Pope Francis Needs to Speak Clearly on LGBT Issues

April 12, 2014

Pope Francis

Pope Francis has made his most specific and critical statement about families headed by same-gender couples by stating that children should be raised “in the complementarity of the masculinity and femininity of a father and a mother.”

The Advocate’s Michael O’Loughlin reported that the remarks were made in the context of an address to a delegation from the International Catholic Child Bureau.  The pope’s comments, in context, were:

“it is necessary to emphasize the right of children to grow up within a family, with a father and a mother able to create a suitable environment for their development and emotional maturity. Continuing to mature in the relationship, in the complementarity of the masculinity and femininity of a father and a mother, and thus preparing the way for emotional maturity.”

Pope Francis further stated:

“Working for human rights presupposes keeping anthropological formation alive, being well-prepared regarding the reality of the human person, and knowing how to respond to the problems and challenges posed by contemporary cultures and mentalities that are spread by the mass media. . . .

“At times it is necessary to flee; at times it is necessary to stop to protect oneself; and at times one must fight. But always with tenderness.”

For those who have been lifted up by the pope’s more positive remarks on LGBT issues, these new words will come as a shock.  Though the pontiff has been developing a reputation as being progressive, many have warned all along that his thinking on women and gender have needed development.  Since the heart of these remarks focus on the outdated concept of “gender complementarity,” it seems reasonable to attribute these remarks, in part, to this blind spot of his.

Regardless of its origin in the pope’s thinking, this remark shows that Francis still needs to learn a lot about LGBT people and their families.  That’s the bad news.  The good news is that he seems open to learning more about sexuality and gender issues, witnessed in his call for lay people to provide their opinions on marriage and family issues in anticipation of the October 2014 synod on those topics.

This new statement seems to be stated in the typical style that Pope Francis has used over the past year: while he expresses support for heterosexual marriage and family structures, he definitely avoids any direct attacks against LGBT people and relationships.  It sometimes seemed that his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, went out of his way to criticize and condemn LGBT issues.  That is not Pope Francis’ style.  In a recent general audience he spoke about the beauty of heterosexual marriage, but did not use the praise of that institution as an occasion to explicitly disparage same-gender relationships.  Here’s what he said at the Vatican on April 2nd, according to Religion News Service:

“When a man and a woman celebrate the sacrament of marriage, God is reflected in them. . . .

“As ‘one flesh’, they become living icons of God’s love in our world, building up the Church in unity and fidelity. The image of God is the married couple — not just the man, not just the woman, but both.”

He appears to be using the same strategy in the new example of praising families about headed by heterosexual couples.  We don’t see him using accusations that children raised by same-gender couples experience “violence,” as Benedict often said.   Instead, Francis remains silent on the topic.

While silence is not ideal, it is a welcome relief, and a good first step.  But it is also not enough.  While Francis has made some exciting and encouraging statements, some of them have been ambiguous, allowing some to develop strange interpretations, and sometimes forcing people to guess at what he meant.

Pope Francis could clear this up by making a clear, strongly positive statement on LGBT issues which will clear up any doubt about where he stands on these matters.  Of course, we would most like him to speak clearly and forcefully against anti-LGBT laws that are being enacted around the globe.  Or he could support employment rights for LGBT people working in Catholic institutions.  A statement of support to LGBT youth who experience bullying and other forms of violence would also be helpful.  (What kind of statement would you want the pope to make?  Write your thoughts in a “Comment” to this post.)

If he needs any help formulating such statements, we are glad to help him. He can just give us a phone call–something that we know he likes to do!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Hundreds of Parents Turn Out to Protest Charlotte High School’s Anti-Gay Nun

April 11, 2014

Charlotte Catholic High School’s campus

The backlash against Sr. Jane Dominic Laurel’s lecture at Charlotte Catholic High School has been swift since last week she suggested homosexuality is caused by failed parenting and masturbation, and linked same-gender couples to child abuse.

Almost 1,000 parents attended the meeting, and most came to voice their concerns about the school’s decision to host Sr. Laurel, as well as the school’s failure to notify parents in advance that a sensitive topic was to be addressed. Before the meeting began, alumni and students passed out wristbands that said “We are all God’s children.” These individuals were removed from school property.

The meeting lasted an hour longer than scheduled, and it included administrators, the chaplain, and the diocesan director of education. Though closed off to non-parents and all media except the diocesan newspaper, all accounts reveal a highly charged evening notes the Charlotte Observer.

The Catholic Herald, the diocesan newspaper, reported parent reactions:

“The first parent to speak said her student came home after the March 21 assembly feeling ashamed and embarrassed.

” ‘Where was the trust? Where was the communication?…It is trust. It is respect. It is confidence. I have lost confidence. I do not trust your judgment and I do not respect (Father Kauth).’ Her comments drew loud applause from many others.” …

“One parent told Father Kauth, “You have divided parents, you have divided students, and we’ve lost respect for you.”

“A parent who said she was representing homosexual and bisexual students at Charlotte Catholic said Sister Jane ‘pounded home the message’ that if these students are questioning their sexual identity, they had better stay in the closet. She also said she felt the presentation created nothing but an unsafe environment for these students at the school.”

Diocese of Charlotte spokesperson David Hains concurred that most parents were upset with Sr. Laurel’s lecture, both her anti-gay content and the failure of the school to notify parents beforehand. He said the chaplain, Fr. Matthew Kauth, apologized saying “that was not the [speech] he expected her to give.” The chaplain also wrote a letter to the school community defending Sr. Laurel’s talk which he had arranged, available here. Of Fr. Kauth’s attempts to pacify parents, the Herald reports:

“Several parents questioned why Father Kauth did not stop the presentation once it went awry.

” ‘I wasn’t sure where (Sister Jane) was going,’ he responded. ‘I assumed her goodwill. She didn’t say anything that was contradicting to our faith.’ “

“Another parent told Father Kauth, ‘You don’t know best for our children. What are you planning on doing for the healing? We want our children to remain Catholic, but we are being pushed away by the climate of what is going on here.’ “

It seems that parents identified crucial points which Fr. Kauth, the chaplain, does not. Foremost, there are pressing pastoral implications. Simply allowing Sr. Laurel to continue speaking because, in his estimation, she was not contradicting Catholic doctrine, is an inadequate response when tremendous pastoral harm is being done. The enormous outcry from parents and the anger expressed by students are clear indications of such harm, not to mention the silent sufferings of LGBT students which do not make headlines. Second, parents understand that vicious anti-gay attacks during a mandatory assembly are perhaps the most effective of what Pope Francis has called “vaccines against faith” and drive students out of the Church.

The public outcry against this incident has caused Sr. Laurel to cancel all upcoming speaking engagements. She is also on sabbatical from her teaching position at Aquinas College, though the school’s president, Sr. Mary Sarah Galbraith, defended the Dominican nun’s lecture. You can read about Sr. Galbraith’s defense in a Tenneseean article.

Catholic students deserve better than anti-gay lectures using pseudo-social science. Let us pray that Charlotte Catholic High School will cause all Catholic educators to think about more pro-active and positive initiatives for LGBT students and other marginalized communities.

You can read Bondings coverage of the original incident by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

Mother Jones: Nun Reportedly Tells Catholic School Kids That Masturbation Makes Guys Gay”

Madison Bishop Interprets Pope Francis’ Welcome

April 10, 2014

In the media storm last month surrounding the one year anniversary of Pope Francis’ election, one reflection seems to have not received much media attention outside its original source.

Bishop Robert Morlino

Bishop Robert Morlino of the Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin, gave a wide-ranging interview to The Wisconsin State-Journal newspaper in which he praised the new pontiff, but at the same time interpreted his statements in the most unusual light that I have yet seen.  In news story summarizing the interview, the State-Journal noted:

“Madison Catholic Bishop Robert Morlino, a staunch traditionalist with a national reputation for vigorously opposing abortion and same-sex unions, said he and Pope Francis are in sync and that the new pontiff has made him a stronger culture warrior. . . .

“. . . Morlino cautioned that reporters and people with agendas have ‘outrageously misinterpreted’ some of the pontiff’s comments, and he said Pope Francis actually is causing him to speak out even more forcefully on the church’s opposition to abortion, artificial contraception, stem cell research and homosexual acts.”

While I can appreciate that the media have often misunderstood the pontiff’s statements, I think it is probably also a grave misunderstanding to think that Pope Francis’ statements are calling for bishops to speak out more forcefully on culture war topics.   In the full text of the interview that the newspaper conducted, Morlino explained how the pope has made him a stronger culture warrrior:

“. . . in order to meet Christ, we have to stand up for the whole Christ. Standing up for the whole Christ — How do you do that? What are the aspects of Christ and of his work that need work in that vicinity or this region? That’s the judgment the bishop has to make. So I have to see kind of which aspects of the truth of Christ need work here, and when I see that, I kind of end up right back where I was. I have to speak up forcibly about these issues. But I have never failed to teach also about God’s mercy. Never. It’s one of my major themes. It always has been. But God’s mercy is always balanced with his judgment, and we have to think that through and work that out. It is unfortunate that some people, especially in your profession, have taken the occasion to widely misinterpret Francis, particularly with that statement, ‘Who am I to judge?’ I have had to explain away what the mass media have said about that far more times than I’d like to count.”

While some may have given Pope Francis’ statement an overly-broad interpretation of “Who am I to judge?”, I do not think that many Catholics, or non-Catholics for that matter, have taken it to mean what the bishop surmises they do.  Morlino explains:

‘When Francis was telling us about that, he was talking about a particular bishop whom he had just given a job in the Vatican, and it was found out that in South America where this bishop had been, he had been charged with certain misconduct. So the question came to Francis, ‘How could you bring him in?’ And Francis said, ‘The man has admitted he did wrong, he is sorry, and he has changed his life through the grace of Jesus Christ. Who am I to judge him now?’ That is hardly a statement that somehow justifies homosexual behavior.”

I have spoken to hundreds of Catholics since the “Who am I to judge?” statement was made.  I haven’t met one who thought the pope was condoning sexual activity between persons of the same gender.

Morlino also explained that he think’s the pope’s cultural background is one of the reasons that he has been more open to culture war topics than his predecessors:

“. . . it is my understanding that Argentina is a rather unique country in South America for a variety of reasons. They have a depth of culture and education beyond what a lot of other countries might have, and they have a very strong passion for a national spirit. They’re a nationalistic people. And I think the main thing I understand about Argentina that impinges on this is that there are not groups of Catholics whose purpose it is to dissent from the teaching of the church. There are a lot of people — Catholics and others — who are in desperate need. Pope Francis has an eye for them and he has a heart for them, and that was the bread and butter of his pastoral ministry in Argentina. So he wasn’t dealing so much, as I understand it, with doctrinal dissent, and of course that would make a big difference for how one does things in the United States versus how one would do things in Argentina. I think his approach is very much true to himself and true to his background and I couldn’t expect anything else.”

In the same interview, Morlino was asked about his decision to ban the use of the hymn “All Are Welcome” in Catholic churches in his diocese, and how that fit in with Francis’ constant admonition to keep the doors of the church open.  He responded:

“This is something that is particularly difficult, because it’s clear Christ wanted the salvation of all people. So who is welcome? Those are welcome who want the truth of Christ, or who want to want it. We have groups in the church who don’t want it. Why would they even come? So for me to say that people who don’t want to want the truth of Christ are welcome, is to disrespect them. They don’t want that, so why would they. . . .

“This is something that is particularly difficult, because it’s clear Christ wanted the salvation of all people. So who is welcome? Those are welcome who want the truth of Christ, or who want to want it. We have groups in the church who don’t want it. Why would they even come? So for me to say that people who don’t want to want the truth of Christ are welcome, is to disrespect them. They don’t want that, so why would they.

” ‘All are welcome’ can become a synonym for diversity, meaning let’s have same-sex unions, let’s have a contraceptive culture, let’s have abortions. ‘It’s a big tent’ is another code word for lots of things. ‘Big tent’ usually means, in fact, weakening conviction, and we can’t do that. So there is a battle going on in the United States that I don’t believe is going on in Argentina.”

From the quotes above, Bishop Morlino seems to operate out of a very defensive position, as if constantly under attack.  If he would dialogue with Catholics in his diocese about issues of concern to them, I think he would learn that their “dissent” is really assent to the teachings of the Gospel and the principles of Catholic values.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Under Pope Francis, Italian Gay Catholics See Signs of Hope — and Resistance

April 9, 2014

Whether a ‘Francis effect’ exists and just what it might be are questions which have dominated media coverage of Pope Francis’ first year. Now, the Washington Post profiles gay Italian Catholics who very much believe  ‘l’effetto Francesco’ or ‘Francis effect’ is positively influencing not just the Church, but their nation as well. The article begins by setting the Italian context:

Giulia Masieri is given Communion during the Mass held by Don Andrea Bigalli in the Church of Sant’Andrea in Florence, Italy. The parish welcomes gay Catholics.

“But for the pope, perhaps no one issue illustrates his divergence from tradition more than early signs of rapprochement between the church and gay Catholics.

“Francis’s shift so far has been one of style over substance; nothing in the church’s teachings on homosexuality has changed, and conservative clerics remain deeply skeptical of any radical move toward broad acceptance. But few places offer a better snapshot of the church’s evolving relationship with its gay flock than here in Italy, the host of Vatican City and where Roman Catholicism wields outsize influence.”

Italy, long influenced by the Catholic Church, is a holdout among European nations on LGBT rights. The nation’s bishops have helped stop even civil union-type legislation and, of the so-called ‘social issues,’ the Post writes that “homosexuality remains the last taboo.” LGBT advocates do not expect legal recognition of same-gender partners any time soon, even as Italian politicians begin to more publicly endorse gay equality. And yet, the Post notes:

“…the influence on the ground of Francis’s words and deeds — including a recent suggestion that the church may look more closely at the issue of civil unions — has begun to create what gay Catholics here describe as a burgeoning spirit of acceptance in pockets of the church’s grass roots.

“In Florence, a local parish council this month permitted a group of gay Catholics to hold their first public prayer session inside a Roman Catholic church. In Rome, a parish run by Jesuit priests announced a special service scheduled for April that, also for the first time in recent memory, is openly reaching out to gay as well as divorced Catholics. A leaflet for the service depicts Francis on the cover and reads: ‘The Church wants to be home. For everybody.’

“Prompted by a new Vatican questionnaire seeking views on family issues including same-sex couples, a representative of the Diocese of Padua held a landmark meeting in December with a gay Catholic group. Luigi Pescina, a spokesman for the group, said members were told that local church officials would now aim to ‘strip ourselves of prejudice and fear’ and ‘open up a relationship of exchange and enrichment’ with local gay Catholics.”

Elsewhere, Catholic priests and politicians who are already LGBT-affirming are pushing the boundaries and citing Pope Francis when doing so. Kairos, an existing gay Catholic group who received a personal response from Pope Francis last fall, may now hold public liturgies and be affiliated with the parish which had been hosting it. The group’s coordinator Innocenzo Pontillo and others said of these steps:

” ‘It may seem small, but for us, this is important…It is like feeling the light on your face. These are things which I feel would have been impossible before Pope Francis.’

“New members of the group, like Anna Maria — a 35-year-old lesbian who was too afraid of being ‘outed’ to give her last name — have come to consider the pope’s comments on homosexuality last July as a personal turning point.

“She said her devoutly Catholic mother called her after hearing the pope’s declaration. The two of them had grown distant since Anna Maria had told her mother years earlier that she was a lesbian. ‘But when she called me, she said, “If the pope is not judging you, then who am I to judge you either?” ‘ “

Yet, LGBT advocates are warning of claiming too much, too soon, as positive as Pope Francis’ first year has been. They point to continued examples of priests condemning gay and lesbian people.  And sustained cultural change will be needed if Pope Francis’ welcoming tone is to have a lasting impact.

There are also those in the Catholic hierarchy working against LGBT inclusion, including Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, the head of Italy’s conference of bishops. In a speech, Bagnasco urged parents to oppose an anti-bullying campaign launched by the Italian government to stop violence against and suicides by gay people.

The cardinal used harsh language, saying schools were becoming “indoctrination and re-education camps” in a “totalitarian dictatorship” and attacked what he termed “gender ideology.” According to The New Civil Rights Movement, outcry from Catholic bishops has now caused the government to postpone rolling out the anti-bullying program.

Italy’s situation is a reminder for the universal Church that while Pope Francis is opening doors to LGBT people, lasting change will only come as a result of cultural transformation and we have much to do. Still, the ‘Francis effect’ seems helpful along this path to a more just Church.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Prominent Gay Musician Fired from Catholic Parish

April 8, 2014

Mike McMahon

A gay church worker’s firing from 2013 has just recently become public. Mike McMahon, a prominent music minister, was fired from his position in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia for marrying his husband.

McMahon worked for nearly four decades in music ministry, including service as president of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians and thirty years as music director for various parishes.

His latest position, from 2005-2013, was at St. Agnes Church in Arlington, whose pastor, Fr. Lee Roos, fired McMahon last summer after his marriage became known. The Washington Post reports further:

“McMahon said his meeting with Roos was less than half an hour. Church employees had verified that McMahon had married his partner in February [2013], and he could either resign or be fired, McMahon said Roos told him. He opted to be fired and was told the dismissal from the part-time position was effective immediately, he recalled recently.

” ‘He called HR and asked them to walk him through what he had to do. Then we walked over to the church where my stuff was. We walked to the parking lot, he gave me a hug and that was it,’ McMahon said of the exchange with Roos.”

Shortly after he was fired, McMahon also left his position at the National Association of Pastoral Musicians for undisclosed reasons. Michael Donohue, a spokesperson for the Diocese of Arlington, defended the firing because the marriage could “cause scandal in the church and confusion among the laity.” Of all this, the Post writes:

“McMahon is still figuring out the place of a Catholic musician who can’t work at a Catholic church. He feels just as Catholic, he said, and still attends a longtime downtown service with a group of gay and lesbian Catholics. And being out has, in his seventh decade, transformed his concept of his job. “

‘This has been a really freeing experience. One blessing is I no longer, I don’t think that way. I am who I am. And I can’t serve in ministry without being who I am — that I have to be careful who I say what to. Here it’s just normal. The church doesn’t revolve around’ the issue, he said [of a Protestant church in Washington, DC where he serves as music director currently].

“On the other hand, ‘serving in the ministry of the [Catholic] Church has been my identity my whole life. This placed me outside of that. I now think of myself as not able to serve in church ministry. I know I’m Catholic, and I know I belong, but I can’t do part of what makes me me.’ “

Michelle Boorstein of the Post explores the devastating trend of LGBT and ally church workers being fired from schools and parishes in the article, which you can read in full by clicking here. She mentions recent firings, as well as the new trend of explicitly anti-gay morality clauses in teacher contracts now used by Cincinnati and Hawaii Catholic schools. You can read about more than two dozen firings in recent years by clicking the ‘Employment Issues‘ section of this blog.

As for McMahon’s firing, he speaks eloquently to an overlooked reality when it comes to these firings. For many LGBT church workers, their identity is just as closely tied to being Catholic as to their sexual orientation or gender identity. Their employment is not just a job, but a ministry offered in service to the Church and to the world. Michael O’Loughlin tackled this false notion that LGBT and Catholic identities are exclusive, or even set against each other, in The Advocate recently. Responding to Bill Donohue’s antics around the New York St. Patrick’s Day parade, O’Loughlin writes:

“It’s not one or the other; this isn’t a zero-sum game. LGBT people should celebrate being their authentic selves. So should straight people. Draw the circle wide, as the hymn I learned in divinity school says.

“Here’s the thing about Donohue. He riles up people for money. He doesn’t believe in the bigotry he inspires. In fact, just last month he admitted that he believes LGBT people should be legally protected against discrimination in the workplace.

“But something Donohue might not understand is that to be a person of faith is not at odds with being an openly LGBT person. As a fellow Catholic, he surely knows as many holy and healthy gay priests as I do. So to claim that gay people who ask to march in the St. Patrick’s Day parade are attacking Catholicism, as he does, is nonsense.”

The firing of LGBT church workers and those who support their equal rights under the law is the true scandal, not the loving commitment of same-gender partners. In an emerging world where LGBT justice is increasingly the standard, church institutions are faced with the choice of losing talented ministers or accepting people, as our Catholic faith instructs us. Let us hope parishes and schools will make the right choice, but in the meantime, help prevent future firings by advocating for non-discrimination policies.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Bringing Life Out of What Seems Lifeless

April 6, 2014

Periodically in Lent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections by two New Ways Ministry staff members:  Matthew Myers, Associate Director, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder. The liturgical readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent are: Ezekiel 37:12-14; Psalm 130; 1-8; Romans 8:8-11,; John 11:1-45.

Icon of Lazarus’ Rising from the Dead

A theme throughout the Scripture readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent is that God can bring life out of what seems lifeless. The first reading from Ezekiel clearly teaches this lesson when it says, “I will open your graves and have you rise from them.” Paul too, in his Epistle to the Romans, says that, if the Spirit dwells in us, the Spirit will give life to our mortal bodies. The Gospel is the familiar story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. All three readings tell us that God indeed can bring life out of what seems lifeless.

I want to consider the third reading in particular because I am drawn to the character of Martha. I like Martha. She’s practical and sensible. She’s a doer, an activist. And she speaks her mind.

Jesus loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus, yet when he heard that Lazarus was ill, it took him two days to get his act together and move on down to Bethany before he raised him from the dead. Why so slow?

When she heard Jesus was coming, Martha acted. She hurried from Bethany to meet him along the road. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” You can hear the gentle rebuke in Martha’s voice. She might as well have said, “Thanks, Lord, for coming, but aren’t you a little late?”

When Jesus asked the assembled folks to take away the stone from the entrance to Lazarus’ tomb, Martha matter-of-factly cried out, “Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days.”

How often do we feel like Martha? “God, if you had given me a good home background when I was growing up, I wouldn’t be in this stinking mess I’m in now.” “If I had better teachers, I would have gotten better grades.” “If you hadn’t made me gay, my life would be so much easier.”

Yes, God, I feel your loving presence now that I sit comfortably in my easy chair with my cat on my lap and sipping my cup of tea, but where were you when I needed your help? Where were you when I was trying to figure out who I was and where I was meant to be? Where were you when I was in a grave of sorrow? Where were you when I felt angry or down in the dumps, or impatient or fearful?

To Martha and to us, Jesus says, “Even though you did not recognize me in the turmoil and the crises, I was there. I am with you all the time. Even when you feel down, I can pull you up to life.

“When you think I am late, I am already there, waiting for you to see me, to call me, to talk with me. I can lift you up to life, even when you have hit rock bottom with self-pity or fear. I can haul you up out of any sinfulness or cruelty or foolishness.

“Just talk with me. Come and waste some time with me. I can bring life out of what seems lifeless.”

–Jeannine Gramick, SL, New Ways Ministry

How Can Ordinary Catholics Respond to the Firing of LGBT Church Employees?

April 5, 2014

Responding  to the terrible trend of LGBT church employees being fired from their jobs has been a difficult challenge.  What are ways that Catholic people in the pews can help to stave off these unjust actions?

Marianne Duddy-Burke

Marianne Duddy-Burke

DignityUSA‘s Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke offered some alternatives in an op-ed recently in The National Catholic Reporter .   She begins her essay by pointing out a poignant twist:

“About a century ago, Catholic job-seekers were routinely confronted with signs reading, ‘No Catholics need apply.’ Now, it seems administrators in some Catholic schools are prepared to post signs that say, ‘No gay people need apply.’ “

Sparked by the recent developments, particularly those in the diocese of Honolulu and the archdiocese of Cincinnati, where bishops have made orthodoxy pledges which explicitly disparage lesbian and gay relationships a requirement for working in Catholic schools, Duddy-Burke proposed the following actions that ordinary Catholics can take:

  1. “Write or email Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati and Bishop Clarence Silva of Honolulu to demand these ill-conceived contracts not be implemented. Tell them how you believe these documents violate the very soul of our faith.
  2. Send a similar letter to Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha, Neb., chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Catholic Education about why LGBT people should not be banned from teaching in our schools.
  3. Catholics whose children or grandchildren attend Catholic schools can speak with their administrators to insist they not adopt this type of contract. Talk about the values of respect and inclusion that you believe are central to our faith and how important it is that these values are part of your children’s education. Work with other parents to ensure the school’s leadership knows this matters to lots of tuition-payers. Alumni of these institutions also have an important voice. You can reflect on the values that you carry with you as a result of your education and your sense of how these contracts violate them.”

Duddy-Burke notes that the firings teach a terrible lesson to students and families who attend Catholic schools:

Catholic schools and other institutions do embody central values of our faith, and I believe all of us understand the important role they play in our communities. However, having them be models of exclusion, intimidation and oppression radically lessens their effectiveness.

New Ways Ministry strongly supports DignityUSA’s call to action.  Bishops and other church leaders need to hear from the majority of Catholics who support LGBT equality in church and society.  Without hearing from us,  church leaders will not be able to discern the voice of the Spirit active in our church.

New Ways Ministry also encourages Catholics to help prevent future firings by working to establish non-discrimination policies in Catholic institutions.  You can read more about how to start discussions to establish such policies by clicking on our blog post entitled  “How to Establish LGBT Employment Non-Discrimination Policies in Catholic Institutions.”     Even if your parish or school is ultimately unsuccessful in getting such a policy adopted, the discussion of these issues will help to let Catholic leaders know that the laity do not want this terrible firing trend to continue.

Several other voices have recently expressed their opinions about the Cincinnati situation.

Tom Sauter

Cincinnati.com published  an op-ed by Tom Sauter, an attorney and the advocacy chair of the Greater Cincinnati Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network, which notes that the archdiocese of Cincinnati should be more concerned with the safety of their LGBT students than with the lives of their teachers.  He states:

“The language of the pledge creates unsafe spaces for youth who are or are perceived to be gay.

“How could a teacher who has signed the pledge be reasonably expected to intervene in the bullying of an LGBTQ student? . . .

“The archdiocese should focus on providing a safe space for a world class Catholic education rather than policing the personal lives of its teachers.”

ABC-News reported on the new, stricter policies in Cincinnati and Honolulu, noting the opposition of a national Catholic schoolteachers’ union:

“The president of the Philadelphia-based National Association of Catholic School Teachers says some educators in the archdiocese have contacted the union with contract concerns, even though the union doesn’t represent them.

” ‘This contract is way over the top and very oppressive,’ said union president Rita Schwartz.”

Peg Hanna

Cincinnati.com also published an op-ed from Peg Hanna, a Catholic mother of nine and grandmother of 16 who finds the archdiocese of Cincinnati’s new policy totally unacceptable:

“Of course, I want our children’s teachers to be people of integrity and good will. But according to this language, a teacher could be fired for attending her lesbian daughter’s wedding, for having intimate relations with a fiancée, being seen buying birth control at a local pharmacy, standing along the route at a gay pride parade, or dealing with infertility through medical means. It wouldn’t matter how good a teacher she or he is, that she or he opted to follow a call to serve people in the church rather than teaching in a public school for higher pay, or how involved in the social justice mandates of our Gospel that teacher is.

“The so-called morality clause has nothing to do with morals at all. It ignores the fact that married Catholic couples use artificial contraception; that a strong majority of Catholics support equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people; and that many young couples are delaying marriage for financial and other reasons. Many of these are still good, conscientious, faith-filled people.

“It is tragic that the Archdiocese of Cincinnati is forcing parents to make a difficult choice. Do they want their children taught by people who are so rigid they have no understanding of the situations most Catholics find themselves in, or who have to lie about their lives to maintain employment? To do so would be a mockery of the faith we hold so dear.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Why Has Pope Francis Been Silent on Anti-Gay Laws?

April 3, 2014

Pope Francis

Pope Francis’ response, or, more accurately, his lack of response to the passage of anti-gay laws and policies in places like Uganda, Nigeria, India, Russia, has been one of the more puzzling questions of the past few months for those interested in Catholic LGBT issues.  This pope, who has expressed a greater openness toward LGBT human rights than any of his predecessors, and who has not shown any timidity on speaking out on controversial social issues has remained strangely silent on this vicious trend toward more repressive anti-gay laws.

Two recent essays analyze the papal silence. Both are worth reading in full, and contemplating seriously.  I will summarize both, but recommend that you follow the links to read the entire articles.

Michael O’Loughlin, a Catholic free-lance journalist who writes about LGBT issues, has tackled the question of the pope’s silence in a Foreign Policy essay entitled, “Francis’s Papal Bull: Why is a progressive pope allowing anti-gay bishops to preach hate?”      Jamie Manson, a National Catholic Reporter columnist struck a similar note in her recent essay, “In Uganda, an opportunity for Pope Francis to act on his words.”

Michael O'Loughlin

Michael O’Loughlin

O’Loughlin begins by noting that Pope Francis recently met with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who signed the anti-gay bill.  Yet, other than a vague statement about protecting human rights, the pope made no reference to the new law.  O’Loughlin also describes local Catholic support and complicity for the new repressive measures in Africa:

Catholic bishops in Nigeria, in a letter to Jonathan, heralded the new law as “courageous” and “a clear indication of the ability of our great country to stand shoulders high in the protection of our Nigerian and African most valued cultures of the institution of marriage.” They weren’t the only religious leaders happy with a stepping-up of repression against gay Africans. In February, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed a bill that threatens openly gay Ugandans with lifetime prison sentences. While Catholic leaders rejected the 2009 version of the bill, which contained an infamous death penalty provision, some bishops — as well as Anglican and Orthodox leaders – have been vocal in their support of the most recent measure. (Africa is the Roman Catholic Church’s fastest-growing region, in terms of membership.)

After examining the many ways that Francis has opened up the conversation about LGBT people in the Church over the past year,  O’Loughlin speculates as to what might be the pope’s reason for silence:

“The disconnect between the pope’s words and actions stems partly from the fact that Pope Francis appears hesitant to become involved with what the Vatican considers local issues, which includes national laws punishing gay people for their sexual orientation. And although counterintuitive, this hesitance actually reflects a certain liberalism about the internal dynamics of the church: Catholic progressives, used to the rigid, authoritarian rule of Rome over the past few decades, have long wanted to see the devolution of power away from the Vatican. This was the only way, they believed, that lay people — with more access to bishops than to Rome’s highest echelons — could gain some input in the church’s decision-making processes.”

But, such a reason is not enough to justify his silence, O’Loughlin suggests. He calls on the pope to become a more vocal advocate for justice for LGBT people, if his initial gestures and statements are to have any real meaning:

“Yet if he truly wants to move forward, he will have to build on his initial outreach and ask, publicly, that Catholic bishops and other leaders keep up. If the pope truly wants the Catholic Church to chart a course for social justice around the world, his leadership on this issue must demonstrate that his powerful institution is a genuine voice for the oppressed.”

Jamie Manson

Jamie Manson

Pope Francis’ leadership in regard to these repressive laws is needed since local bishops have been so quick to support the anti-gay measures.  Nigerian bishops were explicit in their support of the new law in their nation.  Ugandan bishops, at first, were silent about their country’s law, but, as Jamie Manson points out in her column:

“That was until Monday, when, at a ‘thanksgiving’ celebration for the new law held in Kampala, their actions spoke louder than words.

“International media outlets reported that the thanksgiving rally and ceremony was organized by a nonspecific ‘coalition of religious leaders.’ But a photo in one of Uganda’s major newspapers revealed that Archbishop Cyprian Kizito Lwanga of Kampala not only attended the thanksgiving celebration, he was part of a contingent of five clergymen (including a Muslim sheikh, a Pentecostal bishop and an Anglican bishop) who gave Museveni an engraved plaque to congratulate him for signing the bill.

A YouTube video also shows Lwanga offering prayers at the ceremony for those ‘led astray in this vice of homosexuality.’ “

Manson notes why Catholic opinion is so important in Uganda:

“An estimated 44 percent of Uganda is Catholic, which suggests that the Roman Catholic hierarchy holds significant influence over the beliefs of the people and the development of public policy. By offering public praise of Museveni’s signing of this law, Lwanga has given his blessing to legislation that violates the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which teaches that homosexual orientation is not a choice and that gays and lesbians should not be subjected to violence or social discrimination.”

She concludes with a call to the pope to exercise his leadership by putting substance behind his words:

“These repressive laws offer an opportunity for the pope’s now-legendary ‘Who am I to judge?’ comment to actually translate into action. No one is asking Pope Francis to change doctrine or create a revolution. We are only asking him to honor the catechism’s teaching that gays and lesbians should be ‘accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.’

“The global crisis of anti-homosexuality laws calls Pope Francis not only to uphold church doctrine, but to act on his own pastoral words — words that have inspired many to believe that the Catholic church has entered a new era of justice and dignity for the LGBT community worldwide.”

Both O’Loughlin and Manson mentioned New Ways Ministry’s #PopeSpeakOut Twitter campaign, now entering its third month.  We, and other Catholic and LGBT groups have been asking people to send a tweet to the pope, asking him to speak out against this trend toward more repressive anti-LGBT laws.  You can read more about the campaign here.  And if you want to send a tweet or email to the pope, those tasks will be made easier for you if you check out our helpful resource by clicking here.

It is important for the pope to speak out.  It is equally important for Catholics around the globe to speak out to the pope to let him know that our lived Catholic faith has taught us that anti-LGBT laws are not acceptable at all.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Catholics Students in North Carolina Stand Up to Anti-Gay Nun

April 2, 2014

Sr. Jane Dominic Laurel

Charlotte Catholic High School is facing protests after hosting an anti-gay lecturer known for promoting harmful falsehoods about LGBT people.

Sr. Jane Dominic Laurel, a Nashville Dominican nun and professor at Aquinas College, Nashville, spoke last Friday during a mandatory assembly at the high school. She claimed gay people are the result of absent fathers or masturbation and condemned same-gender couples as unfit parents, directly linking them to child abuse. These claims became public in a student-initiated Change.org petition, and were corroborated by an anonymous student speaking to QNotes, who also said:

” ‘Then she talked about the statistic where gay men have had either over 500 or 1000 sexual partners and after that I got up and went to the bathroom because I should not have had to been subject to that extremely offensive talk…’

” ‘I would like them to issue a formal apology to the students and to the parents and alumni…I want them to know how upset everyone is and for them to acknowledge that.’ “

Students and alumni also released a letter to Sr. Laurel and the school’s head Fr. Matthew Kauth, asking for a formal apology about the assembly after which, it is reported, some teachers left in tears. The letter, signed by 64 students and 86 alumni states, in part:

“As Catholic educators, it is your vocation and your responsibility to bring the message of the Church to students. However, you took advantage of this position to push your own prejudices and bigotry upon the Charlotte Catholic community despite this community’s deliberate efforts to avoid it when presented as an extracurricular event…

“Presenting these false ideas to high school students not only advocates discrimination of LGBTQ students, but also tells those individuals that they are damaged or incomplete. Consider for a moment the severe and ongoing effect this type of message has on the current LGBTQ students at Charlotte Catholic. Consider the power this message has to empower bullies of these same students…

“Last week’s presentation represents a betrayal of trust. Your responsibility to provide nurturing and informative education to the students of Charlotte Catholic was shrugged off. Your mission to truthfully convey the teachings of the Church—the teachings of love, compassion, and humility—was replaced by teachings of hate and intolerance.”

Critics also questioned Sr. Laurel’s denigration of women by promoting antiquated gender roles and her condemnatory comments against divorced and single parents. Catholic parents of students at the school also initiated a letter writing campaign targeting everyone from the high school’s administration to the Vatican. The Charlotte Observer reports:

“Shelley Earnhardt, who is divorced and who sent one of the emails, wrote that ‘in my home, there was outrage, embarrassment, sadness, disbelief, and further reason for my 16-year-old to move as far away from her religion as possible and as soon as she can.’

“Other parents faulted the school for not notifying them about the sensitive nature of Laurel’s planned remarks. ‘It’s too big of a topic for parents to be surprised,’ said Casey Corser.”

In response, the Diocese of Charlotte has scheduled a meeting with parents tonight to discuss Sr. Laurel’s lecture, which will be closed to the media and which Bishop Peter Jugis will forgo. Diocesan spokesperson David Hains defended Sr. Laurel’s remarks, saying she was a frequent speaker throughout the diocese and held a doctorate from a Catholic university in Rome. However on the topic of homosexuality itself, Hains focused on the positive teachings about respect and human dignity, and clarified that Church teaching does not link homosexuality and masturbation.

This situation in Charlotte is extremely troubling. Sr. Laurel’s record of inflammatory anti-gay remarks is well known. One wonders why administrators thought she would be appropriate for a teenage audience, of whom at least some are struggling to define their identity, including their sexual orientation and gender.

What gives hope from this terrible incident is that the students have shown they are people well-formed by the Gospel. They condemned Sr. Laurel’s intolerance from a faith perspective, following Pope Francis in living out a Catholicism defined by “love, compassion, and humility.”  As we witnessed with the students at Eastside Catholic High School in Seattle these past months, and now in Charlotte, the Church’s emerging generation has little tolerance for anti-LGBT prejudice from the Church’s leadership. Most importantly, they show a willingness to act up and ‘make a mess’ as the pope urged them when injustices do occur.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

We Are God’s Unlikely Choice

March 30, 2014

Periodically in Lent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections by two New Ways Ministry staff members:  Matthew Myers, Associate Director, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder. The liturgical readings for the Fourth Sunday of Lent are: 1 Samuel 16: 1, 6-7, 10-13; Psalm 23:1-6; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41.

King David by Marc Chagall

God makes unlikely choices.  If in doubt, these Lenten readings confirm it.

In the first reading, Samuel was sent by God to Bethlehem to anoint one of Jesse’s sons as king.  God instructed Samuel to disregard what he would normally look for in a king – strength, lofty stature, and regal appearance.  Instead, God looked into the heart of each of Jesse’s sons and told Samuel to anoint the youngest son, a shepherd named David.  Samuel, Jesse, and David were probably shocked by this improbable selection – but this choice illustrated God’s ability to work through an unlikely person.

In the Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul uses the light/dark imagery to emphasize that we are adopted sons and daughters of God.  In our own ways, each of us is an incredibly poor choice by God to “produce every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.”  We are far too talented at producing not-so-good fruits on our own, yet God nonetheless adopts through baptism and slowly molds us into children of light capable of remarkable goodness.  God chooses us – unlikely choices all – to build the reign of justice and love in our own ways.

The Gospel parable of the blind man is often interpreted as a comparison between physical sight and spiritual awareness.  As the blind man regained his physical sight, he came to know and worship Jesus as the Messiah.  There is nothing wrong with this interpretation, but perhaps we can change one word in the Gospel to reveal a new meaning for us:

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born gay?”

Many LGBT people and their parents have asked similar questions.  LGBT folks ask themselves, “Why did God make me this way? Did I do something wrong or not try hard enough?”  Parents often ask, “What did I do wrong in raising my child?  Is it my fault?”

However, Jesus gives an incredibly affirming reply to all these questions:  “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.”  Jesus responds that some people are created a bit differently on purpose so that God’s love can be made manifest through them in an equally unique way.  God gives LGBT people, an often marginalized and maligned group, the opportunity to teach the rest of humankind about self-acceptance, just relationships, and the unimaginable power and durability of love.  God makes unlikely choices.

An interesting side-note:  the Pharisees in the parable turned the man’s blindness into a theological problem.  The Pharisees wonder who was responsible for God’s punishment upon the blind man.  But they never ask how God’s love might be revealed through the blind man – how his difference can enrich the community and how his presence might be an experience of God to others.  Perhaps this is a problem among some Catholic leaders – they have turned sexual orientation and gender identity into theological problems that must be solved.  However, Jesus invites us to understand LGBT identities as gifts to be accepted and appreciated within our church.

I recently heard a new song entitled, “With Every Act of Love” by Jason Gray, which fits so well with today’s scriptural message.  Gray sings, “God put a million, million doors in the world for his love to walk through, and one of those doors is you.”  God makes many unlikely choices – you and me among them.  May we rejoice in the opportunity to be doors for God’s love in our world today.

–Matthew Myers, New Ways Ministry



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