RETREAT OPPORTUNITY: Our Place at the Table

September 2, 2014

MansonRetreat_BrochureFrontWhat place do LGBT Catholics possess at the tables of our spiritual communities? How can LGBT people, and their family, friends, and pastoral ministers more fully live out the call to be bread for one another?

These questions will be at the heart of an upcoming New Ways Ministry weekend retreat, entitled “Our Place at the Table.”  The retreat will be held September 19-21, 2014, at the Franciscan Spiritual Center in Aston, Pennsylvania, near the Philadelphia airport.

Jamie Manson will facilitate the weekend as participants explore their own connections to Catholic identity with an eye to the ways in which our sacramental imaginations help us to see God at work in the world, especially in the lives of LGBT people. She will offer several presentations based around Margaret Farley’s book Just Love, interspersed with small group discussions and prayer.

Manson is a nationally renowned speaker, retreat leader, and media commentator on issues related to LGBT Catholics, young adult Catholics, and the future of the church. She studied with Farley at Yale Divinity School, where Manson earned her Master of Divinity. She is an award-winning writer for the National Catholic Reporter, especially for her weekly column “Grace on the Margins,” and has directed faith formation and social justice ministry efforts in New York City parishes.

Jamie Manson

Jamie Manson

Regular readers of Bondings 2.0 will be familiar with Manson’s perspectives, as we often summarize and comment on her columns on this blog.  For all the posts in which her work has been mentioned, click here

New Ways Ministry invites LGBT Catholics, the parents of LGBT children, pastoral ministers, and all who are interested to honor the struggles, affirm the holiness, and explore the church’s unfolding future when it comes to LGBT Catholics.

The cost is $205. For more information or to register, visit the New Ways Ministry website at http://www.newwaysministry.org/retreats.html or call (301) 277-5674 or send an email to info@NewWaysMinistry.org..

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


UPDATE: Firing Lesbians Because of Pregnancies is Still LGBT Discrimination

August 31, 2014

Shaela Evenson

Earlier today, Bondings 2.0 reported on a church worker firing in Michigan about which details were limited. Late yesterday, the fired teacher Barbara Webb clarified that she claims she was fired for becoming pregnant by “nontraditional means” and not her sexual orientation as was initially speculated.

If Webb’s claims are correct, this would be at least the third lesbian educator fired from a Catholic school for becoming pregnant. Neither the high school nor archdiocese have confirmed the reasons for her firing.

In Montana, Shaela Evenson is suing her former employer Butte Central Catholic Schools for breach of contract and discrimination. The former grade school teacher, who is a partnered lesbian woman, was terminated for becoming pregnant outside of marriage. Neither party claims Evenson’s sexual orientation was a reason behind the firing. Yet neither church policies nor state law allowed her committed relationship to be recognized as marriage. The Montana Standard reports:

“As a result of the firing, she has incurred damages including lost wages, benefits and emotional distress. She is asking for back pay, compensatory and punitive damages — and a jury trial.

“Evenson taught sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade literature and physical education at the Catholic school for nine years. She was dismissed Jan. 10 after the Helena Diocese received an anonymous letter about her pregnancy.

“The district has said it fired Evenson for violating the terms of her contract, which required her to practice the tenets of the Catholic faith inside and outside the classroom.”

She has also filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Evenson is represented by lawyer, Brian Butler, who successfully helped Christa Dias, a computer teacher fired from Cincinnati Catholic schools after becoming pregnant outside of marriage through the use of assistive reproductive technologies. Dias won $171,000 in a 2013 lawsuit that found the Archdiocese of Cincinnati had indeed discriminated against her. In that case, Butler argued that so-called morality clauses often added to church workers’ contracts do not waive employment protections guaranteed under federal, state, and local laws.

Though lesbian women are not alone in having children outside of marriage and becoming pregnant through assistive reproductive technologies, LGBT church workers are doubly affected in areas where marriage equality is not yet law — and by the failure of Catholic officials to respond to same-gender relationships in just ways.  How does firing pregnant mothers fit in with the Catholic hierarchy’s pro-life project?

For the good of all, church leaders should reflect this Labor Day on their treatment of LGBT church workers in the context of church teachings on justice, conscience, and human dignity. An honest evaluation would make clear the inconsistencies in their teachings and actions related to church worker justice and LGBT rights.

If church leaders need inspiration, they could always look to Pope Francis’ close ally Cardinal Cláudio Hummes who last week called for a new openness from the church towards same-gender couples.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of ‘Employment Issues,’ click the category to the right. For a full listing of LGBT-related firings, with links for further information, click here. And if you are interested in helping protect LGBT and ally church workers by implementing an inclusive non-discrimination policy at your local parish or Catholic school, more information on how to do this is available by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Lesbian Teacher’s Firing Yields More Questions than Answers

August 30, 2014

Marian High School, Bloomingfield, MI

Update: In a follow-up statement, Barbara Webb clarified that it was her pregnancy outside marriage and not her sexual orientation that was the cause of her firing. There is still no comment from Marian High School officials.

There are more questions than clear answers in the firing of Barbara Webb, a former chemistry teacher at Marian High School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. In a Facebook post, Webb states the Catholic school fired her for being a gay woman and mlive.com quotes the post for further explanation:

“Kristen and I are expecting our first baby. I’m about 14 weeks. We are very excited and blessed and look forward to all that parenting will be.

“On the flip side of the coin, Marian was unwilling to offer me any type of leave and of course they were not willing to grant me the same right that a half dozen other teachers are enjoying this year while starting their families. In fact, Marian’s options to me, after 9 years of dedication including league winning coaching, 4.0 averages in AP chemistry scores, PD for the school based on my personal best practices, and dozens of students and family testimonials is 1) resign or 2) we will terminate you.”

Webb notes that administrators at the all-girls school offered to continue her health insurance through May if she signed left willingly and remained quiet, but the fired teacher’s response was that “$4k of health insurance wasn’t enough to buy my silence.”

The former teacher, who was also a volleyball coach, linked her firing over maternity leave issues to her identity as a partnered lesbian woman, writing:

“It is part of Marian’s mission to educate women about human diversity and in this have really missed out on a true life opportunity to set an example. Instead they are only perpetuating hate…

“My job can’t be saved but the torment that the poor LGBT students at Marian must be feeling (right let’s be real they exist too) the other LGBT staff (again let’s be real people) and those that are silenced by fear can be helped.”

What remains unclear are the exact reasons for Webb’s firing, as both diocesan and school officials have remained quiet. Ned McGrath, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Detroit,  confirmed only that a teacher from the high school was no longer employed after a “personnel matter” and there would be no further comment. Marian administrators, as well as representatives of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters of Monroe who sponsor the all-girls school, have been silent after repeated requests for comment.

It is certainly a possibility that Barbara Webb was fired for a number of reasons: her sexual orientation, her relationship status, becoming pregnant while not officially married, a combination of these, or something else entirely. The firing of more than a dozen LGBT and ally church workers this year alone adds credibility to Webb’s claims, but until school officials and the IHM sisters are willing to clarify publicly what happened, the public is left to guess. Hopefully, information on just what happened between Barbara Webb and Marian High School will be forthcoming as a matter of truth and justice for all involved.  Since we live in an atmosphere where LGBT people are regularly being fired from Catholic institutions, the church leaders in this case need to be clear what their motivations were.  They owe it to Webb and the public, but they also owe it to themselves, as a matter of integrity, to state their reasons.  Injustice is always perpetuated by silence.

That said, Webb’s closing of the Facebook post (which has been shared more than 650 times) is a message worth repeating:

“Here is what you can do: make one conscience effort to stand up to hatred. Whether it is for LGBT rights or racial, or religious or socioeconomic or women’s or special needs… Make yourself take that leap of faith to do the right thing and I promise you will not regret it, you may even find it catchy…Every act of justice that we can do collectively gets us one step further to a truly recognized human diversity.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Indian Lay Leader: Synod Must Bring LGBT People ‘In From the Cold’

August 28, 2014

Virginia Saldanha

What does Virginia Saldanha want from this fall’s Synod concerning marriage and family life? Bringing LGBT people ‘in from the cold’ would be a good start.

Saldanha, who is former executive secretary of the Office of Laity for the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, recently wrote an op-ed in UCA News that expresses just that desire and shares her thoughts on what LGBT issues look like for Catholics in India.

She begins by noting that Synod questionnaire responses regarding whether one’s Catholic community accepted  same-gender marriage were overwhelmingly negative, prompting her to why her fellow Catholics are “so strongly homophobic.” Saldanha lays out some of the anti-gay beliefs present in Indian society:

“Is it because we have heard some priests say that homosexuality is sinful so by inference, homosexuals are bad people?

“I recall one religious sister involved in the family ministry exclaim with horror, ‘homosexuality is spreading rapidly in the West, and soon it will spread to Asia’. It sounded like she was talking about an epidemic.

“Sections of Church authority imply that homosexuals choose their sexual orientation. Or worse still, feminists are blamed for the ‘problem’. They argue that women have become so liberated that they make poor ‘wife material’. So women have chosen to shack up together and men prefer to be with other men, making homosexuality so common.”

Indian society still adheres to rigid gender roles, which Saldanha cites as one reasons so many young gay men have killed themselves. She continues:

“Our insensitive and conservative Indian society has ensured that life will be hell for homosexuals who are looked upon as deviants…Homosexuals suffer much because they agonize over their sexuality that is seen as abnormal. They are born that way and do not choose their sexuality. Adolescence can be quite traumatic for these young people; parents who are judgmental only compound their problems.”

One specific problem she notes is that heterosexual marriages are arranged by parents for lesbian or gay children who live outside of India. These children return to India and are married to please their parents, but return to lives in Western societies where “the hapless bride is left alone and bewildered in a foreign country, while the young man continues to live life as he did before.” Saldanha says the choice then is to either divorce or continue living a lie, both of which are an “injustice to both partners.”

Saldanha concludes strongly, with a call to both Indian Catholics and the Synod to expand the church’s welcome for and acceptance of LGBT people:

“Today young people have the courage to be honest and open about their sexuality, but we have to be open and sensitive to allow them the freedom to be who they are. A group of lay people from different parts of India who gathered to deliberate on issues they wish to discus at the Synod, hope that the Synod fathers will take note of the reality of homosexuals and show them the understanding and inclusiveness of Jesus to live their life as they were created to be. The group wants ‘the third gender [to] be respected not only by all Catholics but especially the official Church.’

“Jesus was inclusive and welcoming to all so he would not force homosexuals to remain in the closet. Let us hope that the Catholic Church will have the courage to be inclusive like Jesus and Pope Francis and say ‘who are we to judge’, and allow homosexuals the opportunity to live their lives in freedom and truth.”

Whether or not the bishops will take up same-gender couples or LGBT pastoral care at the Synod is not solidified. Saldanha’s piece should remind them that LGBT issues are not merely a ‘Western’ problem, but are present throughout the universal church. Though the specific causes of homphobia and transphobia may vary by location, it would not be hard for the Synod to make a statement which affirms the dignity and goodness of LGBT people and seeks their full inclusion in the church and the world. Even if the teaching on same-gender marriage is not changed, at the very least it is indeed time to bring LGBT people “in from the cold.”

You can read the full piece at ucanews.com by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Having Their Marriage Doctrine–and Changing It, Too

August 24, 2014

Christine Hernandez

The Catholic hierarchy’s position on marriage is clear to all: one man, one woman, for life. Defending this belief has caused bishops to spend millions of dollars in a decade-long attempt to stop marriage equality’s spread. Public discourse around same-gender couples attaining marriage rights has been framed in near-apocalyptic language by some bishops, and much pastoral harm has been caused as a result.

Yet, a court case in Alabama reveals just what it might take for Catholic officials to “redefine” marriage, as they often claim LGBT advocates are trying to do.

St. Pius X Catholic School in Mobile has had three lawsuits filed against it by parents claiming the school failed to protect their children from severe bullying, one of which comes from the lesbian mother of a child known in court documents as “A.S.” AL.com reports on the strange development:

“In court, lawyers for a Catholic school in Mobile seemed to endorse the view that a lesbian partner is an equal parent to the birth mother…Lawyers for the school sought permission to take sworn testimony from Christine Hernandez, the partner of the student’s mother who has helped raise the child.”

St. Pius X’s lawyers claim Hernandez has represented herself as the parent of A.S. in the past, including in official capacities where parental consent was needed. The child’s mother sought to block Hernandez from being forced to give testimony “on the grounds that state law bans recognition of same-sex marriage,” and Mobile Country Circuit Judge Sarah Stewart agreed saying Hernandez and A.S. are “legal strangers.”

A further twist is that Hernandez is co-counsel, with David Kennedy, in the bullying lawsuits, and she would need to be removed from this case and potentially the two other ones if forced to testify. Hernandez is also involved in an adoption lawsuit which claims the same same-sex marriage ban being used to prevent her from testifying is unconstitutional. The newspaper article explained:

“In an interview, Kennedy said that notwithstanding his view of the law, it remains on the books until a court decides otherwise.

” ‘In Alabama, the law of the land is still that a child can have one mother and one father but certainly not two mothers,’ he said.

“Even without the same-sex marriage issues, Kennedy argued, Hernandez still should not be made to testify. He pointed to legal precedent setting a high hurdle for compelling lawyers to testify as fact witnesses in cases involving their clients.”

Kennedy added that even if the same-sex marriage ban were deemed unconstitutional, Hernandez could not be considered a legal parent in the bullying lawsuit without marriage or adoption paperwork on file.

For her part, Hernandez released a short statement on the issues involved, saying:

” ‘This case is not about me. This case along with the other three that we have filed to date is about the children…The children that cried out for help and were ignored.’ “

Does this mean that the possibility of losing a legal case, and the resulting financial payout, can make Catholic officials change their definition of marriage?  It certainly seems they are willing to so for such circumstances.

This is not the first incident where Catholic leaders have sought to maintain their doctrine, while simultaneously changing it when advantageous for them. In 2013, lawyers for a Colorado hospital claimed fetuses were not, in fact, unborn children and did not possess legal rights.  The hospital was being sued for the deaths of two seven-month old fetuses, and the lawyers for the hospital defended the institution by saying fetuses were not people–a position in direct contradiction with the Catholic hierarchy’s consistent stance against abortion on the grounds that fetuses are indeed unborn children.  Perhaps there are more cases like this, when Catholic doctrines once declared infallible and immutable shift for legal and/or financial reasons?

If Catholic leaders want to claim moral positions in society then, at the very least, they must at least be willing to follow them. It adds insult to injury when bishops who ignored pleas from LGBT people and their families to stop the harm being done by opposing equal rights suddenly change those very beliefs just to win lawsuits. They cannot claim a principled position when it is so readily changed for advantage.

This case in Alabama is a prime example of how flawed and fragmented thinking on LGBT issues is, whether in the court system or in the church’s theology. I hope our bishops will one day welcome each person and every family for who and what they are, as created by God. We ask the simple question: would it not be better for every Catholic before the law and before God to stand on the side of justice and equality for all?

And when that day comes, I hope the church’s leaders’ shift in thinking will come as a result of love, not lawsuits.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: College LGBT Rankings Rooted in Misperceptions

August 21, 2014

Writing the “Campus Chronicles” series for this blog, I frequently report on the good works being done at Catholic colleges to promote acceptance and inclusion of LGBT community members. That is why I was again disappointed at the absence of Catholic schools on a couple of 2014 listings of the most LGBT-friendly campuses nationwide.

The Princeton Review failed to include any Catholic schools on its most LGBT-friendly ranking, but did include two on the twenty least LGBT-friendly listing, those being the University of Notre Dame (#9) and The Catholic University of America (#12).

Campus Pride, a national LGBT organization, claims its listing of most LGBT-friendly schools is more comprehensive than the Princeton Review listings because it is conducted “for and by LGBT experts in the field of higher education” without a profit motive. Though the organization makes this claim and also expanded its list from top 25 to top 50 this year, noting more than 80% of participating schools improved their rankings, Campus Pride failed to include any Catholic colleges as well.

Last year at this time, I claimed such rankings fail to reveal the full story about Catholic higher education. Now, I wonder why this absence exists in the first place. Are Catholic colleges failing to welcome LGBT students and employees? Are they inherently excluded because of their religious identity? Are there too few Catholic schools to be considered?

First, let’s look at the question of whether Catholic colleges are just not LGBT-friendly. I do not believe this to be true. As with any large field of members, Catholic colleges’ and universities’ responses to accepting diverse sexual orientations and gender identities are varied. I admit problems remain within the church’s higher education efforts. Traditional campuses like my alma mater, Catholic University, have a ways to go regarding LGBT acceptance. More progressive schools have also encountered obstacles, like Loyola Chicago’s decision to ban same-sex alumni from marrying in the campus’ chapel after marriage equality was legalized in Illinois.

However, there are numerous examples where schools are making progress and I would like to highlight a few from the past year:

  • DePaul University, Chicago, which regularly hosts LGBT workshops and student groups, celebrated its longtime and s successful LGBTQ Minor program.
  •  Georgetown University’s LGBTQ student group teamed up with Campus Ministry at the Washington, D.C. school to help students synthesize their sexual orientation and/or gender identity with their faith.
  • Stonehill College, Massachusetts, warmly welcomed Sr. Jeannine Gramick who dialogued with students and faculty at the Holy Cross Fathers-administered school about inclusion.
  • Boston College Law School students applauded the administration’s rapid and supportive response to anti-gay vandalism, transforming the damage into a moment of healing and education.
  • The University of Notre Dame, Indiana began implementing its new pastoral plan, forming a successful student group and hiring staff for its new LGBT resource office.
  • One of the first college athletes to come out did so with the full support of coaches and peers at Benedictine College in Kansas.
  • Gonzaga University in Washington State announced new policies regarding housing, bathrooms, records changes, and medical care that are more trans-inclusive.
  • Georgetown University in Washington, DC, welcomed its first openly transgender students last fall and they spoke highly of how students and staff alike have affirmed their presence.
  • The University of San Diego stood by students organizing an annual drag show that came under fire from conservative Catholic groups.

These instances are those which made news headlines, and yhey do not include the countless daily efforts being made by thousands throughout Catholic higher education to ensure all are welcome.

Second  is the question of whether there are just two few Catholic colleges to choose from and highlight. Again this seems far fetched. There are more than 220 Catholic institutions of higher education in the US, according to the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities. Of these, New Ways Ministry lists more than half on its listing of gay-friendly Catholic colleges. Though the level of LGBT inclusion varies, the examples above and these numbers broken down seem to show there are Catholic campuses to choose from for the Princeton Review and Campus Pride rankings.

So why are Catholic schools absent? I think the reason comes down to a specific misconception about Catholicism and how educational institutions function within the church. A common narrative is that the Catholic Church is anti-LGBT because of the bishops’ views, thus when conflicts in Catholic education arise it is easy to dismiss all those involved in the Church as anti-gay. Nuanced understandings of church as the People of God, teachings on conscience and social justice, and the reality that most US Catholics support LGBT justice are lost in broader public discourse.

What these rankings fail to account for is this disparity between the hierarchy’s teaching and the lived reality of most Catholics. The rankings do not acknowledge the attempts to heal and divide communities, like at Providence College, where a poor decision to cancel a pro-gay lecture became a teaching moment and led to growth. They do not consider cases, like at Creighton University, where school officials stood up to conservative critics within the church about a music concert by a pro-gay performer. Ultimately, they fail to consider how passionately and firmly students and staff have stood up for LGBT inclusion — and have succeeded in so many instances.

I doubt Catholic higher education is alone in being incorrectly understood, as other religiously-affiliated schools from officially anti-LGBT denominations are also absent. However, as I wrote last year, Catholic schools can have a tremendous impact on the lives of the more than one million students they serve:

“Instead of condemning the Church’s higher education where problems remain, every Catholic might ask themselves at the start of a new academic year how to support students and schools in becoming friendlier for LGBT students and educators. With over one million students in approximately 220 Catholic campuses nationwide, this is certainly an important area for all in our church to be considering.”

I do not expect the Princeton Review or Campus Pride to change their listings this year, but in the future a nod to the many and varied efforts being made to create Catholic campuses where all are welcome would do the cause of LGBT equality a lot of good.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Ugandan Archbishop: Do No Harm to Gay and Lesbian People

August 20, 2014

Archbishop John Baptist Odama

Amid reports that six LGBT people were stoned to death in Uganda last week, Archbishop John Baptist Odama is calling on his fellow Ugandans to respect the rule of law — and the lives of lesbian and gay people.

Odama, who heads the Uganda Episcopal Conference as well as the Archdiocese of Gulu, is quoted by PinkNews as saying:

” ‘Let us learn to love God’s human creatures…It is not that I am advocating for homosexual practice in the country, but we should not take laws into our hands to harm and hate the homosexuals because we all have weaknesses.’

” ‘The country has been struggling to have a law to criminalises [sic] homosexuality…However, the struggle has been frustrated by the constitutional courts.’

” ‘People should not take the laws into their hands and harm homosexuals, since they are also human beings though with different sexual feelings.’ “

Odama references a Ugandan court’s recent decision to strike down the nation’s Anti-Homosexuality Act in his comments. The former law, once known as the “Kill the Gays” bill because at one time it contained a death penalty provision for LGBT people, ended up mandating life imprisonment for those convicted of homosexual activity, and it banned the promotion of homosexuality. The court invalidated it on the technicality that Parliament did not have quorum when a vote on the Act was called. Legislators are now trying to re-pass a similar law having made procedural changes.

This is the first time in nearly four years of debate about this bill that a bishop in Uganda, where more than 40% of people are Catholic, has spoken up for the lives and dignity of LGBT people. In 2012, the Uganda’s bishops reversed their opposition to the Anti-Homosexuality Act. After it was passed in 2014, the bishops conference remained quiet for weeks before several announced their support publicly at Easter.

However, Catholics worldwide have condemned anti-gay legislation at each step. Figures like Jesuit Fr. James Martiformer US ambassador to the Vatican Thomas Melady, and the papal nuncio to Uganda have all condemned the law, as well as organizations like the Equally Blessed coalition  and the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development. Students and alumni of Catholic colleges have organized against the law. In Uganda, Frank Mugisha, a gay advocate who is Catholic, has courageously led the struggle for LGBT justice.

Archbishop Odama’s statement is a hopeful, if limited, sign that the Catholic hierarchy is waking up to reality that such laws foster discrimination and violence against LGBT people. These laws also hinder HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention, a point made clear by Catholic officials during July’s 20th International AIDS Conference.

But there is one voice noticeably absent as anti-gay laws increase, and that is Pope Francis. Even after people of faith worldwide have asked Pope Francis to clearly and openly condemn anti-gay legislation through the #PopeSpeakOut Twitter campaign, there has been no message from the pontiff. Bondings 2.0 has previously questioned why the pope has remained silent on this issue, and wondered how Catholics are to respond when church leaders, such as the Ugandan bishops, not only allow, but support anti-LGBT policies.

New Ways Ministry welcomes Archbishop Odama’s words, but we reiterate our request that Pope Francis take action to save lives and protect human dignity. If you would like to add your voice to the #PopeSpeakOut efforts through email, Facebook, and Twitter, click here.  Please share the news about this campaign with your contacts and social media networks.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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