WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? U.K. Bishops Open Dialogue; U.S. Bishops Should Do the Same

November 17, 2014

“WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?” is  Bondings 2.0’s series on how Catholics–the hierarchy and laity–can prepare for the Synod on Marriage and Family that will take place at the Vatican in October 2015. If you would like to consider contributing a post to this series, please click here

The news of a slate of mostly conservative bishops being elected to represent the U.S. church at the synod on marriage and the family in Rome next October was disappointing.  However, across the Atlantic, news about the synod preparatory plans of the bishops of England and Wales are much more optimistic.

The Tablet reports that these British bishops are going to “launch a wide-ranging consultation of parishes and clergy ahead of next year’s Synod on the Family.”  The article reports:

Cardinal Vincent Nichols

“Following their biannual plenary meeting in Leeds this week, the bishops would like a period of spiritual reflection in each parish and, separately, to hear the experiences of clergy on the main “pastoral challenges” they encounter with families.

“Speaking at a press conference on Friday Cardinal Vincent Nichols said that material would be sent out to parishes and clergy after Christmas. The period of reflection should go on until June or July of next year ahead of the synod in October 2015.

“ ‘It is not so much a request for opinions as a request for testimony,’ Cardinal Vincent Nichols said at the bishops’ conference offices in London.

“ ‘You will recall that the two great features of the synod in October was on the one hand for it to give a resounding trumpet call in support of marriage and stability of family life, and on the other hand express and strengthen the pastoral response of the Church in a wide variety of difficult and pressurised situations. We hope the material we prepare will find that same balance.’ ”

Nichols also made a point of saying that the results of such discussions should be made public.  When a synod organizer sent a questionnaire to bishops last year to disseminate to the laity, the Vatican asked that the results not be made public.

Such an open discussion is what is needed here in the United States, and it was exactly that kind of discussion that Equally Blessed, a coalition of Catholic groups that work for LGBT equality, asked of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) last week.  Coalition members–Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry–sent a letter to the conference last week in which they asked the bishops the following:

Equally Blessed Logo“To prepare for this upcoming event, we urge each of you to initiate a wide conversation with Catholics in your dioceses on marriage, sexuality, and family life, so that so that you can better understand how these realities are experienced by people of faith who actively work to discern how to follow God’s Will.  Since LGBT issues figured so prominently in this past October’s sessions, and since no openly LGBT person provided testimony at these events, it will be necessary to initiate those conversations with LGBT Catholics and their families, in particular. . . .

“Now is the time for bishops in the U.S. to replicate Pope Francis’ process on the local level by opening up a conversation on marriage, family, and sexuality. Many Catholics, especially LGBT people and their families, have waited decades for such an opportunity, and have been heartened by the fact that this year’s synod opened up this much needed discussion.”

New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo, writing for the Equally Blessed coalition, posted an essay on Advocate.com explaining the importance of such a dialogue:

“Since LGBT issues caused so much discussion and disagreement, it will be especially important for U.S. bishops to open a dialogue with LGBT Catholics and their families. This synod showed that there were a majority of bishops who were willing to recognize that lesbian and gay people “have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community,” in the words of an early draft report. Similarly, that same report noted that the “mutual aid to the point of sacrifice” that same-sex partners offer one another “constitutes a precious support” in the couple’s life. It’s important for U.S. bishops to explore these ideas, and the best way of doing so is to listen intently to those closest to these issues. . . .

“The synod’s free and open discussion among bishops must be replicated in local churches. The Catholic laity are an educated and insightful resource. More importantly, they are the true experts on the topics of marriage, family, and sexual expression, since they are the people who live these realities every day, not the bishops. While Catholics develop their theology from scripture, tradition, and nature, they also develop it from examining the lived experience of people of faith. What leader of any organization would want to ignore the perspectives of the people who know an issue because they live it? . . .

“Last year a number of bishops complained that they could not gather input from laity because they only had two months to do so. Now they have 11 months, which is plenty of time to circulate surveys, hold listening sessions, meet with leaders, and post response forms on diocesan websites. When the bishops want to get a message out about opposing some legislative or judicial measure, they do not seem to lack in creativity in using all sorts of media to alert Catholics. Let’s see them use the same creativity to gather opinions on these matters.”

The U.S. bishops need to be encouraged to open such a dialogue, therefore we urge you to write to your local bishop and ask him for such a possibility.  Use some of the arguments and language from this blog post, the Equally Blessed letter, or the Advocate.com essay to make your point.  You can even start the dialogue yourself by sharing your personal story with your bishop so that he can see the faith lives of LGBT people and families, and also see the situations, positive and negative, that they encounter in their local churches.

#BishopsListen model sign. A blank form can be downloaded from the Equally Blessed website.

Equally Blessed is also promoting a Facebook  and Twitter campaign to encourage people to contact their local bishops.  Here’s how it works:

“Take a photo with a #BishopsListen sign to ask your local bishop to listen to families like yours. Then post your photo on facebook or twitter with the hashtag #bishopslisten, or email your photo to coordinator@equally-blessed.org.”

You can read more about the campaign by clicking here.

The U.S. bishops need to follow the example of the U.K. bishops.  But it is probably going to take the encouragement of the laity to get them to do so.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related posts

Queering the Church:  “For English Catholics, a ‘Request for Testimony’ ”

Bondings 2.0: “WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? Writing Letters to Our Bishops

 

 


Will Bishops Elected to Synod 2015 Be Good for LGBT Issues?

November 16, 2014

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ meeting this week ended with the announcement of the names of bishops elected to represent the United States at the synod on marriage and family to be held at the Vatican in October 2015.  What will this election mean for LGBT issues?

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz

The four main delegates elected were Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston (who are, respecitvely, president and vice president of the USCCB), Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, and Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles.

Selected as alternates were Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco and Archbishop-elect Blase Cupich of Chicago.  Both Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, DC may also be attending the meeting because they are part of the synod planning committee.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo

David Gibson of Religion News Service described the choices as a “mixed slate,” noting that it included some “outspoken culture warriors who are sometimes viewed as out of step with Pope Francis’ priorities.”

For LGBT issues, perhaps the most worrisome of these choices are Chaput, Gomez, and Cordileone.  Chaput has been a vocal opponent of this past month’s preparatory synod, saying that it caused confusion and that confusion is “of the devil.”

Gomez opposed the teaching of LGBT history in California public schools.  He also opposed the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act because it now includes ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender identity’ as protected classes.

Archbishop Charles Chaput

Cordileone is the USCCB’s chairman of the Defense of Marriage Committee, and a vocal opponent of marriage equality.

Gibson quoted Fr. Thomas Reese’s comments about the election:

“ ‘If they wanted to send the people closest to the pope they would have elected Sean O’Malley and Blase Cupich. But they didn’t,’ said the Rev. Thomas Reese, an analyst for National Catholic Reporter who first reported the slate of names.

“ ‘It is just where they are right now,’ Reese said. ‘The majority of the conference doesn’t know what to do with the pope. The bishops are like deer in the headlights, and they don’t know which way to jump.’ ”

(You can read Fr. Reese’s full evaluation of the bishops’ meeting by clicking here.)

Archbishop Jose Gomez

Archbishop-elect Blase Cupich is perhaps the best choice they made in terms of LGBT issues.  He is widely viewed as a moderate, and when he was appointed as head of the Chicago archdiocese, this blog welcomed the decision as a fresh change from Cardinal Francis George who was, at times, openly antagonistic to the LGBT community.

So, should we give up hope for any positive changes at next year’s synod?  No.  Certainly, not yet.  First of all, this slate must first be approved by the Vatican.  And even if it does get approved, we need to remember that the Americans will only be a tiny percentage of the other bishops there, and we don’t know yet who they will be.

This news, however, should be a wake-up call to Catholics in the U.S. who support LGBT equality.  We need to make our voices heard to our local bishops who can let these representatives know what American Catholics believe.  The church is not a democracy, but its leaders do have a responsibility to consider the opinions of the laity on matters where the laity have expertise.  Marriage, family, and sexuality are certainly within that purview.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles

CruxNow.com: Report: US bishops elect delegates to 2015 Synod on the Family

 

 

 


To Answer “What Is Marriage Now?” Lesbian & Gay Couples Must Be Included

November 15, 2014

These days, it is rare indeed that I read an argument about marriage equality that doesn’t remind me of other arguments that I’ve read in the past.  It seems that we have kind of reached the saturation point for arguments on this issue, having discussed this topic seriously for well over a decade now.

That’s why I was so pleasantly surprised to read Gerald W. Schlabach’s essay, “What Is Marriage Now?  A Pauline Case for Same-Sex Marriage,” in The Christian Century this week. His essay deserves to be read in its entirety (which you can do so by clicking here), but in this blog post, I will try to highlight a few of what I think are the most insightful parts of his thinking.

Schlabach, who is a Catholic professor of moral theology at the University of Thomas in Minnesota, develops the idea that allowing lesbian and gay couples to marry will strengthen marriage for all couples, and will do so because such an extension of the marriage institution will help us understand what is its essence. His thesis is:

“Extending the blessings of marriage to same-sex couples by recognizing their lifelong unions fully as marriage could allow the church to speak all the more clearly to what deeply and rightly concerns those who seek to uphold the sanctity of marriage.”

He uses as his jumping off point St. Paul’s famous line about marriage in 1 Corinthians 7 that “it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion” or as it is more commonly quoted from the King James translation “It is better to marry than to burn.”

One of the many things which make his argument unique is that he argues acknowledges the social power that marriage has in stabilizing individuals and society, as well as acknowledging the beauty of sexual expression and its importance in a couple’s overall sense of intimacy.

Schlabach doesn’t argue from the more common, progressive position of justice and equality, but states, instead:

“. . . . [S]ome of the best reasons to support same-sex marriage turn out to be deeply conservative ones. This suggests how the Pauline remark might provide the church with a framework for proclaiming a message of good news for all sides. It offers good news for those who are deeply concerned that we continue to hallow the institution of marriage as the only appropriate place for intimate sexual union. And it offers good news for those who are deeply concerned that people of same-sex orientation be allowed equal opportunity to flourish as human beings—that the covenanted bonds of sexual intimacy play just as much of a role in their lives.”

Gerald Schlabach

Schlabach’s interpretation of St. Paul’s admonition is a very insightful one, that raises the remark above a simple denigration of lust.  He looks at the key words as metaphors for deeper understandings about the power of marriage, beyond a cure for concupiscence:

“ ‘To burn’ may stand for all the ways that we human beings, left to ourselves, live only for ourselves, our own pleasures, and our own survival. By contrast, ‘to marry’ may signal the way that all of us (even those who do so in a vocation of lifelong celibacy) learn to bend our desires away from ourselves, become vulnerable to the desires of others, and bend toward the service of others.”

Schlabach upholds St. Augustine’s ideas about the three “goods” of marriage: permanence, faithfulness, and fruitfulness, yet he expands these beyond the more traditional understandings:

“Christian interpreters today may continue to see procreation and child rearing as the prototypical expression of fruitfulness, but not as the only one. Every Christian marriage should face outward in hospitality and service to others.

“Together with permanence, therefore, faithfulness has come to stand for all the ways that couples bind their lives together. Spouses do not practice faithfulness only by giving their bodies exclusively to one another in sexual intimacy, but by together changing dirty diapers and washing dirty dishes, by promising long and tiring care amid illness and aging, by offering small favors on very ordinary days.”

These new understandings of these “goods” can be easily applied to lesbian and gay couples as they are to heterosexual ones. Perhaps the most important part of his essay is in his understanding that traditional views about marriage are not for heterosexual couples only.

Schlabach takes traditionalists to task for equating homosexuality with the current licentious sexual mores of “contingency,” engaging in sex when it is convenient, like making a consumer choice.  He also challenges the progressive arguments which make marriage, in the words of writer David Brooks, seem like “a really good employee benefits plan.”

Instead the moral theology professor discerns a more important definition of marriage which is based on intimate relationship, not sexual convenience or economic advantage:

“Marriage can and should remain a covenant and a forming of the one flesh of kinship, rather than a mere contract forming a mere partnership. . . .

“Marriage will indeed be subject to endless reinvention unless we recognize it as more than a contract. Instead we should recognize and insist that marriage is the communally sealed bond of lifelong intimate mutual care between two people that creates humanity’s most basic unit of kinship, thus allowing human beings to build sustained networks of society.”

This view of marriage allows him to see the beauty and power of sexual expression, not procreation as the main force which establishes a couple’s union:

“Procreation will always be the prototypical sign of a widening kinship network. But as spouses in any healthy marriage know, including infertile ones, kinship is already being formed in tender, other-directed sexual pleasuring. Such pleasure bonds a couple by promising and rewarding all the other ways of being together in mutual care and service through days, years, and decades.”

Schabach concludes his essay with advice to pastoral leaders:

“. . .[T]he church and its leaders need great pastoral wisdom to do two things simultaneously:

  • Walk back from the culture of contingency by explaining and insisting in fresh ways that God intends for active sexuality to belong uniquely to marriage.
  • Work compassionately with those who have embraced the relative fidelity of cohabitation, even if they have not yet moved to embrace a covenant of marriage or a vocation of celibacy.

“If we aim for these two goals, Christians will be better able to speak clearly and work energetically because together we’ll affirm that marriage is good—for everyone.”

His advice would be important for bishops at next year’s synod on marriage and the family to consider.

If your appetite has been whetted for a new understanding of marriage and the marriage equality debate, I strongly recommend that you read Schlabach’s essay in its entirety by clicking here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Bishops’ Meeting Spotlights Tensions About Pope Francis and LGBT Issues

November 14, 2014

Though the U.S. bishops’ meeting in Baltimore this week has not produced anything substantial in terms of policy, the news coming from that gathering focused on the split reaction that bishops have had to Pope Francis’ call for a more open church.

Of course, not all bishops fear the pope’s new approach.  In fact, some seem to be emulating his style, as I will point out later in this post.  First, I’d like to examine the tension that appears to exist in the bishops’ conference with regard to Pope Francis. Such an examination may be fruitful because the same dynamic of tension exists in the discussion of LGBT issues in the church.

New York Times article entitled “U.S. Bishops Struggle to Follow Lead of Francis” contained quotations from two different bishops which showed, I think, some of the underlying assumptions that guide responses to Francis.

Archbishop-elect Blase Cupich

Archbishop-elect Blase Cupich, who will soon lead the archdiocese of Chicago said:

“The pope is saying some very challenging things for people. He’s not saying, this is the law and you follow it and you get to heaven. He’s saying we have to do something about our world today that’s suffering, people are being excluded, neglected. We have a responsibility, and he’s calling people to task.”

But a few paragraphs later, the former archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Francis George, had a totally opposite evaluation of the pope:

Cardinal Francis George

“He says wonderful things, but he doesn’t put them together all the time, so you’re left at times puzzling over what his intention is. What he says is clear enough, but what does he want us to do?”

Those two quotations sum up a lot for me.  While Cupich emphasized that the pope is not ordering people to follow rules, George’s response is a question which asks the pope to provide the bishops with definite direction.  To me, that distinction underlines a difference in the church between people who are more comfortable with discussion and discernment versus those who are more comfortable with authority and obedience.

The National Catholic Reporter’s Michael Sean Winters estimates that “As many as half of the bishops are those who simply do not understand what Pope Francis is trying to achieve.”  He thinks 25% “are genuinely enthusiastic about Pope Francis,” and another 25% are “digging in, resisting the pope, hoping it will all blow over quickly.”

In a Religion News Service article by David Gibson, church observer Rocco Palmo of Whispers in the Loggia blog, described the distinction between the bishops’ camps using different language:

“The prelates know they can’t go back to the way things were, said Palmo, who was covering the annual fall meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which runs through Thursday.

“But, he said, they are still trying to figure out how to adapt Francis’ flexible pastoral style to their local situations. ‘When you come from an institutional mindset,’ as Palmo said many American bishops do, ‘that’s going to create some apprehension.’ ”

Many of the news reports seem to focus on the fact that many of the U.S. bishops fall into the “authority and obedience” camp.  But other reports have been sprinkled with quotations showing that some bishops are following Pope Francis’ lead.

Bishop Thomas Tobin

For instance,  Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, who a few weeks ago referred to the synod as “rather Protestant,” and who has been a strong opponent of marriage equality, seemed to acknowledge past errors in pastoral practice.  Michael O’Loughlin of CruxNow.com, interviewed Tobin at the meeting :

“As for his letter condemning same-sex marriage, Tobin acknowledged that gay Catholics seek ‘a sense of welcoming’ in the Church. He said that he believes the Church is open to them, but ‘have we always expressed that very clearly? I’m not so sure.’ ”

In a second article, O’Loughlin of CruxNow.com reported on Archbishop Joseph Kurtz’ presidential address to the conference:

“Kurtz defended the pope’s emerging “culture of encounter,” with its emphasis on mercy over judgment, embracing those not living in accord with Church teaching, and more directly assisting the poor and disadvantaged. He likened Francis’ philosophy to his own visits to the homes of parishioners when he was a pastor.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz

“ ‘When I’d come to someone’s home, I wouldn’t start by telling them how I’d rearrange their furniture. In the same way, I wouldn’t begin by giving them a list of rules to follow. . . .’

“ ‘I would then invite them to follow Christ, and I’d offer to accompany them as we, together, follow the Gospel invitation to turn from sin and journey along the way,’ he said. ‘Such an approach isn’t in opposition to Church teachings; it’s an affirmation of them. . . .’

“Notably absent from the address was a direct condemnation of same-sex marriage or even talk of threats to marriage, discussion of which had become a mainstay of the bishops’ group under Kurtz’ predecessor, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan.”

Kurtz did seem to be playing both sides of the coin, however, since in the same address he also heavily praised “St. John Paul II’s remarkable vision of marriage and family life as developed in his theology of the body.”

And Peter Smith, reporting for The Pittsburgh Post-Gazettenoted:

“Bishops, however, maintained they would continue opposition to legalized same-sex marriage and linked the issue to their outspoken campaign for religious liberty, which they say is being challenged by gay-rights legislation.”

As I mentioned, this same dynamic exists in the debate about LGBT issues in the church.  Should we be a church of welcome or of rules? Which is more important:  “discussion and discernment” or “authority and obedience”?  “A flexible pastoral style” or “an institutional mindset”?  A ministry of accompaniment or Theology of the Body?

It comes down to a simple dichotomy that Catholics have been noting for decades regarding LGBT issues:  social justice or sexual ethics?  Which of these moral traditions should govern how the Church approaches LGBT persons?  Pope Francis has elevated that distinction to the front and center of the church’s discussion on marriage, sexuality, and the family.

I hope and pray for a Church where social justice and concern for individuals is primary. I will watch with continued interest to see how this debate, now amplified, will play out.

This year’s bishops’ meeting may not have delivered anything memorable in terms of statements or policies, but it sure did help to make apparent this important tension in our Church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 


Archbishop’s Comments About Sexual Orientation Show the ‘Francis Effect’

November 13, 2014

While LGBT issues have not been a major focus of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) meeting in Baltimore this week, one small introduction to these topics may be an indicator that the “Francis effect”–the idea that Pope Francis is influencing Catholic leaders–is having an impact on the American hierarchy.

Archbishop Thomas Wenski

At a press conference on Tuesday, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami, Florida, and a member of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration, compared the situation of LGBT people in nations with repressive laws to the plight of undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

Buzzfeed reported on Wenski’s comments:

“ ‘We have to help people to realize that they should not demonize the undocumented; Nobody should be demonized because of their sexual orientation, etc,’ said Wenski, who is part of the USCCB’s Committee on Migration. Immigration reform is one of the American church’s top policy priorities.

“Wenski was responding to a question from BuzzFeed News about whether the global church had been clear in transmitting the message of  ‘love the sinner/hate the sin’ in its teachings on homosexuality. Wenski, a member of the Bishops’ Working Group on the Life and Dignity of the Human Persons, said that a public opinion study commissioned by the church found many American church members simply interpreted ‘love the sinner but hate the sin’ as ‘hate the sinner.’”

Wenski’s comments are certainly a step in the right direction.  It seems very likely, too, that his remarks have been very influenced by Pope Francis’ new approach to issues like homosexuality, which emphasizes that the Church needs to view such issues through the lens of its social justice tradition, rather than its sexual ethics tradtion.

Why does it seem that Wenski’s attitude is a result of the “Francis effect”?  Because until recently, he has not made supportive of comments for LGBT people, and in fact, some of his comments and actions have been quite negative.  In August of this year, he spoke out against a Florida court’s ruling that same-gender marriage could be approved in that state.  Wenski called the ruling “another salvo in the ‘culture wars’ that ultimately seek to redefine the institution of marriage as solely for adult gratification.”

As chair of the USCCB’s domestic policy committee,  Wenski joined with other bishops to state  great reluctance to accept President Obama’s executive order on non-discrimination, which when it was passed, the USCCB ultimately criticized.

In 2013, he authored a letter to Florida Catholics, instructing them to oppose marriage equality, and he suggested that adoption of same-gender marriage could lead to legalized polygamy.

Before becoming archbishop of Miami, Wenski was the bishop of Orlando, Florida, where he shut down a very successful diocesan outreach to LGBT people.

So, to see him now speak in such compassionate tones forces one to ask, “Why did he change?”  Since the change is very much in line with the pope’s approach, it seems reasonable to infer that Wenski has been influenced by the pontiff.

Rather than condemning him for his earlier comments, I think we should rejoice that his rhetoric is changing.  Regardless of what motivated him to change, it is very beneficial to not only LGBT people, but to the entire Catholic Church that he did. Though he probably still opposes marriage equality, he is still taking a step in the right direction, and that step will help to influence many other Catholics to at least begin to think more positively about LGBT people.

Solid change always happens by little and by little.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 

 


Ten Years Later: Sister Jeannine and Her Documentary Keep Marching On

November 12, 2014

It’s hard to believe that it has been over ten years since In Good Conscience:  Sister Jeannine Gramick’s Journey of Faith, a documentary chronicling the life and ministry of New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, was released and met with applause, ovations, and awards at film festivals around the world.   And what a decade it has been!  Marriage equality is rapidly becoming the norm in the United States and in many parts of the globe, a new pope is in the Vatican, and Catholics in growing numbers are standing up for justice and equality for LGBT people.

TEN YEARS AGO: Sister Jeannine Gramick and Barbara Rick

To mark this anniversary, there will be a special screening of the inspiring film on Saturday, November 15th in New York City, as part of Believe Out Loud’s Level Ground film festival. (You can purchase tickets by clicking here.)  Both Sister Jeannine and Barbara Rick of Out of The Blue Films, who produced and directed the documentary, will be available for a Q and A session after the film.

Another way that the anniversary is being observed is that Out of The Blue Films is releasing a special tenth anniversary edition which brings viewers up to date with some of the remarkable things that have been happening in the church and the world.  And most importantly, the new version shows that Sister Jeannine is still actively ministering with LGBT people, continuing to resist the Vatican’s 15-year old order that she end such work.

The National Catholic Reporter’s  Jamie Manson interviewed Rick recently to discuss the impact of the film and a need for an update of it.  Rick explained what motivated her to undertake the project in the first place:

“I stumbled across something in The New York Times about an American nun who was refusing to be silent over her ministry to gay and lesbian Catholics. I remember just sitting up as straight as can be in my chair. I was like, ‘Oh my God, she is really doing something powerful.’

“This is a woman who is doing something revolutionary by refusing to be silenced by the patriarchal hierarchy of the Vatican. That just resonated very deeply with me: a woman standing up without fear (or in spite of fear) and saying, ‘I refuse to collaborate on my own oppression.’ That just hit such a deep chord in me.”

Rick reflects on what she learned about Sister Jeannine as she made the film:

“Her ability to speak truth to power and to deal with her enemies who outrank her really sets her apart. I’m so impressed by her persistence and her humor, her love for humanity, her dogged nature. She’s just determined. She just doesn’t give up. I really think she is a prophet. She has been fighting the way forward many decades. She was inspired by her friend Dominic, who asked, ‘Sister, what is the Catholic church doing for my gay brothers and sisters?’ That is the question that has hounded her for whole life.”

The filmmaker also commented on why she thinks Sister Jeannine’s story is so compelling:

“I think she was a part of this transformation that has happened in the treatment of gay and lesbian Catholics and gay and lesbian people throughout the world. She is part of the realization that all people are deserving of love, rights, respect and marriage. There was no talk of same-sex marriage 10 years ago. It’s very powerful to see how much the world has changed. I like to think that this film had a very tiny part to play in all that. The world was in the process in of changing, and we were documenting a little piece of that change. It’s one of the reasons that we wanted to revisit the film.”

Rick says the new film will be shorter and more effective, while also updating some of the content to reflect the changes that have occurred in the world and the church.  The producer is still trying to raise funds to finish the new edition.  To find out more about the new version and to make a donation to its production, visit the film’s website by clicking here.

If you would like to order a copy of the original film, you can do so by visiting New Ways Ministry’s online bookstore, and clicking on the button below the In Good Conscience icon.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Making Compassion and Kindness Our Response to Anti-LGBT Faith Leaders

November 11, 2014

One of the most common questions that I have been asked by people in my years of ministry in the LGBT Catholic community is “Why are some bishops so stubborn against changing policy and practices in the church concerning LGBT people?”

It’s a good question, and one that I wish I knew the exact answer to.  Many people speculate that the reason is because bishops who espouse anti-gay attitudes are, in fact, gay themselves.  There’s good research to show that homophobic people are actually fearful of their own homoerotic feelings.  But I think that this answer, while certainly true of some bishops, is not the complete answer.  It can sometimes be a satisfying answer because it seems to fit in with popular notions of psychology, but I think it misses some other dynamics which are at work in their attitudes.

Australia’s GayNewsNetwork.com.au recently posted an essay entitled “How to Approach the Abominable ‘No’-Men” in which author Rob MacPherson tries to make sense of why some Catholic bishops remain so anti-gay.  I think he offers some interesting analyses.

Taking the recent synod as his jumping off point for his discussion of Catholicism, MacPherson tries to make sense of a group he calls ” ‘The Abominable “No”-men”…privileged folk who are reflexively conditioned to find “no” an easier response to ANY change toward social equity, because it has fewer letters than “yes.” ‘ “

Summarizing the thesis of Dr. Robert Ciardini’s study Influence, MacPherson states:

“. . . [P]eople have a strong psychological tendency to stick to what they’ve always said and done, fearing they otherwise might appear, weak, vacillating, scatter-brained, or even mad. Neither logic nor evidence can shift this (witness the current climate change debate). If they appear inconsistent, they stand to lose trust and respect, and therefore social status. ‘

MacPherson claims that strong and vocal opposition actually reveals “vulnerability and fear,” not strength and courage:

“. . . [W]hen they splutter and roar, what we are witnessing is not so much simple chest-beating aggression, but what we might call ‘privilege erosion’—the sense that their barely-acknowledged privileges are slipping away from under their feet, and their own self-inflicted blindness to that privilege opening up like a sink-hole.”

Social change reveals something to these fearful leaders that they were not even aware of beforehand:

‘Because they have never noticed their unfair advantages, all they see is that they are worse off, and therefore threatened. A society that once was ordered for their convenience alone, no longer fits. Thus they are apt to feel persecuted.’

I think we can’t underestimate the fear that people have about any changes in society or any institution that deal with gender, such as sexual orientation or gender identity.  I don’t think such fear excuses these negative attitudes, but I think it is important to be aware of these forces.  For whatever reason, gender is a powerful force.  This is particularly true in an institution like the church which has for so long valued men over all other gender identities.  I think it’s important to be aware that these forces often play powerful unseen roles in people’s behaviors.

While I certainly understand the anger that some people feel toward church leaders who have been so virulently anti-LGBT, lately my dominant feeling towards these prelates has been sadness.  In not being able to allow themselves to simply learn about LGBT people, they are missing out on some of the holiest and most positive acts of faith, liberation, and love in the world today.  So sad that they are missing the joy of this most Christian party.

MacPherson offers some very wise and Christian advice to those who witness these “no”-men.  He says the best thing for people to do is:

“. . . to approach these seemingly dangerous creatures, not judging or vilifying them, but challenging ourselves to recognize their fear as genuine and understandable, mustering what compassion we can for their feelings of distress, and remaining patient and persistent in offering a better way forward.

“Once upon a traditional time, qualities like understanding, compassion, patience, and persistence were called ‘virtues’. We’re going to need them as we try to approach our own Abominable ‘No’-men as their familiar world melts away, and a new, more just one, evolves into being.”

In an unrelated story this weekend, MacPherson’s advice was exemplified by a Catholic lesbian woman in Houston, Texas.  When faith-based anti gay protestors demonstrated this weekend, in that city, a counter-demonstration to negate their hate emerged, and KHOU-TV  reported on the response of Tiera Ortiz-Rodriguez, chapter president of Dignity Houston, a Catholic community of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Catholics.:

“We want to have compassion and kindness as our response.”

Yes, we must never give up speaking out and advocating for justice, but we must do so in such a way that our opponents do not become our enemies.  We must be committed to work for their enlightenment and liberation from their own fears.  Not easy work, but like everything else, it can be accomplished by little and by little.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


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