PFLAG’s Executive Director Discusses His Catholic Roots

July 23, 2012

Jody Huckaby, the Executive Director of PFLAG (Parents, Family, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), is profiled in The Advocate, the national LGBT news magazine.

A native of the heavily Catholic state of Louisiana, Huckaby’s profile begins with a familiar story:

“Jody M. Huckaby grew up Catholic, went to Catholic schools and was raised by devout Catholic parents in Eunice.

“So when Huckaby, 47, told his parents while he was in college that he is gay, it was “tough” to do, he recalls.

“ ‘It’s very hard when your religion tells you something is wrong but then you are talking about your child’” Huckaby said recently.

“Still, his parents, who were both raised in Church Point, eventually accepted Huckaby for who he is.

“ ‘They started out rejecting it. Then they moved to tolerance and then went to acceptance and finally they celebrated it,’ Huckaby said.

“The personal journey Huckaby and his parents went through was one of the big reasons Huckaby took a job more than seven years ago as executive director of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays National, also known as PFLAG National.

“PFLAG is a family and straight ally organization that helps to advance equality for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender individuals through support, education and advocacy.”

Jody Huckaby

The article notes that PFLAG is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.  Begun in 1972, the organization now has over 350  chapters across the country.  Huckaby will be visiting one of the newest chapters in Baton Rouge, the capital of his native state, as this local group celebrates their first anniversary:

“Huckaby said he is excited to speak in Baton Rouge next month not only because of his family ties to Louisiana — he has a sister living in the capital city who is a Catholic nun — but because of the population growth the city has experienced since Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana in 2005.

“The Baton Rouge chapter president, Carol Frazier, said the organization has achieved steady attendance at its monthly meetings at the Unitarian Church on Goodwood Boulevard.

“ ‘We have between 25 and 35 attendees each month. I think that’s good compared to other chapters that are only a year old. We do see new people each month,’ Frazier said.

“The Baton Rouge meetings usually feature a guest speaker as well as breakout sessions enabling small groups of members to talk about “whatever comes up,” Frazier said.

“ ‘The parents meet in their own group. They don’t always feel comfortable with the younger people,’ Frazier said.

“Varied reactions, feelings and emotions frequently arise in those smaller sessions, Frazier said, ranging from tears and laughter to silence, she said.

“ ‘You can see an interesting growth in people. I remember a mom who came and she didn’t say a word. She didn’t accept her child’s news. Now she speaks freely and is very accepting,’ Frazier said.”

Huckaby offers advice based on his own family’s experience:

“ ‘You can’t preach. People will just walk away. A big message we have is you do not have to throw out your faith to be accepting and loving,’ Huckaby said.

“Although Huckaby and his parents had no experiences with PFLAG when he confided back in college that he is gay, his mother’s turning point to acceptance and understanding of her son came from another, more traditional source.

“Huckaby said his mother read the ‘Dear Abby’ column in the Eunice News religiously throughout her life.

“One day, she read a letter in the column from the mother of a lesbian who asked how she was supposed to deal with the news.

“ ‘The advice was, you still need to love your child just like you did the day before. The second piece of advice was to go find PFLAG and get more information,’ Huckaby said.”

At New Ways Ministry, which is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, we have witnessed the good work of PFLAG for most of its history.  Although not a religious organization, PFLAG’s simple example of listening, solidarity, and support is a model for the way ministry to parents of LGBT people should flourish.

Fortunate Families, a national network of Catholic parents with LGBT sons and daughters, provides just this type of ministry from a Catholic perspective, in the form of their Listening Parents network:  parents who have been through the experience of their child’s coming out who are available to listen to and be supportive of parents who are just learning such news. (The founders of Fortunate Families, Mary Ellen and Casey Lopata, have contributed two blog posts to Bondings 2.0 on family ministry.  You can access those here and here.)

New Ways Ministry salutes PFLAG on their 40th anniversary and prays in thanksgiving for all they have done to make the world a better place for LGBT people!  We wish them every success in the future!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

LCWR President Offers “Fresh Air” on Vatican Challenge to Nuns

July 22, 2012



The Vatican’s critique of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), the association of the heads of Catholic nuns’ communities in the United States, focused on the organization’s approach to three issues:  openness to women’s ordination, whether salvation exists outside the Church, and support for LGBT issues generally (with support for New Ways Ministry noted particularly).

Sister Pat Farrell, OSF

The LCWR’s annual assembly will be coming up in the second week of August.  In advance of that meeting and to discuss the Vatican’s challenge, Sister Pat Farrell, OSF, the current President of LCWR, sat down this week for interview on WHYY’s popular syndicated radio talk show, Fresh Air. A report on the interview, along with excerpted passages, is available on the website of Vermont Public Radio.  The report notes:

“. . .the nuns said the Vatican’s doctrinal assessment of the group was based on ‘unsubstantiated accusations’ and may ‘compromise the ability of female nuns to ‘fulfill their mission.’

” ‘I would say the mandate is more critical of positions we haven’t taken than those we have taken,’ says Sister Pat Farrell, the president of the Leadership Conference. ‘As I read that document, the concern is the issues we tend to be more silent about when the bishops are speaking out very clearly about some things. There are issues about which we think there’s a need for a genuine dialogue, and there doesn’t seem to be a climate of that in the church right now.’

“Farrell tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross that the leadership organization is currently gathering the perspectives of all of its members in preparation for its national assembly in August.

” ‘We’re hoping to come out of that assembly with a much clearer direction about [the Vatican's decision], and that’s when the national board and presidency can proceed,’ she says.

“Among the options on the table, she says, are fully complying with the mandate, not complying with the mandate or seeing if the Vatican will negotiate with them.”

” ‘In my mind, [I want] to see if we can somehow, in a spirited, nonviolent strategizing, look for maybe a third way that refuses to define the mandate and the issues in such black and white terms,’ she says.”

Included among the excerpts on the website are the following three sections:

On questioning doctrine within the Catholic Church

“The question is, ‘Can you be Catholic and have a questioning mind?’ That’s what we’re asking. … I think one of our deepest hopes is that in the way we manage the balancing beam in the position we’re in, if we can make any headways in helping to create a safe and respectful environment where church leaders along with rank-and-file members can raise questions openly and search for truth freely, with very complex and swiftly changing issues in our day, that would be our hope. But the climate is not there. And this mandate coming from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith putting us in a position of being under the control of certain bishops, that is not a dialogue. If anything, it appears to be shutting down dialogue.”

On their options

“We’re not talking about the risk of excommunication or leaving the church. That’s not our intent. We’re talking about the Vatican’s dealing with a national organization, not with specific religious congregations or individual religious. The one and only underlying option for us is to respond with integrity with however we proceed. That is our absolute bottom line in this. Some of the options would be to just comply with the mandate that’s been given to us. Or to say we can’t comply with this and see what the Vatican does with that. Or to remove ourselves and form a separate organization.”

On the criticism from the Vatican regarding human sexuality

“We have been, in good faith, raising concerns about some of the church’s teachings on sexuality. The problem being that the teaching and interpretation of the faith can’t remain static and really needs to be reformulated, rethought in light of the world we live in. And new questions and new realities [need to be addressed] as they arise. And if those issues become points of conflict, it’s because Women Religious stand in very close proximity to people at the margins, to people with very painful, difficult situations in their lives. That is our gift to the church. Our gift to the church is to be with those who have been made poorer, with those on the margins. Questions there are much less black and white because human realities are much less black and white. That’s where we spend our days.”

Other excerpts on the website cover the following topics: roles in the church, women’s ordination, the Vatican’s phrase “radical feminist themes, and abortion.

Previous Bondings 2.0 posts (selected) on the LCWR controversy:

April 18, 2012: Vatican Action Against U.S. Nuns; New Ways Ministry’s Response

April 19, 2012: Sister Joan Chittister & Sister Simone Campbell Respond to Vatican Action Against U.S. Nuns

April 21, 2012: Support for U.S. Nuns Spreads Quickly Among Catholics and Others

April 22, 2012: Comments on LCWR Action from National Catholic LGBT Organizations

May 11, 2012: Sister Jeannine, Cardinal Ratzinger, New Ways Ministry, and Solidarity with LCWR

June 1, 2012: LCWR Responds to the Vatican with a Vision of Equality, Hope, and Dialogue

June 12, 2012: Report on LCWR Meeting With the CDF at the Vatican

June 21, 2012: Support the Sisters by Re-Directing Peter’s Pence Donations

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Support for U.S. Nuns Spreads Quickly Among Catholics and Others


What Was Catholicism’s Role in the Boy Scouts’ Anti-Gay Decision?

July 21, 2012

Did institutional Catholicism play a role in the Boy Scouts of America’s (BSA) recent decision to re-affirm their ban on gay Scouts and leaders?

Many commentators think the answer to that question is “Yes.”   The BSA recently held a two-year closed door discussion on the matter, and they emerged with the same position that they have had for years: no gay scouts and no gay leaders (including lesbian women, as a story toward the end of this post will illustrate).  Commentators were quick to infer that fact that a large number of scout troops are hosted by Catholic and Mormon churches, both of whom have strong policies against associating with gay-friendly organizations, played a role in the decision.

An editorial in The Los Angeles Times points to some dramatic statistics:

“. . . The Boy Scouts, unlike the Girl Scouts or international Scouting groups, derive considerable support from religious organizations that take a dim view of homosexuality, especially the Mormon and Roman Catholic churches. Less than 2% of the U.S. population is Mormon, but 15% of Scouts are. The Boy Scouts of America could lose hundreds of thousands of Scouts if it opened its doors to atheists and gay people.”

Columnist Alfred Doblin of New Jersey’s Record newspaper cites the lawyer who defended a gay Scout leader in a Supreme Court battle:

“The BSA’s anti-gay policy has been under public scrutiny since 1990, when a New Jersey assistant Scoutmaster, James Dale, then a student at Rutgers University, was dismissed after Scout officials learned he was gay. Dale did what any good Scout should do: Stood his ground. He stood it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“In 2000, in a split decision, the high court ruled the Boy Scouts could, indeed, discriminate based on sexual orientation.

“Now, more than two decades after dismissing Dale, after the U.S. military has lifted its ban on gays and lesbians openly serving, after six states plus the District of Columbia allow gay and lesbian couples to legally marry, and after similar organizations such as the Girl Scouts of the USA have left this issue behind, the Boy Scouts continue to defend discrimination.

“In an interview Wednesday, Evan Wolfson, who represented Dale before the U.S. Supreme Court, said, ‘What is going on here is the hijacking of the organization by the most reactionary elements of the Catholic hierarchy and the Mormon hierarchy. This secrecy, and this handing down on high in this supposedly membership-run organization, is so like them.

“ ‘It shows how far the Boy Scouts has now become from what most people think of it being, including otherwise worthwhile programs that ideally would help all youth, because of the way it has been hijacked,’ said Wolfson.”

Doblin also commented on the secrecy of the BSA’s deliberations:

“It is impossible to believe that the findings are reflective of the Boy Scouts’ membership when that membership knew nothing of the investigation.

“A Boy Scout is brave. Where is the bravery in a secret committee?”

John Sweeney of Delaware’s News Journal had some sympathy for protecting the rights of religious groups which sponsor Scout troops and offered a compromise for the BSA if religious groups’ objections are fueling the continued discriminatory policy:

“. . .[T]he Scouts are essentially a religious group. The Boy Scouts organization doesn’t allow atheists either. And, in this country, how can you require a religious group to go against its beliefs? Most of the arguments we have heard are secular in nature, with the critics treating the Boy Scouts as a purely secular group.

“But, and this is my second point, the sponsors of Boy Scout troops are often churches or synagogues or other religious organizations. How can you require the Catholic Church or a a mosque to endorse a behavior its teachings hold as wrong?

“On other hand, though, that very federalism, if you will, provides a solution. The national organization really does little in running individual troops. Not all of the religious organizations that sponsor the troops forbid or condemn people who are gay. Likewise, many secular organizations also sponsor troops. Why not let them follow their beliefs as well?”

Across the Atlantic, Nancy Goldstein, a columnist in London’s Guardian newspaper drew a comparison between anti-gay policies of the BSA and the Catholic hierarchy, with very worrisome forebodings:

“Because the Scouts are already, despite their very best efforts at concealment, on the record as having had similar difficulties as those other allegedly gay-free institutions with sexual abusers among the men it has entrusted with its youth. And for similar reasons. Not because the molesters were ‘gay; – in fact, LGBT people make up a fraction of child abusers and the sexual preferences of the sick, primarily male adults who molest children skew towards age rather than gender – but because the organization’s leaders refused to discipline the child abusers in its midst or to involve the police, long past the time when they knew of instances of sexual abuse. In fact, the smoking gun in the most recent of the many cases filed against the Scouts by former members for failing to protect them from predatory leaders was the Scouts’ own ‘perversion files.’ These privately kept documents, over 20,000 pages of them, detail accusations and investigations of sexual abuse and other improprieties by 1,200 Boy Scout leaders across the United States from 1965 to 1985 – as well as what the organization did and did not do to protect their youth once cases of abuse were known to them. . . .

“There are remarkable similarities between the Boy Scouts’ and the Roman Catholic church’s handling of the sexual abusers in their midst. Both institutions documented numerous instances of abuse, failed either to discipline the adults involved or alert the authorities, and then decided, as the church did in 2002, at the height of its own sexual abuse scandal, that gays were the problem.

“Which brings us closer to the heart of the matter. Ignore all of the Scouts’ official mumbo-jumbo about the (unidentified) leaders who comprised the special committee of top Scout leaders that made this decision, especially the part about their alleged “diversity of perspectives and opinions”. As the LA Times notes, what’s really happening here is a business decision about the organization’s sustainability, driven by the influence of two of the Scouts’ most powerful benefactors: the Roman Catholic and Mormon churches. About 400,000 of the 2.7 million members left in the dwindling organization, “belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”, which “encourages members to become involved in the Boy Scouts, and has its own section on the Boy Scouts of America webpage.”

In a related story, reports that the Ohio woman who was dismissed from being a Cub Scout den mother because she is a lesbian, has brought a 300,000 signature petition to be reinstated to the BSA:

Jennifer Tyrrell and her son, Cruz

“Jennifer Tyrrell, who was the leader of a Bridgeport, Ohio, Tiger Cub den, was dismissed in April. She had been den mother for the group for a year, taking the position when her seven-year-old son Cruz joined.

“Ms Tyrrell says a local Cubmaster knew of her sexual orientation and assured her it would not be a problem when she joined.

“Delivering the petition, Ms Tyrrell told CNN: ‘Along with those 300,000 signatures were tens of thousands of comments from scouts – current scouts, former scouts, across the board – who disagree with the decision to keep this policy in place.’ ”

“She added: ‘I don’t think it was their intention to personally disrespect me. Unfortunately, it’s just a policy that we need to update a little bit.

“ ‘I love Scouts as everybody probably knows by now. Cruz loves Scouts and we don’t have any ill feeling toward the Scouts. We just wanted to be included.’ ”

Various news reports about the BSA’s decision noted that a number of parents were withdrawing their sons and any future support to the Scouts as a protest.  What’s your opinion?  How should Catholics respond to this discriminatory policy, which may have been influenced by leaders of their church?  Feel free to make suggestions in the “Comments” section for this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry





Scottish Cabinet Rejects Call for a Referendum on Marriage Equality Law

July 20, 2012


Cardinal Keith O’Brien

The Scottish Parliament has rejected Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s request that any decision about legalizing same-gender marriage be reached by a referendum rather than by legislative process.

The BBC reports that Scotland’s Cabinet ejected the request from the Cardinal of St. Andrew’s and Edinburgh, and said that a committee would be established to further examine legal issues in the marriage equality bill:

” . . . [A government] spokesman said: ‘This is an important issue and it is right that cabinet takes the time to get both the principle and the detail of the decision right.

” ‘During the discussion, recent calls for a referendum on the subject were carefully considered. However, cabinet views this as an issue of conscience not constitution.

” ‘Given that if a bill is brought forward it should in the view of the Scottish government be determined by a free vote, cabinet has concluded that a referendum would not be appropriate.

” ‘Cabinet has now asked a cabinet sub-committee, led by the deputy first minister, to further examine some particular issues of detail before a final decision is reached.

” ‘We remain committed to publishing the consultation responses and our clear decision on the way forward before the end of this month.’ “

The Cardinal had made his request for a referendum earlier this week.

London’s Telegraph newspaper report carried Cardinal O’Brien’s mixed reaction to the government’s announcement:

“Cardinal O’Brien welcomed the subcommittee but attacked the decision not to hold a referendum. ‘The serious implications for freedom of belief and expression of redefining marriage should be as important to a free society as any constitutional matter,’ he said.”

The report also noted that a national consultation, a process of soliciting the public’s input on a bill, was held on marriage equality, a record 80,000 people responded.

Gay Star News carried the reaction of Tim Hopkins, chair of Scotland’s Equality Network, who is working for the passage of a marriage equality law:

“We agree with the Scottish government that a referendum would be completely inappropriate.

“We very much hope that the Scottish government is taking this two week delay to get the details of same-sex marriage in Scotland right.

“We have always said that religious bodies, including the Catholic Church, should be free to decide for themselves whether or not to do same-sex marriages. Religious freedom works both ways, and it’s time the Cardinal acknowledged that religions like the Unitarians and Liberal Jews, who want to do same-sex marriages, should be free to do so.”

Cardinal O’Brien has already made several high-profile statements into Scotland’s marriage equality debate, including his recent decision to spend 100,000 British pounds and establish a special Sunday campaign against equal marriage legislation.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


On Coming Out: Anderson Cooper, Henri Nouwen, and Raymond Alikpala

July 19, 2012

Anderson Cooper

When CNN’s Anderson Cooper came out as gay earlier this summer, a few eyebrows were raised because he did not come out sooner.  It’s a common story that when a public figure acknowledges a homosexual orientation, he or she is often castigated for having led a private life for so long.   I have often found this a strange reaction when it comes from LGBT advocates because one of the values that the LGBT community frequently supports is the right of individuals to lead their own lives as they see fit.

Mr. Cooper’s revelation has sparked reflections about the coming out process on two sides of the world–in the United States and the Philippines.  In both cases, Catholicism plays a role.

Rev. Chris Glaser, a Presbyterian minister who is a pioneer in the LGBT religion world, supports Mr. Cooper’s decisions both not to tell and then to tell his sexual orientation publicly.  What I found most interesting about Rev. Glaser’s argument is that he uses Henri Nouwen, a beloved Catholic spiritual writer who was also a gay priest who did not reveal his orientation publicly, as his model for this type of decision.  In a essay he writes:

Henri Nouwen

“. . . I have empathy for celebrities who don’t fall all over themselves coming out, despite the good it might do to limit bullying, suicides and inequality.

“A spiritual mentor and friend, Henri J. M. Nouwen, faced the same difficulty. Having written dozens of books on the spiritual life and Christian ministry, Nouwen was a celebrity among Catholics and Protestants alike. But he believed in his call as a celibate priest, while yearning for what Catholic teaching opposed: ‘a particular friendship.’

“He was indeed The Wounded Healer that he wrote of early in his career: those able to bring healing to others while acknowledging personal wounds. Nouwen’s spiritual breakthrough came when he drew too close to a member of his spiritual community, prompting intense self-scrutiny that led to his published journal, ‘The Inner Voice of Love,’ in which he comes to the realization that people will try to hook you in your wounds, and ‘dismiss what God, through you, is saying to them.’ “

“His biographer, Michael Ford (Wounded Prophet), told me that Nouwen wanted to come out with that book but had been persuaded its message would reach a broader audience if the gender of the friend were not revealed. Nouwen had mentioned to me his concern that his reach would be narrowed if he were defined by this one aspect of his character.

“Shortly after his death in 1996, I was shocked to receive an e-mail from someone quoting ‘the gay theologian’ Henri Nouwen — a verification of Henri’s concern. Thus we might take Anderson Cooper at his word in telling friends he didn’t want to be known as ‘the gay anchor.’

“I have the opposite but analogous experience. Because I became known for my gay activism, I’ve discovered I have been typecast and whatever spiritual insights I might offer the church have been viewed through a prejudicial lens.

“As one who resisted mentioning Henri’s sexuality after his death even after it had become public, I was nonetheless invited by his spiritual community to write about it for an anthology entitled Befriending Life: Encounters with Henri Nouwen. They trusted me, they said, to write about it without sensationalizing it.”

In an opinion essay in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Rina Jimenez-David examines Mr. Cooper’s coming out and how it compares with the story of  a Raymond Alikpala, a Catholic Filipino lawyer who was once a Jesuit seminarian and who recently authored a book that is getting some attention in their country: a book, Of Gods and Men: A Life in the Closet.   Jimenez-David writes:

“One of the most affecting parts of the book is how Raymond finally found the courage to tell his family about his entire self, including his sexual orientation. Though he said he had an inkling that his mother had long sensed his gayness, when they read the first draft of his memoir, they at first were repulsed and appalled that he would speak so publicly about his sexuality.

“But at the book launch, Raymond’s parents were both there, as were other members of his family, which spoke volumes about how they had come around to accepting him and indeed being proud of his courage and fearlessness.

“His mother Ciony, speaking at the launch, acknowledged that it is not easy mothering a gay son, more so because ‘it is not easy to be gay in the Philippines.’  ‘Gayness is not a sin,’ she declared in Filipino, ‘God knows how he has lived, and God sees into our hearts and reads our minds.’

“It was important to her, she said, ‘to try my best and show my love and support’ for Raymond. ‘I am very proud of my gay son,’ she declared, urging parents of gay children to love them because ‘they need our love more in a cruel and judgmental society.’

“Anderson Cooper would have approved.”

Coming out will always remain a personal decision based on many factors in a person’s life–personal, professional, political, spiritual.  We rejoice when someone has found the right time to do so not only because of the benefit it can bring to the individual but to the greater community, as well.  As much as we would want everyone to have the grace to come out, patience and respect for the individual’s personal process in this area need to prevail.  As much as coming out can be a grace to the wider community, every individual should enjoy the right to do so on his or her own schedule.  Encouragement and support, not criticism and castigation, should always be our response.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Rochester’s Bishop Matthew Clark Submits Resignation Letter

July 18, 2012

Bishop Matthew Clark

Bishop Matthew Clark of Rochester, New York, a longtime supporter of LGBT people in the Catholic Church, turned 75 on July 15th, the required age for submitting a resignation to the Vatican.

Two Rochester news organizations have been observing this milestone with stories reviewing Bishop Clark’s tenure and also looking toward the future for the diocese. A article recalled Bishop Clark’s welcome of LGBT people in the church, quoting him:

“One of the very enriching parts of my ministry over the years has been many, many opportunities I’ve had to sit down with gay and lesbian people and to hear from them their experience of their lives and the pain it causes them when people speak of them in derogatory ways or with ugly statements or inferences that are damaging.”

In 1997, Bishop Clark presided at a Mass for LGBT people at Rochester’s Sacred Heart Cathedral.  Although there were many protests from traditionalist Catholics that he not host the liturgy, Bishop Clark stood firm.   The cathedral seats 900 people; 1300 responded warmly to his welcome by attending that day.

In that same year,  Bishop Clark spoke at New Ways Ministry’s Fourth National Symposium in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and also presided at the conference liturgy.  I recall that when he proclaimed the Gospel for that day, which included the famous John 3:16 verse–“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life”–he choked up with emotion and had to pause for a few seconds before continuing.  It was a moving experience that was not lost on the assembled crowd who recognized in it Bishop Clark’s commitment to the Gospel.

The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle article on Bishop Clark’s resignation had a lengthy comment on his commitment to LGBT people:

“Thomas Wahl remembers Bishop Clark taking the pulpit in September 1998, before a Mass of gay and lesbian Catholics. [This was the Mass for the National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian and Gay Ministries conference which Bishop Clark hosted that year.]

“Wahl, the one-time head of the local chapter of Dignity U.S.A., a group of gay and lesbian Catholics seeking acceptance from the Catholic Church, was among the more than 600 who pushed past the protesting crowds at the door and watched as Bishop Clark took the altar at St. Mary’s Church.

“ ‘He said “Good afternoon,” and then he just stopped,’ said Wahl. ‘And for 15 or 20 seconds, the tears rolled down his cheeks.’

“It was only the second such Mass that Clark had attended, and it came in the midst of a two-year stretch that saw the Rochester diocese take center stage in a national debate on how the Catholic Church should treat its gay parishioners.

“After the diocese’s first gay Mass, which Clark had convened in March 1997, protestors got the attention of the Vatican, who began keeping a close eye on the region as the diocese made some seemingly conflicting decisions regarding its gay outreach.

“In the summer of 1998, Clark reassigned Rev. James Callan of Corpus Christi Church for three offenses, one of which was blessing gay weddings. Shortly after, he ordered diocesan priests to stop participating in a special weekly Mass for members of Dignity U.S.A.

“But just one week after barring his own priests from the Dignity Masses, Clark turned around and hosted a national conference of Catholics that minister to homosexuals, and gave his second Mass for gays and lesbians, further confounding his critics.

“ ‘I have so much love for this man, because he doesn’t really care who he pisses off,’ said Wahl. ‘He will go as far as he can while still staying within the letter of the law so he can continue to be a shepherd for the Rochester gay Catholic community.’ “

Bishop Clark acknowledges the congregation at his installation Mass in 1979. Then 37, he was the youngest bishop in the U.S.

Indeed, although Bishop Clark did not support New York’s marriage equality law in 2011,  traditionalist Catholics were angered by his lack of zeal in the fight to defeat the bill:

“ ‘He put out a few letters (last year), but it was the same letter they put out years before that just said “This is what the Catholic Church believes,” ‘ said Ben Anderson, [a blogger] . . .  critical of Bishop Clark. ‘That was it. There was no standing up. No going in front of the media and saying “You can’t propose this.” Bishop Clark was just sort of mum on that legislation.’ ”

Bishop Clark’s forthright role in the controversy surrounding Fr. Charles Curran, a Rochester priest who is a theologian that was  fired by the Catholic University of America, was also cited as a high point in the Rochester Ordinary’s tenure:

“Bishop Matthew H. Clark remembers the letter: stern, foreboding, and signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — the man whom the world knows today as Pope Benedict XVI.

“Delivered to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester in 1986, the Vatican’s letter said that Rev. Charles E. Curran’s beliefs on the subjects of masturbation, homosexuality and premarital sex would promote a questionable ‘pluralism in teaching moral doctrine,’ and that Clark was not to defend the man’s opinions any more.

“But Clark didn’t back down.

“ ‘Your Eminence, I fail to see how such a description does justice to what I wrote,’ Clark responded in a return letter. ‘My intention was to portray moral theology as a living discipline, which ever faces new questions and which historically has developed a great deal.’ ”

In a separate Rochester Democrat and Chronicle article which considers the type of bishop that the diocese will have as Bishop Clark’s successor, one Rochester Catholic expressed hope:

“ ‘I have no idea who’s coming, so I can’t worry,’ said Joan Tannous of Gates, who currently serves on the diocese’s Women’s Commission. ‘But I’m hoping someone like (Clark) with his charisma, his foresight, his insight, will replace him. Someone to carry on his accomplishments. The essentials of Bishop Clark’s tenure need to be continued.’ ”


–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry




Building Healthy Families for LGBT Kids: What EVERY Parent Needs to Know

July 17, 2012


After attending PFLAG (Parents Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, meetings when our son came out, we realized that if a parent, in the early stages of fear, confusion, anger and grief, could say, “I love my son” or “I love my daughter,” it was a good bet that, in time, those parents, that son or daughter, that family would be just fine. Over time, parents who put that love above all their doubts and anxieties will find joy in having an LGBT daughter or son.  Indeed, many of these parents will proudly march in Gay Pride parades, speak up for equal rights, and work tirelessly for justice for all LGBT persons.

We have seen this phenomenon time and again in our work with Catholic parents across the country through Fortunate Families, a national network of parents with LGBT children.
Today many more parents, including Catholic parents, are accepting and affirming of their LGBT children.  Those children are coming out in greater numbers and younger ages than before.  Frequently, however, parents – even those who say, “I love my daughter/son” are not at all prepared when a child comes out to them as LGBT.  Few really know what is best for their LGBT child. Many are consumed by fear for their child’s safety: physical, emotional and spiritual; some are grieving their lost (heterosexual) expectations for their child; and others agonize over how society will treat their child.

Fortunately, there is now a resource that all parents—those  who know their child is gay and those who don’t—can use to help make decisions that will help insure a healthier, happier child now and for the future.

The booklet, Supportive Families, Healthy Children: Helping Families with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Children, is the result of a 2009 study by the Family Acceptance Project (FAP)—a research, intervention, education and policy initiative, directed by Dr. Caitlin Ryan at San Francisco State University.  FAP’s research “focused on family behaviors in response to sexual orientation and gender expression during adolescence as predictors of current health problems”.  The study’s results were published in the January, 2009 issue of  Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and can be accessed by clicking here. The results show a strong correlation between parental accepting or rejecting speech and behavior toward a child who reveals he or she is LGB or T, and the physical and mental health outcomes for that child.

The study found that “gay and transgender teen who were highly rejected by their parents and caregivers were at very high risks for health and mental health problems when they become young adults.  Highly rejected young people were:

1)    More than 8 times as likely to have attempted suicide.

2)    Nearly 6 times as likely to report high levels of depression.

3)    More than 3 times as likely  to use illegal drugs, and

4)    More than 3 times as likely to be at high risk for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.

Evidence clearly showed that the less rejection by parents, the lower the risk in all these categories.  For example:

“Gay and transgender youth from highly rejecting families were more than 8 times as likely to try to take their own lives by the time they were young adults.  In families that were moderately rejecting (had some negative reactions to their gay or transgender child—but also had some positive reactions) those young people were only about twice as likely to try to kill themselves.”

The booklet also lists rejecting behaviors that are very harmful to LGBT youth such as physical and verbal abuse, exclusion from family events, blocking access to LGBT friends, events and resources, saying God will punish her/him, saying you are shamed by or ashamed of your LGBT child, and making your child keep their sexual identity a secret in the family.

 The Family Acceptance Project stresses that “families need to create a nurturing and supportive environment long before they know who their children will become.  This is critically important information for every parent to have—whether or not they know they have an LGBT child.

Information like this can go a long way in helping parents be the best parents possible to their LGBT daughters and sons in a world not yet able to see those children as God’s loving gift to the world.

#     #     #     #     #

Mary Ellen and Casey Lopata have been active in LGBT ministry since the early 1990s, and they are the co-founders of Fortunate Families, a national network of  Catholic parents and family members of LGBT people.

NOTE: The Family Acceptance Projects’s multi-lingual, multi-cultural series of educational family booklets–Supportive Families, Healthy Children: Helping Families with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Children–was recently designated as the first “Best Practice” resource for suicide prevention for LGBT youth and young adults by the national Best Practices Registry for Suicide Prevention.  

This publication is  available in specific cultural versions in English, Spanish and Chinese. A faith-based version is available for Mormon families with LGBT children. Other versions are planned, including one for Catholic families.

Print copies are available by contacting:  Downloads are available at:


Vatican Official Balks at Episcopal Convention Vote to Bless Same-Sex Couples; Sensitive Transgender Language Also Approved by Anglican Denomination

July 16, 2012

A Vatican official has stated that the U.S. Episcopalian Church’s recent decision to bless same-sex couples can damage future dialogues between the Anglican communion and the Roman Catholic Church.

Bishop Brian Farrell, an Irish prelate who is Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said the decision, voted in at the denomination’s recent General Convention, was “a huge obstacle on the path to Christian unity,” according to a Catholic News Service story printed in The Pilot, the newspaper of the Boston Archdiocese.

The article explains Farrell’s position:

“Bishop Brian Farrell told Catholic News Service in an email July 12 that the decision jeopardizes the achievements of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission since 1970.

“After a six-year hiatus, the official Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue began a new phase in May — known as ARCIC III — to discuss the relationship between the local and universal church, as well as women’s ordination, same-sex unions and actively homosexual clergy.

“Bishop Farrell acknowledged that Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury had already called for any province of the Anglican Communion that could not abide by the moratorium on the ordination of people living in same-sex unions to withdraw from the dialogue commission, which the Episcopal Church did.

” ‘Beyond this technical consideration, ARCIC III will continue, but it will have to seriously face the enormous challenge being posed by the internal situation of the Anglican Communion,’ Bishop Farrell said.

“The [U.S.] Episcopal Church is a member of the Anglican Communion, which has opposed the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of openly gay bishops. . . .

“Oblate Father John W. Crossin, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, declined an interview request about the move, saying, ‘We don’t comment on the internal workings of other churches.’ “

The Episcopal Church voted overwhelmingly to bless same-sex couples at their recent General Convention in Indianapolis.  According to a report in USA Today:

“At the Episcopal General Convention, which is divided into two voting bodies, about 80% of the House of Deputies voted to authorize a provisional rite for same-sex unions for the next three years. A day earlier, the House of Bishops approved the rites 111-41 with three abstentions during the church meeting in Indianapolis.

“Supporters of the same-sex blessings insisted it was not a marriage ceremony despite any similarities. Called ‘The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant,’ the ceremony includes prayers and an exchange of vows and rings. Same-sex couples must complete counseling before having their unions or civil marriages blessed by the church. . . .

“In a separate vote Monday, the full Episcopal convention approved new anti-discrimination language for transgendered people that cleared the way for transgendered clergy.”

A Christian Science Monitor article notes that relationships with Christian denominations (other than the Catholic Church) can also be strained by the Episcopal vote on same-sex couples:

“With this week’s votes, the 2 million member Episcopal Church goes where some (though not all) other Protestant denominations have hesitated to tread. Just last week, the Presbyterian Church (USA) narrowly defeated efforts to redefine marriage in its constitution to include gay couples. In May, the United Methodist Church reaffirmed its teaching that same-sex relationships are incompatible with Christian teaching. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, meanwhile, permits same-sex ceremonies but has not created a rite for blessing them.

“Yet since 2005, the 1-million-member United Church of Christ has supported same-sex blessings.

“Unlike other Protestant groups, the Episcopal Church belongs to a worldwide church that has called for a moratorium on same-sex blessings. The 80-million-member Anglican Communion includes the Episcopal Church among its 34 provinces. Some fear this week’s adoption of a same-sex liturgy will add further strain to already-frayed relationships.

“ ‘It means the Episcopal Church is now separating itself that much more from the Anglican Communion,’ says Hood College historian David Hein, co-author of The Episcopalians, a standard history of the church. ‘The American Episcopal Church is trying to set itself up as a separate denomination, although they would claim that they’re not.’

“The Episcopal Church has spent decades cultivating closer ties with other Christian groups, most notably Lutherans, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox churches. Authorizing a same-sex liturgy could spell trouble for these ecumenical relationships, observers say. In 2010, the Anglican Communion asked Episcopalians to resign their posts in ecumenical dialogues because their church had defied the moratorium on same-sex blessings.”

Commenting on the vote, as well as on the pressure not to approve the blessing ritual, was the Rev. Susan Russell, senior associate at All Saints Church in Pasadena, Calif.:

“We are not going to be blackmailed into bigotry against our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in order to maintain a unity that requires uniformity.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

ALL ARE WELCOME: An Open Door Policy for Catholic Schools

July 15, 2012

The ALL ARE WELCOME series is an occasional feature  which examines how Catholic faith communities can become more inclusive of LGBT people and issues.  At the end of this posting, you can find the links to previous posts in this series.

The August issue of U.S. Catholic magazine has an essay entitled “Leave no child behind: Catholic schools should accept everyone.”  As the title suggests, the author is proposing that Catholic schools not refuse admission to anyone, including children who come from non-traditional families.

Fr. Bill Tkachuk, the author, is pastor of St. Nicholas Parish and co-pastor of Pope John XXIII School in Evanston, Illinois.  He uses as starting point the case where the Boston archdiocese overruled a parish school’s exclusion of a child because the family was headed by a lesbian couple.  Fr. Tkachuk rightly praises the archdiocese’s decision and their subsequent policy statement that “Our schools welcome and do not discriminate against or exclude any categories of students.”

The essay makes a beautiful case for inclusion, however, one of its arguments rubs the wrong way.  Fr. Tkachuk uses a Gospel example to make the case for inclusion, which, unfortunately, implies some of the judgmental attitude that he is trying to eradicate:

“The call of the apostle Matthew challenges the status quo of his time (Matt. 9:9-13). Jesus calls Matthew to follow him when he is still practicing the sinful act of collecting taxes for the Romans. Matthew responds by hosting a dinner to which he invites other practicing ‘sinners'; he then brings Jesus to meet the group he has gathered.

“When the religious authorities grumble that Jesus is associating with the ‘unclean,’ Jesus responds by clarifying the mission of God’s kingdom, saying, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Jesus soon names Matthew (still called ‘the tax collector’) as one of the 12 apostles. In the roots of what will become the institutional church, Jesus balances the call to ongoing conversion with tolerance of imperfections.”

Fr. Tkachuk’s heart seems to be in the right place, but the use of this example seems to imply a patronizing approach toward people whose lives are not in accord with the church’s teaching.  I don’t think it is Fr. Tkachuk’s intention to label such people “sinners.”  Indeed he uses the word “sinners” in quotation marks to indicate that while they may be considered so by some people, that may not actually be the truth.  Yet his use of the scriptural example and the term can be offensive to some of his readers.

That said, I think that the main point of his essay–not to exclude any child on the basis of family background–is a good one.  His reasons include:

“Each family who becomes part of a Catholic school community, each man or woman who teaches or volunteers, and every principal or priest who serves in a Catholic school needs God’s healing in each and every moment. We strive to follow the call of Jesus, but we are imperfect witnesses to the faith. The most powerful witness that we offer our children is that we strive to grow in the understanding and practice of our faith and are willing to admit our imperfections and seek God’s grace.

“I am not suggesting that a member of a Catholic school community has the right to contradict church teaching and create disharmony or confusion. I am suggesting that any adult who supports the religious curriculum that is presented in a Catholic school is on a path to holiness, regardless of what I know or presume to know about his or her personal life.”

Importantly, Fr. Tkachuk’s argument offers a way for how church officials can deal with similar situations such as employing a person involved in a public, committed lesbian or gay relationship.  His argument shows that church leaders have to start dealing with such new realities in new ways:

“Some parents have expressed a concern that the lifestyle of a ‘non-traditional’ family will confuse their child. They have asked how to teach tolerance for others while also teaching Catholic values. I believe that learning to deal with these tensions will help in a variety of situations in which the values we teach conflict with the perceived behaviors of relatives, neighbors, friends, and public figures. This is part of being Catholic in a pluralistic culture.

“Those who would attempt to certify parents as ‘sufficiently Catholic’ based on a preconceived list of perceived faults place us all on a very slippery slope. Do we extend this judgment to our business practices, our treatment of neighbors and extended family, our stewardship of creation, our generosity to the poor, or other aspects of our behavior? If so, then who will be left in our Catholic schools?”

Accompanying Fr. Tkachuk’s essay, U.S. Catholic also published an essay by Tina Herman, a parent, describing her reasons why she belieives Catholic schools should be inclusive, including the following:

“A school that discriminates agains gays and lesbians is sending a message to the very children it serves. These are institutions that preach morality and say we’re all God’s children. What does turning away children based on something out of their control say to other kids, who very well might be gay themselves? Thankfully, the events out of Boulder and Boston are isolated incidents.

“I live in a large metropolitan city in a racially, ethnically, and economically diverse neighborhood, and I prefer my son’s future classroom to reflect that makeup. At his current day care, he hangs out with kids who are black and white, Middle Eastern and Hispanic, adopted kids and kids with two dads. That is his “normal;” it’s what he knows. We are surrounded by expensive private schools that tout academic excellence (for preschoolers), but my husband and I think it’s important for our son to be around kids who don’t necessarily look like him, have the same family makeup as he does, or even the same income. We can all learn from each other’s differences–and that’s the best education.”

Catholic schools, like Catholic parishes, should be known for their ability to welcome and accept everyone who comes to their doors.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Previous posts in the ALL ARE WELCOME series:

Say the Words, December 14, 2011

All in the Family , January 2, 2012

At Notre Dame, Does Buying In Equal Selling Out? , January 25, 2012

A Priest With An Extravagant Sense of Welcome,  February 13, 2012

Going Beyond the Boundaries, April 11, 2012

St. Nicholas Parish Celebrates 10 Years of LGBT Ministry, May 24, 2012

When Homophobes Attack, June 7, 2012



Loyalty Oaths Are Sprouting Up Across the U.S. Catholic Church

July 14, 2012

Loyalty oaths seem to be coming into fashion in Catholic churches, as more and more bishops are using this instrument to require that Catholics working in the church, even on a volunteer basis, pledge total fidelity to the magisterium, including official directives about LGBT people.

The issue was sparked this week by a Washington Post article on Bishop Paul LoVerde, of Arlington, Virginia, who has instituted such an oath for religious education teachers there. Four teachers have already resigned because of the requirement.  The Post report states:

“The Arlington Diocese, which includes nearly a half-million Catholics across northern and eastern Virginia, is one of a small but growing number that are starting to demand fidelity oaths. The oaths reflect a churchwide push in recent years to revive orthodoxy that has sharply divided Catholics.

“Such oaths are not new for priests or nuns but extend now in some places to people like volunteer Sunday school teachers as well as workers at Catholic hospitals and parish offices.

“One in Baker, Ore., reiterates the sinfulness of abortion and says, “I do not recognize the legitimacy of anyone’s claim to a moral right to form their own conscience in this matter.” One in Oakland, Calif., requires leaders of a group doing outreach to gay and lesbian Catholics to say they “affirm and believe” official church teaching on marriage, hell and chastity. [For the Bondings 2.0 report on the Oakland oath, click here.]

“The Arlington ‘profession of faith’ asks teachers to commit to “believe everything” the bishops characterize as divinely revealed, and Arlington’s top doctrine official said it would include things like the bishops’ recent campaign against a White House mandate that most employers offer contraception coverage. Critics consider the mandate a violation of religious freedom.”

The article quotes Rose Zagarri, one of the resigned teachers:

“Zagarri said the oath was a “slap in the face” to Catholics who have remained active and close to the church despite controversies.

“ ‘Although I fully understand the authoritative role of the Catholic hierarchy in defining the teachings of the faith, in my view only a person who is willing to abandon her own reason and judgment, or who is willing to go against the dictates of her own conscience, can agree to sign such a document,’ she wrote to Arlington Bishop Paul Loverde.

“ ‘This is not in the spirit of what people go to a Catholic church for, which is community and a loving, welcoming environment. It’s exclusionary, a suppression of dissent, let’s all line up and be the army of God,’ Zagarri said in an interview for this article.”

A Seattle Post-Intelligencer blog reports that the loyalty oath in the Baker, Oregon, diocese (mentioned above) states that some of the teachings that the oath includes are:

“the sinfulness of contraception, the evil of extra-marital sexual relationships, the unacceptability of homosexual relationships, the wrongness of co-habitation before marriage.”

According to the Post-Intelligencer, the Baker diocese oath goes even further on the issue of abortion, with the statement:

“I do not recognize the legitimacy of anyone’s claim to a moral right to form their own conscience on this matter.”

A wise warning against such loyalty oaths was raised by Rev. Ronald Nuzzi, Rev. Ronald Nuzzi, director of the leadership program for Catholic educators,University of Notre Dame.  The Washington Post article concludes with:

“Nuzzi said he keeps a photo on his desk from the 1940s that shows all the German bishops in their garb, doing the Nazi salute.

“ ‘I keep it there to remind people who say to do everything the church says, that their wisdom has limitations, too.’ ”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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