Can There Really Be “Collaboration” Between the Vatican and LCWR?

April 20, 2012

The Vatican’s document announcing that an Archbishop Delegate has been placed in charge of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) concludes with a paragraph which begins:

“It will be the task of the Archbishop Delegate to work collaboratively with the officers of the LCWR to achieve the goals outlined in this document, and to report on the progress of this work to the Holy See.”

The letter from Cardinal William Levada, Prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which accompanied the decision’s announcement, states in its opening paragraph that the action was taken with the goal of

“. . .fostering a patient and collaborative renewal of this conference. . . “

One wonders how “collaborative” such work will be, however, since the very announcement of this decision was handled in such a one-sided way.   In a statement released yesterday, the LCWR presidency (comprised of President, Past President, and Vice President) said they were “stunned” by the public announcement, which came without any advance notification even though these three leaders were at the Vatican itself on the day news of the decision was released to the press.

A National Catholic Reporter (NCR) article reports on how the LCWR leaders learned of the Vatican’s decision:

“[LCWR] sent an email Thursday to the heads of each of the congregations it represents, explaining how the group became aware of the news.

“That email, obtained by NCR, says LCWR leadership was in Rome to meet Wednesday with members of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith regarding the doctrinal assessment. When the leaders came to the meeting, the congregation had already communicated with the U.S. bishops’ conference news of [Archbishop Peter] Sartain’s appointment, the email states.

“Additionally, the email says LCWR membership was told during the meeting that news of the appointment would only be shared Wednesday at the bishops’ conference internally and not with the general public in order to give the group time to communicate with its leaders.

” ‘When we met with Cardinal (William) Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on April 18, where we received the assessment results, CDF’s communication had already been sent to the USCCB for release at noon,’ the email states.

” ‘We understood that the documents would be put on USCCB’s members-only web page,’ it continues. ‘Consequently, we had hoped to communicate the conclusions with you ourselves. That was not possible.’ “

Another NCR article explains the background of the church’s canon law in regard to the Vatican’s decision and discusses the options which LCWR has for making a decision about its future:

“. . .experts say the options available to the group [LCWR] are stark.

“Ultimately, several canon lawyers told NCR, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious has two choices: Either comply with the order or face ouster as a Vatican-recognized representative of sisters in the United States.

“What’s more, the lawyers say, LCWR has no recourse for appeal of the decision. . . “

The two canon lawyers quoted in the article,Oblate Fr. Frank Morrisey, professor of canon law at St. Paul University in Ottawa, Canada, and Jesuit Fr. Ladislas Orsy, visiting professor at Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, DC, explained why appealing the decision does not seem feasible:

“Morrissey said part of the problem regarding the question of whether the sisters can appeal the decision is the fact that, when a decision comes from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, ‘there’s no appeal except to the Doctrine of Faith itself.’

“While Morrissey said the LCWR ‘could always ask’ the congregation to reconsider its own decision, he doubted the congregation would be willing to re-evaluate, considering the number of the meetings that have already been held on the matter since announcement of the investigation in 2009.

“The situation regarding the chances of appeal is so dim, Orsy said, that no canon lawyer would advise LCWR to spend time even trying to prepare a case to present.”

One of the reasons that the Vatican undertook the doctrinal assessment of LCWR was because the hierarchy was concerned about the sisters’ support of  lesbian/gay issues, including support of New Ways Ministry’s programs, in particular.  Background on the Vatican’s decision, as well as New Ways Ministry’s response, can be found in the previous two days’ Bondings 2.0’s blog posts which can be accessed here and here.  Both contain links to primary documents and other news sources.

The Vatican’s failure of communication with LCWR in announcing the decision and the one-sidedness of any “appeals” process does not bode well for any true “collaboration” between the two groups.   There can be no collaboration when one side holds all the power, especially if it does not act honorably and fairly.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Sister Joan Chittister & Sister Simone Campbell Respond to Vatican Action Against U.S. Nuns

April 19, 2012

We’re continuing our coverage of the news which broke yesterday that the Vatican has appointed an overseer to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the association of heads of nuns’ communities in the U.S.   The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) article on the action highlights the tasks that the appointee, Archbishop Peter Sartrain of Seattle, will undertake:

  • Revising LCWR statutes;
  • Reviewing LCWR plans and programs;
  • Creating new programs for the organization;
  • Reviewing and offering guidance on the application of liturgical texts; and
  • Reviewing LCWR’s affiliations with other organizations, citing specifically NETWORK and the Resource Center for Religious Institutes.

“According to the [Vatican] letter, Sartain’s mandate runs for ‘up to five years, as deemed necessary.’ Sartain is also expected to set up an advisory team including clergy and women religious, to ‘work collaboratively’ with LCWR officers and to ‘report on the progress of this work to the Holy See.’ “

Sister Joan Chittister

LCWR has yet to issue a statement concerning the statement from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), but the NCR article quotes  a response to the announcement from Sister Joan Chittister, OSB, the renowned Catholic author and speaker, who is a past-president of LCWR:

“Although LCWR officers did not immediately return requests for comment on this story, a former leader of the group told NCR that the appointment and the order for the group to revise itself was ‘actually immoral.’

” ‘Within the canonical framework, there is only one way I can see to deal with this,’ said Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister, who has served as president of the group as well as in various leadership positions. (Chittister also writes a column for NCR.) ‘They would have to disband canonically and regroup as an unofficial interest group.

” ‘That would be the only way to maintain growth and nourish their congregational charisms and the charism of the LCWR, which is to help religious communities assess the signs of the time. If everything you do has to be approved by somebody outside, then you’re giving your charism away, and you’re certainly demeaning the ability of women to make distinctions.’ “

David Gibson, a premier reporter on Catholic issues, noted in a Religion News Service story appearing in USA Today, that concern about the nuns’ silence on marriage equality was referred to in the Vatican directive:

“. . . ‘[C]rucial’ issues like ‘the church’s biblical view of family life and human sexuality, are not part of the LCWR agenda in a way that promotes church teaching. Moreover, occasional public statements by the LCWR that disagree with or challenge positions taken by the bishops, who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals, are not compatible with its purpose.’ “

The criticism of LCWR’s approach to lesbian/gay issues is also explicitly referenced in the Vatican document:

“In this wider context, the CDF notes the absence of initiatives by the LCWR aimed at promoting the reception of the Church’s teaching, especially on difficult issues such as Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis [in which the pope said there could be no discussion on women's ordination in the church] and Church teaching about homosexuality.”

As Bondings 2.0 reported yesterday, the Vatican’s criticism of LCWR’s approach to lesbian/gay issues also included nuns’ support of New Ways Ministry.  From the Vatican document:

“Policies of Corporate Dissent. The Cardinal [William Levada, CDF Prefect] spoke of this issue in reference to letters the CDF received from “Leadership Teams” of various Congregations, among them LCWR officers, protesting the Holy See’s actions regarding the question of women’s ordination and of a correct pastoral approach to ministry to homosexual persons, e.g. letters about New Ways Ministry’s conferences. The terms of the letters suggest that these sisters collectively take a position not in agreement with the Church’s teaching on human sexuality. It is a serious matter when these Leadership Teams are not providing effective leadership and example to their communities, but place themselves outside the Church’s teaching.”

You can read New Ways Ministry’s response to this criticism here.

Sister Simone Campbell

Besides New Ways Ministry, another Catholic organization, NETWORK, a national social justice lobbying group, was also cited in the CDF’s criticism of LCWR.  The New York Times article explains the reference and reports NETWORK’s  reaction:

“ ‘I’m stunned,’ said Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobby founded by sisters. Her group was also cited in the Vatican document, along with the Leadership Conference, for focusing its work too much on poverty and economic injustice, while keeping  ‘silent’ on abortion and same-sex marriage.

“ ‘I would imagine that it was our health care letter that made them mad,’ Sister Campbell said. ‘We haven’t violated any teaching, we have just been raising questions and interpreting politics.’ ”

In 2010, NETWORK supported President Obama’s health care bill, while the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops opposed it.

Bondings 2.0 will be following the news and commentary on the decision about LCWR in the coming days and weeks.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Vatican Action Against U.S. Nuns; New Ways Ministry’s Response

April 18, 2012

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has announced that it will appoint an Archbishop Delegate to oversee the activities of  the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), the national association of the heads of nuns’ communities throughout the United States.    An Associated Press article  about this action says the Vatican cited the organization

” . . .for using materials that ‘do not promote church teaching’ on family life and sexuality, for sometimes taking positions in opposition to the nation’s bishops and for being ‘silent on the right to life from conception to natural death, a question that is part of the lively public debate about abortion and euthanasia in the United States.’ ”

You can read the full text of the CDF document here.

Because support for New Ways Ministry was mentioned in this document as one of the factors leading up to this doctrinal investigation of LCWR,  Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director of New Ways Ministry issued the following statement today:

“For all of our 35-year history, New Ways Ministry has been strongly supported by Catholic women religious in the United States.  This support, manifested by so many generous and courageous acts, has, indeed, been the backbone of our bridge-building ministry for lesbian/gay Catholics and the wider church community.

“So, it was with great dismay that we learned that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) today released a document on the recent ”Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious,” (LCWR) in which the Congregation announced the appointment of an Archbishop Delegate to oversee LCWR’s activities.   We are even more deeply saddened that support of New Ways Ministry by women’s religious communities and by LCWR leaders was singled out as one of the reasons that a doctrinal assessment was undertaken.  From the document:

“ ‘Policies of Corporate Dissent. The Cardinal [William Levada, CDF Prefect] spoke of this issue in reference to letters the CDF received from “Leadership Teams” of various Congregations, among them LCWR officers, protesting the Holy See’s actions regarding the question of women’s ordination and of a correct pastoral approach to ministry to homosexual persons, e.g. letters about New Ways Ministry’s conferences. The terms of the letters suggest that these sisters collectively take a position not in agreement with the Church’s teaching on human sexuality. It is a serious matter when these Leadership Teams are not providing effective leadership and example to their communities, but place themselves outside the Church’s teaching.’

“In 2007, many leadership teams of women’s religious communities wrote to the CDF to express their concern about the CDF’s directive to the Archbishop of St. Paul, Minnesota, to deny permission to our organization to celebrate the Eucharist at our national conference in that archdiocese.  As far as we are aware, the content of these letters questioned the Vatican’s denial of the Eucharist without addressing the other issues of pastoral care of lesbian and gay people or Catholic teaching on human sexuality.

“The CDF’s criticism of receiving letters seems intended to silence discussion of important issues in the church.  Why are Vatican leaders afraid to hear what women religious think on topics such as homosexuality that is being so widely discussed in all other quarters of society?  The Catholic faith is a living faith that requires dialogue and discussion, not only to thrive, but also to be a viable witness of God’s love in the world.

“If the leadership of the Catholic Church is unwilling to listen to the idea of the leaders of some of its most dedicated members, then our Church will never be able to grow or to respond in a Gospel way to the needs of our world. The CDF’s repressive action towards LCWR further erodes Catholicism’s ability to be a vital force in the world.

“New Ways Ministry, in gratitude for all we have received from women’s religious communities, pledges our prayerful support to LCWR and all its members during this period of trial.  We know that our God, who has graced these women with gifts of justice, fortitude, and wisdom, will guide and sustain them at this critical time. “

Stay tuned for news and commentary as this story develops.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Strong Support for LGBT Issues Among Hispanics–Especially Catholics

April 18, 2012

Catholics who support LGBT equality know only too well that the long-standing media image of Catholics as hostile to accepting LGBT people is blatantly false.   So, it may come as no surprise to them that a new survey shows that Hispanics, another population often whose LGBT attitudes are often depicted in similarly negative fashion, are actually very supportive of equality and justice.

According to a Seattle Times article, the report conducted by Social Science Research Solutions (SSRS) research group and  the National Council of La Raza, a major Hispanic advocacy organization

“found Latino support for many pro-gay policies at least on par with that of the population as a whole.

“Latinos in the SSRS study, for example, support same-sex marriage at a rate of 54 percent, compared with 53 percent of those in the general population who indicated such support in a Gallup poll last year. [Note: in most polls on marriage equality that track religious affiliation, about 50-55% of Catholics usually indicate support.]

“And by even wider margins, respondents in the SSRS study favor policies aimed at protecting gays against hate crimes and discrimination related to jobs, housing and military service.”

The Times article highlights the fact that this new information dispels old myths about Hispanic people:

” ‘There is a clear misperception among the general population about where Latinos stand’ on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues, said David Dutwin, vice president of SSRS and author of the report.

” ‘In reality, as society is evolving on LGBT issues and becoming more accepting of this community, so too are Hispanics.’ “

When Catholic Hispanics are looked at separately in the report, support for LGBT issues is even stronger:

“Three out of five Hispanics in the U.S. identify as Catholic. And while polls put support for same-sex marriage among lay Catholics at around 56 percent, church teachings and most church leaders oppose same-sex marriage.

“Among Catholic Latinos in the SSRS survey, 57 percent said they support same-sex marriage, while support among other Christians was around 43 percent.”

Interestingly, the researchers themselves admit that they expected to find Catholicism fueling anti-LGBT sentiment among Hispanics, but in fact, that hypothesis did not prove true.   In an interview with Candace Chellew-Hodge for an article on, Dutwin, the lead researcher confessed:

“With somewhere between three out of five Hispanics identifying as Catholic there was a thought walking into the survey that if there is a lack of support and acceptance in the Hispanic community, then it’s the Catholic nature of the community that’s driving it. Turns out that’s not the case at all. A majority Catholic Hispanics support legal gay marriage. It’s actually Protestant Hispanics that are under 50% support of gay marriage.

My own belief about strong Catholic support for marriage equality is that one reason it is so strong is because Catholics maintain strong family ties.   Since Hispanic culture is also very centered on the family unit, I speculate that this reason may be one of the motivators for such strong support among this group, too.

You can read the full text of the SSRS report and data by clicking here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Catholics to Cardinal Dolan: Meet with LGBT Youth

April 17, 2012

Joseph Amodeo

Last week, Bondings 2.0 reported that Joseph Amodeo, a member of the junior board of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, resigned his position in protest of Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s insensitivity to LGBT concerns, and particularly how such insensitivity impacts negatively on LGBT youth.

Yesterday, Amodeo renewed his opposition to Dolan’s insensitive remarks by launching a petition asking Dolan to meet with LGBT y0uth.   A essay by Amodeo explains his reasons for starting this campaign:

“As Catholics and others listen to the messages coming from those in positions of power in the Church, I hope they will realize that the heavy-handed approach to LGBT issues is not shared by all Catholics. Although those in the hierarchy may have the pulpit, there are far more pews than there will ever be pulpits. As Catholics speak out and call upon the Church to live out its call to be a beacon of social justice and love, those in the hierarchy will begin to see another way in which Christ has risen — he has risen from the silence and has cried out for equality. We can only hope that those in the Church leadership will turn and listen to our voices, so as to see that our prophetic witness is merely asking them to look into our hearts and see the people God has created us to be.

“For this reason I have decided to launch a petition on to be presented to Cardinal Timothy Dolan to let him know that Catholics stand in solidarity with the homeless LGBT youth of the Ali Forney Center and all LGBT youth in need. Through this action, the voices of gay and straight Catholics will unite, will break through the silence, and will call upon those in positions of power in the Church to see that the people of God will not allow the cries for help of God’s children to go unheard and unanswered. So please join me in signing this petition, so that we might invite Cardinal Dolan into a dialogue about this important issue that faces us all.”

You can sign the petition by clicking here.

Amodeo’s essay begins with a powerful story which illustrates how Catholic lay people are in the forefront of religious groups in their support of LGBT justice and equality:

“A little over eight years ago, I came out as a gay man to my family and friends. Amid this revelation, I continued to practice my faith as a Roman Catholic. It was at this time in my life that I came to witness the overwhelming support that Catholics have for LGBT people. In my role as a religion teacher, a priest once informed me that a parent had expressed concern over having a gay man teach religious education. The priest called a meeting of the parish on a weeknight and asked that anyone who had concerns related to my teaching should speak up publicly. The night of the meeting, I entered a packed Church and slowly made my way to a pew where I sat next to my father. As the meeting began, one-by-one congregants rose and expressed their real concern: why this was even an issue. The reality is that my experience from nearly a decade ago is representative of the vast majority of Roman Catholics. We live in a Church that is called to welcome and affirm people’s humanity and identity without exception. It was in reflecting on this faith experience that I had such a difficult time reconciling Cardinal Dolan’s comments with the Catholic faith that I live and experience every day.”

Show that you are one of those Catholics who know that our faith compels us to work for LGBT justice and equality. Sign the petition today!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

How to Further Alienate Young People from Catholicism

April 16, 2012

In Minneapolis, where an upcoming state-wide referendum on marriage equality is being hotly debated, students at DeLaSalle Catholic high school turned an assembly designed to promote traditional marriage into a debate about marriage equality.  Seniors at the school were required to attend the program given by two archdiocesan officials,  according to a column in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, from which the students’ quotations below are taken.   Officials ended up turning the assembly into a protest for marriage equality.  The story is a textbook case for how to further alienate young people from Catholicism.  Here’s what the officials did wrong:

1) Assume that young people are pliable and can be easily duped.  Young people instinctively know when they are being hoodwinked by adults. One student noted that many of her peers knew at once they were being used as pawns:

“. . . students were anxious when they heard about the program and were suspicious because only seniors were required to go. ‘We put two and two together,’ said [Lydia] Hannah [a student]. ‘All of us will be able to vote next fall [on the constitutional amendment that limits marriage to same-sex couples].’

“Hannah said the presenters briefly brought up the amendment but backed off when students got angry.”

2) Assume that young people don’t have a sense of fairness and can’t see through false arguments. Young people know immediately when a situation is not balanced and fair, and they react strongly against such situations:

“. . . one of the presenters said that adopted kids were ‘sociologically unstable.’ She called the comments ‘hurtful’ and comparisons between gay love and bestiality upsetting.

” ‘My friend said, ‘You didn’t just compare people to animals, did you?'” said Hannah. ‘I think everyone has a right to their opinion, and I don’t judge them on it. But we don’t force people to sit down so we can tell them their opinion is wrong.’ “

3) Assume that young people will be docile.  Young people are naturally passionate about ideas and principles and will speak out and act if they feel that they or others are being wronged:

” ‘We weren’t being rude,’ countered Lydia Hannah, another student who spoke out. ‘But people were upset, and we weren’t just going to sit there.’ “

4) Assume that young people don’t know anything about LGBT issues.  Both statistics and everyday experience tell people that young folks today are not only much more aware of LGBT topics than older generations have had, but they are way more supportive of such subjects.  Indeed, many of them have involvement with these issues:

” ‘When they finally got to gay marriage, [students] were really upset,’ said Bliss [a student]. ‘You could look around the room and feel the anger. My friend who is a lesbian started crying, and people were crying in the bathroom.’

“Bliss was one of several students who stood up to argue with the representatives from the archdiocese. One girl held up a sign that said, ‘I love my moms.’ “

5) Assume that young people don’t have information. Because of their awareness of LGBT issues, students today have a lot more information about these topics and can discuss them comfortably:

“At one point, Bliss raised his hand and, ‘as politely as I could,’ began to argue with the presenters. He used his knowledge of history to refute many of their points, and explained that various cultures have accepted and embraced homosexuality going back hundreds of years.

” ‘I think they were surprised by the history I gave them and surprised that I was so calm,’ said Bliss. ‘I don’t think they expected the response they got from the students.’ “

The story of this assembly reveals that these church officials not only lost these students on the issue of marriage equality, but that they didn’t realize that their heavy-handed strategy may have further alienated these youths from Catholicism altogether.

Catholics for Marriage Equality Minnesota’s blog, Sensus Fidelium, recently posted about a homily given at a Catholic Easter vigil mass, which supported the DeLaSalle student protest.  Blogger Jim Smith reports:

“In that homily, he mentioned ‘the candor and ease with which young people discuss the matter of sexual orientation these days, as well as their conviction that something’s wrong when religion gets in the way of love and respect for any person.’  He continued, ‘I am impressed with the grit of the DeLaSalle students to voice so confidently their truth, especially about such a tender matter.’

“And then the pastor said this: ‘I think it’s critical for those of us who intend to hang around [in the Church], to agree that not standing up, over time, for what we know to be the truth, is not right. I too often wonder, “Will this get me into trouble?” or “Can I pay a kid from DeLaSalle to do this for me?” rather than, “What does Jesus Christ ask of me?” In the face of insult, or injustice, or bigotry, or hatred, or greed, or lies, or the abuse of power, the Christian must stand up for and speak the truth, knowing that the cost and consequence – ‘The Cross’ – are part of what being Christian means.’

“When the homily ended, resurrection reigned yet again when the Vigil packed church practiced what was just preached. The church stood, and she, too, spoke truth with an ovation that rocked the rafters.”

Congratulations to the DeLaSalle students for speaking their minds!  They are an inspiration to the rest of the church!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Seattle Parishes Refuse to Cooperate in Anti-Marriage Equality Petition Drive

April 15, 2012

Washington State's Governor Christine Gregoire, a Catholic, signs marriage equality into law in February 2012.

A small but significant movement is happening in the Archdiocese of Seattle.   Archbishop Peter Sartrain has asked parishes there to collect signatures on a petition to call a referendum to repeal the state’s new marriage equality law.   So far, three parishes, including the archdiocesan cathedral, have publicly refused to circulate the petition.

According to a news article in The Seattle Times:

“The majority of parishes in Western Washington are expected to make the petitions available — some as soon as this Sunday, following Mass, according to a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Seattle.

“But pastors of at least three prominent Catholic churches in Seattle — St. Mary’s Church, St. Joseph Parish and St. James Cathedral — have notified members that the petitions will not be made available there.”

Very Rev. Michael Ryan, pastor of St. James Cathedral, said in a statement posted on the parish’s website that collecting signatures would be “divisive” in the parish, and he appreciated that the archbishop left the decision to do so up to the discretion of  pastors.  Ryan described his decision in a news article which appeared in The National Catholic Reporter:

“I decided to take a preemptive strike by sending out my email (April 11) thinking that many of my parishioners would either boycott Mass this coming Sunday or that they would arrive in a white heat. The tone of my email was low-key and anything but inflammatory. I have received 115 responses to it — when none were required or even expected! — and fully 110 of them have been strongly supportive of my decision. And I mean strongly supportive!”

According to a Reuters news story,

“Using similar language, the pastoral life coordinator at St. Mary’s Church, Tricia Wittmann-Todd, said collecting signatures would be ‘hurtful and divisive’ to her parish.

” ‘I am particularly concerned about our youth who may be questioning their own sexual identity and need our support at this time in their lives,’ she said in a statement.”

Danny Westneat, a columnist in The Seattle Times, cites an even stronger comment from a third pastor:

“At St. Joseph’s in Seattle, the Rev. John Whitney, S.J., said that he couldn’t in good conscience allow signature gathering. In a bit of a broadside in this Sunday’s church bulletin, he writes that Catholic leadership seems deaf to the spirit of its own people, who, he implies, could teach the bishops a thing or two about acceptance of gays and lesbians.

” ‘The leadership of the church sometimes confronts the world as an enemy of the Spirit,’ he wrote. ‘The church needs greater humility and openness.’ “

Westneat also quotes the woman whose opposition to the petition drive got this movement started:

“Barbara Guzzo is the parishioner at St. Mary’s who got this little rebellion going by speaking out against the archbishop’s campaign. She said she’s often asked how she hangs in there with a church that seems afflicted with an ” ‘institutional deafness’ (as Whitney dubbed it in his Sunday bulletin).

” ‘My answer is: because it’s a human institution,’ Guzzo said. ‘I mean it took the Catholic Church 400 years to acknowledge we were wrong on Galileo! But eventually we did do it. We did say, “Oops, we were wrong.”

“She’s not saying that’s coming again anytime soon. But this is how the change often starts. From the inside out.”

While many Catholic dioceses have taken strong measures to opposed marriage equality in legislatures and referendums, none had yet taken the bold step of collecting signatures at parishes to get the question put on the ballot.  The decision to do so remains highly controversial among Catholics in Seattle.  According to the Times news report:

“Calls to the archdiocese have been running about even between those opposed to the archbishop’s stance on the issue and those who favor it, archdiocese spokesman Greg Magnoni said.”

Additionally, the same report provides background on the question of diocesan involvement in marriage questions. Links to Bondings 2.0 blog posts about the following actions can be accessed by clicking on the highlighted text:

“Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, which advocates for gays within the Catholic Church, called Sartain’s position ‘a very aggressive step — and in the wrong direction.’

“In other states, ‘there appears to be a trend of the church supporting civil unions or domestic partnerships, arrangements short of full marriage,’ he said.

“For example, he noted, the Archbishop of Westminster in England in December came out in support of civil unions. And in New Hampshire this year, the Catholic Church endorsed civil unions for same-sex couples as a compromise to a full repeal of that state’s same-sex marriage law, which has been in place since 2009.

“In 2009, the Diocese in Portland, Maine, opposed marriage equality on a referendum, but did not make petitions available in its parishes.

“Same-sex marriage supporters in Maine are trying again this year to legalize gay marriage, and last month church leaders in that state announced they would not actively campaign against the measure, but would instead educate its members on the issues.

” ‘Education is the proper role for the church; collecting signatures is not education,’ DeBernardo said.

“In Maine, he said, some parishes have reported a loss in membership as a result of the church’s position in 2009.

” ‘That’s important for Archbishop Sartain and others to consider,’ DeBernardo said. ‘This could have a devastating effect, regardless of the outcome.’ “

Letters to the editor ofThe Seattle Times express outrage at Archbishop Sartrain’s petition drive.  Joe Martin writes:

“As a practicing Catholic, married and a proud father of two sons, I was horrified to learn that Archbishop J. Peter Sartain has plans to implement what amounts to a church-sponsored gay-bashing campaign.

“Whatever Sartain and Catholic officialdom thinks of gay people, the proposed inauguration of a petition drive to actively promote the rescinding of the gay-marriage act is a most misguided and contemptuous maneuver on the part of the institutional church in this region.”

Larry Clement writes:

“I have felt St. James Cathedral (and other churches, synagogues and mosques) to be a sanctuary, not only for me, but for others as well. A sanctuary where I could be in the presence of God for a while, away from the troubles outside, including all the dirt, accusations and innuendoes of politics. I also believe that the church must be separated from politics.

“If our archbishop is now allowing signatures to be gathered in or around the church and the services therein, for or against any political matter, my sanctuary is gone. It does not matter to me if the cause is gay marriage or discrimination of any kind, it does not belong in the church. I am saddened, and I am experiencing a great loss. I don’t want to go back.”

Ann Horwitt writes:

“The archdiocese has every right to engage in a political fight against gay marriage but it does so at some peril.

“Churches currently hold tax-exempt status as religious institutions. If the archdiocese of Seattle and other religious groups sponsor political actions such as petition drives against certain laws then perhaps it is time to revisit the privilege of tax exemption.”

Let’s pray that other Catholic parishes in Seattle and around the country will follow the example of these courageous communities.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

LGBT Catholics Tell Youth: “It Gets Better”

April 14, 2012

Congratulations and many thanks to the good folks at Dignity/Washington who this week launched an “It Gets Better” video on YouTube.  Dignity/Washington is a community of LGBT Catholics and other Christians, their families and friends.   The “It Gets Better” project shows young LGBT people how life does indeed become better as one matures through the teen years into adulthood.  It was designed to help prevent LGBT teen depression and suicide over sexual and gender identity issues.  The Dignity/Washington video tells stoires of how Catholic LGBT adults dealt with these issues in the context of their faith, and it offers encouragement to young people who are struggling with the same topics.

Wouldn’t it be great for more Catholic communities to launch similar videos and to spread the message that “It Gets Better” to LGBT youth through other forms of witness and faith expression.

You can watch the Dignity/Washington video  here:

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


How Threatened Is Religious Liberty?

April 13, 2012

LGBT issues are central to the campaign that the U.S. bishops have been mounting to “protect” and “defend” religious liberty.  One example is their argument that laws requiring legal recognition of lesbian and gay couples impinge upon the religious liberty of our church.  One important effect of this religious freedom argument has been that some bishops have closed down adoption services because they claim their faith does not allow them to place children with families headed by a lesbian or gay couple.   Clearly, a scorched earth policy.

Catholics concerned about LGBT equality will be interested to learn that yesterday the U.S. bishops stepped up their campaign about religious liberty, as reported in a New York Times article:

‘The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops issued a proclamation on Thursday calling for every priest, parish and layperson to participate in ‘great national campaign’ to defend religious liberty, which they said is ‘under attack, both at home and abroad.’

“In particular they urged every diocese to hold a ‘Fortnight for Freedom’ during the two weeks leading up to the Fourth of July, for parishioners to study, pray and take public action to fight what they see as the government’s attempts to curtail religious freedom.’

“ ‘To be Catholic and American should mean not having to choose one over the other,’ said the statement, issued by the bishops ad hoc committee on religious freedom. “

The bishops fail to recognize, however, that many, many Catholics have no problem with integrating their faith and national identities, and that they disagree strongly with the bishops’ positions on the so-called “religious liberty” issues such as LGBT equality and access to birth control.

You can read the entire text of the bishops’ statement, entitled “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty” by clicking on the title.

What I found most troublesome was the bishops’ attempt to identify themselves with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s civil disobedience movement:

“In his famous ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’ in 1963, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. boldly said, ‘The goal of America is freedom.’ As a Christian pastor, he argued that to call America to the full measure of that freedom was the specific contribution Christians are obliged to make. He rooted his legal and constitutional arguments about justice in the long Christian tradition:

I would agree with Saint Augustine that “An unjust law is no law at all.” Now what is the difference between the two? How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of Saint Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.

“It is a sobering thing to contemplate our government enacting an unjust law. An unjust law cannot be obeyed. In the face of an unjust law, an accommodation is not to be sought, especially by resorting to equivocal words and deceptive practices. If we face today the prospect of unjust laws, then Catholics in America, in solidarity with our fellow citizens, must have the courage not to obey them. No American desires this. No Catholic welcomes it. But if it should fall upon us, we must discharge it as a duty of citizenship and an obligation of faith.”

What is troublesome about this passage is that the bishops themselves have often not allowed any discussion of unjust laws the church maintains.  Their comparison to Dr. King rings hollow and degrades his memory.

An interesting analysis of the bishops’ statement comes from an editorial published by Commonweal magazine within hours of the statement’s release.  What makes this editorial so interesting is that the editors agree that the bishops should be concerned about religious liberty, however, they view their tactics as alarmist, misguided, and potentially perceived as partisan:

“The bishops are right to call for vigilance on behalf of religious liberty. There are influential currents of opinion today that advocate restricting the presence of religion in public life and would reduce religious liberty to the freedom of individuals or congregations to worship as they please. That is not the American way. There should be considerable room for government to cooperate with religious groups as with other non-governmental bodies in serving the common good. Unfortunately, the argument made by the bishops as well as their proposed tactics for public action undermine their case. Worse, the tenor of the bishops’ statement runs the risk of making this into a partisan issue during a presidential election in which the leaders of one party have made outlandish claims about a ‘war on religion’ or a ‘war against the Catholic Church.’

“The USCCB’s statement vastly exaggerates the extent to which American freedoms of all sorts and of religious freedom in particular are threatened. Church-state relations are complicated, requiring the careful weighing of competing moral claims. The USCCB’s statement fails to acknowledge that fact. Worse, strangely absent from the list of examples provided by the bishops is the best-documented case of growing hostility to religious presence in the United States: hostility to Islam. Unless the bishops correct that oversight, their statement will only feed the impression that this ‘campaign’ for religious freedom has been politically tailored. This silence is especially striking in view of the parallels between anti-Muslim sentiment today and the prejudice encountered by Catholic immigrants in the nineteenth century. If religious freedom becomes a partisan issue, its future is sure to grow dimmer, not brighter.  Religious liberty, absolutely. Partisan politics, no.”

Let’s pray that the bishops soon recognize that this type of campaign, in which they portray themselves as victims, is not only unpersuasive, but it further erodes their moral authority and the credibility of all Catholics.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

April 12, 2012

The Catholic hierarchy’s opposition to anything remotely positive concerning LGBT issues is starting to affect charities which depend on funding from church sources.

A recent New York Times article examines the case of a Colorado non-profit, Compañeros, which helps immigrants receive social services and adjust to American life.   The article explains:

“. . .[I]n February, the group was informed by a representative from the Diocese of Pueblo that its financing from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development [CCHD], an arm of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops devoted to ending poverty, was in danger.

“The problem, the diocesan liaison explained, was Compañeros’s membership in an immigrant rights coalition that had joined forces with a statewide gay and lesbian advocacy group, recounted Nicole Mosher, Compañeros’s executive director.

“The Catholic Campaign, which doles out $8 million annually to about 250 groups nationwide, has been under increasing pressure from conservative Catholic groups to ensure that it is not unwittingly aiding organizations that run afoul of church positions on issues like birth control and marriage.”

Ralph McCloud, CCHD director, explains the rationale for denying funds:

“We can’t in any way have groups who are collaborating with other groups whose main focus is objectionable or contrary to Catholic teachings. . . .We’re upfront with that.”

I can’t help but wonder two things: 1) Will the CCHD de-fund programs with ties to groups that support right-wing causes or who flaunt church teaching in regard to war, the death penalty, and greed;  2) Doesn’t the CCHD’s rationale sound remarkably similar to Jesus’ critics in the gospel who denigrated him for unseemly associations with certain groups and people?

The Times article, which is worth a full read, offers hope in that one national Catholic group is working to raise money for an alternative fund to the increasigly conservative-controlled CCHD:

Catholics United, a social justice group based in Washington, has vowed to counter the pressure from conservative Catholics. James Salt, the group’s executive director, said it planned fund-raising efforts this year so groups would not have to lean so heavily on money controlled by bishops.

“ ‘What is apparent is that these conservative groups are succeeding in subverting the mission of C.C.H.D., which is probably the most important antipoverty foundation in America,’ he said.”

Catholics United’s website has an announcement of the new fund,, which it describes as

“an alternative donation website that allows lay Catholics and people of faith to donate to worthy charities threatened with defunding by right-wing pressure groups within the Catholic Church. . . “

In an excellent and insightful National Catholic Reporter column, Jamie Manson puts the CCHD funding controversy in the broader context of the U.S. bishops’ increasingly politicized approach to the marriage equality debate.   She points out the heart of the matter on this issue:

“The hierarchy is letting the ideology of extreme social conservatives, not the teachings of the Gospel, determine where and how the poor will receive aid.

“How many social evils will the Catholic hierarchy ignore? How many injustices will they overlook in order to fulfill its zealous mission against equality for members of the LGBT community?

“Apparently, quite a few.”

The bishops have yet to recognize what everyone else already knows:  Catholics support LGBT justice issues, including marriage equality.  Catholics United’s alternative shows that Catholic lay people will find a way to fund programs and projects that express their faith commitment  to equality and justice for all.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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