Monsignor Is Caught in a Lie as Diocese Backs Out of Selling Property to a Gay Couple

July 31, 2012

The following story is a cautionary tale about how far some Catholic officials will go to dissociate themselves from marriage equality.  It’s also a cautionary tale about lying and diligently checking to whom you may be forwarding an email.

Oakhurst mansion

Dianne Williamson, a columnist for Massachusetts’ Worcester Telegram, reports that when a gay couple offered to buy a mansion for sale from the Diocese of Worcester, they were rejected as buyers.  A mistakenly forwarded email to the couple reveals that the diocese was concerned that the new owners might use the building to host gay weddings.  Moreover, a diocesan official has been caught in a lie to the newspaper about why the diocese refused the sale.

Williamson’s column begins:

“It’s bad enough that the Catholic Church discriminates against gay people. But it’s poor form — and possibly illegal — to document the bigotry and then mistakenly email it to the victims.

“This embarrassing etiquette lapse occurred as James Fairbanks and Alain Beret were pursuing the purchase of Oakhurst, a 44-bedroom mansion in Northbridge, owned by the Diocese of Worcester. Fairbanks and Beret had searched for two years for the perfect renovation project, and hoped to turn the run-down estate into a banquet facility. Previously, the pair had transformed mansions in Vermont and Barre into similar businesses.”

The diocese originally seemed very happy to sell the building, going so far as to suggest a lower bid because of renovations that had been done.  But after they rejected the deal which was in progress, Williamson called a diocesan official to get an explanation:

“This week, Monsignor Thomas Sullivan, who oversees the sale of diocesan property, told me the deal fell through because of financing.

“ ‘They couldn’t come up with the money,’ he said. ‘This happens all the time.’

“I told him the potential buyers believed that he rejected the deal because of their sexual orientation, or the prospect of gay marriages someday being performed at Oakhurst. Was that an issue?

“ ‘No, it wasn’t,’ Msgr. Sullivan said. ‘It was an issue of them not having the financing. That was all.’

“As noted, if you’re going to discriminate, you should cover your tracks. Inadvertently attached to the email rejecting the counter offer is an email from Msgr. Sullivan to the diocesan broker:

‘I just went down the hall and discussed it with the bishop,’ Msgr. Sullivan wrote. ‘Because of the potentiality of gay marriages there, something you shared with us yesterday, we are not interested in going forward with these buyers. I think they’re shaky anyway. So, just tell them that we will not accept their revised plan and the Diocese is making new plans for the property. You find the language.’ ”

Fairbanks and Beret are now planning to sue the diocese; in Massachusetts it is illegal to refuse to sell because of a purchaser’s sexual orientation.

An added wrinkle in this story is that the Oakhurst mansion had previously been used as a treatment center for pedophile priests, but had been closed because of allegations of sexual abuse and financial mismanagement:

“Speaking of reprehensible, Oakhurst is perhaps best known as the former House of Affirmation, a treatment home for pedophile priests, which closed amid scandal in the late 1980s. Ironically, Beret was willing to overlook that history; he’s a devout Christian who at one time studied for the priesthood.

“ ‘I have plenty of sins,’ Beret said. ‘But being gay isn’t one of them. This is not a fight I wanted to pick. But for the sake of my dignity, I’m not walking away.’ ”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Scotland Moves Toward Marriage Equality; Archbishop Causes Grief for Late MP’s Family

July 30, 2012

 

 

Last week’s Catholic LGBT news from Scotland was both good and bad, as two stories highlighted the church’s role in politics.

On the good side,  in the first story, it was announced that the Scottish parliament will introduce a bill to legalize marriage between two people of the same gender, despite pressure from Catholic officials not to do so.

BBC.co.ukreports:

“[Government] Ministers confirmed they would bring forward a bill on the issue, indicating the earliest ceremonies could take place by the start of 2015.

“Political leaders, equality organisations and some faith groups welcomed introducing same-sex marriage.

“But it was strongly opposed by the Catholic Church and Church of Scotland.”

The BBC also noted that:

” . . . [the ]government has insisted no part of the religious community would be forced to hold same-sex weddings in churches.”

Official Catholic response to the decision to go forth with the bill was negative:

“A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland said: ‘The Scottish government is embarking on a dangerous social experiment on a massive scale.’ “

Archbishop Philip Tartaglia

On the bad side, in the second story, Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, the newly-appointed archbishop of Glasgow, Scotland, created a row by claiming that the death of a gay Member of Parliament may have been caused by his sexuality.  David Cairns, 44, a resigned Catholic priest, died of acute pancreatitis.  The BBC reports that during a question period after an address to a university audience, Tartaglia said:

“If what I have heard is true about the relationship between physical and mental health of gay men, if it is true, then society has been very quiet about it.

“Recently in Scotland there was a gay Catholic MP who died at the age of 44 or so and nobody said anything and why his body should just shut down at that age, obviously he could have had a disease which would have killed anyone, but you seem to hear so many stories about this kind of thing.

“But society won’t address it.”

Archbishop Tartaglia’s spokesperson claimed that the statements were misunderstood and that the archbishop apologized for any pain that was caused:

David Cairns

“The Archbishop-elect’s words have been taken out of context.

“They were made in answer to an audience question at a lecture he gave on religious freedom in Oxford 14 weeks ago.

 “He had no previous knowledge of the question, which was not related to his speech. In his reply he mentioned a situation he had been closely involved in, namely the funeral arrangements for the late David Cairns.

“The archbishop knew David Cairns, met him regularly at events in Inverclyde, and got on well with him, and was personally involved in his funeral arrangements. He is sorry for any hurt which has resulted, there was certainly no offence or judgement intended in his words.”

PinkNews.co.uk provides the context, along with the question that prompted Tartaglia’s response:

“An audience question was posed by Lesley Pilkington, the Christian psychotherapist who was censured by the BACP [British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy] for negligence after offering a gay man therapy to help him turn straight. She was seated next to Mike Davidson of the Core Issues Trust, a group which actively campaigns for ex-gay therapies.

“Ms Pilkington said she wanted to speak about why the ‘homosexual agenda has become so powerful’, saying it was ‘intimidating, bullying and generates fear’, and people should ‘stand against it’.

“She drew attention to the case of Bob Bergeron, a gay American self-help author who had committed suicide at 49 having written a book about happiness for gay men over 40.

“Tartaglia welcomed such an opinion coming from a psychotherapist, indicating that as a Catholic priest people would expect him to say such things, but that she brought a different ‘angle’.

“The new archbishop continued: ‘If what I have heard is true about the relationship between the physical and mental health of gay men, if it is true, then society is being very quiet about it.

“ ‘Recently in Scotland there was a gay Catholic MP who died at the age of 44 or so, and nobody said anything, and why his body should just shut down at that age? Obviously he could have had a disease that would have killed anybody.

“ ‘But you seem to hear so many stories about this kind of thing, but society won’t address it. You’re right, Lesley, thank you.’ ”

Dermot Kehoe

Dermot Kehoe, Cairns’ partner, told the BBC that the archbishop’s remarks caused added the the grief and pain of Cairns’ family. Cairns said:

” ‘The Archbishop elect brought up David Cairns himself. He wasn’t asked about him, he chose to bring him up and essentially he implied that David’s death was due in some way homosexuality and his being gay.

” ‘This is not only in complete ignorance of the facts in this case.’

“Mr Kehoe added that to take a personal tragedy and to make it political ‘was more than upsetting, it is deeply painful’.

“He went on to say: ‘This has not only upset me and David’s family, but it added to our grief and pain and he [Archbishop elect Tartaglia] hasn’t shown any contrition for doing this.’ “

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


New San Francisco Archbishop is Defender of Traditional Marriage

July 29, 2012

Bishop Salvatore Cordileone

Pope Benedict XVI has appointed Bishop Salvatore Cordileone, who has a strong record of opposition to LGBT issues, to head the Archdiocese of San Francisco, which has a strong community of LGBT Catholics.

The San Francisco Chronicle describes Cordileone this way:

“Salvatore Cordileone, 56, organized religious leaders and helped raise significant sums of money to get Proposition 8, the 2008 initiative that banned same-sex marriage in California, on the ballot and spoke forcefully in support of it. He is also chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.

“In his first statements after the Vatican’s announcement, Cordileone, the current bishop of Oakland, touched on a range of topics, from cultural diversity to immigration reform. But reporters barraged him with questions about same-sex marriage. His response was resolute.

” ‘Marriage is the union of a man and a woman, because children can only come about with the embrace of a man and a woman together,’ he said. ‘I don’t see how that’s discriminatory against anyone.’ “

Cordileone recently required board members of the Catholic Association of Lesbian and Gay Ministries to sign a loyalty oath, but the members have refused to do so.

The Chronicle also reported reactions to the appointment:

“San Francisco is ‘one of the hearts of the gay liberation story,’ said Michael Harank, 59, a lifelong Catholic who founded an independent Catholic agency in Oakland for homeless people with HIV. “He may be pastoral, but his work as one of the financial fathers and creators of Prop. 8 is clearly a slap in the face to the gay community.” . . .

“The Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, said the appointments of increasingly conservative bishops in the United States started with Pope John Paul II, who served from 1978 to 2005.

“Though it would be impossible to find a Catholic bishop in favor of same-sex marriage, Reese said conservatism today includes a particular focus on marriage.

“Clearly, the pope and the Vatican are very concerned about the issue of same-sex marriage and are very opposed to it, and that’s reflected by the kinds of bishops that are being appointed in the United States,’ he said.”

The San Jose Mercury News reported another comment which highlights that this appointment was made because of LGBT issues:

“Charles Martel, president of Catholics for Marriage Equality, said Friday that he believes Cordileone was appointed to combat the acceptance of gay marriage here and abroad. ‘They see this as ground zero,’ he said.”

New Ways Ministry‘s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo released the following statement about Cordileone’s appointment:

 

“Bishop Cordileone’s record on LGBT issues has not been welcoming.  He will have to learn to be more sensitive and pastoral as he takes over in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, which has a large LGBT community, and very active and organized groups and parishes of LGBT Catholics.  The experience of working with such a vibrant and diverse community can help him to grow personally and pastorally.

 

“The Catholic Church in any community is so much more than who the local bishop is.  Lay Catholics in San Francisco will need to work with Bishop Cordileone to let them know what kind of leadership that they want from him. If he does not heed the prayerful requests of faithful Catholics there, the church in San Francisco will be greatly diminished.”

Noting Cordileone’s recent pressure on the Catholic Association of Lesbian and Gay Ministries, a blogger on San Francisco’s KQED radio station website cited Bernard Schlager, executive director of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry at the Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley:

“As Archbishop of San Francisco, Cordileone could put similar pressure on individual parishes that have welcomed gays and lesbians, Schlager said. . . .

“As archbishop, Cordileone could force priests to sermonize against gay marriage, too.

“Schlager doesn’t think he’ll do that, because it would be too controversial.

“But Thomas Sheehan, a professor of religious studies at Stanford University, isn’t so sure the archbishop will refrain from meddling in priestly business on LGBT or other issues. ‘He could well demand that priests reinforce the church’s teaching on contraception,’ Sheehan said.

“But ultimately Sheehan thinks the effects on individual Catholics will be modest. ‘I doubt it will affect how people practice,’ he said. ‘People look less and less to the hierarchy.’

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


It’s Not Catholic for the Boy Scouts to Discriminate Against Gay People

July 28, 2012

 

During the recent news coverage of the Boy Scouts’ decision to reaffirm their ban against gay people serving as scouts or leaders, it was frequently noted that the Catholicism may have played a role in this discriminatory practice.

But is banning gay people really the Catholic thing to do?  Mary Ellen and Casey Lopata, the co-founders of Fortunate Families, a national network of Catholic parents of LGBT people, point out in an essay in The National Catholic Reporter, that such discrimination is actually counter to the best tradition of Catholic thought on LGBT matters.

The Lopatas cite several official Catholic documents which highlight that discrimination against LGBT people is actually contrary to Catholic thought:

“As early as 1976, in To Live in Christ Jesus: A Pastoral Reflection on the Moral Life, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (then known as the National Conference of Catholic Bishops) wrote that, rather than being ostracized, gays and lesbians ‘should have an active role in the Christian community.’

“The church’s hierarchy is in no way more progressive now than it was then, yet the bishops returned to this theme in their 1998 pastoral message Always Our Children:

The teachings of the Church make it clear that the fundamental human rights of homosexual persons must be defended and that all of us must strive to eliminate any forms of injustice, oppression, or violence against them (cf. The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, 1986, no. 10). It is not sufficient only to avoid unjust discrimination. Homosexual persons “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2358).
“The bishops solidify this theme in their recommendation to ‘Welcome homosexual persons into the faith community.’

The authors also point out that not only is the Scouts’ ban against Catholic thought, but it is also extremely harmful and dangerous to young people:

“The Boy Scouts have chosen not to accept gay boys age 11-17 with respect, compassion and sensitivity. They have chosen instead to reject them at precisely that time when gay youth need the support of their communities most.

“Peer-reviewed research establishes that LGBT youth are at far greater risk of social isolation, parental rejection, depression, verbal harassment, physical violence and suicide than their heterosexual counterparts. The leaders of any organization dedicated to young people’s well-being are familiar with this data. They know gay boys need the sort of nurturing that organizations like the Boy Scouts provide.”

If Catholic leaders are not going to provide the direction needed to support gay youth, Catholic lay people must take up that role, the Lopatas argue:

“If the scouts accepted gay boys into their troops, the reasoning goes, these churches might react negatively, leading to a significant thinning in the ranks. We can only pray that this wasn’t the case. There is nothing in official church teaching that justifies the scouts’ discriminatory policy, and it is up to us, as Catholics, to make that clear.”

The Lopatas’ organization, Fortunate Families is a member of the Equally Blessed coalition, which includes three other national Catholic groups that work for equality and justice for LGBT people in church and society:  Call To Action, DignityUSA, and New Ways Ministry.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


Where in the World is ‘The National Catholic Reporter?’

July 27, 2012

 

While in England for World Pride conferences and celebrations earlier this month, New Ways Ministry Executive Director Francis DeBernardo (your humble blogger) had his photo snapped in front of London’s iconic Tower Bridge reading one of his favorite newspapers, The National Catholic Reporter.

This summer, The National Catholic Reporter has been requesting that its readers pose with the newspaper in front of recognizable landmarks during their travels and send the images to support@ncronline.org.  They will print as many photos as possible.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Archdiocese Claims Civil Union Registry Will Lead to Polygamy

July 27, 2012

The Archdiocese of Milan’s spokesperson on family issues has compared the city’s plan to establish a registry of civil unions, which would include same-gender couples,  to promoting polygamy.

According to London’s Independent newspaper, Alfonso Colzani, archdiocesan official, said:

Alfonso Calzani

” ‘”There’s the risk that giving equal status to families based on marriage with those founded on civil unions will legitimise polygamy.’

“This was, he said, because people in civil partnerships would be freer to have sexual relations with other people.

“He added: Introducing ‘a communal register of civil unions is an ineffective initiative – and maybe only a PR exercise. Instead it is the family that needs support in this time of hardship. The concept of marriage is a precise one and not to be confused with homosexual unions.’

“The Milan diocese, Italy’s biggest and richest, is headed by Cardinal Angelo Scola, who has strong links with Communion and Liberation, the ultra-conservative catholic political lobbying group. Cardinal Scola was selected for the post of Milan’s archbishop last year by Pope Benedict.”

Giuliano Pisapia

The initiative to register civil unions came from Milan’s mayor, Giuliano Pisapia, who wants to extend protections to heterosexual and same-gender couples:

“Although largely symbolic, Mr Pisapia said that his plan would provide some additional legal rights for cohabiting couples who were unable to marry.

” ‘The establishment of a register of civil unions is aimed at recognising and protecting the rights of many couples in Milan and the rest of the country, couples that have been waiting too long for legal recognition,’ he said.

“Mr Pisapia noted the key ruling earlier this year by the Supreme Court of Cassation that said same-sex couples had a ‘right to a family life’ – and by implication, the same benefits and rights as straight couples.”

Italy’s LGBT civil rights organization, Arcigay, was quick to repudiate the Milan archdiocese’s polygamy assertion:

“In a statement, Arcigay said opposition to simple civil unions shown by the church, right-wing newspapers and politicians across the political spectrum ‘showed an incredible concentration of homophobia and prejudice.’ “

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


The Catholic Dimension at the International AIDS Conference

July 26, 2012

The International AIDS Conference, the largest gathering of HIV/AIDS researchers, educators, advocates, care-givers, and pastoral workers in the world,  is meeting in Washington, DC, this week.  It is the first time in over 20 years that the United States has hosted the conference; for many years U.S. immigration policy would not admit people who were HIV+ into the country, so the meeting could not be held here.

Catholics are certainly a presence at the meeting.  Last weekend, Catholic Charities USA hosted a pre-conference three-day gathering of Catholics involved in pastoral care and social work with people who have HIV/AIDS.  Howard University Divinity School in Washington also hosted a three-day Interfaith Conference on HIV/AIDS issues and faith.

Among those attending all three events were two Catholics from the United Kingdom, Vincent Manning and Adela Mugabo.  The pair presented at the Catholic and Interfaith pre-conferences on the Catholic ministry they are doing in the UK with their organization, “Positive Catholics.”  Their presentation focused on the need to move from a model of peer support to a model of peer ministry.  In a National Catholic Reporter article about the Catholic Charities conference, Manning described this new ministry model as “a fellowship of the weak” :

Vincent Manning

Manning, of United Kingdom faith-based group Positive Catholics, said ‘stigma and fear produce a silence that isolates and excludes people,’ and the aim of the group is ‘to listen with great care – healing begins when a person feels seen and heard.’ “

The occasion of the International Conference also sparked memories of those who have gone before us and reflections on how far we have come.  Michael Sean Winters, a columnist for National Catholic Reporter offered this very poignant description as part of his blog post on the Washington meeting:

“Memory sears. It is painful. It is grounded in experience and, just so, less easily shared. Those of us who lived through the HIV crisis before there was treatment look back on that time with pained hearts. It is as Augustine wrote about the death of his childhood friend: our tears have taken the place of our friends. The emptiness of life without so many friends and colleagues who once filled our lives but died too early from this dread disease, that emptiness remains. At Mass on Sundays, during the Eucharistic prayer, the priest calls us to pray for those who have gone before us, and he usually pauses. I pray first for my Mom, then for my uncles and aunts, and my grandparents, for Fr. Kugler and Msgr. Ellis, and then I start down the list of those lost to AIDS: David, always first because he was my best friend and nary a day has passed since his death that I do not miss his wit and wisdom, Stephen, Damien, Nalty, Bryan, Hooper, Robert, the customer whose name I have forgotten who always had a coterie of friends with him when he came into the restaurant where I worked. I never seem to have time to mention them all before the priest continues with the prayer. As the priest continues, the very next lines in the Roman Canon recall apostles and martyrs: John the Baptist, Stephen, Mathias, Barnabas, Ignatius….The list of my friends who have died, which I am still muttering silently, blends in to naming of the saints. I like that.”

Winters’ post goes on to challenge the gay community, who he feels has re-shuffled their priorities away from HIV/AIDS to political causes such as marriage equality and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”   He observes:

“With limited resources, financial and political, it seems to me that the fight against HIV, especially because it now disproportionately affects minority populations, should still be the top priority for gay rights groups.  One cannot marry if one is dead. One cannot serve openly in the armed forces if one is dead.”

His concluding challenge is to ALL Catholics to continue working for people with HIV/AIDS:

“As Catholics, we cannot abandon the fight against HIV, still less our compassion for those who acquire the disease. As Catholics, we must fight the stigmatization that comes with the disease. As Catholics, our conscience and our attention must be pricked when we see a disease begin to disproportionately affect minority populations. As Catholics, we must fight to preserve the Affordable Care Act which will help make high-quality care available to everyone, not just the rich. As Catholics, called to love of neighbor, and assured that we will be judged by how we respond to the hungry, the stranger, the thirsty, and the ill, we cannot turn our eyes away from this still pernicious epidemic and all the socio-cultural sins it makes manifest.”

Another set of memories comes from an Oxford University Press blog post by Richard Giannone, a retired Fordham University professor who has recently authored a memoir, Hidden: Reflections on Gay Life, AIDS, and Spiritual Desire. Giannone recalls the early days of the epidemic, and its effect on one New York City Catholic parish:

“Though the Catholic church hadn’t been mother to her gay children, some came anyway to the 5:30 afternoon Mass at St. Joseph’s Church in Greenwich Village. Clothes drooped on emaciated men in their mid-twenties to early forties. Pustules rutted the withered flesh of several. Some sported baseball caps to keep facial lesions shaded out of sight of onlookers. A few men used make-up to screen darkened facial spots. But nothing covered the bones of suffering or muted the sound of sickness from the pews punctuating the words of God from the altar.

“Living in wrack and ruin, these men brought life back into a church that left them for dead. They walked to the Lord’s Table for sustenance, more life. The vitality of their appeal stood out in sharp relief against the lifeless Christianity that vilified their gayness. Such spiritual defiance taught me what I needed to know and need to remember.

“AIDS was our passion. Its agony thrust gay life into the vortex of twentieth-century history. This previously censored truthfulness came to rest in rows of church benches for all to bear gayness in mind as part of providential history. Their perseverance asked me to trust the body. I did.

“At the liturgy, persons with HIV were not seen as the reviled carriers of plague rejected by society. Bodies that were hosts for infections sought the host of sacred healing. Their return to the home that spurned them showed that the divine spirit was far beyond any barrier of separation that humans erected for themselves. The love that dare not say its name howled out from its heart with what voice it had left to reclaim its place in God’s plan. Worship modeled a church and society to which I felt I could belong.”

May such memories, as well as the present witness of those who continue to struggle with the disease, as well as those who work to prevent and cure, as well as care for those affected, spur us on to greater resolve to end the epidemic.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


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