Pilgrimage to the Abbey of Rievaulx

June 30, 2012

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve been traveling in England recently.  I’m here for World Pride 2012 celebrations and conferences, and I’m doing a bit of sightseeing while here.

St. Aelred, in an icon by Robert Lentz

One place that I was eager to visit was the ruins of the Abbey of Rievaulx, a 12th-century Cistercian foundation in northern England, which at one point was guided by St. Aelred.   St. Aelred has become a favorite patron of many gay Catholics because he wrote so beautifully on the gifts of spiritual friendship and love between men.  His writings express the beauty of relationship and personal intimacy which he believed were the great signs of God’s love.

You can read a short biography of St. Aelred here.

In an archived blog post on QueeringTheChurch.com, Terence Weldon offer a commentary on St. Aelred, including this excerpt from his masterwork, On Spiritual Friendship:

“It is no small consolation in this life to have someone to whom you can be united in the intimate embrace of the most sacred love;  in whom your spirit can rest; to whom you can pour out your soul; in whose delightful company, as in a sweet consoling song, you can take comfort in the midst of sadness;  in whose most welcome, friendly bosom you can find peace in so many worldly setbacks; to whose loving heart you can open, as freely as you would to yourself, your innermost thoughts; through whose spiritual kisses – as by some medicine – you are cured of the sickness of care and worry; who weeps with you in sorrow, rejoices with you in joy, and wonders with you in doubt; whom you draw by the fetters of love into that inner room of your soul, so that though the body is absent, the spirit is there, and you can confer all alone, the two of you, in the sleep of peace away from the noise of the world, in the embrace of love, in the kiss of unity, with the Holy Spirit flowing over you; to whom you so join and unite yourself that you mix soul with soul, and two become one.”

When King Henry VIII  dissolved the  Roman Catholic monasteries as part of his campaign to establish himself as head of the Church of England,  the Abbey of Rievaulx was closed and destroyed.  The ruins, located about 20 miles outside of York, are among the most well-preserved in England.  There is no public transportation directly to them, so I ended up doing a three-mile hike from the town of Helmsley to reach them.  It was a beautiful walk across farmland, meadows, and woods.  While there I made a special prayer to St. Aelred for LGBT Catholics all over the world, and that our church might soon appreciate his wonderful thoughts on relationship and friendship.

Here are some photos of my visit there.  I hope they give you some sense of the beauty and serenity that I experienced there:

The church at the abbey

A portion of the abbey ruins

Inside the nave of the abbey church

Entrance to the abbey church

Chapter Room, site of many conferences St. Aelred gave to the monks

Archway leading to the refectory

ALL ARE WELCOME: Next Steps in London

June 29, 2012

As I mentioned in a previous post,  I am currently in London, England, for the World Pride 2012 celebration which begins next week, and culminates in a parade on July 7th.

New Ways Ministry’s Francis DeBernardo conducting a “Next Steps” program in London, England.

While visiting “this side of the pond,” I had the opportunity to conduct New Ways Ministry’s popular “Next Steps: Developing Catholic LGBT Ministry” program for a group in London.  It was the first time that New Ways Ministry conducted this particular program in a non-U.S. setting.

Over 20 people attended the day-long workshop (we also offer a weekend-long version of the program), which is  designed to help people develop a plan of action  (“next steps”) for LGBT ministry for their faith communities and/or themselves as individuals.  The program was held agt St. Ann’s-in-the-City church, in the Soho area of London, on June 23rd.

Terence Weldon, who writes and edits the excellent blog, QueeringTheChurch.com, attended the program and posted about it.  An excerpt from his post entitled “LGBT Ministry: A Mustard Seed Begins to Sprout”:

“The structure and focus of the workshop was entirely action oriented – not ‘What should or could be done?’ but ‘What am I going to do, and when?’

” Every one of the participants ended the day with specific plans that they could begin to work on, in their own faith communities. As Frank pointed out, we now have the materials and structure of the workshop – there is nothing to stop us repeating it, with the more usual weekend time frame, and adapted to British circumstances. I am certain that we will take this up and repeat it, specifically for the Soho Masses community – and possibly thereafter, adapt it for other groups as well. [The Soho Masses are semi-monthly Eucharistic liturgies sponsored by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Westminster  (London) for the LGBT community.]

“The mustard seed has yet to grow to full maturity – but it has undeniably begun to sprout.

Some of the “next steps” participants planned during the program:

–develop a faith-sharing group for LGBT Catholics

–connect with LGBT groups in other faiths for joint projects

–begin to inquire about supporting programs for LGBT youth in the area

–initiate a peer support group for LGBT ministers

–volunteer with a Catholic LGBT hotline

–meet with local parish staff to inquire about LGBT ministry

–advertise that parish counseling services welcome LGBT people

–donate books on LGBT faith issues to parish library

–donate books on LGBT theology to seminaries in South Africa

–initiate a dialogue with the local bishop

–develop a prayer group for LGBT people

–initiate a woman’s group at regular LGBT Catholic gatherings

–start a “speakers’ bureau” of LGBT Catholics and allies who can give presentations to parishes.

England has long been a leader in the discussion of LGBT issues in the Catholic Church, thanks to some a dedicated group of lay people, priests, and some key hierarchical leaders who have been willing to address the issue.  It was a privilege to work with some of those dedicated lay people and priests during the “Next Steps” program.

Based on the intelligence, faith, and enthusiasm of the participants at this recent program, I predict even greater things will be happening in England on Catholic LGBT issues.

For more information on the “Next Steps” program or to schedule one in your area, click here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Fired Minnesota Catholic School Teacher Calls for Dialogue on Marriage Equality

June 28, 2012

A 46-year old Catholic school teacher in Moorehead, Minnesota, has lost her job because of her personal conviction in favor of marriage equality.

Trish Cameron

Trish Cameron, who taught at St. Joseph’s Catholic School, says she is now praying for a healthier dialogue in the church on the issue of marriage.

Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) reports:

“After 11 years teaching fifth graders at St. Joseph’s Catholic school in Moorhead, the same-sex marriage issue was on Cameron’s mind as she filled out her annual self-evaluation form this spring.

“Part of the evaluation asked teachers to rate how well they support the teachings of the church. In the comment box, Cameron wrote, ‘I do not agree with all church teachings on a personal level, but I do not bring my own opinions into religion classes.’

“That comment led to a meeting with her principal and superintendent where she explained her break with the church on the issue of same-sex marriage. One week later, they asked her to resign.

” ‘I don’t think there was any hiding my feelings, but along the way at the moments of dialogue was I thinking, “gee I’m jeopardizing my employment?” No,’ she said. ‘That never crossed my mind.’ “

Her decision to express her views privately through the teacher evaluation process resulted from the fact that during a visit to her fifth-grade class last year, Bishop Michael Hoeppner of the Crookston diocese directed students to urge their parents to vote for the upcoming constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality.  MPR reports:

” ‘When he came to talk to my fifth graders this year this was the topic, gay marriage and the Minnesota Marriage Amendment,’ she recalled. ‘And it ended with a direct call to “talk to your parents”‘ kind of “tell them how to vote and make sure — this is important for the church.” And I was really troubled by that, I was very uncomfortable with that.’

“Cameron said she felt a fifth grade classroom was not the appropriate place for a political discussion of the marriage amendment, which would change Minnesota’s Constitution to allow marriage only between a man and a woman. Cameron said she can’t remember another instance in 11 years where a bishop expressed political views in the classroom.”

Cameron, who has a teaching position in nearby Fargo, North Dakota, for the fall, holds no bitterness, but does hold a hope that the Catholic church can discuss important issues like marriage equality more openly:

“Cameron believes she represents a segment of the Catholic Church no longer willing to simply accept what the church leaders say without discussion. Cameron said she has heard from many Catholics who tell her they are also struggling with the same-sex marriage issue.

” ‘We want to talk. This matters in our life. To some of us it’s extraordinarily painful. To some of us it’s really confusing,’ she said. ‘I have teenagers with close friends that are openly gay and those friends matter to them.’

“Cameron also said that she and other parents are afraid that the battle over same-sex marriage will alienate their children from the church.

” ‘After generations of being planted and rooted in the Catholic faith, we’re afraid we can’t hand this faith comfortably to them,’ she said.

“Cameron said she is not asking the church to sanctify same sex-marriage. But she does want church officials to talk about the issue. She worries they have slammed the door on dialogue.

” ‘If that is what the church chooses to say in the end — divine revelation and no more dialogue, then I guess for me even my own future as a Catholic which matters a lot to me, that part of it I don’t know yet,’ she said. ‘It really does matter how the church responds to this.’

“Cameron said her faith is strong and she won’t turn away from the Catholic Church in the near future. But she said if the church continues to ignore the plea to talk about difficult questions like same-sex marriage, she will have no choice but to find a more open and accepting place to worship.”

If the hierarchy does not find a more productive way of dealing with cases like Cameron’s, our church should brace itself for a downward spiral of firings and resignations.  What is troublesome in this case is that it was not public dissent, but private conviction which caused the firing.  Job performance and duty to the church and its religion curriculum were not  at issue.  Our prayers are with Trish Cameron–prayers of support during this challenging time and prayers of gratitude for her faithful, grace-filled witness.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

In DC, Gay Catholics Protest ‘Fortnight for Freedom’ Campaign

June 27, 2012

Gay Catholics protest “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign. (Washington Blade photo by Blake Bergen)

Gay Catholics in Washington, DC, staged a protest against the two-week-long “Fortnight for Freedom” staged by the U.S. bishops to promote the idea that religious liberty is under attack in the U.S.

The Washington Blade  reports that the event was on George Washington University’s campus, where a Fortnight for Freedom event was being held:

“Members of Catholics for Equality and Dignity USA sang hymns and held a large banner that read ‘Bishops: We Need Pastors, Not Politicians, Your Antics are Hurting the Church’ outside the Charles E. Smith Center on 22nd Street, N.W. Cardinal Donald Wuerl of the Archdiocese of Washington was among those who spoke to the estimated 4,000 people who attended the gathering.”

A spokesperson for the protesters explained the reason for the demonstration:

“ ‘We’re here to provide an opposite viewpoint to the U.S. bishops’ “Fortnight for Freedom campaign,” said Joseph Palacios, director of the Catholics for Equality Foundation. He noted to the Blade that 67 percent — or $4 billion — of Catholic Charities’ annual funding comes from state and federal government sources. ‘They claim that they are being victims of religious liberty, when in fact the Catholic Church has probably more liberties than any organization in our country.’ . . .

” ‘This is all about election year politicking,’ argued Palacios. ‘This is a cover for the Catholic Church’s issues on gay rights, on women’s reproductive issues, on so-called religious infringement.’ ”

One of the protesters explained that the demonstration showed that not all Catholics support the bishops’ campaign:

” ‘Catholics are very divided in terms of their support for this conservative political agenda,’ said Arlington resident Bob Miailovich as he stood outside the GWU rally. ‘We have already met here though today some people who are into the more conservative agenda and they take offense at any public program that does not comport foursquare with what the bishops are teaching. As Catholics, it’s a big church and it has a lot of divided opinion. We’re not monolithic on these social issues.’ ”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Christine Quinn: Praying While Running

June 26, 2012

Christine Quinn

Christine Quinn, New York City’s Speaker of the City Council is a Catholic lesbian woman.  Her name is often discussed as a potential candidate for mayor of the Big Apple.

In a recent interview with National Public Radio with David Greene, Quinn discussed some topics concerning her faith, family, and Catholic identity. The following are some excerpts:

GREENE: Your Catholic faith and your family, I wonder on a personal level how you sort of deal with that in your life and also, you know, deal with being gay – not only gay, but one of the most powerful gay women in politics in this country.

QUINN: Well, it’s just who I am. I mean, I’m Catholic and I’m gay. There’s not much to deal with. It’s who I am. It’s how I wake up every morning.

GREENE: But your church, obviously, doesn’t, you know, officially accept that.

QUINN: Right. That’s kind of their problem, not mine. I mean, I just don’t dwell on it. I’m not really sure what the upside of me dwelling on it would be. I mean, I was raised Catholic, I take a lot of comfort and inspiration and motivation and support from my faith. I get what they kind of see in some political issues. They get that we’re not in agreement on that. But that doesn’t make me not who I am. It’s still who I am.

GREENE: Do you ever wake up and think I need to leave this church, I need to leave this faith, I…

QUINN: No. Well, how can you leave a faith? A faith is who you are. It’s what’s inside of you. It’s how you see the world. It’s what inspires you. It’s what comforts you. It’s what uplifts you in the dark days. You can’t leave a faith. The faith is who you are. It’s what you have. Why should I leave the church? It’s my church. They’re the ones who have the wrong perspective. I’m not going to leave. If I leave, it’s as if they won. I’m going to go into any church any time I want to, whenever I want to. It’s my church. And no one’s ever asked me to and no one ever will.

Quinn also discussed her relationship with her father and how that has developed:

GREENE: What was it like coming out to your father, to your family? And are those memories still there with you?

QUINN: You know, when I told my father, it wasn’t perfect. He said never say that again. I said, you know, that’s – I said I’ve told you. That’s my job. That’s my responsibility here. What you do with the information is up to you. And there were some rocky months. But he got through it, is over it. He comes to City Hall every day and volunteers. And he’ll march in the Pride Parade with me. And he stuffs envelopes and delivers things and has been part of every political campaign and every effort I’ve ever had. Just like he was at every science fair and every softball game and every soccer game.

Another family member, her grandmother, was one of the survivors of the Titanic.  Quinn talks about a faith lesson she learned from her grandmother:

GREENE: I want to hear a bit about your family. Your grandmother somehow survived the Titanic. And can you…

QUINN: Yes, my maternal grandmother.

GREENE: Can you give me the short version of…

QUINN: Sure.

GREENE: …of that extraordinary…

QUINN: Sure. Her name then was Nelly Shine. She was a teenage girl. It’s not 100 percent clear ’cause she lied about her age most of her life. But let’s say she was 18, but we don’t really know. And she came from a big family in Cork, Ireland. And her parents were dead and her sister had too many people to take care of and not enough money, and said that – said basically, Nelly, you have to go to America to be with your brother and cousin. So, my grandmother very quickly got a ticket in steerage, third-class, on the Titanic. Story goes she was the last one to get on the last lifeboat and made it off alive. She was quoted as having said when the other girls dropped to their knees to pray, I made a run for it.

GREENE: And you told a priest about that at some point.

QUINN: I did. I told a priest that story and kind of cheekily said, well, I guess my grandmother knew there was a time for praying and a time for running. And he very wisely responded and saying, no, your grandmother knew you could pray while running. And I think that’s a much better outlook on her and on the moral of that story.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

A Gay Catholic’s Plea for Inclusion During the ‘Fortnight for Freedom’

June 25, 2012

Joseph Amodeo

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Fortnight for Freedom campaign, presently underway until July 4th, is attempting to make the case that religious liberty is under attack in the U.S.    One of the supposed attacks comes from the efforts to legalize marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples, despite the fact that every  single marriage equality law passed has a clause which explicitly protects religious liberty.

Joseph Amodeo, a young gay Catholic in New York, who recently resigned his position on a Catholic Charities board because of LGBT issues,  examines some of the faults of the Fortnight for Freedom campaign in a HuffingtonPost.com essay entitled “Catholicism’s Fortnight Identity Crisis.”

Amodeo argues that, in effect, the bishops’ campaign is limiting the power of the Spirit active in the world:

“As bishops argue that their religious freedom is ‘at risk’ because of a federal government working to be just, I’m left wondering why the religious principles of a single faith tradition’s leaders should define public policy for an entire nation. If the Church argues that the word lives today through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and that such inspiration is manifested through the spoken and written word of men and women, then why would such a Spirit stop at the doors of Congress and countless legislative halls throughout the country? In short, I don’t think the Spirit has stopped; instead it seems rather evident that men and women who have been chosen to lead and govern America are discerning great questions of our time and are deliberating in a way that calls to mind the great debates of the Second Vatican Council.”

As an alternative, Amodeo suggests that the Catholic Church should be initiating more dialogue with the secular world, according to the spirit and example of Jesus:

“The time has come for the Church to listen and to hear the cries of those in need. As Christ walked through the villages of ancient Israel, he encountered the people where they were, knelt with them, prayed with them, and witnessed in them the goodness that defines humanity. The time has come for the Church’s leaders to stand at the threshold of the doorway and welcome the sons and daughters who so desire a place to call home. It is in this moment of welcome when the Church will truly affirm the identity and dignity of people who have been created in the image and likeness of God.”

Amodeo hopes that the bishops’ “Fortnight” might become a time when, instead of pointing a finger to those outside, the church can do some productive reflection on the ways that it attempts to limit freedom:

“As Fortnight for Freedom begins and bells toll in cities across the country, we can only hope that this great period of prayer and reflection will lead the Church to see that this quest for ‘religious freedom’ could be a call for the Church itself to examine its own understanding of human liberty and dignity. As some of the Church’s leaders challenge the rights of women, fail to fully welcome and affirm LGBT people, and question the incredible contributions of women religious, I hope that the leaders witness the great illness of judgment that has come to define the actions of some in the hierarchy in recent years.”

Amodeo’s hope is that this time of prayer can actually be reversed to become a time of prayer for inclusion in the church:

I fear that the American bishops’ Fortnight for Freedom campaign will only act to further codify the external view that the Church is a ‘club’ reserved only for the few rather than pro multis (for many). As the bishops begin their fortnight, I would encourage Catholics and all people of faith to share in that time of prayer; may our prayers for truth, love, and hope guide the Church toward truly becoming a ‘living space’ for all without exception.”

His hope highlights the main problem with many of the actions of the U.S. hierarchy lately:  they view the church’s relationship with the “outside” world as a battle.  The problem with this attitude is that it forces the bishops to respond in “attack” mode, rather than in a mode of evangelistic dialogue, which is more appropriate to them.  The “Fortnight” campaign is political not just in content, but in method.  It uses the tactics of a partisan political battle, rather than those of religious conversation.  The Fortnight for Freedom stands to actually harm the church, by betraying its better nature, than it will defend it.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

CALGM Board Refuses to Sign Oath

June 24, 2012

Bishop Salvatore Cordileone

The board of directors of the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry (CALGM) has chosen not to sign an “oath of personal integrity” to Catholic teaching given to them by Oakland’s Bishop Salvatore Cordileone, the Ordinary of the diocese in which they maintain their national office.

According to National Catholic Reporter article:

“Declining the oath could result in Bishop Salvatore Cordileone of Oakland, Calif., declaring the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry, or CALGM, as “not authentically Catholic,” a letter to its members from the association president warns.

Sheila Nelson with CALGM members Myrna Ohmann and the late David McCaffrey

” ‘In good faith, we have done most everything required of us to maintain a legitimate space within the boundaries of the institutional Church,’ president Sheila Nelson wrote to members April 5. ‘Yet, this has not seemed to be adequate or satisfactory to the office of the bishop. We have repeatedly, abundantly and humbly submitted that our work is pastoral in nature and not political or primarily doctrinal.’ . . .

“Cordileone’s list of concerns with the association have included the omission of specific church documents on its website and publications; its use of the terms gay and lesbian; members’ statements deemed critical of the church; and the backgrounds, affiliations and public statements of both conference speakers and board members. . . .

” “That you would require such an unprecedented and extensive manifestation of our consciences suggests to us that, irrespective of our pastoral effectiveness, you wish to force an end to these, admittedly difficult, conversations. You will not be receiving any signed oaths from the Board members,’ Nelson wrote in a March 29 letter, the first informing the bishop of their decision.”

(The NCR article is rather lengthy but filled with details; if you are interested in learning more about this story, I suggest you read the article in its entirety.)

The NCR article noted that CALGM had already made several concessions to other requests by Bishop Cordileone:

“In an eight-page follow-up letter to the January meeting, dated April 15, 2011, the board sought to clarify questions about the association and its stance on several of the bishop’s concerns, one of which was its usage of the terms ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ on its website and in its publications — a concern that ‘honestly surprised’ the board.

Arthur Fitzmaurice

“[Arthur]Fitzmaurice  [board member and resource director] said that Cordileone said during their Jan. 7 meeting that the terms weren’t in the church’s vocabulary, and were promoted by groups opposed to the church’s moral teaching.

“The board pointed out it in the letter that archdiocesan ministries in Los Angeles and Chicago use ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ in their titles. In addition, the Oakland diocese has a page titled Gay and Lesbian Ministry’ under the family life ministries section of its website.

” ‘The average Catholic who identifies as gay or lesbian is not making a statement about their sexual activity, their political party, their views on same-sex marriage, or their “lifestyle.”… these terms are actually used to shift the focus away from sexual behavior (which ‘homosexual’ clearly evokes) toward the matters of orientation and identity, which are acknowledged by the Church,” the letter stated.

“The board agreed to ‘be more conscientious of our use of language,’ and to utilize Church language — ‘persons with a homosexual inclination’ — when presenting church teaching, and ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ when communicating with those to whom they minister. . . .

“Ensuing letters detailed the association’s progress in implementing Cordileone’s requests, including:

  • modifying website content to include specific church documents;
  • adding editorial remarks to opinions criticizing or inaccurately portraying church teachings, and stating CALGM did not share in them;
  • Using church language — “persons with a homosexual inclination” — when presenting church teaching, and “gay” and “lesbian” when communicating with whom they minister;
  • providing the bishop a copy of each newsletter before distribution to members;
  • Continuing the practice of providing the names of proposed speakers to the bishop of the diocese where conferences are held.”

Nelson noted the inappropriateness of the request for an oath:

“Nelson, in a March 29 letter, informed the Oakland bishop the board would not take his oath: ‘In the course of our conversations with you over the last year, we have endeavored to engage and respond to each of the concerns that you have raised about our pastoral ministry.’

“She continued: ‘Sadly, there always seems to be something that you say “confirms [your] doubts” about us and our work. … We have tried to gain your trust … We have tried to assure you that we are faithful disciples in parishes and dioceses doing the pastoral work of the Church …’

” ‘We hope you can understand, then, our confusion at the “Oath of Personal Integrity in Belief and Practice Regarding the Teachings of the Catholic Church.” Suddenly, the terms of our long conversation have migrated from the work of the Association to the personal lives of the Board members,’ she said.

“At the end of the letter, Nelson expressed hope that CALGM would continue a ministry she called a “tremendous value to you and our Church at a time when conventional wisdom would inaccurately characterize Roman Catholicism as “against gay people,’” adding, ‘For our part, we need you and your apostolic service to hold us in deep communion with the Body of Christ. We hope and pray that we can continue to minister with you in the Church we all love.’ “

Casey Lopata

Looking toward the future, Fitzmaurice and Casey Lopata, longtime CALGM board member and co-founder of Fortunate Families, had these thoughts:

“When asked how or if CALGM would continue its ministry should Cordileone declare it not authentically Catholic, Fitzmaurice stated that ‘the need for our ministry remains, and we will continue to do our pastoral work and will respond to opportunities for dialogue with our Church leaders.’ “

“Lopata said it would be ‘a real loss for the church” if CALGM could not continue its work.

” ‘If there’s not that visible association with this positive perspective for gay and lesbian people within the  church that is recognized by the church, the church would be much impoverished because of that,’ he said.”

Indeed.  CALGM has been a great support to many church ministers over the years and has provided great work in the field of LGBT ministry.  They have worked hard to maintain a dialogue with church leaders throughout their work.  The breakdown of dialogue here says more about the hiearchy’s adamancy than it says anything about CALGM’s loyalty to the church.  They are in our prayers.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

In Minnesota, Catholics on Both Sides of Marriage Debate Gear Up

June 23, 2012

Catholic involvement in the struggle for marriage equality in Minnesota received a lot of press this week.  That state is facing a November ballot initiative to amend their constitution to prevent lesbian and gay couples from marrying.

The St. Cloud Times reports:

“The Diocese of St. Cloud has donated $50,000 to a fund supporting passage of Minnesota’s proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

“The donation is among Central Minnesota’s largest contributions to the costly battle over whether the state constitution will be amended to define marriage as between one man and one woman. Voters will decide in November whether to adopt that amendment. . . .

“According to campaign finance reports, the St. Cloud diocese’s donation was made this month to the Minnesota Catholic Conference Marriage Defense Fund. The Marriage Defense Fund has given $750,000 to Minnesota for Marriage since the start of 2011.

“Catholic diocese in Crookston and Winona also gave to the Marriage Defense Fund this year, and diocese in the Twin Cities, New Ulm and Duluth gave in 2011.

“The Diocese of St. Cloud’s donation came from parishioners’ contributions to special collections taken at Masses throughout the diocese, according to Christine Codden, director of the Office of Marriage and Family for the diocese. Those funds are separate from the general collections at each Mass, Codden said.”

The National Catholic Reporter notes that Catholics who support and Catholics who oppose the amendment are working hard for their cause:

“Catholics — numbering around 1.1 million — make up the largest single religious denomination in Minnesota, and they are gearing up for November when voters will decide whether to approve a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as solely between one man and one woman.

“The Catholic church in Minnesota has been one of the most, if not the most, active religious groups in support of the constitutional amendment, which is in line with Catholic church teaching about marriage.

“At the same time, notable opposition to the law has come from inside the church, from groups of priests opposed to the amendment and from Catholics who have joined organizations opposed to the proposed statute. . . .

“In Minnesota, the Catholic church’s campaign in favor of the amendment includes the formation of parish marriage committees to educate parishioners on marriage and the consequences of a change in definition, according to the website of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the church in the state. . . .

“However, as was the case in other states, some Catholics have been vocal about their disagreement with the church’s campaign. . . .

“Also, three retired Catholic priests wrote a letter in May to the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper (although it was not published) and held a press conference May 17 in Minneapolis, expressing their opposition to the Catholic church’s campaigning on the issue. Minnesota Public Radio took up the story and posted the letter online along with the story.

“Although the priests said they agree with the church’s position on sacramental marriage, they opposed a state constitutional amendment that would deny rights and privileges to same-sex unions. Asserting that ‘there is not just one way for Catholics to vote in November,’ they ask the letter reader to consider voting against the amendment.

” ‘We feel that our church is stronger when both sides of an issue are part of the public dialogue,’ the letter stated.”

Jim Smith

CNN’s Belief Blog spoke with Catholics in Minnesota who are working to oppose the amendment, including Jim Smith of DignityUSA, and Michelle LaFrance, a parishioner:

“Jim Smith is a former Roman Catholic priest who left his post with the church 10 years ago. He’s an ex-priest for several reasons, he says, but one of his main concerns was the church’s stance against same-sex marriage and other LGBT issues.

“But Smith remains a Catholic – though he says being a Catholic who actively campaigns for legalized same-sex marriages can be difficult these days.

” “I’d much rather this wasn’t happening,’ Smith says of the division that the issue has created among Minnesota  Catholics. ‘But it does provide some real opportunities because it challenges us to talk to each other, Catholics talking to other Catholics.  .  .  .’

“A group he helped form,  Catholics for Marriage Equality-Minnesota, aims ‘to encourage Catholics to consider the profound sacredness of same-gender relationships and to defeat this marriage amendment,’ Smith says.

“Vatican edicts against same-sex marriage often give Catholic same-sex marriage supporters the impression they’re in the minority.

“But a recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) suggests 59% of American Catholics support rights allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry. One reason behind that statistic – says PRRI CEO Robert P. Jones – is because U.S. Catholics “overwhelmingly reject the idea that sexual orientation can be changed.” A PRRI poll bears that out – with 69% of Catholics nationwide saying a person’s sexual orientation cannot be changed.

“In the Midwest alone, Catholics are evenly divided on the issue of same-sex marriage -– with 46% in favor, 47% against.

“Like Jim Smith, Michelle LaFrance is a Catholic who has also taken the bold step against the church in support of marriage equality.

” ‘I remember thinking “wow, maybe I shouldn’t [remain a Catholic],” ” LaFrance said. Ultimately they’ve remained with the Catholic faith, citing its many positive aspects including going to church. It’s an important weekly ritual for LaFrance, her husband and their three kids.

” ‘The Catholic Church, despite the media [attention] it typically gets, does a lot of great things, a lot of great social justice,’ LaFrance said. She noted the church ‘feeds the poor, houses the homeless, takes care of the abused.’ “

“The LaFrance family belongs to the Church of St. Margaret Mary in the Minneapolis suburb of Golden Valley, a congregation which LaFrance describes as fairly progressive. She says the majority of her fellow parishioners agree with her stance on same-sex marriage.

“But when LaFrance hears the archdiocese telling people how they should think about it, she can’t help but sometimes feel like less of a Catholic.

“‘ I don’t think anybody – whatever their religious denomination – whole-heartedly follows every single rule down to the letter.’  . . .

“For ex-priest Jim Smith, grappling with the issue has been difficult – a personal struggle that extends to the heart of his faith.

“The inner conflict between what Smith believes is right and his love for the church has pushed him to consider leaving the Catholic religion altogether.

“In the end, Smith vows he will stay. ‘It’s in my bones.’ “

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

U.S. Bishops Launch Campaign to Bolster Idea that Religious Liberty Is at Stake

June 22, 2012

N.Y.’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan supporting the Fortnight for Freedom

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have launched their “Fortnight for Freedom,” a two-week campaign that will include prayer vigils, rallies, and media activity designed to send a message that religious freedom is under attack in the United States.

Support for marriage equality among many voters, states, and the federal government is cited as one of the reasons the bishops designed this project.  According to an Associated Press article in The Washington Post:

“While the religious freedom campaign includes protests against state laws and policies, the bishops’ immediate target is the mandate President Barack Obama announced in January that most employers provide health insurance that covers birth control. Federal officials said the rule was critical to women’s health by helping them space out pregnancies.

“Critics have accused the bishops of organizing the campaign as a partisan assault on Obama in an election year. But church leaders insist they have no partisan agenda and blame the timing on when federal officials approved the rule.

“ ‘In only the past few years, we’ve experienced rampant disregard for religious beliefs in this country,’ wrote New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, in an e-book released for the ‘Fortnight’ effort. Among the examples he cites are approval for embryonic stem cell research, legal justification for torturing prisoners and support for same-sex marriage.”

According to an article in USA Today:

“The target audience is as much within the church as outside it, says political scientist and Jesuit priest Thomas Reese. Although bishops can call on every priest in every diocese to participate in Fortnight events, ‘those priests who agree and who don’t like Obama will preach on it every Sunday. And the ones who don’t agree will throw (the bishops’ materials) in the circular file.’ “

“Sister Pat McCann, blogging for the Sisters of Mercy, said, ‘Churches legitimately influence public debate and help to shape policy by raising a significant voice about moral implications of issues which beset us, but no church gets to establish policy one hundred per cent its own way.’ “

“Reese said Catholics are ‘voting with their cars’ by driving off to a church where they’re not ‘harangue’” on issues that make them uncomfortable.”

“Most Catholics (57 percent), like most Americans (68 percent), don’t buy the bishops’ case that the right of religious liberty is under threat, said a March survey of 1,007 adults by the Public Religion Research Institute.”

According to a Religion News Service article in The Houston Chronicle, the complex funding mechanism the U.S. bishops have used to pay for the “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign.  Cited in the article, criticizing the bishops is Steve Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America in Washington:

“ ‘The Knights of Columbus are clearly one of the major sources of funding (against the mandate), as well as other fraternal organizations,’ Schneck said.

“The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic charitable group based in New Haven, Conn., says it’s the world’s largest lay Catholic organization. Knights of Columbus life insurance sales neared $8 billion in 2010, and last year, it contributed $158 million to charity. In the last decade, the Knights have donated more than $1 billion to charity.

“The group’s 2010 tax forms show that the Knights gave more than $3 million to the Vatican that year, nearly $2 million to the U.S. bishops conference and $25,000 to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which has guided much of the legal action against the contraception mandate.

“The group must disclose more recent donations in its 2011 tax forms. But Andrew Walther, a Knights of Columbus spokesman, said the group has asked for an extension in filing the documents, making them unavailable until the fall.

“In 2010, the Knights were also generous with their contributions to individual bishops, doling out nearly $350,000 for a variety of programs in various dioceses. Of that, $248,700, or 71 percent, went to Lori’s former Diocese of Bridgeport.

“Lori — who is the man most directly in charge of the Fortnight for Freedom campaign — has been the Supreme Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus since 2005.

“The Knights did not respond to requests for an interview about the organization’s involvement with the bishops’ campaign, but the organization has dedicated recent issues of its monthly magazine to the topic of religious liberty.

“John Gehring, Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, a liberal advocacy group in Washington, said while the Knights’ charitable works was ‘commendable … its leadership has steered a fraternal organization into political waters in ways that should raise questions.’

“Asked by reporters in Atlanta last week if the Knights’ involvement in the religious liberty campaign introduces at least the perception of partisanship, Lori said no. Other groups have contributed to the campaign, he said, mentioning Our Sunday Visitor and the Order of Malta.

“ ‘Think of what the Knights of Columbus does for the Catholic Church and for many other humanitarian causes,’ he said. ‘To try to say that is in some way partisan is … an injustice.’ ”

National Public Radio interviewed some lay Catholics in the Washington, DC region and found a number of them opposed to the Fortnight for Freedom:

“Marion McCartney, who attends the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Washington, D.C., opposes the bishops’ campaign. She’s part of a group, Blessed Sacrament Families United in Faith and Action, that wrote a letter to its pastor, saying the partisan nature of the campaign is ‘a step too far.’

” ‘Nobody’s religious freedom is at stake. That’s just ridiculous!’ McCartney says. Is ‘[Health and Human Services Secretary] Kathleen Sebelius going to come and close all the church doors? I mean, it’s just foolishness.’

A”nother member of that group is Jim Zogby, who has worked on human-rights issues overseas. He says the U.S. bishops were spoiling for a fight over social issues with the Obama administration.

” ‘They declared war on the administration, and we the faithful are paying the price for it,’ Zogby says. ‘Our religious freedom, our ability to simply go to church, worship, feel a community, feel safe in that community’ has been compromised

” ‘We’re now being put in the middle of a partisan fight, and that’s wrong.’

“His wife, Eileen, says Blessed Sacrament, with its mix of liberals and conservatives, has always put politics aside. Not now. At a recent parish meeting about religious freedom, people began attacking President Obama, she says, getting more and more heated.

” ‘Until finally one person leaned forward and he said, “Well, I have seen cars in our parking lot with Obama stickers on them, and they are complicit in all of this.” And I thought, “Well I guess I’m not welcome here, because I have an Obama sticker on my car.” ‘ “

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Support the Sisters by Re-Directing Peter’s Pence Donations

June 21, 2012

NunJustice.org, the coalition of Catholic organizations which has formed to support Catholic nuns in the wake of the Vatican’s challenge to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, is recommending an alternative donation option to a popular Catholic Church fundraising project.

On June 24th, the Vatican will be sponsoring its annual Peter’s Pence, a worldwide collection of donations from Catholics to support the pope’s private charities.  The NunJustice.org coalition is asking Catholics to donate, inste ad, to a community of nuns in their local area, as a sign of support for the nuns, and a sign that Catholics disagree with the Vatican’s critique of women’s religious life in the U.S.

The NunJustice.org  website is NOT collecting any funds for this effort, but they are asking Catholics who donate to a local women’s religious community to visit the website and let them know how much was donated, as a way for them to track how much money was actually raised by donating to local women’s communities.

The website also has a comment about the lack of transparency concerning Peter’s Pence donations:

“Jason Berry’s recent book Render Unto Rome: the Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church exposes a shocking misuse of charitable donations by people who administer the finances of the Catholic Church. An investigative journalist, Berry’s meticulous documentation reveals that Peter’s Pence donations are frequently used to cover Vatican operating costs even though Catholics are told the money will be used for the Pope’s private charities. There is no public accounting of Peter’s Pence contributions as would be expected of other charitable organizations in the US and around the world.”

The Vatican’s critique of LCWR was in part motivated because of the Sisters’ public support of LGBT ministry and justice generally, and of New Ways Ministry in particular.

NunJustice.org has already succeeded in collecting over 57,000 signatures, one for each of the nuns in the U.S., on a petition against the Vatican’s challenge to LCWR.  The coalition presented these signatures to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at their recent semi-annual meeting in Atlanta, Georgia.  You can read about the petition delivery in a New York Times article here.

Please be as generous as you can to your local sisters for two important reasons:  1) to thank them for their presence and ministry in our church; 2) to show the Vatican that Catholic support is with the Sisters during this important crisis.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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