Catholics Among Christian Leaders Supporting LGBT Rights in Uganda

July 25, 2012

The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights has released an open letter by American Christian leaders expressing solidarity with LGBT Ugandans as their that nation continues to consider anti-gay legislation. Among the 46 signatories are 28  who are connected with Catholic institutions (see below).

The announcement on the Kennedy Center’s website states:

“Washington — July 24, 2012 Today, a group of 46 American Christian leaders issued an open letter expressing solidarity with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Ugandans in the face of “increased bigotry and hatred.” The letter, coordinated by Faith in Public Life, Human Rights First and the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, comes as a new Political Research Associates report released today accuses, among others, evangelicals such as Pat Robertson, Catholics and Mormons of setting up campaigns and fronts in Africa designed to press for anti-gay laws. . . .

” ‘It’s important for Ugandans to know that not all Evangelical and Catholic leaders think LGBT people should be criminals,’ says Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda and the 2011 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award laureate, ‘This letter from prominent American Christians is a crucial step in our efforts to introduce Ugandans to more positive and loving Christian messages in contrast to the harmful rhetoric from our own pastors that only leads to more violence and hate.’ “

In part, the text of the letter reads:

“Regardless of the diverse theological views of our religious traditions regarding the morality of homosexuality, the criminalization of homosexuality, along with the violence and discrimination against LGBT people that inevitably follows, is incompatible with the teachings of our faith.

“As American Christians we recognize that groups and leaders within our own country have been implicated in efforts to spread prejudice and discrimination in Uganda. We urge our Christian brothers and sisters in Uganda to resist the false arguments, debunked long ago, that LGBT people pose an inherent threat to our children and our societies. LGBT people exist in every country and culture, and we must learn to live in peace together to ensure the freedom of all, especially when we may disagree. We condemn misguided actions that have led to increased bigotry and hatred of LGBT people in Uganda that debases the inherent dignity of all humans created in the image of our Maker. Such treatment degrades the human family, threatens the common good, and defies the teachings of our Lord – wherever it occurs.”

“We condemn misguided actions that have led to increased bigotry and hatred of LGBT people in Uganda that debases the inherent dignity of all humans created in the image of our Maker. Such treatment degrades the human family, threatens the common good, and defies the teachings of our Lord – wherever it occurs.”

To read the full text of this letter and to see the full list of signatories, click here.

The signatories associated with Catholic institutions are:

Ambassador Thomas P. Melady
Former U.S. Ambassador to Uganda and the Vatican

Gerald J. Beyer, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Christian Social Ethics Department of Theology and Religious Studies, Saint Joseph’s University

Nicholas P. Cafardi
Dean Emeritus and Professor of Law, Duquesne University

M. Shawn Copeland
Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Boston College

Rev. Paul Crowley, S.J.
Santa Clara Jesuit Community Professor, Religious Studies Department, Santa Clara University

Nancy Dallavalle, Ph.D.
Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Religious Studies, Fairfield University

Francis Schüssler Fiorenza
Stillman Professor for Roman Catholic Theological Studies, Harvard Divinity School

Jeannine Hill Fletcher
Associate Professor of Theology, Fordham University

Sister Mary Ann Hinsdale, IHM, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Theology, Boston College

Bradford E. Hinze, Ph.D.
Professor of Theology, Fordham University

Rev. James Hug, S.J.
President, Center of Concern

John Inglis
Chair and Professor, Department of Philosophy, Cross-appointed to Department of Religious Studies, University of Dayton

Reverend Raymond B. Kemp
Senior Fellow, Woodstock Theological Center, Center for Social Justice DC Community Fellow, Georgetown University

Paul Lakeland
Aloysius P. Kelley S.J. Professor of Catholic Studies, Director, Center for Catholic Studies, Fairfield University

Rev. John Langan S.J.
Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Professor of Catholic Social Thought, Georgetown University

Rev. Bryan N. Massingale, S.T.D.
Professor of Theological Ethics, Marquette University

Joseph A. McCartin
Associate Professor of History, Director, Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, Georgetown University

Alex Mikulich
Loyola University, New Orleans

David J. O’Brien, Ph.D.
University Professor of Faith and Culture, University of Dayton

Christopher Pramuk
Associate Professor of Theology, Xavier University, Cincinnati, OH

Thomas J. Reese, S.J.
Senior Fellow, Woodstock Theological Center, Georgetown University

Stephen F. Schneck, Ph.D.
Director, Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies, The Catholic University of America

Sister Nancy Sylvester,IHM
President, Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue

Terrence W. Tilley
Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., Professor of Catholic Theology Chair, Theology Department, Fordham University

Edward Vacek, S.J.
Boston College

Todd Whitmore
Associate Professor of Christian Ethics, University of Notre Dame

Tobias Winright, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Theological Ethics, Saint Louis University

Sandra Yocum, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Religious Studies Department, University of Dayton

Almost 42% of Uganda’s population is Catholic, the largest denomination in this predominantly Christian nation.   As Bondings 2.0 has reported before, Catholic opposition to anti-gay legislation is critical to insure that LGBT people there are protected.  You can read about the importance of such support here and here and here and here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


New Report Identifies Catholic Suppport for Africa’s Anti-Gay Movement

July 25, 2012

A new report from a Boston-based political research group identifies the key conservative U.S.-based Christian organizations that are supporting the anti-gay movement in Africa, including the “Kill the Gays” bill in Uganda.

Political Research Associates yesterday released their report, “Colonizing African Values: How the U.S. Christian Right is Transforming Sexual Politics in Africa,” and identifies a key Catholic organization, Human Life International, as one of the key players in supporting anti-gay activity.

According to an Associated Press report in The Boston Herald:

“The report’s main author, the Rev. Kapya Kaoma, said that while such evangelical groups are in the minority in the United States, they are able to punch way above their weight in Africa, where many oppose homosexuality. Here, many believe the religious right’s contentions that gay men are ‘recruiting’ in schools, Kaoma said.

” ‘Those kind of lies, when presented in Africa, become factual, so we need to worry that they are misleading people with these lies,’ Kaoma, an Anglican priest from Zambia, said in a telephone interview from Boston.

“And conservative groups have access to powerful politicians, including the presidents of many countries.

“Kaoma’s report identifies groups belonging to a loose network of right-wing charismatic Christians. They include Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), the Catholic Church’s Human Life International (HLI) and the Mormon-led Family Watch International. All have launched or expanded offices in Africa over the past five years. . . .

Rev. Kapya Kaoma

” ‘By hiring locals as office staff, ACLJ and HLI in particular hide an American-based agenda behind African faces, giving the Christian Right room to attack gender justice and (the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual people) as a neocolonial enterprise imposed on Africans and obstructing meaningful critique of the U.S. right’s activities,’ the report said.

“Anti-gay laws passed in Burundi in 2009, Malawi in 2010 and Nigeria in 2011.

“Uganda’s so-called ‘Kill the Gays’ law, which would levy the death penalty for ‘aggravated homosexuality,’ was thought to have been defeated after Kaoma and Political Research Associates exposed the legislation’s American instigators in 2009. But it was reintroduced in Uganda’s Parliament this February.”

Bondings 2.0 attended a teleconference yesterday with Rev. Kaoma and Frank Mugisha, the Executive Director of Sexual Minorities Uganda and the recipient of the 2011 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award.   Kaoma and Mugisha elaborated on the role of the Catholic church in these activities.

“It’s not true that they [Roman Catholics] are not involved,” said Rev. Kaoma, noting that Human Life International has good relationships with the Catholic hierarchy. “Together with Anglican archbishops, certain Roman Catholics demanded the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda be passed.”

Frank Mugisha

Mugisha noted that the Catholic archbishop in Uganda did ask that the death penalty be removed from the bill, but that the Catholic Church still has not taken an official position on whether the bill should be passed.

“In Uganda, they [Roman Catholic Institution] haven’t stepped up to say anything or challenge the bill,” Mugisha said.  He added that in fact, the Catholic bishops have joined with other Christian groups to support the bill.

Rev. Kaoma also noted that the Ugandan Catholic bishops had a hand in inviting Ed Silvoso of the International Transformation Network, a reparative therapy group, to speak at a conference in Africa.

At the conclusion of the teleconference, it was suggested that the best way that people of faith in Western countries can help the African situation is to ask their church’s leaders to make public statements against the anti-gay legislation.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

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Previous Bondings 2.0 posts on Uganda:

June 15, 2012: More Details on Catholic Support for Uganda’s Anti-Gay Bill

June 11. 2012: Uganda’s Catholic Bishops Reverse Their Stance to Support Anti-Homosexual Bill

March 29, 2012: Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s ‘Case for Gay Acceptance in the Catholic Church’

March 4, 2012: When Will the Pope Speak Out, Too?

December 26, 2011: Breaking the Catholic Silence on LGBT Human Rights Violations

December 23, 2011: A Gay Catholic in Uganda Speaks; Cardinal George Should Listen

 

 

 


Should Catholic Dioceses Lose Their Tax Exempt Status Because of Political Involvement?

July 24, 2012

A law professor at Duquesne University, a Catholic campus in Pittsburgh, is arguing that certain bishops have overstepped the boundaries of their tax exempt status and entered the world of politics in their zeal for opposing the Health and Human Services mandate on contraception and a marriage equality initiative.

In an essay in America magazine, Nicholas P. Cafardi explains his case:

“During a sermon in the cathedral church of St. Mary’s in Peoria, Ill., on April 14, Bishop Daniel Jenky compared what he called the “extreme secularist agenda” of President Obama with the anti-Catholic programs of, among others, Hitler and Stalin, two of the 20th century’s worst mass murderers. In the same month, Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle, Wash., launched a signature drive in every parish of his archdiocese to put Referendum 74 on the statewide ballot. The referendum would repeal Washing-ton’s new same-sex marriage law.

“What Bishop Jenky did is called ‘electioneering.’ He intervened in a political campaign in opposition to one of the candidates. What Archbishop Sartain did is called “lobbying.” He intervened in an attempt to pass legislation. Both men did so using their episcopal office. Bishop Jenky spoke from the pulpit of his cathedral during Mass. Archbishop Sartain sent his Referendum 74 letter out on archdiocesan stationery. There is no doubt that both men were acting in their official capacities on behalf of the church and not as Citizen Jenky and Citizen Sartain.

“Why does that make a difference? Quite simply because tax-exempt churches—on whose behalf Bishop Jenky and Archbishop Sartain were acting—are under serious legal restrictions when it comes to electioneering and lobbying activities. Churches cannot electioneer at all. The prohibition is absolute. They may not intervene in any way in a campaign for political office either in favor of a candidate or in opposition to one. With lobbying, an attempt to influence legislation, there is some wiggle room. There the law allows churches to lobby, but only to an ‘insubstantial’ degree.”

Cafardi goes on to explain, in lay people’s terms,  the origin of the Internal Revenue Service tax code which prohibits such activity, and then explains the difficulty of pinning such violations on bishops and dioceses:

“Churches can certainly advocate on social issues they perceive to have a moral component without violating the tax code. But once a church’s advocacy goes beyond issues and, without a legitimizing invitation from the legislature itself, addresses a pending law—urging voters directly (called grassroots lobbying) or urging legislators to act (called direct lobbying)—a line has been crossed. Advocacy for or against pending laws and referendums is lobbying, pure and simple, and tax-exempt churches may not use tax-exempt dollars to affect the legislative process, except ‘insubstantially.’

“There is the rub for Archbishop Sartain. Depending upon how many church resources he is using (staff time, church publications, advertisements and so on, backed by tax-exempt church dollars) to get Referendum 74 on the statewide ballot, what he is doing may or may not be considered ‘substantial’ lobbying. Using even one tax-exempt church dollar, though, to stir up opposition to the legally recognized civil rights of others is objectionable, no matter what the tax code says about it.”

Nicholas Cafardi

What’s more, Cafardi points out, is the difficulty in assigning a penalty to such violations:

“A practical problem with our bishops’ violating the tax code’s restrictions on political activities is that the Internal Revenue Service has only limited means to stop them. The I.R.S. can either use the nuclear option and revoke the archdiocese’s tax exemption, which is so drastic as to be unthinkable, or it can use the fly-swatter option and fine the diocese for the amount it spent on the prohibited political activity under Section 4955 of the tax code. For example, what was the cost to the Diocese of Peoria of Bishop Jenky’s political homily? The cost of opening up the cathedral that day? The utility costs? A prorated portion of the bishop’s salary? We are talking about a small amount, hardly the kind of fine that hurts. So legal penalties do not work in such cases. Most Americans might think the simple fact that this is the law would restrain politically overzealous bishops, but that has not worked either.”

But Cafardi suggests that the bishops might be applying their own penalty to themselves with their political involvement because polls continually show that most Catholics, particularly young Catholics, are increasingly alienated from the church when the bishops speak and act politically:

“In a survey conducted among 16- to 29-year-olds by the Barna Group in 2007, nine of this age cohort’s top 12 perceptions of Christianity were not good ones. They found Christianity to be judgmental (87 percent), hypocritical (85 percent) and too involved in politics (75 percent). That is some troika.

“In another 2012 survey of college-age millennials (18- to 24-year-olds) conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute and Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, it was found that 64 percent think that ‘anti-gay’ is an accurate description of Christianity today. An almost equal portion in this survey, 62 percent, also find modern Christianity to be ‘judgmental.’ Now some readers might opine that religion is supposed to be judgmental; it is supposed to distinguish right from wrong and that these surveys reveal only that young people prefer the relativism of their own generation to the church’s rules. Maybe. But perhaps we should also recall that we worship a Lord who said, ‘Do not judge, so that you may not be judged’ (Mt 7:1).

“In 2008, during the last presidential election, the Pew Research Center conducted a study on church endorsement of candidates for political office. The results are revealing. When asked if churches should endorse one candidate over another, the Pew poll found that in the total population of those polled, 29 percent said yes, but 66 percent said no. When the breakdown was by faiths, among all Catholics, 30 percent said yes and 67 percent said no. Among white, non-Hispanic Catholics, 26 percent said yes and 70 percent said no. Those are rather overwhelming numbers, indicating that bishops who intervene in politics are working against their own interests. Their people are not going to hear them.

“If the bishops’ politics are keeping people, especially young people, out of the pews, then perhaps they need to ask themselves a critical question: What is more important to them, political goals or the salvation of souls? If our bishops choose to ignore the law’s restrictions on their political activity, they should at least listen to the Lord, who talked about leaving the 99 sheep to go find the lost one (Lk 15:5). In the final analysis, our bishops will not be judged on how many presidents they helped to elect or how many laws they helped to pass, but on how many of those lost sheep they rescued.”

What is even more troubling has been that the response of many bishops to such questions about their tax-exempt status has been to grandstand that their religious liberty is being attacked.  As the statistics Cafardi notes show, it’s time that bishops worry less about religious liberty and more about the crumbling faith of the next generation.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 


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, PinkNews.co.uk 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 Change.org 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

 


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