At Catholic Colleges’ Commencements: Tutu, Yes; Kennedy, No

April 30, 2012

Commencement speaker controversies at two Catholic campuses on opposite sides of the country have sparked petition drives that have resulted in opposite results.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

On the West Coast, in Spokane, Washington, Jesuit-run Gonzaga University has held firm in hosting South Africa’s Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, as commencement speaker this year.   A petition drive to rescind the invitation, motivated in part because of Tutu’s support for the ordination of gay clergy, collected 700 signatures.  However, another petition drive in support of Tutu collected 11,000 signatures in 48 hours, according to an article in The National Catholic Reporter (NCR).

NCR quotes Gonzaga University President Thayne McCulloh’s statement of support for Tutu:

“We are very much looking forward to having him.I really believe that this is very consistent with what both the church and Jesuits want for its institutions; and of course in any community people will have different points of view around that.”

In an earlier NCR article, McCulloh offered his reasoning for inviting Tutu:

“While we have received messages both positive and negative about our decision to invite Archbishop Tutu, the vast majority of responses indicate that there is great support. People see our invitation as honoring Tutu and the social justice activism of our institution.”

The same article cites a Religion News Service story which notes Spokane Bishop Blaise Cupich’s support of Gonzaga’s decision:

“When Bishop Cupich was asked in person about Gonzaga honoring this commencement speaker who publicly espouses views in fundamental opposition to the teachings of the Catholic Church and most other Christian denominations, he indicated support for Gonzaga’s decision stating Archbishop Tutu is being honored for the work he did to end apartheid in South Africa.”

Victoria Reggie Kennedy

On the East Coast, a 20,000-signature petition failed to convince Worcester, Massachusetts, Bishop Robert McManus to ask Anna Maria College to reconsider its decision to cancel Victoria Reggie Kennedy as commencement speaker.   (You can read an earlier Bondings 2.0 posting about this decision here.)  According to an article in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette,

“The liberal arts school in Paxton [Massachusetts] disinvited Mrs. Kennedy, the widow of the late U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, after the bishop told Anna Maria College President Jack Calareso that he had concerns about her positions on abortion, gay marriage and other social issues.”

Bishop McManus released a statement on the diocese’s website in support of Calareso’s decision:

“While I recognize that there are those who do not agree with Anna Maria’s decision to disinvite Mrs. Kennedy as its commencement speaker, I continue to stand behind the concerns which I shared with Dr. Jack Calareso, the college’s president, last March. As such, I support the public statement of the College’s Board of Trustees that ‘the invitation be withdrawn in the best interest of all parties and most importantly the students which will be graduating.’ ”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


“Whodunit” Surrounds Decision to Disinvite Gay Alum from Commencement

April 29, 2012

A gay Catholic alumnus of  a Catholic high school in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, has  been disinvited as commencement speaker after it was learned that as an openly gay man, he is engaged to be married to another man in New York.  The origin of the disinvitation, however, remains a bit of a “whodunit” mystery.

Sacred Heart Academy had originally invited Dominic Sheahan-Stahl to speak at the graduation ceremony where his youngest brother will be one of the seniors leaving the school, and where three generations of their family had been educated. Sheahan-Stahl recounts his side of the story in a YouTube video entitled “Live through Love. Stop discrimination”:

The other side of the story is a bit murkier. The Detroit News reports that

“. . . officials with the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw withdrew the invitation when they learned he is gay.”

The same report also states, however, that it was

“[Sacred Heart Academy Principal Denny]Starnes and some on the schools’ staff [who] learned Sheahan-Stahl was gay after seeing engagement photos on Facebook.”

Principal Denny Starnes addressing students and parents at Sacred Heart Academy assembly.

An MLive.com account intimates that the diocese was the origin of the disinvitation, noting that the school principal, Denny Starnes, announced at an assembly for students and parents that he supports Sheahan-Stahl:

“In front of the Sacred Heart students, staff, parents and various media, Starnes gave an impassioned speech about what the school has been through this week. He spoke haltingly and deliberately, giving support
to Sheahan-Stahl, the senior class at Sacred Heart and the Catholic Church.

“After hearing the students and praying, Starnes said he believes Sheahan-Stahl is the perfect commencement speaker.

” ‘How can I not support this young man to come and speak to this class?’ he said before the school.

“Starnes said he respects the Saginaw Diocese and their decision. As a neighbor to the Sheahan-Stahl family, he said, he knows them well and remembers Dominic as a boy.

” ‘This is my community, of course I’m going to feel different here than someone making decisions in another county,’ Starnes told the student body. ‘The church is not sharing my position on this issue.’ “

Sheahan-Stahl participated in the assembly with Starnes via Skype.

A statement from the Diocese of Saginaw explains they had no role in the decisions, yet does not mention if Sheahan-Stahl should be allowed to speak at the ceremony, and implies that he should not:

“The events that have unfolded regarding the graduation address at Sacred Heart Academy Catholic school in Mt. Pleasant are unfortunate. The decisions to invite, and to rescind an invitation to a graduate who was to deliver the commencement address, were done independently of and without any discussion with the Office of Catholic Schools or the Office of the Bishop for the Diocese of Saginaw.

“The Most Rev. Joseph R. Cistone, Bishop of Saginaw, learned about the events Thursday, only after the situation was reported by local news outlets. Further, neither the bishop nor the diocese were informed of, or invited to participate in, a news conference that was held at the school today.

“‘I am distressed by the way in which Sacred Heart Academy school leadership has handled this situation, and have expressed this to the school’s pastor,’ Bishop Cistone said. ‘It has hurt an individual, a family, a graduating class and an entire school and faith community.’

“‘The Catholic Church is very clear in her teaching, that men and women who have homosexual tendencies must be treated with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”‘ The bishop added, ‘The Catholic faith teaches that individuals with homosexual tendencies, as well as unmarried heterosexuals, are called to lead a celibate lifestyle.’

“Sacred Heart Academy exists to educate and form students in the teachings of the Catholic faith. It is the position of Bishop Cistone, on behalf of the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, that individuals who are given an honor – such as serving as the keynote speaker for the culmination of a Catholic school education – should reinforce, and not reject publicly, the teachings of the Catholic faith. . . .”

Students and others have been overwhelmingly in support of Sheahan-Stahl as speaker.  They have started a Facebook page, “Let Dominic Speak,” which as of this writing has 5,107 “Likes.”  A Change.org petition entitled “Sacred Heart Academy, Mt Pleasant MI: STOP endorsing homophobia”  already has 5, 368 signatures.

Sheahan-Stahl will deliver a speech after the graduation ceremony at Warriner Hall on the campus of Central Michigan University.

Regardless of how the decision was made, it is a shameful one that continues to send a message that is contradictory to the Catholic spirit of inclusion and non-discrimination for LGBT people.  The fact that Sheahan-Stahl will still be able to speak shows that the Spirit will not allow such discrimination to squelch the message of inclusion: I believe that God will find a way to have words of inclusion and equality spoken, even if church officials will not cooperate with such a plan for justice.  At the very least, church officials will have to see that Catholics who support equality are not going to just “roll over and die” when adversity strikes; they will find a creative (if not ideal) alternative to let their message be heard.  The sign of the Spirit working in this situation, for me, is that people are finding the wisdom and courage to respond to the unjust decision of disinvitation, and not just giving up or giving in. They are modeling the work of an inclusive church, in the face of church leaders trying to act otherwise. Perhaps it will be a lesson for whatever Catholic officials made the disinvitation decision that Catholics will not be stopped in their quest for equality and justice for LGBT people.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Support for Gay-Straight Alliances: ‘It’s what our faith calls us to do.’

April 28, 2012

In two separate stories, Catholics in Ontario, Canada, are speaking out for the adoption of gay-straight alliances (GSA) in the province’s schools. Ontario’s legislature is currently debating Bill 13, a bill which, among other things, is designed to deter bullying and calls school boards to “support pupils who want to establish and lead (…) activities or organizations that promote the awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, including organizations with the name gay-straight alliance or another name.”

In one story, a Catholic school board trustee in Waterloo, Ontario, is calling on on the Catholic board to allow gay-straight alliances. In the other story, a group of  Ontario Catholics has mounted a petition at Change.org to support Bill 13.

An article on Xtra.ca, a Canadian LGBT news source,  notes that Bill 13 is being hotly debated by legislative representatives, and that part of the controversy revolves around whether to call the student groups “gay-straight alliances” (GSA) or to refer to them by other names.   Officials from state-funded Catholic schools oppose calling them “GSAs.”

Anthony Piscitelli

Yet Anthony Piscitelli, Catholic school board trustee in Waterloo, Ontario, has stepped forward in support of establishing GSAs in Catholic schools.  The Record, a newspaper in the Kitchener/Waterloo region reports:

“Catholic schools need to go further in making gay and lesbian students feel welcome in their schools, says a Catholic school trustee.

“Anthony Piscitelli wants the board to allow for gay-straight alliance groups in Catholic schools and he’s hoping his fellow trustees will back him up.

Janek Jagiellowicz

“So far, trustee Janek Jagiellowicz says he supports the idea but he’s been asked by the board chairperson to not speak about it publicly until if comes before trustees Monday night.

“Piscitelli said it’s morally right to support his motion. ‘If you look at how we can best support the students in the system, it’s very hard to vote against GSAs in schools,’ he said.

“ ‘Focusing on doing what’s best for the kids, this is morally right,’ said Piscitelli. ‘It’s what our faith calls us to do.’ ”

Piscitelli and Jagiellowicz are not the only Catholics who support the measure. A group of Catholics in Ontario have launched a Change.org petition in favor of Bill 13. The petition, which can be accessed by clicking here, explains that this campaign began when a young Catholic who identifies as an LGBT person was stunned to learn that her local parish was collecting signatures against the measure.  The petition states:

“We started this petition in support of Bill 13 to show the student and other LGBT youth that we (who are also Catholics) recognize their right to be respected and accepted as they are. We also believe that avoiding the word “gay” in schools provides the youth with a harmful message: message of shame and non-acceptance.”

An article in Canada’s National Post   notes that while Catholic officials oppose Bill 13, the proposed law has been endorsed by Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association.

Previous Bondings 2.0 posts about Catholic involvement in the GSA controversy can be found by clicking “Canada” in the “Categories” section of the column to the right →.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Notre Dame Fails to Adopt Non-Discrimination Policy for Sexual Orientation; Progress Made on Other LGBT Issues

April 27, 2012

The University of Notre Dame has announced that it will not add sexual orientation to its non-discrimination policy, following at least a semester’s worth of organizing by students and faculty on the Indiana campus to get the administration to adopt the category.

The campus administration released a statement on April 25th outlining a number of ways that the university plans to expand its inclusive welcome to LGBT students.  The actions listed are:

  • Notre Dame continues to be committed to non-discrimination and inclusion, as articulated in the “Spirit of Inclusion” statement and the University’s discriminatory harassment policy. While the wording of the University’s non-discrimination clause will remain in its current form, Notre Dame will strive to enhance awareness of existing practices and protections among students, faculty and staff. The avenues for reporting harassment and discrimination will be clarified, strengthened, and better publicized.
  • The University will seek further opportunities for ongoing dialogue between the Office of the President, the University’s chief diversity officer, the Office of Student Affairs, and student leaders.
  • The University, working through Student Affairs, is committed to supporting and improving the structure and functioning of the University’s Core Council. More information on Core Council is available at http://corecouncil.nd.edu/.
  • The University has acted upon several recommendations made by students to improve support for gay, lesbian and bisexual students and will explore others. These will include making ally training more widely available, offering education to First-Year Orientation commissioners, expanding the Safe Space initiative, and improving hall staff training.
  • Notre Dame will consider ways of making the “Spirit of Inclusion” statement more explicit and effective. The statement is available on line at: http://dulac.nd.edu/spirit-of-inclusion/.

Though the second bullet point offers the opportunity for further dialogue, the university, in announcing this plan, has already twice opted for silence.  In an article the student newspaper, The Observer, the second paragraph reads:

“University Spokesman Dennis Brown declined to provide an explanation for why sexual orientation would not be added [to the non-discrimination policy] and would not say who made the final decision.”

In the same article, the fourth and fifth paragraphs read:

“Student and Faculty Senates recently passed resolutions asking for sexual orientation to be included in the non-discrimination clause. The Student Senate resolution also asked that the University publicly address why the phrase is not included.

“When asked when and if the University would provide such a public response, Brown declined to comment.”

Declining to comment and provide explanations do not bode well for future dialogue.

Alex Coccia

From the student point of view, the announcement of new initiatives was some welcome progress.  Sophomore Alex Coccia, co-president of the Progressive Student Alliance (PSA) who has adroitly led the “4 to 5 Movement” to get  campus club status for AllianceND, the unofficial, student-run gay-straight alliance (GSA), commented:

“ ‘With such a statement from the University, it is important that each individual respond according to his or her own vantage point,’ he said. ‘I believe that it is important to acknowledge the initiative of the administration both to release a public statement regarding first steps for inclusive and to recognize expressed student suggestions.’ ”

The university will announce on May 1st whether or not AllianceND will be officially recognized.

Coccia’s leadership was recently interviewed for a Windy City Times article by Chuck Colbert, in which he explained the origin of the name “4 to 5 Movement,” and also the need for students to be public about their positive views on LGBT issues:

Last year, Brian Sims—a former college football team captain who is openly gay—gave them the idea of 4 to 5 when progressive students hosted him as a speaker on campus, Whitfield explained. . . .
In his talk, Sims pointed to overwhelming majority support for gay rights among young people.
” ‘Statistics supported by the Pew Forum from a national youth survey found that among 18-to-30 year-olds with a college education, four out of five support the general package of gay civil rights,’ explained Coccia.
” ‘When they are polled,; however, he continued, ‘only one-third think their peers agree.’
” ‘So an 80-percent majority thinks it’s a 30-percent minority,’ Coccia said.
” ‘That’s the same dynamic at Notre Dame,’ he said, explaining, ‘Those allies who are the majority are either overwhelmed by the voices of opposition or structures in place make it seem as though they are not the majority.’
‘For Coccia and Whitfield, the in-the-minority mentality is simply unacceptable.
” ‘It keeps allies from getting involved. It hinders people from coming out. It hinders people from speaking what they believe,’ he said.
“Worse yet, ‘it breeds a culture of silence,’ said Coccia.”

Mary Rose D'Angelo

Providing a supportive faculty perspective in the Windy City Times article was Mary Rose D’Angelo,  associate professor of New Testament theology. The article quotes her recent letter to the editor of the student newspaper:

” ‘Catholic teaching does not preclude measures like the GSA and the non-discrimination clause; indeed, it would seem to require them.’
” ‘According to its mission statement, the GSA would, if approved, “serve as a peer-to-peer interaction-based student club/gay-straight alliance, where GLBTQ students and allies can work together to create a sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good” as outlined in Notre Dame’s mission statement. . . .
“. . . ‘A GSA would provide social support for GLBTQ students without isolating them, as well as a significant complement to classroom learning, and would be a venue for student-led effort to assure that GLBTQ students are, in the words of the Catechism [of the Catholic Church] “accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity,”  D’Angelo explained.
” ‘Equally important is the Catechism’s stipulation that “Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided,” she added.
” ‘Endorsing the capacity of gay and straight students (and associated faculty) to organize around sexual identity and adding sexual orientation to the non- discrimination are two essential steps toward fulfilling the moral mandate the Catechism articulates,’ D’Angelo’s letter concluded.”
Highlighting the absence of a GSA at the University of Notre Dame is that its traditional sister school, St. Mary’s College, which has an adjoining campus, does indeed have such a group that is officially recognized, Colbert’s article  notes:
“Advocates for change at Notre Dame point to St. Mary’s College,’where policies, practices, and procedures are administered in a manner consistent with our Catholic identity,’ according to the school’s policy on equal employment opportunity.
“The policy also states, ‘With the foregoing understanding, Saint Mary’s College will not engage in discrimination based on gender, race, national origin, religion, age, mental or physical disability, all as provided by law. Based on Catholic values, the College also commits to avoiding discrimination based on sexual or political orientation.’
“Gwen O’Brien, the school’s media relations director, said in e-mail correspondence, ‘The Straight and Gay Alliance (SAGA) is one of the college’s approved organizations. SAGA’s purpose is to provide students opportunities to openly discuss and question how they may best live their lives as sexual beings within the framework of Catholic teaching.’
“SAGA is self-governing, is open to all students, has a constitution and elects officers—the same as any other student organization—with one caveat, said O’Brien: ‘SAGA cannot serve as an advocacy group.’ “
For previous Bondings 2.0 posts on the 4 to 5 Movement at Notre Dame, see:
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Minnesota Catholics Rely on Conscience and Community in Marriage Equality Debate

April 26, 2012

Pride flag in front of the Twin Cities' St. Paul Cathedral.

Catholics are playing a major role in the marriage equality debate in Minnesota, where this November, voters in the state will go to the polls to vote on proposed constitutional amendment to ban marriage between people of the same gender.  Bondings 2.0 has reported several times on the issue, particularly the good work that the group Catholics for Marriage Equality–Minnesota has been doing.  (Links to previous posts can be found under the heading “Minnesota” in “Categories” listing in the right-hand column of this blog . →)

MinnPost.com recently featured the role that Catholics are playing in the debate in an article entitled “Conflicted Catholics: Consciences wrestle with church actions on marriage amendment.”    The personal stories explain not only the division that the proposed amendment is causing among Catholics, but the faith journeys that many individuals and faith communities are experiencing  by becoming involved with the campaign to promote equal marriage rights for all.

The article profiles Lisa Vanderlinden, the mother of a gay son, whose family moved to a parish which has a public outreach to LGBT people.  Their former parish, she explains, has become heavily involved in work to support the ban on marriage equality:

“In keeping with orders from Archbishop John Nienstedt, a prayer is now said during Sunday services affirming marriage as the union of one man and one woman. A committee has been formed to work in favor of a proposed amendment to the Minnesota Constitution banning same-sex marriage that will appear on the November ballot.

“And a percentage of every dollar parishioners give goes to the archdiocese, which recently donated $650,000 to the group pushing for the ballot initiative.”

But Vanderlinden and her family have taken a different Catholic approach:

“ ‘The Catholic hierarchy would like the public to believe that it is the only voice of the people,’ she said. ‘Since Vatican II that’s not true. Our teaching says we must speak our conscience even when it conflicts with church authorities. . . .’

“ ‘The silencing that’s going on is incredible,’ said Vanderlinden. ‘I know a lot of people are not giving money anymore. I know a lot of people are not going to church anymore.’ ”

Laura Kuntz, another Twin Cities Catholic, found that the archdiocese’s increasing political involvement to defeat marriage equality was having a detrimental effect on her identification with the Church.  And then, she got involved with Catholics for Marriage Equality–Minnesota:

“A year and a half ago when Nienstedt circulated a DVD calling for a same-sex marriage ban, Kuntz and her husband stopped giving to their church, because it was obligated to tithe 8 percent to 10 percent of their donation to the archdiocese.

“Two months ago, there were a series of communications about the marriage amendment in the church bulletin, including the announcement of a committee to manage communications about the amendment.

“ ‘My heart just stopped,’ she said. . . .

“At some point after she shared her feelings with a few fellow parishioners, she got a call from someone she describes only as a diocesan employee, who told her about a group called Catholics for Marriage Equality. Throughout Lent, the group held vigils outside the chancery in St. Paul. For Kuntz, participating brought comfort.”

Some Catholic individuals and parishes are protesting by not reciting the prayer against marriage equality that the archdiocese has instructed communities to use at Masses:

One of the authors of the blog The Progressive Catholic Voice, Paula Ruddy is unconvinced the prayer is being said in very many parishes. “I don’t know anyone whose parish is pushing this,” she said. It doesn’t matter whether the priest agrees with it or not, the issue is introducing a potentially divisive element to a worship service.

“One of my friends said their deacon was asked to give it as part of the homily,” she said. “He said, ‘It’s not that I am opposed to it, but I don’t want to do something so controversial.’ ”

Her fellow blogger Mary Beckfeld has friends in four western suburban parishes who say the prayer is not being said there, either. A friend of hers was asked to read it on Good Friday and refused. Her pastor’s response: “Do what your conscience tells you.”

Ron Joki, a gay man who converted to Catholicism, speaks of the role that conscience plays in his decision to remain part of the church and to be involved in the struggle to secure marriage equality rights:

“Joki sees no contradiction between his sexual orientation and his faith. ‘There are many ancient rules in the Bible that no longer serve us, that were cultural,’ he said. ‘We are not breaking the important rule, which we interpret as the basic rule of loving God and loving our neighbors.’ ”

“He’s comfortable with the approach some liberal parishes are taking of engaging in discussions about the church’s support for the amendment, but making sure multiple viewpoints are represented. ‘God speaks to us in our conscience,’ Joki explained. ‘We need to be respectful of all sides.”

Joki sees the work of the Spirit in the differing voices present in the church on this issue:

“ ‘The spirit works in many levels, not only at the top of the hierarchy but at every level,’ Joki said. ‘Many of the people the church now recognizes as saints, as heroes of the church, were originally people who were renounced and condemned.

“ ‘Sometimes, the opinions that are the last to change are at the top.’ ”

What are some of the lessons I’ve learned from the experience of these Minnesota Catholics?

1.  Follow your conscience.

2.  Seek out a supportive community.

3.  Work together with others to enact justice.

4.  Respect all, even those who disagree with you.

5.  Change comes from the bottom and rises to the top.

6.  The church doesn’t always immediately recognize its saints who are working for justice.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Sex Is Never Simple

April 25, 2012

New Ways Ministry and many Catholic theologians, leaders, organizations, and individuals have long called on the church’s hierarchy to listen to the experiences of LGBT people as a way to develop doctrine and positions.  The importance of consulting the scripture of experience–how God speaks through people’s lives–is nowhere more needed than in the development of doctrine about sexual relationships and expression.

The necessity of such consultation was brought home to me again when I read Jo McGowan’s article, “Simplifying Sex: What Some Priests Don’t Understand About Contraception,”  in Commonweal magazine.  Though writing specifically about the recent debate about insurance funding for contraception, McGowan’s piece rings true for hierarchical statements about sexuality generally.The thesis of her argument should be a mantra repeated by church leaders everywhere:

“Sex is never simple.”

McGowan’s article responds primarily to a New York Times article which contained an interview with a priest.  She writes:

“. . .it is unsettling when men who may never have experienced sex feel qualified not just to speak about it but to pronounce on it with certainty. In an article in the New York Times (February 18), Fr. Roger Landry, a priest in my old diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, is quoted as saying, ‘What happens in the use of contraception, rather than embracing us totally as God made the other, with the masculine capacity to become a dad, or the feminine capacity to become a mom, we reject that paternal and maternal leaning.’ ”

“Well, no, Fr. Landry, we don’t. We don’t reject it. We make a decision about it. We recognize that pregnancy is a possibility, and we decide whether this is the right time for us to have a baby. We acknowledge that we are more than just potential (or actual) parents. One of the surest signs of youth—in any profession—is an unswerving adherence to literal interpretations. New teachers cling to the curriculum, whether or not the class is getting it. Young doctors focus on the clear x-ray, unable to see the patient in front of them writhing in pain. Parish priests preach the letter of the law, while their parishioners refuse to follow rules created without reference to the reality they know. But the rules aren’t just unrealistic. They are often irrelevant, based on incorrect or incomplete information.”

McGowan’s analogy to the penchant that young doctors and young priests have for relying on outside, abstract information makes the point vividly.   Sexuality is not something that can be described or discussed from an outsider’s perspective in abstract terms.  Accurate information and perspectives on it must come from people’s lived experiences. I would like to add another analogy to her already excellent one:  Not consulting people’s experience of sexuality in order to develop doctrine is like an atheist trying to describe and define spirituality and religion without consulting the people who practice faith.   Both spirituality and sexuality are intensely personal experiences that can only be understood fully from the inside out.

McGowan illustrates this idea best when she refutes Fr. Landry’s ideas about pleasure in sex:

“Fr. Landry goes on to say, ‘Contraception…make[s] pleasure the point of the act, and any time pleasure becomes the point rather than the fruit of the act, the other person becomes the means to that end. And we’re actually going to hurt the people we love.’ At one level, this is insightful and nuanced. When he laments how frequently such objectification happens to women in sexual relationships, Fr. Landry sounds almost feminist. And he is right that a relationship that’s only about the pursuit of pleasure is demeaning and ultimately hurtful.

“He is wrong, though, to assume that using contraception automatically makes ‘pleasure the point of the act.’ This is how adolescents think. Teenagers dream of constantly available sex, uninhibited by any possibility of pregnancy. That priests would talk the same way about sex between a husband and wife who have chosen to use contraception reflects inexperience and adolescent projection.

“Adults understand that good sex, with or without contraception, goes deeper than pleasure. It is complex and demanding. And pleasure isn’t necessarily a part of it. Any human encounter requiring honesty and surrender has the potential for both revelation and pain. The communication, healing, and strengthening that good sex ensures is foundational to a marriage. Pure pleasure the point of the act? What is Fr. Landry talking about?”

McGowan shows here that an outsider’s perspective is actually a distorted perspective which focuses on one potential aspect of the sexual situation.  Since sexuality is so much more than physical acts, an outsider can not understand the deeply emotional dimension that is involved in the physical activity of sex.  To theorize about sexuality based only on physical acts is to look only at the evidence that is able to be seen, and not to take the perspective of faith, which St. Paul tells us involves the “evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

Sexual license is not McGowan’s goal; responsible sexuality is.  She makes the important observation that strict adherence to abstract rules about sexuality can actually lead to irresponsible sex:

“But every human activity has the potential to become unbalanced. Having children mindlessly, year after year, as former generations of Catholics did, is just as harmful to the social good as the refusal to connect sex with pregnancy. Visit India, Fr. Landry. Talk with the women here who are treated purely as producers of sons.

“To defend contraception within marriage is not to defend sexual license. Married couples who have pledged a lifetime of commitment to each other and their families have the right and the duty to make their own decisions about contraception. The church’s role is to help them arrive at the decision that is right for their lives. It is not to dictate one-size-fits-all rules that have no foundation in practical experience.”

I don’t think that I’ve ever read a defense of consulting sexual practitioners for their experience which was as honestly and matter-of-factly stated as McGowan’s is. Clearly, the principles that she states here can be equally and easily applied to the experience of lesbian and gay people, as they are to heterosexual people.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


From Standing Ovation to Twitter, Catholics Are Speaking Out

April 24, 2012

In two of the biggest Catholic LGBT news stories in the nation over the past few weeks, Catholics have been letting their voices be heard loud and clear, via both traditional and ultra-contemporary methods.

A standing ovation, a traditional method of showing support, was used by Catholics in Seattle to show their approval of their pastor’s decision not to allow their parish to be used as a location to collect signatures in a petition drive to put repeal of Washington State’s new marriage equality law on the ballot this November.  According to a Seattle Post-Intelligencer article:

“The congregation at Seattle’s Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church gave the Rev. Tim Clark a standing ovation Sunday when he announced that the parish would not gather signatures for a referendum to repeal same-sex marriage.

“The parish became the sixth in Seattle to opt out of the petition drive for Referendum 74 that has been endorsed and foisted on parishes by Archbishop J. Peter Sartain.

“ ‘I am happy to report that Our Lady of the Lake parishoners have been overwhelmingly and, thus far, unanimously supportive of the decision I made NOT to gather signatures in support of this Referendum,’ Clark wrote in response to an e-mail.

“ ‘The standing ovation experienced during one of the Masses says less about me and much more about the health of this parish.  I only wished the archbishop could have experienced the sustained applause — the “sensus fidelium” — of the people.  He needs to listen to this “voice.” That is my prayer.’ ”

Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church joins five other Seattle-area parishes who have refused the archbishop’s request. The others are St. James Cathedral, St. Joseph Church, St. Mary’s Church, St. Patrick Church, and Christ Our Hope Catholic Church.   Bondings 2.0 reported on some of these other parishes’ refusals in a post earlier this month.

Rev. Clark explained the motivation behind his decision:

“ ‘When I first read the archbishop’s letter[asking parishes to collect signatures]  I was troubled by the content and his intentions,’ Clark wrote.  ‘In conscience, I could not allow signatures to be gathered, to allow the faith to be politicized in this way.

“ ‘What troubles me is the message this whole approach sends which I find discriminatory and insensitive.  To follow through with his wishes would be hurtful, divisive and a countersign to what we are trying to foster in this Catholic community in Wedgwood.

“ ‘I deeply believe, and say this with boldness, that this approach is not in the mind of Christ.’ ”

Rev. James Martin, SJ

In the continuing story about the Vatican’s attempt to suppress the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Catholics are using a Twitter hashtag–“#WhatSistersMeanToMe“–to express their solidarity with U.S. nuns.  The hashtag was established by Fr. James Martin, SJ, the popular Catholic author on spirituality.  In a HuffingtonPost.com article about the Twitter campaign, Martin explains his reason for establishing the hashtag as a place where people can show their support for the embattled Sisters:

“Catholic sisters are my heroes. In light of the Vatican’s desire to renew and reform their main organizing body, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, I thought it would be a great time to speak a word of support for Catholic sisters, and to acknowledge the hidden ways that these women have generously served God, served the poor and served this country.”

You can read the tweets to this hashtag here.

The Sisters’ support of LGBT people and issues has been one of the reasons that the Vatican is attempting to suppress their leadership conference.  Bondings 2.0 has been reporting on this story for the past six days; you can read the background by following the posts on this blog since April 18th.

Archbishop Peter Sartain

Interestingly, and perhaps not coincidentally, Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle is involved in both these stories.  In the first one, he requested that parishes in the Seattle Archdiocese collect signatures at their churches.  In the second story, he is the person appointed by the Vatican to oversee the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

These two stories indicate that Catholics are at a point where they are eager to speak their minds, hearts, and consciences on important church issues–and that they will use all the means at their disposal, both traditional ones and modern ones, to let their voices be heard.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,085 other followers