Commonweal’s Ambivalent Position on Marriage Equality

August 31, 2013

ambivalentThe August 16th issue of Commonweal magazine leads off with an editorial which expresses the publication’s opposition to marriage equality laws.  Yet, at the same time, the editorial shows support for greater discussion of this important topic, as well as for finding ways to publicly acknowledge and affirm committed lesbian and gay couples.  These two notions leave the reader with a sense of the authors’ ambivalence, make the editorial challenging to read, and guarantee that it will make nobody happy.

The editors note that they have always “expressed skepticism and urged caution regarding the legalization of same-sex marriage, while at the same time defending the rights and dignity of homosexual persons both in society and in the church.”  A sentence like that is not necessarily ambivalent.  I believe, though disagree with, people who say that they oppose marriage equality while they want to defend equality of lesbian and gay people in other arenas.

The ambivalence comes in with the editors’ discussion of social scientific evidence concerning the social efficacy of granting marriage to same-sex couples and of the effects on children raised in families headed by same-sex couples.  The ambivalence is on display in a sentence such as this one:

“There is simply not yet enough social-scientific data to say one way or the other how children raised in same-sex marriages fare, although there is plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting that same-sex couples are as devoted to their children as their heterosexual neighbors.”

Granted, there is a difference between empirical and anecdotal evidence, but if anecdotal evidence is telling them something, don’t the writers owe it to themselves and their readers to see exactly what the empirical evidence is saying.   Their claim begs the question of just how much empirical evidence is “enough” for them.  Vermont passed the U.S. civil union law in 2000.  We now have 13 states and the District of Columbia which offer marriage equality, and numerous nations, provinces, cities around the globe have done so, too.  Isn’t that enough of a sampling to be able to see if same-sex marriage is a stabilizing or detrimental social force? Over the years, I have seen reports of dozens of empirical studies which support the idea that children in households headed by lesbian and gay couples fare no worse, and sometimes much better, than children in heterosexually-headed households.

The ambivalence is on display later in the editorial when they call for greater recognition of child-rearing by lesbian and gay people:

“It is also time for the church to open its eyes to the selfless work same-sex couples do in raising children, many of whom would otherwise go uncared for and unloved.”

Yes! I agree wholeheartedly!  But then why do they make the claim that we don’t know how much of a social good these couples provide?

The editorial is right on target when they criticize the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for their harmful and self-defeating rhetorically-hyped opposition to marriage equality:

“The conference’s advocacy, which has often cast the debate in hyperbolic terms, has persuaded few and offended many. With typical alarm, the bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage issued a statement calling the Court’s decisions ‘a tragic day for marriage and our nation,’ and a ‘profound injustice to the American people.’ The statement went on to use variations on the phrase ‘the truth of marriage’ seven times in two brief paragraphs, as though mere incantation were a substitute for persuasion. A more dexterous rhetorical strategy is needed if the church’s witness to the “truth” about marriage is not to be written off as blind prejudice. The bishops might begin by emphasizing that the church strongly defends the dignity of same-sex oriented people, a fact most Americans remain ignorant of. The bishops might also acknowledge the good of faithful, life-long same-sex unions, as well as the progress made in the public recognition of the manifold achievements and contributions of gays and lesbians.”

New Ways Ministry and many other Catholic advocacy groups have been making the same suggestion to bishops for years. Perhaps if more Catholic organizations like Commonweal make that same suggestion, bishops will begin to listen.

In discussing religious liberty questions, the editors worry about churches being unfairly labeled as discriminators.  They make the case:

“Traditional religious communities continue to do indispensable work in caring for the needy, educating the young, and calling the larger society to account on important questions like war, torture, abortion, euthanasia, and economic justice. American democracy cannot afford to deprive itself of those moral and social resources, yet that is what could happen if the law comes to equate institutional resistance to the recognition of same-sex marriage with racial discrimination.”

Yet, this is a red-herring, given the fact that every marriage equality law passed in the U.S. provides exemptions for churches.  No religious leader that I know of has been silenced from expressing their opposition to marriage equality.  It seems unlikely that any such thing will happen in the future.

The best part of the essay comes when the editors call for a more humane discussion and approach to marriage equality, especially from Catholic leaders:

“Surely, whatever its legitimate reservations about the legalization of same-sex marriage, it is time for the church to begin to come to terms with this challenging new cultural and pastoral reality, a reality that calls for far more than overwrought predictions of moral decline and social calamity. Same-sex marriage may prove to be a mistake or a failed and eventually abandoned experiment, but it is not an existential threat to the church or to Western Civilization. It is now time to listen and learn from those the church has long silenced or ignored. Who knows, those being listened to might even return the compliment.”

I can quibble with their use of the term “church” when they seem to actually mean “hierarchy.”  As regular readers of this blog will know, poll after poll shows that Catholics in the church already support marriage equality.   But they are correct in saying that a new attitude is needed and called for from those leaders who think of themselves as “the church.”   And they are even more correct in saying that if leaders show a willingness to listen, perhaps their opponents would listen to them, too. That is what real dialogue is all about:  listening respectfully.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


March on Washington Can Teach Catholic Church About Equality

August 30, 2013

Bayard Rustin with Martin Luther King, Jr.

Millions of Americans marked the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington on Wednesday, an historic event where Civil Rights leaders demanded equality before the law and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. Behind the March’s success was Bayard Rustin, a gay man who brilliantly lead organizing efforts, and who, according to Jamie Manson, in The National Catholic Reporter, offers insights for the Catholic Church today.

The March was an unprecedented protest with over 250,000 people participating.  It influenced policymakers to pass civil rights legislation just months afterwards. Bayard Rustin’s pivotal role was nearly forgotten, partly because he was an openly gay man, but is being raised up now by LGBT advocacy groups and others during current commemorations.

Manson explains  that it was Rustin who introduced Rev. King to nonviolent resistance. Rustin had begun advocating for civil rights as early as the 1940s, developed the first Freedom Ride, and first thought up the March on Washington. Yet, as influential and respected as Rustin was within the Civil Rights movement’s leadership, being gay meant discrimination of a different kind:

“Fearing that the demonstrations [outside the 1960 Democratic National Convention planned by Rev. King and Rustin] would undermine his own power, Adam Clayton Powell Jr., an African-American congressman from Harlem, N.Y., insisted they cancel the protest. If they refused, Powell threatened to claim Rustin and King were having an affair.

“Of course, there was no affair, but King surrendered to Powell’s demands, and Rustin was forced to resign and remove himself from the movement he helped shape…

“A month before the [1963] march, news of Rustin’s sexuality resurfaced. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover reported Rustin’s morals charge to segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond. Taking to the Senate floor, Thurmond declared Rustin a “Communist, draft-dodger, and homosexual…”

Fortunately, Strom Thurmond’s antics were repelled by civil rights leaders who supported Rustin in that moment and, Manson points out, it is unlikely that a person’s sexual orientation would cause them censure among contemporary activists. However, Manson wonders about the situation in the Catholic Church and American religious institutions:

“Our churches are home to many LGBT people who make outstanding contributions to the life of the church as lay ministers, teachers, hospital workers, women religious and priests. Many are forced to be silent, however, because some in the church believe their sexual identities discredit or taint their work.

“Anyone who believes that prejudice in our church is passing away is either unaware of or in denial about the hundreds of exceptional LGBT Catholics who, every year, are fired from jobs, uninvited from speaking in churches, or denied participation in church ministry because of their honesty about their sexual orientations or gender identities.

“Rustin’s life reminds us that, not too long ago, most of our culture believed a person’s sexual identity could somehow taint or discredit the knowledge, talent and gifts he or she brings to a community. His story invites us to recognize and challenge the ways in which this toxic and often subconscious belief is still playing out in our churches, communities and families.”

Frequent readers of Bondings 2.0 know experiences of discrimination and exclusion for LGBT Catholics and their allies are all too common in parishes, schools, and social service agencies. Employees with years of job experience are fired for supporting equal rights, couples committed to each other for decades are denied Communion, and priests face expulsion for attempting to offer pastorally-sensitive approaches.

The harm done against these devoted church members is terrible, but just as troubling is the loss of their gifts within our communities and it leaves one thinking: What if the Church is expelling a contemporary Bayard Rustin because she or he is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender? With so much work to be done on behalf of a more just, equitable world, the Church cannot afford this.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


A Catholic Conservative Comes Out for Same-Sex Marriage

August 29, 2013

At the end of last week, Commonweal magazine published a long essay with the provocative headline:  “The Things We Share:  A Catholic’s Case for Same-Sex Marriage. ”   While accurate, the headline doesn’t tell the whole story.   The essay is not just a Catholic argument for marriage equality, it is an argument that comes from a leading Catholic conservative and he bases his stand on natural law theory–the philosophical position that bishops and other religious thinkers use to oppose marriage equality.

Joseph Bottum

Joseph Bottum

I have to admit that I’m a bit ambivalent about recommending this essay to you.  Not because I disagree with it (though there are some points with which I differ), but because it is long, complicated and extremely digressive.  At over, 9,300 words, it may be one of the longest articles Commonweal has published,  The numerous erudite digressions in the essay make it seem even longer.

But it is an important article, given the fact that the author, Joseph Bottum, was once the editor of First Things, a leading publication for religious and political conservatives.  His “defection” from the “party line” of these types of thinkers is, therefore, significant, especially since he uses their very esteemed theory of natural law to make a case against their stand.

Bottum’s case for marriage equality actually comes very close to the end of the essay.  He spends the first three-quarters of the essay dealing with a variety of tangential issues that (somewhat) lay the groundwork for his marriage argument.  The New York Times ran a story about Bottum’s Commonweal argument, and their summary of his case is actually easier to read and more understandable than the original, so I quote from it here:

“Natural law, as systematically explained by Aquinas in his treatise Summa Theologica, is the will of God as understood by people using their reason. Aquinas extrapolates many principles of natural law, including those of marriage. But Mr. Bottum contends that these rules are not the point.

“Natural law, Mr. Bottum writes, depends for its force on a sense of the mystery of creation, the enchantment of everyday objects, the sacredness of sex. In the West, that climate of belief has been upended: by science, modernism, a Protestant turn away from mysticism, and, most recently, the sexual revolution. The strictures of natural law were meant to structure an enchanted world — but if the enchantment is gone, the law becomes a pointless artifact of a defunct Christian culture.

“ ‘And if,’ Mr. Bottum writes, ‘heterosexual monogamy so lacks the old, enchanted metaphysical foundation that it can end in quick and painless divorce, then what principle allows a refusal of marriage to gays on the grounds of a metaphysical notion like the difference between men and women?’ “

Where I tend to disagree with Bottum is not on his view of natural law, but with the fact that he seems to discount all other approaches to supporting marriage equality.  He spends a good deal in the beginning of his article refuting some of the more popular ways that marriage equality has been argued for in the U.S., i.e., based on legal fairness:

“It’s not enough for a Catholic to say that legal fairness and social niceness compel us. We have a religion of intellectual coherence, too, and the moral positions we take have to comport with the whole of the moral universe. That’s the reason for trying to be serious—for demanding that the unity of truth apply, and that ethical claims cannot be separated from their metaphysical foundations.

“If there is no philosophical or theological reasoning that leads to Catholic recognition of civil same-sex marriage, then we’re simply arguing about what’s politic. What’s fair and nice. What flows along the channels marked out by the dominant culture. We’re merely suggesting that Catholics shouldn’t make trouble. And how is that supposed to convince anyone who holds intellectual consistency at more than a pennyweight?”

Where I disagree with him on this matter is that these arguments for marriage equality are not just secular and political ones, but are also often theological and faith-filled.  For example, many Catholics have used our church’s social justice tradition, not the Democratic Party’s talking points,  to support marriage equality.  Bottum seems to be unaware of the fact that Catholics have been arguing for many years for marriage equality from a faith perspective.

His unawareness of a faith-based perspective affirming marriage equality makes him fall into the trap of spending a good deal of his essay arguing what I consider an irrelevant point.  He states that there exists

“. . . a question religious believers must ask: a prior question of whether the current agitation really derives from a wish for same-sex marriage, or whether the movement is an excuse for a larger campaign to delegitimize and undermine Christianity.”

In raising this point, Bottum shows a great suspicion of secular culture which is characteristic of many conservative Catholics.  I don’t doubt that some on the left want to bring down the church, but my own personal dealings with many LGBT advocates has shown me that many are sincerely respectful of religion.

Still, the value of his argument is that it addresses conservative Catholics on their own terms of natural law theory.  Many traditionalist Catholics will not support marriage equality from a social justice perspective because they don’t think that this tradition applies to LGBT issues.  I’m not sure that many will even be convinced by Bottum’s argument from natural law theory, but it will be harder for them to refute such a position.

Ross Douthat wrote a commentary for The New York Times on Bottum’s essay in which he points out another value of Bottum’s essay.  Douthat describes the piece as

“. . . a literary Catholic’s attempt to wrench the true complexity of his faith back out of the complexity-destroying context of contemporary political debates. He’s writing as someone who loves his church, and wants everyone else to love it as he does — and I don’t blame him for imagining that perhaps, just perhaps, ceasing to offer public resistance on the specific question of gay marriage would liberate the church from some the caricatures that the culture war has imposed upon it, and enable the world to see its richness with fresh eyes.”

I cite this evaluation of the piece because I believe that Bottum’s strongest point in his essay is his awareness that the hierarchy’s strong vocal opposition to marriage equality is doing pastoral harm to Catholics. And it is doing even greater harm to the reputation of the bishops as national leaders. (I make this point about the bishops’ reputation not because of the content of their position, but because of the very angry and insensitive rhetoric they often use to make their point.) After reviewing the stunning recent victories for marriage equality in legislatures, polling booths, and courtrooms, Bottum states:

“We are now at the point where, I believe, American Catholics should accept state recognition of same-sex marriage simply because they are Americans.

“For that matter, plenty of practical concerns suggest that the bishops should cease to fight the passage of such laws. Campaigns against same-sex marriage are hurting the church, offering the opportunity to make Catholicism a byword for repression in a generation that, even among young Catholics, just doesn’t think that same-sex activity is worth fighting about.”

Bottum’s essay is complex and important.  If you are a progressive Catholic and read the essay all the way through, I think you will find yourself nodding in agreement on some points and shaking your head in disagreement at others.  I suspect that the same will be true for many conservative Catholics.   Regardless of one’s political and ecclesiastical orientation, the essay will make the reader think in new ways.  And for that reason, it is worth the effort.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

QueeringTheChurch.com:  A Conservative Catholic Evolution on Gay Marriage

The Wild Reed: A Conservative Catholic’s Contribution to the Journey to Marriage Equality

The American Conservative:  J. Bottum Flip-Flops On Gay Marriage

The Dish (by Andrew Sullivan):  The Latest Conservative Defector On Same-Sex Marriage

 

 


Sr. Jeannine Gramick on “Becoming the Person God Wants Us to Be”

August 28, 2013

From left, Isaac Gomez with his mother, Monica Nunez-Cham, and father, Arturo Gomez (Photo from National Catholic Reporter).

In June, Sr. Jeannine Gramick, a co-founder of New Ways Ministry, gave a presentation at an international conference for Latino/a families with LGBT members, in Lima, Peru.  While she went there to talk about faith and LGBT issues, she herself received  lesson in humanity’s diversity.

She shared this lesson in a National Catholic Reporter article entitled “Becoming the Person God Wants Us to Be.”  She begins with the story of Isaac Gomez, a trans man, and his family that she met in Peru. Isaac, who was born biologically female, knew from an early age that he was a boy, and his family supported his identity, especially when things got rough during adolescence:

“Always a cheerful and kind child, Isaac must have had some experience or pushback around the age of 12 that prompted him to say he would henceforth be a girl. He did not want to be a freak, he said. Why did God make a mistake, he asked? Monica wondered where he got these notions — certainly not from his parents and siblings. All his grandparents, although traditional Catholics, loved and accepted Isaac as a boy…

“After many family discussions and extensive consultation with health professionals, Isaac began hormone treatment at age 13 to transition to a biological male. His name was now consistently Isaac and male pronouns were constantly used. The following year there was surgery for a double mastectomy. Further constructive surgeries followed. Now 19 years of age, Isaac is a handsome, well-adjusted and intelligent young man attending university. Except for that one tumultuous year, Isaac continues to be the cheerful person he was as a child.”

For over four decades, Sr. Jeannine has advocated for gay and lesbian people, and now includes the experiences of trans people like Isaac into her ministry. Her questions start within the LGBT community’s diversity, but her answers contain lessons for everyone. Sr. Jeannine writes:

“I find myself reflecting on [Isaac's] story long after the conference. Why do we call people freaks? What is normal? How do we know what God wants us to be? What is there in each of us that makes us want to be the same as others? Or at least, if not the same, what makes us want to belong or fit in, to feel like an insider, not an outsider?…

“The longing to belong lies deep in the heart of each human being. We want desperately to connect, to feel part of the whole. The greatest suffering, I believe, is a feeling of abandonment, of isolation, of not belonging. It is the overwhelming pain of rejection that Jesus experienced on the cross as he cried out, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’

“I find myself praying for a society where we see with the eye of our soul that differences are gifts that enrich the human family, where diversity is considered a blessing by which we can learn from each other. God’s imagination does not make cookie-cutter human beings. I want to work for the day when we are all insiders, unique in our identities and grateful for who God created us to be.”

Yet, the question remains of how people can know what God is callinng them to and how they are to answer that call:

“I believe the answer lies deep in our hearts. God uses our feelings and attractions, our desires and longings, our abilities and disabilities, our likes and dislikes to point us in the direction God wants. In the sanctuary of our souls, where we are alone with God, we find God’s affirmation of who we are to be.

“Just as one’s conscience must be obeyed, even against any political or ecclesiastical authority, so too one must become the person God intends, despite social acceptance or rejection, because it is this becoming that constitutes the very dignity of the human person.

As  her conclusion, Sr. Jeannine offers the following lesson she learned:

“Isaac teaches me that it takes great moral courage and integrity to become the person God intends us to be, and that family is leaven for a good life.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Understanding Transgender Issues Starts with Good Questions

August 27, 2013

Jonathan Merritt

As legal issues and theological debates grow around transgender issues, people of faith are speaking out in greater numbers for full protection and equality. Recent pieces by several authors are fine contributions for Catholics to reflect further on how the Church and its members can better understand and support trans Catholics.

Writing for Religion News Service, Jonathan Merritt asks Christians to complicate their thinking around transgender matters because they are far more complex than how anti-LGBT voices depict them. Stemming from his experiences with a fellow church member who is a trans man, the author speaks to the deficiency Christians (and one can safely add Catholics) have in thinking and speaking about transgender people. He writes:

“I suspect many Christians are like me and haven’t considered all the theological, ethical, and scientific intricacies of this issue. Perhaps we are afraid that what we discover will stretch the bounds of our thinking. My unsettled thoughts about how to reconcile Kris’s gender identification with my Christian faith tempt me to shrink back from my friendship with Kris. And yet, I’m so glad I haven’t. Our conversations challenge my thinking and force me to ask new and difficult questions of myself. Kris and I may not end up agreeing on everything, but we press on in our friendship anyway. And I think we’re both better for it.

“The transgender issue is an important one and Christians must grapple with it in all its messiness and complexity. So let’s not pretend that any armchair theologian should be able to figure it out. Kris deserves better. And so do all of our transgender neighbors.”

Sharon Groves, the director of the Human Rights Campaign’s Religion and Faith program, writes in The Washington Post about a positive contribution transgender members bring to communities of faith, namely the opportunity for wider reflection on creation, God, and oneself. She first writes a series of questions:

“[What if] we actually took seriously the question of what it means to be human and, more expansively, what it means to live into our full humanity? What if rather than saying that biology is destiny we actually explored the ways in which we all experience our own gender identities and expressions? What if we learned about the lived experiences of our transgender peers?”

Groves asks Christians to willingly engage in a respectful, open-minded questioning by encountering transgender people, their stories, and broader religious questions as a way forward. Fundamentally, understanding transgender community members will also involved understanding oneself in a deeper way on issues of gender, as she writes:

Sharon Groves

“The core teachings of Christianity are to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. We cannot love God fully if we don’t do the work of trying to understand who God is for each of us. When we look at the most moving and transformative religious writing – from Augustine to Thomas Merton – there is a sense of openness and curiosity to the experience of God.  We can’t love God if we don’t try to glean how God works in our lives.

“Similarly, we can’t really love our neighbors if we cast off all curiosity about who they are and their experience of life in the world. And finally, if we remain uninterested in ourselves – about how we come to know our gender–then we can’t really love the difference that shows up in our neighbors…

“To live our lives with true compassion and caring, we need to move beyond slogans and ask the deeper questions about gender and the diversity of experiences.   But to do that, one must ask the right question and be open to a multitude of answers.”

In a sign of hope for the Catholic Church, Governor Jerry Brown of California, who is a Catholic, recently signed a groundbreaking law protecting transgender students in that state. The law allows transgender students to use bathrooms and play on the sports teams which match their gender identity most fully. However, comments by an administrator in Nebraska’s Catholic schools opposing a similar law in that state prove that work remains in securing equality for transgender people.  At least one previous story on Bondings 2.0 reveals the pressures trans church employees feel, as well as their fears of discriminatory firings.  Another story shows the support that Catholics can express for transgender people.

A positive first step is for every Catholic to deepen their understanding of transgender issues by questioning their existing beliefs, educating themselves, and encountering trans people in their communities. Share your thoughts and resources on how Catholics can better understand transgender issues in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Two New Books Offer Insights Into Gay Spiritual Journeys

August 26, 2013

Two books offering first-person accounts of reconciling Catholic faith and gay identity have come out in the past year, and  Bondings 2.0 readers may find them helpful for personal reflection.

Hounded By God

Joseph Gentilini

Joseph Gentilini

Hounded by God: A Gay Man’s Journey to Self-Acceptance, Love , and Relationship, by Joseph Gentilini (who is a regular reader and frequent commenter on this blog), is based on years of journals that this spiritual gay man kept.  It chronicles his coming out experiences, dealings with family and friends,  his commitment to his partner, Leo Radel, and, most importantly, his relationship with God.

DigitalJournal.com reviewed the book, noting the authenticity on which it is based:

“Gentilini describes journaling as an integral part of his life, having kept a journal for more than 40 years. In fact, he writes that it is a part of his prayer life. Christian imagery fills the journal entries, illuminating the author’s deep faith in God. ‘I think that the cross in my images represents my homosexuality, which is the place of my deepest wound,’ he writes of his mother’s failure to talk about his orientation. His faith and guidance from a spiritual director who befriends his mother pays off years later when his parents invite his partner, Leo, to the family Christmas celebration. As he writes, ‘My prayer has been answered. For years, I have prayed for reconciliation with my family. It is grace, a total gift from God.’ Meeting Leo in 1981 answers another prayer for Gentilini, and his entries about Leo prove to be one more avenue to faith. ‘Leo has helped me to accept more deeply that I am lovable, that he loves me, and that God also loves me.’ ”

Deb Word, president of the board of Fortunate Families, reviewed the book on that organization’s blog, and noted that it would be helpful for family members of lesbian and gay people:

“The second chapter describes Joe’s family, and this chapter alone is worth the price of the book for parents. We see through a son’s eyes how difficult life was for a young gay man growing up. Without whining or blaming, Joe takes us through his family rejection…then tentative acceptance. I’ll leave it at that, you will want a tissue at times.”

You can find out more about the book, by visiting the author’s website.  It is available for purchase on amazon.com.

Maurice Monette

Maurice Monette

Confessions of a Gay Married PriestThe second book is Confessions of a Gay Married Priest: A Spiritual Journey by Maurice Monette, who was a member of a religious order for 30 years, and has been married to his partner for 24 years.  The book is an autobiography which chronicles the high points and low points of the spiritual road that Monette trod.  The book has been praised by several high-profile Catholic leaders.

On a back cover review of the book, Father Richard Rohr, OFM, author and retreat leader, wrote:

“This story illustrates one of the most counterintuitive messages of world religions: how our failings, heartbreaks and disappointments can be stepping stones to the spiritual joys of the second half of life.”

Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, stated:

“Through little cameos in prose and poetry, Monette’s faith journey shows the triumph of the human spirit over religious messages to suppress sexuality. This is a story of self-discovery and self-acceptance that brings about freedom for a more authentic God-relationship.”

Father Robert Nugent, author and co-founder of New Ways Ministry, noted:

“Readers of this work will each discover and even identify with something that touches them more personally: ‘the good, little Catholic boy,’ the priest who struggles with accepting his sexual identity in the face of traditional negative evaluations by both religion and society, the gay man who embraces monogamy, the believer whose object of belief moves from the more traditional to the more ordinary and basic experiences of human life where transcendence is often located. Readers will be challenged to re-think their sometimes uncriticized positions, affirmed in trusting more in their spiritual insights and at least hearing a most unusual story of one person’s search for healing and wholeness.”

James B. Nickoloff, Associate Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts observed:

“Maurice Monette tells his own unique story but at the same time gives voice to the stories of many other gay married priests. His honesty, humility, intelligence, and wit will lead even non-gay, non-married, and non-ordained readers to reexamine their own journeys with the Spirit.”

You can find out more about this book by visiting www.gaymarriedpriest. com.  This book is available through amazon.com.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Alaska Writer Takes On Bishop Over Marriage Equality

August 25, 2013

marriage equality 2An op-ed in Alaska’s Juneau Empire newspaper presents one of the best Catholic defenses of marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples that I have seen in a long time.  Jim Hale, a heterosexually married Catholic man wrote the piece, entitled “Marriage, gender, and religion,” in response to a July 7th op-ed from Bishop Edward Burns of the Diocese of Juneau, entitled “Liberty and justice for all requires the truth.”

What makes Hale’s argument so good is that he takes on the bishop’s definition of marriage as being primarily about sexual activity, and he does so from someone who is, in fact, married:

“As Bishop Burns notes, the Church defines marriage as ‘a sexual union.’ No one who has ever been married would define marriage that way. As the Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid writes of marriage, ‘All’s far from done when pleasure’s over.’ And the task of marriage isn’t just to create babies; all living things reproduce. Marriage is a mutual commitment of two people to create themselves — to forge in their love and loyalty to each other an atmosphere where each can discover all the inchoate power of his or her own soul. It’s demanding, to be sure; it asks of us a certain largeness of heart that we may not always be comfortable with or even capable of. But that’s love — and in the end that’s the only thing that makes a marriage sacred.”

Hale does not deny the role of sexual activity in marriage, but he notes that as a society we have evolved into a different understanding of sexuality, particularly in regard to its connection to procreation

“As a Catholic, I love the Church’s adamant defense of that fecundity as sacred — how could it not be? But in the history of human culture we have somehow gotten that fecundity and the desires that engender it all mixed up with stuff that is not sacred, stuff like power and prejudice, pornography and prostitution, misogyny and homophobia — stuff that desecrates the sanctity of creation by placing false limits on the growth and flourishing of the individual human spirit.”

He points out the absurdity of arguments which claim that same-sex marriage will harm or detract from heterosexual marriage:

“It is a rank false dilemma to suggest that same-sex marriage in any way compromises or detracts from the beautiful fecundity of God’s universe or that same-sex marriage ‘removes the basis’ of traditional marriage and somehow inhibits marriage between a man and a woman and the concomitant procreation. It does not. A gay man will not go cruising for a woman to marry and impregnate simply because he can’t marry the man he loves; unable to marry the woman she loves, a lesbian will not be out there hunting down a man. And it is an insult to think so. The Church’s position privileges procreation and physiology (‘complementarity’) over love.”

And as for Scriptural arguments, Hale proposes looking at the Bible in a more hoiistic manner than fundamentalists do:

“[T]he history of the Bible as a religious document, as a guide for how to live well, is the story of how readers over the ages have slowly and carefully winnowed what is timeless and universal (and hence divinely inspired) from the time-bound biases and assumptions of the ancient cultures from which the books of the Bible emerged. No one today can reasonably defend the deep misogyny or the promotion of slavery that we find fairly often in some books of the Bible. Lose the bath water, but keep the baby.”

The sheer practicality of Hale’s argument makes a larger point than just his case for supporting marriage equality.  Hale’s reasonable perspective is an important illustration of the need for lay people to be involved in the development of church teaching, particularly in matters of sexuality, gender, marriage, and intimate love.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Catholic Governor Chris Christie Must Choose on LGBT Equality

August 24, 2013

Governor Chris Christie

New Jersey’s passage of a law  advancing LGBT rights is raising questions about Governor Chris Christie because of 2016 presidential campaign potential. While several states have passed marriage equality and  LGBT protections under Catholic leadership, Christie’s unique path of moderation leaves some hopeful and others disappointed. Either way, delaying much longer on LGBT equality is no longer an option for the governor.

Governor Christie signed the law on Monday, which bans ‘conversion’ therapy and other attempts at changing a youth’s sexual orientation by those with state licenses. Christie, who is a Republican, said the protection of LGBT youth from harm is the spirit behind this bill, as reported in newstimes.com:

“In signing the ban, Christie reiterated his belief that people are born gay and homosexuality is not a sin, a position he first stated in a 2011 interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan

“Christie said on ‘issues of medical treatment for children we must look to experts in the field to determine the relative risks and rewards,’ citing a litany of potential ill effects of trying to change sexual orientation, including depression, drug abuse and suicide.

” ‘I believe that exposing children to these health risks without clear evidence of benefits that outweigh these serious risks is not appropriate,’ he said.”

Opponents of the law claimed the ban overrides parental choice and suppresses their First Amendment rights, and U.S. Catholic reports at least one group plans to file a lawsuit.

As much as this ban on ‘conversion’ therapy is a step forward, LGBT advocates in New Jersey are also dissatisfied with Christie because of his failure to support marriage equality. The Washington Post reports on his mixed record:

“Christie vetoed same-sex marriage legislation last year and severely criticized the Supreme Court’s decision striking down a ban on federal rights for same-sex married couples. At the same time, he is ‘adamant’ that same-sex couples deserve equal legal protection, wants a referendum on gay marriage, and vows to abide by a same-sex marriage law if New Jersey voters approve it.”

New Jersey voters overwhelmingly support equal rights, including marriage, but future aspirations mean Christie is walking a fine line. The governor must appeal to conservative voters in the Republican presidential primaries, ensure more liberal New Jersey voters reelect him next year, and also appeal to swing voters in the middle throughout. As political pundits and campaigners calculate what it might take for  Christie to win three years from now, the governor should instead look to his  faith for guidance.

Catholics in government are called to pursue the common good of all people, including the LGBT community, which means advancing justice through the law. Christie might hope he can wait out the debate on marriage and remain essentially neutral, but marriage equality is having its moment. The sweeping victories for LGBT rights will seemingly continue and Christie must choose now, rather than later the side which he will take. As the nation commemorates fifty years since the March on Washington, I offer the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. for all Catholic politicians who have yet to commit fully to LGBT equality:

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

What do you think? Will Chris Christie answer the Gospel’s call and fully embrace LGBT rights? Will he become worse on the issue as 2016 approaches? Leave your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Mexican Bishop Calls Homophobia a “Mental Illness”

August 23, 2013

A Mexican Catholic bishop who has been a strong supporter of LGBT issues has declared that homophobia is a “mental illness.”  Is that really an accurate classification?

The Billerico Project is reporting on an interview given by Bishop Jose Raul Vera Lopez to a television show, “Terra Mexico,” in which he stated:

“Why would I immediately think a gay or lesbian person is perverse or depraved the moment they approach me? That’s how people who are homophobic react. It’s a mental illness in which you see gays as depraved and promiscuous. You have to be sick in the head for that.”

Bishop Vera Lopez, who is the head of the Diocese of Saltillo, Mexico,   You can view a two and a half minute  video clip from the interview complete with English subtitles here:

Here are some other notable quotations from the interview in regard to lesbian and gay people:

“They are human beings and deserve respect.  The Holy Father knows it’s a. . . .I am certain he knows because the reality is that many in the church do not want to acknowledge the scientific reality on the issue of sexuality.  They want to keep homosexuality as a form of human perversion, an illness.  But that is no longer the case, scientifically speaking. “

Bishop Vera Lopez also commented on Scripture citations which seem to condemn gay and lesbian persons:

“We just have to read the Bible more carefully within a historical context and within a real context.  The Biblical texts we have used to bash the heads of homosexuals to say they are condemned by the Bible?  We have to read them much more carefully.”

Bishop Jose Raul Vera Lopez

Bishop Jose Raul Vera Lopez

It is wonderful to know that this bishop is speaking out so strongly for lesbian and gay rights.  One caution:  I don’t think that he was using “mental illness” as a technical or clinical term.  From the manner in which he is speaking on the video, he seems to be using it as a rhetorical flourish, more than a diagnosis.  It is interesting to see him turn the tables on homophobic people:  it is usually they who are calling lesbian and gay people “mentally ill.”

And because lesbian and gay people have so often been so mislabeled with that diagnosis, I think we have to be very careful of labeling their opponents in the same way.  In my experience in working with LGBT issues, homophobia is more often a result of ignorance and misguided piety than by a clinical disturbance.

Another comment worth noting is that during the interview, Bishop Vera Lopez discusses the genesis of sexual orientation as being a result of hormonal influences in the womb.  With all due respect to the bishop, while that is one theory, it is still simply a theory, and not totally conclusive as the effective cause of one’s homosexuality.  The scientific community is still debating various theories as to the origin of sexual orientation in an individual.

Despite these cautions, I am delighted to read these statements from this courageous bishop.  Our church needs more leaders like him who are willing to approach LGBT issues from a knowledgeable and compassionate perspective.

Bishop Vera Lopez has spoken out many times before on lesbian and gay equality.  In fact, he was even summoned to the Vatican to defend his point of view, but no sanctions were administered to him.  You can read more about him in an article that appears on page three of this PDF of the newsletter version of Bondings.   You can also read more about other social issues with which this Nobel Peace Prize nominee is associated by clicking here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Jesuit: Drop “Disorder” Language from Catholic Gay and Lesbian Discussions

August 22, 2013

In my over 20 years of Catholic LGBT ministry,  there is nothing that has sparked more anger and more questions and confusion than the Vatican’s use of the terms “intrinsically disordered” or “objective disorder”  to describe, respectively, homosexual acts and homosexual orientation.   They are terms that are not easily understood, and, even when they are, they still cause much pastoral damage and misinformation.

Father Frank Brennan, SJ

Father Frank Brennan, SJ

An Australian Jesuit legal scholar is calling for church people to stop using those terms in their discourse.  In an essay on EurekaStreet.com, Fr. Frank Brennan, a professor of law at Australian Catholic University, has urged Catholic leaders:

“It’s time we dropped the unhelpful, judgmental language of intrinsic and objective disorder when respectfully trying to determine appropriate laws and policies for all people who want to support and nurture each other and their children.”

Fr. Brennan, who, in the past has supported civil unions for same-gender couples,  and has since professed support for civil marriage equality, notes a criticism of the “disorder” language from an Australian politician who is a lesbian:

“Penny Wong, a very eloquent and poised politician who is known to be lesbian, sharing with her partner the parenting of their child, addressed Monsignor John Woods saying, ‘I think it’s interesting you use words like respect at the same time as having a discussion about whether or not homosexuality is in fact natural or, by implication, you know a result of some form of disorder. I don’t think that’s particularly respectful.’ “

Instead of the “disorder” language, which is divisive, Fr. Brennan calls for a perspective that stresses the common humanity of all people, regardless of sexual orientation:

“Our theological starting point should be that we are all created in the image and likeness of God, whether we be gay or straight; that we are all called along the road to Jerusalem; and that the Lord’s purgative fire and promise of division is extended to us all in preparation for the invitation to the banquet where there is neither gay nor straight, and where each of us prays, ‘Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.’ “

And this Australian Jesuit is hopeful that his Jesuit brother who is now the pope is signaling a new direction towards discussing homosexuality that puts aside the pastorally harmful terms, and replaces them with a more positive approach:

“I called to mind the media press conference that Pope Francis gave recently on the plane on the way back from World Youth Day. He was asked about homosexuality and he said, ‘If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, well who am I to judge them?’ I think Pope Francis now gives us a better way of engaging in respectful discussion in our Church and in the community about the complex issues relating to homosexuality, including civil recognition of same sex marriage.”

The language of “disorder” is philosophical language.  It is not intended to mean medical or psychological disorder, but that is how the overwhelming majority of people hear it.  Because of that misunderstanding, it should definitely and immediately be stricken from church discourse.  It is a term that was applied to discussions of homosexuality by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI.  As pope, he used it as the basis for his discussions of any issue related to gay and lesbian people.

Pope Francis has already indicated that he will be moving the discussion of homosexuality away from the “disorder” language.   Let’s hope that his papacy will banish this term from Catholic discussions.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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