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


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