Art Show on Queer Saints Plays with Depictions of Gender

November 24, 2014

Artwork displayed in the “Queer Santas” show.

How does gender inform understandings of Catholic saints? An art exhibit at the Pacific School of Religion is rethinking those understandings by playing with gender, furthering the idea that there are transgender Catholic saints.

“Queer Santas: Holy Violence” is Alma Lopez’s show that plays with gender in religious artwork and asks viewers to “reconsider our ideas of religion, beauty and gender,” according to Religion News Service.

Lopez compared these saints to LGBT people today because they refused to adhere to female gender norms imposed by their societies and faced severe violence as a result. The artist added:

” ‘In our community, we do endure so much because we believe in certain things and we know ourselves. So I wanted the Queer Santas to stand for that and start a discussion of how much we endure to be who we are and love who we want to love…

” ‘So it is really me painting their masculinity and their beauty through the story of the Santas,’ she said, using the Spanish word for female saints.”

The show features icons of St. Lucia, St. Liberata, and St. Wilgefortis, as well as mermaids from Mexico termed “sirenas” which trans girls have taken up as symbols. Each of the three saints is traditionally understood to exhibit male characteristics, like St. Liberata’s and St. Wilgefortis’ beards or St. Lucia’s (or Lucy’s) refusal to marry a man, which resulted in  her eyes being gouged.

Pacific School of Religion professor Justin Tanis commented about Lopez’s depiction of the saints, saying:

” ‘I am natural, I am one of God’s people.’ And yet this is an image that many people would consider heretical because gender play is involved…All of these saints are women who took their own agency and stepped outside gender norms. In that sense, they were queer and violence was done to them for it.’ “

Lopez’s previous work has been controversial in the past, drawing Catholic protests for pieces like a semi-nude Virgin of Guadalupe. So far, the Pacific School of Religion exhibit is drawing only praise — and has drawn some into deep meditation and prayer, according to Tanis, who is also director of the Pacific School of Religion’s Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry.

In recent years, the highlighting of lesbian and gay saints has opened Catholic eyes to the reality that sexual orientation is a gift from God that has helped many attain holiness. Lopez’s art further adds gender identity, as the church grows in understanding and appreciation for the holy trans people in our world.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? Theologian Fr. Charles Curran Calls for Change in Church Teaching

November 23, 2014

Fr. Charles Curran

“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

In a new interview with the National Catholic Reporter, Fr. Charles Curran openly calls for the Catholic church to rethink and, ultimately, change some of its moral teachings on sexuality, including gay and lesbian relationships.

Most reflections during and after last October’s synod were concerned with pastoral practices and a slow doctrinal developments, if any, but Curran’s proposal is more straightforward.

Acknowledging what he calls “creeping infallibility” by the hierarchy in recent decades, Curran highlights the possibility of change in church teaching:

“In my judgment, there never has been an infallible church teaching on a specific moral issue. The reason is that these issues are removed from the core of faith and deal with many different specificities and complexities…if there is any doubt about it, it cannot be infallible teaching…

“The fact that the church has changed its moral teaching in a number of very significant specific issues is proof that such teaching is not unchangeable and what is taught today as noninfallible teaching can also be changed in the future. Perhaps the best explanation of why such teaching can be changed is simply looking at the language. Noninfallible really means that something is fallible!”

Among those teachings which have changed, Curran notes, are understandings of sexuality and marriage. He proposes a rethinking of sexual ethics that incorporates the good of the dignity of the human person and their relationships. Rejecting the current papal teaching which demands that “Every single act, therefore, must be open to procreation and expressive of the love union of husband and wife,” Curran continues:

“The problem with the Catholic approach is using the nature of the faculty [of sex as procreative and unitive] as the criterion for discovering whether an act is right or wrong. One can never see the power or faculty of sexuality apart from the human person and the human person apart from one’s relationship to other persons. Thus, for example, for the good of the person or the good of the marriage, one could and should at times interfere with the procreative purpose of the sexual faculty. In the same manner then, one could justify homosexual relations and unions on the basis of what is good for the human person and the human person’s relationships.”

On the theological concept of gradualism, raised anew at the synod and Pope Francis’ new pastoral approach, Curran comments:

“The primary role of any minister in the church, including the bishop of Rome, is to be a pastor. The pastor has to be close to the people and to know and experience their joys and their sorrows, their laughter and their tears…

“The pastoral approach in a very true sense should embrace all that the various ministers of the Gospel do, but it certainly also has relevance to very practical moral problems that people are experiencing. I have already mentioned that with regard to gradualness. This brings to mind one of the statements that was found in the first summary of what went on in the synod: ‘The truth is incarnate in human fragility not to condemn it, but to cure it.’ “

Commenting on the synod itself, Curran praised open discussions between members of the hierarchy but expressed disappointment that no teachings were changed, a position defended by “even those who were in favor of pastoral change.” Looking ahead,  Curran concludes with more practical considerations on how the church should proceed:

“I think it is necessary for the papacy to admit that some of its present teachings on sexuality are wrong. But that is going to be a very difficult task to do…Without doubt, it will be very difficult for papal teaching to admit that its teaching in the past has been wrong…On the other hand, history has shown that such teachings have been wrong. Perhaps the problem has been that the papacy has claimed too much certitude for its own teaching…

“I recognize all the problems and difficulties in the way of recognizing that past and present papal teaching has been wrong, but this is the real problem that we have to face. However, in facing it, in light of what we talked about earlier, I am certainly willing to accept some kind of gradualism …

“But with this acceptance of gradualism, there comes a warning. In the past, the Catholic church had a long time to deal with the possibility of change, or what it preferred to call development in its teachings. But because of instant communication today, the church no longer has the luxury to take that long. There is an urgency to change the present teaching for the good of the church.”

Fr. Curran was the first recipient of New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award, which recognizes individuals who, through scholarship or pastoral actions, help to promote justice and equality for LGBT people.  He also wrote the introduction to the book Building Bridges:  Gay and Lesbian Reality and the Catholic Church, by Father Robert Nugent and Sister Jeannine Gramick, New Ways Ministry’s co-founders. He has also spoken at New Ways Ministry’s national symposiums.

To read the full interview, which delves far more deeply into the theological underpinnings of Curran’s desire to change church teachings, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Detroit Archbishop Bans Parents’ Group Because of Speaker Choice

November 22, 2014

Francis DeBernardo, left, at World Pride 2012 in London. British Catholic gay advocate Martin Pendergast, right, helps him carry the New Ways Ministry banner.

Michigan LGBT advocates will proceed with a planned meeting for Catholic parents of LGBT children today after being barred from the Catholic parish that was set to host it.

Archbishop Allen Vigneron banned Christ the King parish in northwest Detroit from hosting the Fortunate Families support group because Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry is scheduled to speak. According to organizer Linda Karle-Nelson, the parish hosted a similar gathering last year and this change of venue greatly disrupts the event. She told The Detroit Free Press:

” ‘It’s really been a problem trying to get the information out to people who have registered and those who might want to walk in…The reason we invited Frank DeBernardo, is he just returned from Rome and the Synod on the family, and he was going to share his perspective and where do we go from here…The pope has asked for reactions and to weigh in.’ “

DeBernardo, who heads New Ways Ministry, noted how far Vigneron’s action is from Pope Francis’ welcoming style and added:

” ‘I feel bad for the message that it sends to Catholics that there can’t be discussion of an issue of great importance to them and their families — how to stay in better communication with their church and their gay and lesbian children.’ “

Linda Karle-Nelson and Thomas Nelson

Christ the King’s pastor, Fr. Victor Clore, is also baffled by the archbishop’s decision, telling the Free Press:

” ‘I’ll give you a quote from one of my parishioners, who said: “It amazes me how Pope Francis eagerly and happily engages those who openly deny the divinity of Christ, yet (New Ways) DeBernardo is deemed unworthy to enter our church’…

” ‘That’s pretty much my feeling, too…It’s treating people as if they were children.’ “

Archbishop Vigneron’s record on LGBT issues has not been positive. In the past, he has warned that pro-marriage equality Catholics should not receive Communion (though his auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton thought otherwise) and is on record saying Pope Francis “didn’t say anything different” on homosexuality.

In contrast, Karle-Nelson and her husband, Tom, were awarded by PFLAG for their pastoral efforts within the church through Fortunate Families. They have led protests at the Detroit chancery and stood by Dignity/Detroit when its 39th anniversary celebrations came under fire from the archdiocese.

Fox 2 News of Detroit quoted DeBernardo explaining a bit about the content of his talk:

“Pope Francis has demonstrated openness on these issues and he has called for greater discussion of them as we saw in the synod at the Vatican last month. I wish the Archdiocese of Detroit had inquired more deeply about the substance of my talk. They would have found that it is very Catholic on its content.”

His talk is about how the recent synod on marriage and the family discussed gay and lesbian people.  In the talk, he quotes almost entirely from bishops and cardinals, as well as the pope.

Please keep the Fortunate Families group in your prayers today as they meet at an alternate location. These dedicated parents and family members are answering Pope Francis’ call to create a church that is “home for all” through dialogue and welcome.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Jesuit Students Honor UCA Martyrs with Transgender Education and Justice

November 20, 2014

Teach-In participants remember the martyrs in prayer

Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance, when people worldwide will remember those transgender people who died this past year as a result of anti-LGBT violence.

As vigils are held and prayers are offered, I want to highlight a moment of hope for trans justice that happened at the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice last weekend.  The Teach-In is an annual event that brought together 1,600 students and staff from North American Jesuit high schools and colleges.  New Ways Ministry presented a workshop titled “Trans-forming Love” which looked at transgender issues through an affirming Catholic lens.

Over 40 participants explored not only justice for transgender people, but the gifts and qualities that gender diverse communities offer our church and our world. The conversation touched upon the Catholic Social Tradition, spirituality, and the ways in which students’ communities can become more inclusive.

Transgender justice fit in well with the Teach-In this year which was held on the 25th anniversary of the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA) martyrs, who were killed for aligning themselves with the poor and victimized of El Salvador. The UCA continues the prophetic witness of the Jesuit martyrs today, including support for LGBT people by hosting the first LGBT human rights conferences in El Salvador (which you can read about here and here) in 2013. At that conference, which New Ways Ministry participated in, it was obvious that trans advocates were leading the way for equality in that country.

A prayer card honoring the six Jesuit UCA martyrs and their two female colleagues

Fittingly, LGBT justice was included among the many social justice causes being discussed, prayed over, and advocated for during the Teach-In, including a workshop addressing homosexuality offered by Arthur Fitzmaurice of the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry.

Wider church reform conversations were on the conference’s agenda as well. Jesuit Fr. James Martin told young adults that you address systemic injustice in the church the same way you address it in the world — “You fight it.” Fr. Thomas Reese suggested that Pope Francis will leave it to local episcopal conferences to respond to same-sex relationships being legalized.

I am profoundly inspired by the students who attended the Teach-In, who I met at the workshop and also at New Ways Ministry’s exhibit table. During conversations with participants,  I found that students needed no convincing that LGBT rights were indeed human rights and questioned how anyone could oppose full equality and inclusion. They were, understandably, unhappy with the church and yet, for many, it was the church which deeply informed their passion for justice. I spoke with faculty courageously working to make their institutions safer and more welcoming, sometimes at great personal risk.

I was happily surprised at how affirming, and indeed informed, these teens and young adults were about issues of gender identity and diversity. Trans justice was as much a given as anything else.  Many students raised questions about how to be a better ally.

During this Transgender Day of Remembrance we mourn, for mourning is necessary and indeed an act of resistance. As Christians, it is important to remember that death is not the final word, even violent and gruesome death. The UCA murders prompted hundreds of thousands of people to seek justice in El Salvador and beyond. Today, the hate crimes against transgender people motivate thousands more to demand justice for this group of people in the very same way. At the intersection of these many tragedies, a group of students from Jesuit schools helped the light of LGBT justice burn a bit brighter last weekend — and that is Good News for us all.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


What to Make of Maltese Bishop’s LGBT Award Nomination?

November 10, 2014

Malta Gay Rights Movement logo

A top Catholic official in Malta has been selected for an LGBT community award, but questions are being raised about his nomination given the bishop’s mixed record on same-sex relationships.

The Malta Gay Rights Movement (MGRM) honored both public input and committee votes by adding Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna to the nominee list in the spirituality and religion category for their annual LGBTI Community Awards gala. When some indivdiuals criticized this choice, MGRM responded in a statement, quoted in part by Malta Today:

” ‘Spirituality and religion have a positive impact on many peoples’ lives. Just as in the heterosexual community, also for some LGBTI people religion and faith are an important part of their identities. Hence, we support the efforts of LGBTI people who wish to be accepted within their faith communities’…

“The gay rights movement said the bishop had received sufficient votes in the online and sub-committee votes, and in a final review, it was decided not to exclude him to preserve the integrity of the selection process. ‘Secondly… we have indeed seen a marked improvement in the quality and tonality of communication from the Catholic Church more generally in relation to issues affecting the LGBTI Community.’ “

MGRM also announced a meeting to discuss Scicluna’s nomination, and the organization hopes the bishop attends as a “gesture of friendship and dialogue.” It is worth noting that Dominican monk and philosopher Mark Montebello was also nominated for the “spirituality and religion” category.

Bishop Charles Scicluna

Bishop Charles Scicluna

Scicluna’s record on LGBT issues is a messy one. He has repeatedly denied that same-sex couples can marry, and even opposed a civil unions law in Malta that ultimately passed in September 2013.  Scicluna, in an unconfirmed report, said Pope Francis was “shocked” at the idea of gay couples adopting.

At the same time, Scicluna has apologized to lesbian and gay people for times the church has made their lives more difficult. He publicly criticized a lay man’s harsh letter against same-sex relationships, saying it was a “caricature of the Church’s teaching on gay relationships,” and that these relationships exhibit more than lust. Scicluna remarked in an interview about homosexuality in the Catholic Church that, “Love is never a sin. God is love.” Earlier this year, he took part in an official event marking the International Day Against Homophobia, alongside pro-equality political leaders.

Still, critics of MGRM’s decision to keep Scicluna on the nominee list are not satisfied. They believe his record opposing LGBT civil rights and his inability to defy church teaching are sufficient to judge him negatively. Malta Today quotes advocate Joseph Carmel Chetcuti as saying:

” ‘I may have missed something but does Scicluna no longer consider homosexuality intrinsically disordered? Is he now saying that gay men and lesbians, as individuals and couples, should be allowed to adopt children and that it is in the interest of children to have gay and lesbian parents?’ “

What to make of all of this?

First, the Malta Gay Rights Movement should be applauded for their approach to this situation. MGRM recognizes that there is no clear distinction between the LGBT community and Catholicism, but that many sexual and gender diverse people are also faithful believers. MGRM’s willingness to advocate critically and inclusively in this tension is commendable, as is the organization’s commitment to respecting the voices of the public and subcommittees who nominated Scicluna.

Second, Malta is one of the most Catholic nations in the world and the church cannot be ignored by LGBT advocates. More than 90% of the population identify as Catholic and the country is officially identified with the church per the constitution. As MGRM itself recognized, ” ‘While it is undeniably an organisation with deep flaws, [the Catholic Church] also does great good’ in the educational and social services it provides for the island nation. And while the institutional church may not support LGBT equality, the Catholic citizenry of Malta do: it was the first European nation to include gender identity protections in its constitution last year proving there is room to grow.

Third, MGRM is not letting the Catholic Church or Bishop Scicluna off the hook just because they are honoring him. There are deep problems with how the institutional church treats and speaks about LGBT people, and much work remains in attaining an inclusive and just Catholic community. MGRM expressed hope that modern scientific and social development in human sexuality will be integrated into the church’s thought. Further, the organization says, “that at some time in the future the Catholic Church will want to apologise to the LGBTI community for its current and historic discriminatory and exclusionary approach.”

In the end, Bishop Scicluna has declined the nomination, reports MGRM on their Facebook page which also explained the bishop’s reasoning as the following:

“Bishop Scicluna feels he should decline the nomination for the LGBTI Community Awards since, as a matter of principle, he does not accept nominations and awards for doing his duty as a Bishop.

“Bishop Scicluna would like to confirm his commitment to promote a community spirit of solidarity and compassion in which LGBTI persons feel they are welcomed. He also commits himself to fight any unjust discrimination against LGBTI persons.”

Scicluna’s welcome of LGBT is imperfect, but he is also far from the worst. It is important to honor Catholic officials who try to offer positive pastoral outreach within the constraints of institution, rather than writing them off wholesale. Who knows? Perhaps Bishop Scicluna’s real reason for not attending the gala is because he will instead be instructing Malta’s newest resident, Cardinal Raymond Burke, on a more pastoral approach to LGBT people!  One can hope!

What do you think? Should Bishop Scicluna and other Catholic leaders be honored by LGBT organizations, even if their records are mixed? Add your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Benedictine College Would Do Well to Queer Its ‘External Decor’ Policy

November 9, 2014

Jallen Messersmith with his (now banned) rainbow flag

Jallen Messersmith is the first openly gay college basketball player. Many commenters, including Bondings 2.0, applauded the athlete and his campus, Benedictine College, a Catholic school, for its support at the time. A recent incident calls into question if the school’s support for Messersmith has changed. decision to hang a rainbow flag in his dorm window?

Messersmith recently hung a rainbow flag from his dorm window. A day after doing so, he he received a call from Dean of Students Joe Wurtz who demanded the flag be removed because it had made someone “uncomfortable.” While the basketball star removed the flag, he has not remained silent about this incident which upset him greatly.

According to the campus newspaper, The Circuit, college president Stephen Minnis called the flag a “mess” on Second Street, where the dorm is located. He further added:

” ‘I saw this flag, and I thought, “Oh my gosh”…Saturday’s our big home football game, this is the opening to campus, people are going to be driving up Second Street and we got somebody hanging something in their window. I didn’t want [the flag] to be a distraction.’ “

Minnis, who was apparently unaware of the flag’s meaning before a student notified him, said its removal was a matter of “cleanliness.” He admits he could have communicated better about this policy because he said the flag’s removal is about appearances, not a political statement by the Benedictine administration.

Wurtz said the flag’s removal, though not elucidated in any policy, comes from the “president’s prerogative” against external decorations and is about consistency. He added that controversy may have ensued because people are simply “hypersensitive” about LGBT issues.

Messersmith’s roommate Luke Norville, who is notably not affirming of gay people, questioned whether this was really about consistency because he had seen other items hung on Second Street. Another roommate, Nick Hercules said he could “guarantee” an American flag or Benedictine flag would be allowed to stay.

For his part, Messersmith said the rainbow flag, a well known sign for the LGBT community, is “an acceptance thing” for those on campus who may struggle with their sexual orientation. The Circuit adds:

“Although Messersmith feels Benedictine College as a whole has been supportive of his sexual orientation, he says the way administration handled this particular situation is ‘interesting.’

” ‘I would have preferred to have had a black and white [statement]–”This is why you can’t do this, it says right here in the mission, right here in this handbook”, wherever it said I couldn’t do this…I still care for every administrator on campus, and have deep personal relationships with all of them; it is just interesting the way they handled it.’ “

Interesting indeed. By coming out, Messersmith has been a role model for LGBT youth and athletes of all ages. His intuition to put a supportive sign in his dorm window for others on the Kansas campus who are questioning their sexuality or gender identity is a most Catholic and pastoral one. Hanging the flag to create a more welcoming and inclusive campus community should be a move applauded by administrators.

Yet, if Benedictine administrators are to be believed, and the flag’s removal is truly about cleanliness and consistency in student housing, this is a case of mistaken priorities. Preserving aesthetic appearances at the cost of LGBT inclusion is not a good model for Catholic education. There is the possibility as well that administrators simply do not want LGBT-positive symbols seen at the school. Either way, Benedictine College would do well to queer its policies on external decor.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

OutSports, “Benedictine College forces gay athlete Jallen Messersmith to remove rainbow flag


Filipino Religious Superiors Affirm Their Solidarity with Murdered Transgender Woman

November 8, 2014

Demonstrators call for justice in the case of murder victim Jennifer Laude

Catholic leaders in the Philippines are demanding justice for a transgender woman allegedly murdered by a US soldier, further adding to the church’s positive response in this most tragic situation.

The Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (AMRSP), through their Office of Women and Gender Concerns, said in a statement:

“Our shock and horror over the gruesome killing of Filipino transgender woman Jennifer (legal name: Jeffrey) Laude by a US marine serviceman are accompanied by grave concern about how the case will progress and the kind of justice that might prevail in the end given the circumstances surrounding the case.”

The statement beautifully reflects Catholic social teaching in its fullness, acknowledging the many factors in this case which disadvantage Laude and her loved ones seeking justice. On the victim’s gender identity, the statement notes:

“Laude, the latest victim, is a member of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) community that, in present society, continues to suffer discrimination, marginalization, exclusion and hate crimes. Such is the result of centuries-old societal biases toward those who ‘do not fit’ into the so-called mainstream.”

AMRSP acknowledges two other factors worth noting here. First, the problematic Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States “puts a Filipino crime victim at a disadvantage” and allows the US to disregard the Philippines in favor of its “own brand of justice.” Second, there is the simple disparity in resources between Laude’s family of “humble means” and the near-unlimited means of the US military. A past incident where US soldiers escaped prosecution for rape was offered as an example. AMRSP leaders called on all involved to seek justice, saying:

“We call on witnesses to put aside fear and come forward with what they know. We call on Laude’s family and supporters to stay the course and not be cowed into giving up. We call on Laude’s critics to hold their judgment. We call on our government officials and lawmakers to re-examine the onerous provisions in the VFA. We pray that genuine justice based on the truth will be served—for both the victim and the accused.”

In a related move, a top official with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Phillipines spoke about Laude’s murder and the legal case with a Catholic publication. In the interview, Bishop Elenito Galido of Iligan said:

” ‘We are asking for justice. We do not condemn…We do not judge or anything. We are seeking justice.

“Killing a person is a crime whether the victim is transgender or not. We do not discriminate. It’s clear enough there is a crime we have to seek justice for.”

Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo also called on the Filipino government to ensure rights of the country’s citizens are respected in this legal process.

A week ago, I applauded Catholic pastoral leaders for granting Laude a Catholic funeral that respected her identity and brought healing to both Laude’s family and the LGBT community in the highly traditional Philippines. Ministers mediated God’s love through the sacramental life of the church.

Now, these further statement add justice to that charity by prophetically standing beside a most marginalized and vulnerable person. Their words respect Laude’s identity. They acknowledge the reality that her murder is most likely a hate crime, caused about by anti-LGBT cultural attitudes and discrimination. They address the compounding factors of militarism and inequality before the law in this case. Filipino Catholic leaders show how Catholics can and must integrate LGBT justice into the church’s broader efforts. In short, they model Pope Francis’ desire that we be a “poor church for the poor” that is “home for all.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

Mabuhay: “Religious groups call for justice for slain transgender


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