, a Catholic lesbian woman, at her mother’s funeral, has been temporarily removed from pastoral duties and has had his priestly faculties suspended, because of “credible allegations” that he has intimidated pastoral staff and others, according to a letter from Washington, DC, Auxiliary Bishop Barry Knestout.

The letter, dated March 9, 2012, is addressed to priests in the Archdiocese of Washington. No mention of Ms. Johnson’s case is made in the letter.  According to The Washington Post’s blog posting on this development, Fr. Thomas LaHood, pastor of St. John Neumann parish, Gaithersburg, where Fr. Guarnizo was assigned and where Ms. Johnson’s mother’s funeral Mass took place, announced the news to parishioners on Sunday,

“including noting — and repeating — that the removal was not related to the Communion standoff, but ‘pertains to actions over the past week or two.’  He did not elaborate.”

The Washington Post report adds that the pastor told the parishioners:

” ‘As we know there’s been disagreement within the parish over how and to whom Communion is distributed. From my perspective this disagreement and related emotions flow from love. Love for Christ, really and truly present in the Eucharist. However, how we live out this love is important. The Scriptures tell us that we are known above all by how we love,’ he said before reading the letter. After, he said ‘I realize this letter is hard to hear. Please keep mind that this is a first personnel issue, dealing with issues of ministry in the church. Father Guarnizo will have every opportunity to present his position.’

“An archdiocesan spokeswoman Sunday would not clarify if LaHood’s comments meant that Guarnizo would not be penalized for his handling of Barbara Johnson at the funeral.”

Barbara Johnson

Ms. Johnson has issued the following statement:

“The Johnson family continues to pray for the Archdiocese of Washington, Father Guarnizo, and all Catholics during this time of upheaval. While we understand this letter does not pertain to the events that occurred at our mother’s funeral, we are hopeful that Bishop Knestout’s decision will ensure that no others will have to undergo the traumatic experiences brought upon our family. We urge all Catholics to put aside political points of view, and pray that our Church will remain in Christ’s love.”

New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director, Francis DeBernardo, made the following statement about this development:

“The Archdiocese of Washington’s removal of Fr. Marcel Guarnizo from priestly duties and parish life pending an investigation is a good first step towards ensuring that full and just reconciliation can occur for Barbara Johnson, her family,  and the people of St. John Neumann parish.  Though the cruel and insensitive way that Fr. Guarnizo treated Ms. Johnson at her mother’s funeral is not mentioned in Bishop Knestout’s letter, it should definitely be included in any investigation of “intimidating behavior,” since that label can be accurately applied to his denial of communion to Ms. Johnson at her mother’s funeral.  For that reason, Ms. Johnson and her family most certainly should be consulted in this investigation.

“This first step is necessary towards determining any future and permanent actions for Fr. Guarnizo.  The Archdiocese of Washington also needs to take the important step of providing better training for priests and church professionals for ministering to and with LGBT people and their family members.  The funeral incident caused tremendous pain for Ms. Johnson and her family, but it also revealed that training in pastoral care for LGBT people is sorely needed for all church professionals.  Administering justice for Fr. Guarnizo’s actions is one step, but the only way to guarantee that such an incident doesn’t happen again is for better education on LGBT issues to be part of the church’s preparation for pastoral ministers.”

As Bondings 2.0 reported two days ago, Ms. Johnson will be a special guest at New Ways Ministry’s upcoming Seventh National Symposium, From Water to Wine: Lesbian/Gay Catholics and Relationships, March 15-17, 2012, Baltimore, Maryland. Ms. Johnson will address the Symposium participants and receive a blessing from them at the closing session on the morning of Saturday, March 17th.

“Barbara Johnson’s faith witness has been strong throughout this whole ugly incident,” said DeBernardo. “We are honored and humbled that she will be with us for the Symposium, and we are sure that all will benefit greatly from her presence.”

For more information about the Symposium, click here.  For other past Bondings2.0posts about Barbara Johnson’s story, click on any of the following titles:

“Communion Denied to Lesbian Woman at Her Mother’s Funeral”

“Is It Possible to Find Hope in This Week’s Painful New”

“Lesbian Denied Communion Explains How Her Faith Has Been Strengthened”

“Barbara Johnson to Address New Ways Ministry Symposium!”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 965 other followers