Photos of Kisses Banned from Rome Gallery Due to Vatican Intervention

September 30, 2013
Two men kissing in St. Peter's Basilica, Rome

Two men kissing in St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome

Had the Vatican not intervened in getting a photo exhibition removed from a Rome gallery,  few outside the Eternal City would probably have heard of it.  But opposition to the exhibit, which features 16 pictures of same-gender couples kissing in churches, has now catapulted the exhibit to the world of international headlines and internet sensations.

Spanish artist Gonzalo Orquin’s exhibit, which was to open on September 25th in Rome’s Galleria L’Opera, was cancelled when the Vatican’s Vicariate of Rome (the office which oversees the Diocese of Rome) threatened legal action. You can view a slideshow of the photos here, thanks to Huffington Post UK.  According to TheLocal.it:

“ ‘A letter arrived from the Vicariate of Rome, an organization that is part of the Vatican, which said the church is against the exhibition. I spoke to lawyers and for security reasons we decided not to show the photos,’ Orquín told The Local.

“The Vicariate, an organization that helps the Pope carry out his functions as Bishop of Rome, confirmed it had sent the letter threatening legal action and said the photographs ‘could harm the religious sentiment of the faithful.’ “

Italian law, it seems, has a different concept of free expression than United States law:

“Speaking to The Local, Vicariate Spokesman Claudio Tanturri said the photographs are in breach the Italian constitution.

“ ‘Italian constitutional law safeguards an individual’s religious feeling and the function of places of worship.

“ ‘Therefore photos that are not suitable and do not conform to the spirituality of the place offend and infringe upon the advancement of man in the particular place for the expression of faith.’ ”

According to New York’s Daily News, the artist’s position on the exhibit was consonant with religious sentiment:

“ ‘I am a Catholic. I believe in God deeply,’ Orquin told The News in an email. ‘I think if you look closely at my pictures no one can find blasphemy or sacrilege. A kiss is a gesture of love, of tenderness between human beings.’ ”

Flavio Romani, president of Arcigay,Italy’s leading gay rights organization,  agreed with the artist and said that the Vatican’s reaction is a different interpretation than the one he has of the exhibit.  In The Local he stated:

“In the images in which the church has seen provocation, I see an exchange of love, a type of public worship that creates harmony not contrast.”

covered photos

Facebook photo of covered images

In response to the cancellation, the artist has posted a photo on Facebook of the 16 photos covered up, according to Huffington Post UK.   He is hopeful that the exhibit will be displayed elsewhere.  It seems that the notoriety gained by the Vatican’s intervention guarantees that another, perhaps more prominent, venue will be found for the photos.

If the Vatican wants to start living up to the ideals expressed by Pope Francis, interventions such as this one will have to stop.  Such an action doesn’t even serve their own misguided purposes well, as it only brings further exposure and publicity to the exhibit.  Worse yet, it sets up a dichotomy that buildings are more important than people.

The images themselves are not disrespectful.  And like all art, the statement they make probably depends more upon the viewer of them, not the creator of them.  Such images may offend some people, but more likely they will challenge many others, and cause even more people to think about the connections between love and religion.  Art should always get people thinking and discussing.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


In Australia, Shifting Leadership Leaves Marriage An Open Question

September 29, 2013

Kevin Rudd, left, and Tony Abbott, right.

After the defeat of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd recently, anti-marriage equality leaders in Australia are using this moment to stall progress and leaving legislation for equal marriage rights an open question.

The incoming archbishop for Canberra and Goulburn called for a moratorium on any marriage related legislation. The Canberra Times reports that Archbishop-Elect Christopher Prowse publicly questioned a proposed bill that would equalize marriage rights because of the “fragile moment” that “heterosexual married life” is in. He continued:

” ‘I would be calling for more of a moratorium to suspend pending legislation so that we, over the next period of time, can discuss this in a more reasoned way, where both subjective and objective arguments can be put forward and discussed in an atmosphere of calm and reason, particularly holding forward the importance of traditional marriage and its role in society. ”’

Of note is the shift that Archbishop-Elect Prowse brings to the archdiocese from his predecessor Bishop Pat Power who, while opposing marriage equality, spoke kindly of gay and lesbian people. Power is on record as saying:

” ‘I think it is really important to honour homosexual people and to understand that if that is their orientation, that is the way God has made them’…

” ‘If they are expressing their sexuality in a particular way, I don’t know I would want to be too judgmental about that. I think God is often kinder in any judgments that would be made than sometimes other Christians are.’ “

Alongside ecclesial shifts are political ones. In mid-September elections, Kevin Rudd, who is Catholic and made a strong defense of marriage equality because of his faith only days before the election, lost a re-election bid for prime minister. His opponent, Tony Abbott who is also Catholic, ran on a strong record opposing equal rights for LGBT people. Many credit Abbott’s victory with the internal failings of Rudd’s Labor Party and not their positions on marriage equality.

It appears that marriage equality is stalled at the federal level, but LGBT advocates remain hopeful that provincial legislatures can pass laws in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. Similar to the United States, progress on marriage will be ‘incremental’ according to one columnist in The Guardian.

Not yet accounted for are recent comments by Pope Francis that the Church should no longer focus on marriage politically, and perhaps this will mean there is room to grow equal rights in Australia under Abbott’s government. There is also the reality that the new prime minister’s openlylesbian sister is pressuring him to advance LGBT rights.

If you missed Bondings 2.0‘s coverage of Kevin Rudd’s faith-filled defense of marriage equality, you can watch the video clip here. It is well worth a view. 

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Cancellation of Marriage Lecture Leads to Community Reflection

September 28, 2013

Providence College students at Thursday night’s forum

The decision by Providence College to cancel an event called “The Meaning of (Gay) Marriage” has ignited controversy and raised questions about academic freedom at the Catholic school located in the capital of Rhode Island. However, the cancellation became more than a typical controversy around Catholic higher education and LGBT issues when students organized a constructive forum to replace the event.

The New York Times reports that an administrator notified faculty members last Saturday that a lecture by John Corvino, a philosophy professor at Wayne State University, Michigan, was cancelled because it defied the school’s Catholic identity.  The Times report states:

“In his e-mail announcing the cancellation, Hugh F. Lena, the provost and senior vice president of Providence College, cited a document produced by the American bishops in 2004, ‘Catholics in Political Life,’ to support the decision. And he said that college policy ‘dictates that that both sides of a controversial issue are to be presented fairly and equally.’ “

John Corvino

John Corvino

Nine departments and programs at the College were co-hosting the event scheduled for last Thursday, September 26th, and Dr. Dana Dillon of the Philosophy Department was to present the bishops’ position on marriage equality during the event. Cancelling in light of these facts caused many faculty to question the College’s commitment to academic freedom. The local chapter of the American Association of University Professors released a statement yesterday condemning the decision, which you can read in full at The Providence Journal. For his part, Corvino released two statements, one about the initial cancellation and one after the rescheduling, writing in the former:

“As a fellow scholar I am offended on Dr. Dillon’s behalf…For her provost to declare her unprepared, however, is an affront to scholarly autonomy and academic freedom. It also does not speak well of Provost Lena’s confidence in his philosophy and theology departments that he believes that no one there can persuasively articulate the Catholic position on marriage with a week’s notice.”

Student reactions echoed faculty concerns, but also wondered what message Providence College sent to LGBT community members in so brusquely treating Corvino and the issue of marriage equality. The campus LGBT group, called SHEPHARD, released a statement emphasizing the progress being made on campus.

Other students launched “Fighting for Academic Freedom” a Facebook page, as a form of protest.

In place of the cancelled lecture on Thursday night, students organized an open forum to discuss the administration’s decision, LGBT issues, and marriage equality. The forum included testimonials from students , as well as small group discussions wrestling with questions like, “Why is open and honest dialogue about gay marriage important to you? To the broader Providence College community?” and “How do we stay true to Providence College’s identity as a Catholic, liberal arts institution?” It ended with a larger discussion aimed at creating constructive next steps. One professor who attended wrote in an email:

“I attended the event last night and was bowled over by what came forth from our students; they compelled me to look at this whole thing with new eyes. The hurt that was expressed by our students with same-sex attraction (forgive me for being ol’ fashioned) when confronted by the efforts their college would go to prevent a gay academic coming to campus filled 64 Hall. . . .[I]t would take a person with a stone-heart not to be moved by their sense of injury that the college they call ‘home’ would act this way. I could not but help of thinking about the question Pope Francis posed when explaining his famous “who am I to judge?” comment: When God looks at a gay person, does God see a gay person or just a person? I heard lots of persons last night, and it alerted me to the reality that this is not simply a question about policy, about who said what to whom and when, but also a question of how Catholics speak about the issue of homosexuality.”

Providence College has announced that John Corvino will debate Sherif Girgis, a well-known anti-equality activist, this coming spring. Yet, for many faculty and students at the school this incident has been an occasion to come up with ways that the campus could be more welcoming of LGBT people and issues.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


On New Marriage Reality, Catholic Institutions Offer Different Visions

September 27, 2013

Archbishop Timothy Broglio

As marriage equality continues to expand around the U.S. and around the globe, Catholic parishes, schools, hospitals, and charitable agencies have to respond to the new civil reality.  Some of these institutions are set on exclusion and conflict with the secular world, while others take  the path of inclusion for the creation of stronger institutions.

Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA released guidelines for Catholic chaplains in the military regarding marriage equality. Reiterating the hierarchy’s teaching on homosexuality, Broglio then laid out in detail how exactly chaplains must act when encountering gay and lesbian people who are in committed relationships.

Broglio’s provisions specify that chaplains cannot participate in weddings, blessings, retreats, counseling, or funerals that involve same-gender couples. Chaplains may attend ceremonies and functions “as long as the priest is not required to acknowledge or approve of a ‘spouse’ of the same gender.” In addition, the archbishop reminds chaplains to exclude those in same-gender relationships from any lay ministries.  To Catholics in military leadership positions, he directed them to discourage any support for same-gender couples. He encouraged them to abstain from doing the work that would provide benefits like housing and healthcare, suggesting they find a substitute to execute these tasks.

President Julie Sullivan

At the other end of the Catholic spectrum, Julie Sullivan, the new president of the University of St. Thomas, in St. Paul, Minnesota, is responding to concerns from faculty and students that their campus is unwelcoming to LGBT people. Addressing the University during convocation this fall, Sullivan is quoted by TwinCities.com as saying:

“We are called to love and support everyone in our community regardless of their sexual orientation…And, I might add, regardless of the gender of their spouse.”

The president’s remarks, which you can view here, were welcomed with lengthy applause and many on campus were still discussing them days later.

Sullivan’s comments reflect a more open attitude to LGBT issues that is evident on many Catholic college campuses. As TwinCities.com reports:

“Francis DeBernardo, [New Ways Ministry's] executive director, said campuses have drawn on the Catholic church’s teachings of respect for all in revising their policies. There are also practical considerations, he said.

” ‘Catholic colleges have learned that in order to compete for the best faculty, students and administrators in today’s climate you have to be GLBT friendly,’ he said.”

In Catholic elementary and high schools,, problems have emerged as more LGBT people marry legally and many others express support for them. New Ways Ministry estimates there have been about a dozen or so firings of LGBT people and supporters in 2013 alone, and this trend is bound to increase as more municipalities, states, and countries pass equal marriage laws.

While the American bishops’ desire to stall marriage equality is clear, the reality is entirely different. Catholics in the pews lead efforts for LGBT rights under the law, and these efforts win new victories each day. Additionally, the Church’s schools, hospitals, parishes, and charities often hire people who are not themselves Catholic.  These two facts leave Catholic leaders–bishops , principals, administrators, and ministers–with the following set of questions:

How can the church not marginalize itself if it continues to pretend that same-gender couples don’t even exist?

Does it make good pastoral sense for a church minister to completely ignore a person based on their sexual orientation or relationship?

Will institutions respond by expelling talented and committed teachers, ministers, health professionals, and students from the Church’s good works, all for the sake of ideological purity?

Will the bishops listen to Pope Francis and create a “home for all”?

Will Catholic leaders respect each person, each couple, each family regardless of sexual orientation, gender, and marital status?

Will the hierarchy support institutions like the University of St. Thomas in building up Catholic programs for education and social justice to be the most effective, powerful tools of the Gospel they can be?

Catholic leaders must now choose the vision which with they will respond to equality’s inevitable spread within the US and elsewhere.

Related Articles:

Washington Post: Catholic Chaplains Given Marching Orders Barring Service to Gay Couples

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


QUOTE TO NOTE: Recognizing a Gay Reality in the Church

September 26, 2013

computer_key_Quotation_MarksPope Francis’ interview last week reiterated his July comments about gay priests, “Who am I to judge?” In light of all this, many Catholics wonder how this new pope will lead on LGBT issues and whether there will even be change. Bill McGarvey writing at America Magazine shares a story from his own life to explain just how Pope Francis might change the Church on LGBT issues.

McGarvey writes about making a comment to his college spiritual director about seminarians being “light in the loafers,” and the director after a momentary pause replied:

 “ ‘You know, McGarvey,’ he said calmly, ‘you’ve been ministered to by gay men your whole life; you just didn’t know it.’…

“As I sat there, countless episodes from my life and the lives of family and friends all flooded back—from periods of darkness and personal crises, through life-threatening illnesses and deaths in my family, not to mention baptisms, confirmations, weddings and more. Was it possible that over all those years, God’s mercy and forgiveness had often been mediated to me and my loved ones through priests who also happened to be gay?”

Answering in the affirmative in what McGarvey describes as an “epiphany” for him then, the author concludes that Pope Francis’ greatest contribution on LGBT issues in the Church might be coming to terms with an existing reality:

“I would argue that Catholics are actually better situated than any group on earth to embrace our gay brothers and sisters. This is true simply because God has embraced us first through their ministry in our lives.

“No one has any illusions that Francis has changed any church teachings. For many of my friends and colleagues who are gay the pope’s comments were met with an enormous sigh of relief. For many others, like me, it was simply a welcome recognition of reality.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Fr. Tony Flannery Further Refuses Vatican Silencing with New Book

September 26, 2013

Fr. Tony Flannery

Redemptorist Fr. Tony Flannery, who rejected the Vatican’s attempts to silence him earlier this year for leading church reform efforts in Ireland, is making headlines again. The priest released a  new book in September dealing with his struggles with the Vatiican. Part of those struggles involved his support of LGBT equality in the Church.

At the same time that he has published this account, he is stepping away from leadership in Association of Catholic Priests, which he co-founded.

The book, titled A Question of Conscience, was reviewed by Professor Dermot Keogh in The Independent who provides insights into both the work and the author. Fr. Flannery was “one of the best known and most valued spiritual leaders…among ordinary Catholics” in Ireland after nearly four decades of ministry, Keogh says, before noting the book does not cover this good service.

Instead, Keogh offers a summary of the priest’s troubles with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and his superiors in the Redemptorists, all leading up to Fr. Flannery’s refusal to silence himself. Keogh concludes by writing:

“The election of Pope Francis this year may help find another way to deal with dissent in the Catholic Church which does not involve the abrogation of the rights of the individual and the use of a system of personnel management that is as archaic as it is unchristian.

“It will be interesting to see if the new regime in the Vatican will allow Fr Flannery to explain his views and to clarify matters face to face.

“While this volume is a very personal account, and other voices need to be heard and recorded, I am glad as an historian that this book has been published.

“I wish the author – and other ‘silenced’ Irish priests – the strength and courage to see things through to a just end.”

The Tablet reports that Fr. Flannery, already suspended from ministry, is also leaving the Association of Catholic Priests’ leadership to reflect on his future in the clergy, which will be decided in the next six months by the priest’s own admission. Meanwhile, other priests in Ireland have begun speaking out in defense of Fr. Flannery.

Fr. Iggy Donovan, an Augustinian priest in Ireland who is now on leave, spoke in his final homily about Fr. Tony Flannery. Irish Central quote the priest as saying:

“ ‘I cannot leave here today without making some reference to a distinguished colleague of mine in the priesthood. I speak of Fr Tony Flannery. If I had not been made aware first hand of the details of this case I could not have given it credence.’

“ ‘Even hardened veterans are shaken by the murkiness of the devious world of ecclesiastical politics. How has it come to this, that a great and good priest like Tony, who has dedicated his life to the preaching of the Gospel, is persecuted with a zeal that is as pathological as the paranoia that feeds it?

” ‘How has it come to this, that intolerant and extreme right wingers, encouraged apparently by certain authorities and career-orientated priests, can meet in solemn conclave to determine who is guilty of what these people label heresy.’…

” ‘How has it come to this that sincere thinking Catholics are walking away from our Church believing that the battle for sane Catholicism is lost.’ “

You can purchase “A Question of Conscience” through Amazon by clicking here. For further information about Fr. Flannery’s initial troubles and support for LGBT Catholics, see the following posts:

January 23, 2013: Irish Priest Receives Support from Near and Far in His Vatican Struggle

January 20, 2013: Irish Priest’s Refusal to Be Silenced Is a Beacon of Hope for Church Renewal

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


US Catholics Praise Pope Francis in Polling and Words

September 25, 2013

Frank Bruni

Polling done by The Huffington Post and YouGov reveals that 81% of American Catholics believe Pope Francis is having a positive impact on the Church, with negative ratings in the single digits.

In answer to another question in the survey

“. . . 46 percent of U.S. Catholics think Francis’ remarks, during [his recent] interview [in America magazine], reflect a ‘good change’ in church direction, while 20 percent say his take on the issues ‘doesn’t go far enough in changing church policy.’

“Just 15 percent of Catholics said the pope strayed ‘too far from traditional church values,’ while 19 percent were unsure how they felt.”

Commentaries on Pope Francis’ interview reflect this warmness as Catholics spoke more personally and practically on how the pope is making waves. Below, Bondings 2.0 provides previews of articles that are worth reading in their entirety by clicking on the provided links.

Frank Bruni, a gay columnist in the New York Times, wrote about the pope’s humility in a piece titled, “The Pope’s Radical Whisper.” Bruni writes:

“But it wasn’t the particulars of Pope Francis’ groundbreaking message in an interview published last week that stopped me in my tracks, gave fresh hope to many embittered Catholics and caused hardened commentators to perk up.

“It was the sweetness in his timbre, the meekness of his posture. It was the revelation that a man can wear the loftiest of miters without having his head swell to fit it, and can hold an office to which the term “infallible” is often attached without forgetting his failings. In the interview, Francis called himself naïve, worried that he’d been rash in the past and made clear that the flock harbored as much wisdom as the shepherds. Instead of commanding people to follow him, he invited them to join him. And did so gently, in what felt like a whisper.

“What a surprising portrait of modesty in a church that had lost touch with it.”

Fr. Thomas Reese, SJ

From the perspective of clergy, Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese spoke with NPR about what Pope Francis’ words could mean for those in ministry. Many priests and religious are supportive of LGBT people, but refrain from publicly speaking out due to fear. Fr. Reese believes the pope could mean less fear and more liberation among clergy to minister as they desire:

“I think it will [shape how priests act]. I’ve, you know, heard from other priests how delighted and affirmed they are by what he is saying. I think this is going to liberate a lot of people, a lot of priests in their preaching to say the kinds of things that the pope has said. I mean, frankly, five years ago I would have been afraid to say the very things that the pope himself is saying today. So, I think this is going to liberate a lot of priests.”

Critiquing the ‘culture wars’ mentality of the American bishops that has led many Catholics to leave their parishes over LGBT equality and other issues, James Salt of Catholics United writes at Fox News about a new trend he is witnessing among progressive Catholics:

James Salt

“But with his message of love and inclusion, Francis is, hopefully, staunching this trend. With his words and actions, he is showing us how a more authentic and humble expression of our faith can inspire a culture.

“I can personally attest this fact. Speaking for myself and for many of my friends, we can say for the first time in many years that we see signs of hope from the leadership of our church…

“So this Sunday, I expect to see more faces of formerly lost sheep in the pews. I know many of my progressive friends are planning to give Sunday services a second look.”

Kate Childs-Graham

Kate Childs-Graham

Kate Childs Graham wondered about those very bishops’ response to Pope Francis in a Quote to Note last week, and now suggests silence on LGBT issues as a good first step for the American hierarchy in The Guardian, writing:

“All I could think was, ‘This guy gets it’. He gets what Catholics have been saying for years. He gets that Catholics don’t want our hierarchy to have limited views that don’t reflect our own. He gets why so many Catholics have been searching for the nearest exit. He gets that things need to change…

“Since Francis’ election, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops hasn’t seemed to reverse course. The bishops are still advocating against the rights of LGBT people with both money and voice…Perhaps the bishops can’t go cold turkey and they need to wean themselves off their ‘obsession’ – Francis’ word – with abortion and gay and transgender people. I’d suggest silence as a good option.”

Fr. Peter Daly

Fr. Peter Daly, who writes the column, “Parish Diary” in the National Catholic Reporter lauded Pope Francis as a fellow pastor for re-emphasizing the role of mercy, reconciliation, and healing in parishes:

“A good pastor will eventually get around to moral issues, but our first words should be good news, not rules. As Pope Francis puts it, ‘The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials.’…

“The Christian life is not so much about rules as it is about relationships. It’s about a relationship with Christ and with each other. If you don’t have a relationship with someone, they won’t care if you quote the rule book to them. If you do have a relationship with someone, you probably won’t need to quote the rules. That’s what St. Paul means by the law of love…

“Pope Francis recognizes the complexity of life. People must be seen in the context of their lives. I tell the catechumens that God sees our lives as a movie, not a snapshot. It’s God’s view of the life that the church should be trying to take.

“I admired John Paul II. I respected Benedict. But I think I could love Francis.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Australian Priest Excommunicated for LGBT Support Under Pope Francis

September 24, 2013

Fr. Greg Reynolds with his notification of excommunication

An Australian priest has been excommunicated for his support of women and LGBT people in the Catholic Church in a troubling development while many still celebrate Pope Francis’ inclusive-minded interview released last week.

Fr. Greg Reynolds received notification of his excommunication directly from the Vatican with no explanation provided in the Latin text. The Age notes that the notification is dated May 31, 2013, which is well into Pope Francis’ papacy and reports:

“Father Reynolds, who resigned as a parish priest in 2011 and last year founded Inclusive Catholics, said he had expected to be laicised (defrocked), but not excommunicated. But it would make no difference to his ministry.

” ‘In times past excommunication was a huge thing, but today the hierarchy have lost such trust and respect,’ he said.

” ‘I’ve come to this position because I’ve followed my conscience on women’s ordination and gay marriage.’ “

It appears that Fr. Reynolds’ archbishop in Melbourne did not submit anything to the Vatican about the priest, but that the priest was reported anonymously by someone else directly to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Archbishop Denis Hart did say the excommunication is a consequence of Fr. Reynolds’ continuing to preach and celebrate Mass after he resigned from the priesthood.

Some speculate Fr. Reynolds’ trouble is because of his support for women’s ordination, and only marginally LGBT matters. Fr. Reynolds spoke to The Herald about his excommunication and broader efforts at renewal of the Catholic Church in Australia:

“ ‘Just from my own experience, I’m aware of a number of priests who share my belief and my guesstimate would be well over half of the Australian clergy would share that belief.’

“ ‘Understandably none of them haven’t spoken out publically about it because they fear they will suffer the same fate as myself.’…

” ‘I still love the church and am committed to it, I’m just trying to bring about in my own little way to help highlight some of the failing and limitations.’ “

Last week, Pope Francis’ interview with Jesuit publications was a hopeful sign for many that the Catholic Church was moving towards an era where it is less obsessed with rules and more in a posture of mercy and dialogue. Fr. Reynolds claims that interview makes his excommunication “outdated” as the two men are working for similar ends of renewal and reform. Still the excommunication formally remains.  Does this mean that Pope Francis’ positive words on LGBT issues won’t be translated into equally positive acts from the Catholic hierarchy?  Or was this decision made too early in his papacy to be a real indicator of his attitude?  What do you think?  Offer your thoughts in the  “Comments” section of this post.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


The Road to LGBT Change in the Catholic Church Won’t Be a Straight One

September 23, 2013
Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Pope Francis’ remarks about lesbian and gay people are bound to bring about change in the church.  Not everyone will agree with that statement.   Yet, the road to change in the church on LGBT issues may not be a straight one, but who said that straight is always better? Let me explain.

As happened after the pope’s “Who am I to judge?” remark of mid-summer, some commentators have pointed out again after his America interview that nothing has really changed in church teaching because of the pope’s statements.  Pope Francis’ comments do not offer any moral approval of same-sex relationships or marriage equality.   Those who understand church teaching about gay and lesbian people know that official documents have always called for respect and understanding of people with a same-sex orientation, so some have felt that the pope added nothing new and that nothing has changed.

But, as we know from experience, if anyone needed to hear Pope Francis’ message about obsession it is the Catholic bishops in the U.S.   Their campaign against marriage equality over the last decade has quite often overstepped its boundaries and given the appearance of obsession.  Although they often gave lip service to the teaching about respect and understanding, such a message always seemed incredibly shallow given the vitriol they used to condemn same-sex relationships and marriage.  No one believed what the bishops were saying about respect and understanding since their rhetoric provided a stronger message in the opposite direction.

Here’s a case in point.  On the same day that Pope Francis’ interview became public. Catholic News Service ran a story about Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the U.S. Archdiocese of Military Services, issuing guidelines about same-sex couples.  The news story stated:

“Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio of the Archdiocese for the Military Services has issued guidelines on ministering to same-sex couples for military chaplains and other priests and deacons who serve Catholics in the military, U.S. Foreign Service personnel and those at Veterans Affairs facilities. The document, ‘Renewed Fidelity in Favor of Evangelization,’ highlights the need to ‘reiterate with clarity the teaching of the Catholic Church regarding homosexuality’ but also points out that, as St. Paul reminds believers, ‘it must never be forgotten that the human condition occasions many failings.’ “

Clarity?  Does the archbishop think that there is anyone who doesn’t know of the Catholic hierarchy’s opposition to same-sex relationships?  And why is homosexuality considered part of human “failings.”  When bishops speak like this, they show they do not understand or respect LGBT people regardless of how much they say they do.

Pope Francis’ remarks ring truer, though.  Nothing has shown that he will support full marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples.  (Though he is on the record for supporting civil unions–a compromise that, while not ideal, is a giant step forward, and one that the U.S. bishops have not agreed to yet. )  But his comments do seem to indicate respect and understanding.  He may not be where progressive Catholics might like him, but he is further down the road than his predecessors, and miles ahead of the U.S. bishops.  It’s no wonder that Sister Margaret Farley, a renowned theologian of sexual ethics, has said that she feels this pope can be reached on LGBT issues.

John Becker, in The Huffington Post, stated that Pope Francis’ remarks seem too much like window-dressing:

“LGBT Catholics, their non-LGBT allies, and the greater LGBT community should really stop breaking out the champagne and balloons for this pope every time he says a few nice-sounding words about gays and lesbians. Believe me, I’m as encouraged by his change in tone as the next person, but after centuries of persecution, the Catholic Church owes its LGBT members a whole lot more than just an acknowledgement of their existence.”

While I agree that LGBT people deserve a lot more, I disagree that these remarks are not a reason to celebrate.  The problem with this line of thinking is that it doesn’t acknowledge that true change comes from the bottom, not the top.  Pope Francis’ remarks are not the true change.  The true change is that Catholics in the pews and Catholics at the “middle management” level (pastors, principals, college administrators, etc.) have already been living out real respect and understanding for LGBT people and have been working towards their full equality, including marriage.

Yes, Catholics should break out the champagne and balloons because a pope is finally showing he is following their lead, not the other way around.

Still for other Catholics, who may have been fearful of church sanction if they expressed any support for LGBT people, the pope’s statements are an example for them to follow.  I can’t say for sure that we will see any change in church teaching on LGBT matters any time soon, but I do predict that we will see an outpouring of support for LGBT people from many more Catholics who up until now have been reluctant to do so.

In The Washington Post “On Faith” blog, Elizabeth Tenety lists eight ways that Pope  Francis is changing the church, including bringing people back, including young people.  With more and more progressive Catholics come back to the fold, after having been alienated for so many decades, the Catholic Church will witness a demographic change.  They, too, will add to the pro-LGBT movement in the church.  Pope Francis is appealing to the people who will make the church more LGBT-friendly.

When demographics and pastoral practice start to change, doctrinal change will eventually have to catch up.  Change in the church happens first in practice and then in theory, not the other way around.  Pope Francis’ statements are going to open a floodgate of many acts of acceptance and dialogue on LGBT issues, and this dialogue will eventually pave the way for doctrinal change.

Furthermore, the humility of the pope, which was so evident in the interview, speaks volumes about the possibility that he will be open to a more dialogical church than we have seen in years.  And that can have effects on matters way beyond LGBT issues, too.

So, the path may not be straight, it may not be direct, but it will eventually lead to a church of justice and equality for all.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Beyond Pope Francis: Georgetown U. Welcoming Trans Students

September 22, 2013
Pope Francis’ interview with America Magazine has captured Catholic, and global, attention since last Thursday, and yet one columnist has said “Forget the Pope, Catholic Universities are the Future of the Church.” Bondings 2.0 recently commended Catholic campuses for welcoming gay, lesbian, and bisexual students as a new academic year begins.  Now the news is even better: Georgetown University, Washington, DC, has begin actively welcoming transgender students, as well.
Slate.com columnist Mark Joseph Stern is a graduate of Georgetown , thus it serves as his reference point for Catholic higher education. Sterns opens by writing:
“It’s impossible to deny the importance of the pope’s words, especially on the issue of gay rights. But it’s also easy to overpraise them. His newfound tolerance didn’t develop in a vacuum, and it’s probably not shared by many in the upper echelons of the Vatican hierarchy. Rather, Pope Francis’ remarks seem more or less ripped from the playbook of certain Catholic universities in the United States—and, more specifically, the Jesuits who run them.”
Sterns recounts the emergence of an LGBT-positive attitude at the school after a series of neighborhood and campus hate crimes, and general homophobic culture, led students to organize in 2007. Students petitioned the University to act and, with the aid of Jesuits who advocated for the students, the administration opened an LGBT resource center that was the first of its kind on Catholic campuses. Today, Georgetown is an accepting campus and you can read below on Bondings 2.0′s past coverage of the campus’ progress, with Sterns concluding:
“On the whole, however, the university has managed a comfortable equilibrium between social progressivism and Catholic devotion, thanks in large part to its very Jesuit tradition of questioning, discussing, and, eventually, reforming.

“Was Pope Francis influenced by the kind of Catholic tolerance that developed at colleges like Georgetown? No one can say for sure—but it seems likely. In fact, given that Francis is a Jesuit himself, the most surprising facet of his ‘creeping tolerance’  is that it took so long to develop. For many prominent and pious Catholics, gay acceptance is virtually a nonissue. It’s about time the Vatican caught up.”

Last week, this blog highlighted the positive steps Catholic campuses are making for their LGBT students in the coming academic year. Georgetown University already provides professional staff, support groups, and the LGBTQ Resource Center, but is making headlines this year for actively welcoming transgender students. A lengthy piece in The Guide, a weekly campus magazine, examines the issue through the lens of two students:
“This year, for the first time in recent memory, Georgetown has two openly transgender students — [Lexi] Dever and Celeste Chisholm (COL ’15) — and one gender non-conforming student, who could not be reached for this article. And last week, GU Pride named Chisholm its first ever trans* representative.

“ ‘We are definitely on the right track,’ Chisholm said of Georgetown’s readiness to accept trans* students. ‘At their very best, the people here will understand, and at the very least, people are respectful enough to know when not to say anything.’

“But despite these gains, Chisholm and Dever feel the near-invisibility of trans* students on campus acutely. ‘People aren’t as educated about it as they could be because they just don’t know anyone who is transgender,’ Dever said.”
The article provides an in-depth look at the two students’ stories about being transgender and transitioning, which you can read here. As for the University, Dever and Chisholm applaud Georgetown for accepting different gender identities and admit wherever students are coming out as transgender and transitioning is difficult. Shiva Subbaraman, who heads up the LGBTQ Resource Center, says there has been tremendous progress on transgender issues in her five years on campus.
As it has previously done, Georgteown University is now listening to students and leading the way on issues of sexual and gender diversity. A proposed student support group for transgender and questioning students is planned, as are educational programs. More questionable are the logistical issues, like housing and healthcare, that are often a flashpoints:
“Chisholm acknowledges that Georgetown’s position as a Catholic university means it will be difficult to push for the kinds of policies that have been implemented at other schools — The George Washington University’s gender-neutral housing or American University health insurance’s coverage of transition surgery, for example. But she aims to push back.
“ ‘As a private, Catholic university, I know that Georgetown can’t do anything we want…But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to fight as hard as I can for these things. Being Catholic doesn’t hold us back from being the people that we’re meant to be, from being the understanding Hoyas that we are, being the respectable and respectful community that we are.’ “
What do you think: Are the Church’s colleges and universities the future of Catholicism on LGBT issues? Are American Catholics ahead of the pope in terms of LGBT issues? What does Georgetown University’s welcome mean for transgender issues in the Church overall? Leave your thoughts and opinions in the ‘Comments’ section below.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry
Related Articles on Georgetown University
August 16, 2013: LGBT Rankings Fail to Reveal Full Story
August 5, 2013: CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Georgetown U. Continues as Gay-Friendly Campus Despite Pressure
April 2, 2013: CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Gay Students’ Elections Signal Shift in Catholic Colleges’ Inclusivity
February 1, 2013: Raising LGBT Standards in Catholic Schools
October 25, 2012: CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Georgetown U. Celebrates Coming Out Month
October 12, 2012: New Organization of LGBT Students on Catholic Campuses Launched
July 6, 2012: On Being a Lesbian at Georgetown University

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