CAMPUS CHRONICLES: ‘Queer Peers’ & ‘Play Like a Champion’ Programs Tackle Homophobia

November 1, 2014

Milk_FinalCatholic higher education in the US has often led on LGBT inclusion in the Church, acting as a positive example for the rest of the ecclesial institution. Today, Bondings 2.0 highlights positive steps made this fall at Catholic colleges and universities to ensure all are welcome.

Queer Peers

DePaul University in Chicago, the nation’s largest Catholic college, kicked off a new program this semester to help new LGBT students transition into college. Called “Queer Peers,” this program sponsored by DePaul’s LGBTQA Student Services establishes mentoring relationships and campus programming for students who are newly out. As student newspaper, The DePaulia, reports:

“The main goal of the Queer Peers mentor program is to go beyond the scope of a regular student organization.  Often times, students are unable to participate in student organization meetings because of distance or time conflicts. Since mentors in this program are responsible for coordinating meetings with their mentees, the added flexibility eliminates the intimidation that a newly out mentee may feel in a large group setting.”

This is the latest in DePaul’s precedent-setting efforts to welcome and affirm LGBT people, including becoming the first Catholic institution to offer an LGBTQ Studies minor and hosting workshops on transgender issues in the classroom. Queer Peers mentor and senior Brandon Jordan comments on this latest programs in light of past efforts, saying:

” ‘The primary outcome is just hoping to develop community and help LGBTQ students feel supported…No matter how you identify, we want everyone to feel like they can learn about these communities and feel well equipped to support others. This program will benefit both mentees and mentors in that way.’ “

This new program enacts the values of hospitality and of inclusion in a most Catholic way, and will hopefully be adopted at colleges and universities nationwide.

Creighton University to Recognize Same-Sex Marriages

Creighton University, a Jesuit school in Omaha, announced it will offer benefits to same-sex spouses employed whose partners are employed there–even though Nebraska has a constitutional amendment banning marriage equality. The decision, announced by president Fr. Timothy Lannon, will consider out of state marriages as legally recognized for the purposes of healthcare and other employee benefits.

According to Religion News Service, it is the 21st Jesuit college to do so and follows the University of Notre Dame’s similar announcement last week. Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha expressed his disappointment, saying he was “dismayed” at the prospect of same-sex partners receiving employment benefits.

‘Milk’ Screening Rescheduled

College Democrats at The Catholic University of America will be allowed to screen the film Milk, which chronicles the life of gay icon Harvey Milk, after originally being told by the administration that they could not do so. University officials received widespread criticism for canceling the event, including from the film’s screenwriter Dustin Lance Black. Vox reports:

“The university explained its decision by claiming the event, which had originally been pitched to them as an educational activity, crossed the line to advocacy. As Michael O’Loughlin reported in Crux, this wasn’t the first time CUA has appealed to the education/advocacy distinction while disallowing an LGBT activity on campus.”

Though the film is now scheduled,  the event’s previous cancellation sparked conversations at CUA and neighboring Georgetown University about LGBT people and issues on Catholic campuses. LGBT writer Jay Michaelson says the controversy reflects a “church in transition,” writing on the delineation of education and advocacy for The Daily Beast:

“In the old days, these questions were easy. Everyone hated gays, and the Pope regularly denounced them. Popular prejudice, papal edict, and Catholic dogma were all perfectly aligned.

“Now, however, they are coming apart. An openly gay member of CUA’s College Republicans club [sic] rightly noted that the administration’s decision represents a ‘generational disconnect’ between students and administrators. It is also out of line with the temperament of Pope Francis’s remarks. But it’s right on the dogma.

“As is often the case when the letter and the spirit of the law begin to fray, legal creativity gets called upon to mend them.”

Bondings 2.0 writer and 2012 CUA alum Bob Shine spoke to the Brookland Bridge about the incident saying:

” ‘Branding everything as ‘advocacy’ is a cop out from doing the challenging work of Catholic education in our world today and disregards the value of each person’s life and flourishing so often preached about. Thankfully, Catholics in the United States (and students at CUA) overwhelmingly follow Jesus Christ who preached love and inclusion as the constitutive elements of God’s reign. President Garvey and his staff have a choice: will they walk with Jesus Christ, Pope Francis, and the People of God or increasingly abide by a gospel of exclusion and discrimination inconsistent with God’s love?’ “

Play Like a Champion Today

Meanwhile, the founder of Notre Dame’s Play Like a Champion Today program, Clark Power, spoke about the need to curtail campus homophobia, as part of anti-bullying efforts. The Play Like a Champion Today program helps create “a positive youth sports environment for all children,” according to US Catholic where the interview with Power was posted. Asked how Play Like a Champion tackles homophobia in sports contexts, Power responded:

“It’s interesting how we as a society are becoming more understanding about and accepting of homosexuality. It is clear to many committed Catholics that we still have to  work on this issue as a church. We have to listen to our gay sisters and brothers and support them…

“Play Like a Champion has focused a lot on bullying, and much of the bullying we see today is directed towards homosexuality and involves homosexual slurs. We want coaches to be aware of how vulnerable children and adolescents are as the grapple with their sexual identities. We are also making an effort to inform coaches about depression and the importance of establishing a compassionate and accepting team environment. We are trying to be as up front about this as possible: You’re working with kids who are still constructing their identities psychologically. You can’t allow other children to bully them or make fun of them.

“Play Like a Champion is about sports; it’s physical. Our sexuality is part of who we are physically. I hope we can try to understand all of this in a more loving and sensitive way…This is who we are and this is what we’re supposed to be a church. We’re called to be a loving community.  We should be setting an example of how to support and affirm all persons, particularly in the most formative stages of their development.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Murdered Transgender Woman’s Catholic Funeral Is a Moment of Hope and Healing

October 30, 2014

” ‘We don’t eat without praying first. We don’t sleep without saying a prayer. Where were you [God] when this happened?…She had so many dreams and that killer destroyed them all’ “

These are the laments of Julita Laude, mother of Jennifer Laude, a transgender woman allegedly murdered by a US Marine in the Philippines. The killing has made headlines for increasing tensions between the countries and raising questions about an ongoing American military presence in the Philippines.

Less noted has been the Catholic community’s response in helping Julita mourn her daughter’s death and showing respect to LGBT people in the heavily religious nation. According to PhilStar, Jennifer was “a devout Catholic,” but as an openly transgender woman it is not a given she would be granted a Catholic burial in the highly conservative Filipino church.

Jennifer Laude

Thankfully, compassionate (and Christ-like) principles guided Laude’s funeral and her life was celebrated in a way respectful of her gender identity. While Laude’s death emerges from the most tragic of circumstances, her funeral is a healing moment and one of great hope for Catholics, LGBT people, and Catholic LGBT people, especially in the Philippines. ABSCBN News notes:

“For many people watching along the streets of Olongapo City, the spectacle that is the funeral procession for transgender woman Jennifer Laude speaks of many things.

“To the religious, it is an indirect acceptance of the lesbian, gays, bisexuals, and transgender (LGBT) community into the Roman Catholic mainstream, something that was previously a cause of concern. This is the first time that a transgender woman’s funeral has been thrust into the spotlight and together, the issues surrounding it.

“For the LGBT community, it is a chance to put forward the rights of their kind, while battling the shaming that is ongoing not only in the streets but in social media as well.”

Laude’s funeral procession from the church to the burial site included dozens of family, friends, LGBT advocates, and mourners of all types, who can be seen in this slideshow.

This is not the first high-profile funeral of a transgender person, as the Jesuit mother church in Rome held one last year for Andrea Quintero who was murdered on the streets of that city. However, this moment is quite worthy of Catholics’ reflection. There are still too many damaging experiences at church for LGBT people, like denying communion to same-sex couples, for us to disregard the really good moments too quickly.

This moment shows a more positive approach is plausible and more life-giving. In the wake of a painful tragedy and in the midst of conflict, Catholic ministers mediated God’s love through the sacramental life of the church. A priest responded to a mother’s anguish by celebrating her daughter’s life in a Catholic church, respectful of the victim’s gender identity. A victimized community, whose suffering is in no small part due to ingrained Catholic prejudices, could be respected by Catholic leaders in this moment for who they are, who they love, and how they identity.

Yet, there is a challenge for the church too. Jennifer Laude’s death was, by all accounts, a hate crime. She was killed because transgender people are routinely dehumanized, and religions are deeply implicated in  transphobia. The Catholic community must step back when transgender people face such elevated levels of violence and of discrimination to ask how we are complicit.

As Catholic leaders consider issues around family life in the coming year, perhaps they can look to Jennifer Laude’s funeral as both a hopeful sign that LGBT pastoral care is possible and an informative moment for how much work remains to be done when it comes to LGBT human rights.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Oh, The Things Bishops Say…

October 28, 2014

Just because the media (including us here at Bondings 2.0) was focused on the synod, that does not mean other bishops have not made statements in recent months about a variety of LGBT issues.

Below are public statements from bishops worth noting, though not for their positive and Pope Francis-like inclusion. While progress is happening, these comments are an important reminder that church leaders still have a long way to go towards full acceptance of LGBT people.

Missouri – Bishop James Johnston of Springfield-Cape Girardeau wrote a letter against the city’s LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance that has since passed city council, according to KSPR 33. Johnston argued that religious liberty was being infringed, saying in part, ” ‘Do the people of Springfield really want to make criminals of persons who are merely trying to live their faith?’ ” Fortunately, city officials understood that nowhere in the United States has the advancement of LGBT civil rights impeded religious belief, and they passed the ordinance.

Bologna, Italy — Bishop Giovanni Silvagni called that city’s decision to recognize foreign same-gender marriages a “surprise attack” and that these “sensitive subjects that are dealt with slogan attacks and and an approach a bit ideological,” according to Gazzetta del Sud.

Arkansas — Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock filed a harshly worded legal brief in support of failed lawsuits to stop marriage equality from coming to that state. In the brief, the Human Rights Campaign reports Taylor suggested “that allowing committed same-sex couples to marry would lead to unions of ‘couples such as mother and daughter, sister and sister, or brother and brother.’ ” He also called for LGBT civil rights to be put before voters.

Trinidad & Tobago — Archbishop Joseph Harris of Port of Spain reaffirmed his opposition to the Draft Gender Policy, while criticizing the nation’s prime minister, Persad Bissessar, for claiming it was “tremendous opposition, especially from the Roman Catholic group” which was blocking the LGBT-positive law. Bissessar is also facing criticism from an LGBT group for suggesting a referendum about decriminalizing homosexuality, reports the Jamaica Observer.

Statements by Catholic bishops against LGBT people and their civil rights can cause tremendous harm, not only to LGBT people, but to the church and society, as well. Yet, there are also positive signs that negative and even prejudiced remarks like those above are not the only messages being offered by Catholic leaders. Indeed, there are already many cardinals, bishops, and clergy who have openly expressed support for LGBT people and even their relationships in limited, varied ways. You can access a full listing of “Church Leaders Supporting Same-Gender Couples” by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Celebrating 50 Years, National Catholic Reporter Comes Out (Again) for LGBT Church Workers

October 27, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 1.14.34 PMThe National Catholic Reporter‘s most recent editorial comes out strongly in support of fired church workers, responding to the spate of LGBT-related employment actions that have caused at least 17 people to lose their jobs this year alone.

Noting the rapid expansion of marriage equality, with the list of states allowing same-sex couples to marry expanding from 19 to 32 in the month of October alone, the editorial explains:

“Just 10 years ago, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, and just two years ago, the country was evenly split on the issue, 46 percent in favor and 44 percent opposed, according to one poll. Now the majority of Americans favor such unions, and that majority is growing more solid.

“The U.S. bishops, their lawyers and personnel directors have some hard choices to make in the next few weeks. What will they do with Catholic employees who enter valid legal marriages with partners of the same sex? To date, their track record on this issue has been bleak.”

That track record has been more than 40 LGBT-related employment disputes made public since 2008,  the first year in New Ways Ministry’s tracking of such actions.  Many of these church workers were committed and gifted people with years of experience and, as NCR notes, “There was no problem until they entered legal, civil marriages.” The editorial concludes:

“Church actions against these employees are unjust and must be rectified.

We do not here speak of the sacrament of matrimony. The issue we address is legally contracted civil marriages and employment. Church personnel policies must allow employees to enter into such marriages without fear of losing their jobs. The church can depend on First Amendment protections for the right to worship to safeguard the sacraments, and policies could delineate narrow ministerial exemptions when it comes to civil marriages, but for the vast majority of church employees, a legal marriage should not be a job impediment.”

Yet, the editorial is not optimistic about how American church leaders will respond and worries about a “protracted fight through the court system” similar to the high rhetoric against the HHS contraception mandate that “yields dubious results” and “will give no one justice.” You can access the editorial in full by clicking here.

Legal considerations should not be the only criteria informing church officials’ response as more and more church workers enter into and openly support same-gender marriages. In the footsteps of the synod’s initial recognition that gay people offer the church many gifts, Catholic institutions should also consider the value that LGBT employees offer.

One teacher, writing at The Huffington Post, explores what a gay teacher as role model would have meant for him. In a piece deeply applicable for Catholic schools, Blake O’Bryan Montgomery notes:

“Coming out to my students frightens me…But I want to say it, I want to say it; I want the queer among them to know they can grow up…

“LGBTQ visibility allows us to envision the lives we might lead; on an even more basic level, to learn that such lives are possible. I had no idea what I would be as an adult because I didn’t see anybody I could be…What I would have given to hear a high school teacher say, ‘I’m gay,’ ‘I’m a lesbian,’ ‘I’m queer;’ to tell me that I could grow up to be a person a young man would respect?…

“I was a queer student who would have gained a great deal of self-respect from a role model, and I’m asking you now, as a queer teacher, to please come out. If you might lose your job for your queerness, do all you can without coming out. I hope your workplace is a safe one.”

Catholic schools and parishes should become those safe workplaces where LGBT and ally church workers can teach and minister openly and in ways that enhance the lives of all. The employment disputes are deeply unjust and in violation of Catholic social justice teachings. Indeed, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, a leading US prelate, admitted as much in saying they “need to be rectified.”

Yet, excluding and expelling LGBT church workers is also about the deficiencies caused by such actions. There are the forgone possibilities of how dedicated employees could have enhanced classrooms, school activities, and spirituality. There is the pain inflicted on LGBT and questioning youth whose feelings of being unsafe or unloved are exacerbated by being in church institutions with no visible role models. There is the loss of younger Catholics turned off by institutional hatred who walk away from the church altogether.

The words of the National Catholic Reporter are worth repeating as the principle by which church leaders should instead proceed: “a legal marriage should not be a job impediment.”

For Bondings 2.0′s full coverage of these and other LGBT-related disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right or click here. You can also find a full listing of the more than 40 incidents made public since 2008 by clicking here.

On a final note, as the National Catholic Reporter celebrates its 50th anniversary, Bondings 2.0 applauds the newspaper for not only providing phenomenal journalism, but for being an early and ongoing voice of solidarity with LGBT Catholics.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

What Makes a Catholic Family–Especially When Discord About LGBT Members Exists?

October 26, 2014

Peter Manseau

A recent piece in The New York Times asked the provocative question, “What is a Catholic Family?” Today, Bondings 2.0 samples a few reflections on Catholic families, and we hope our readers will continue the discussion ‘Comments’ section below by sharing a bit about what “family” means to you.

The original esssay by Peter Manseau was published in mid-October, during the Synod,  and  it includes historical background on just how greatly Catholic understandings of marriage and family life have changed over the centuries. He writes the synod’s discussions are “an indication that the idea of family is again evolving in Rome.” What does he mean by ‘again’?

Manseau reminds Catholics that, in the church’s earliest days, marriage was second to celibacy for it was “full of situations regarded as unpleasant by the saintly.” This mentality is pervasive up through the Second Vatican Council, and unofficialy today. In the  16th century’s Council of Trent, the participants noted the “pastoral issues” of their time such as kidnapped brides, and priests who were marrying. Of this, Manseau writes:

“In every instance, the question of who might constitute a family was a matter of how far those involved fell short of an unattainable ideal.

“Which is perhaps not so far from the supposedly ‘wounded’ and ‘irregular’ families that are largely the focus of the synod’s report…the synod’s bishops have not opened a big tent welcoming all those mentioned to fully participate in the life of the Catholic Church, and indeed they are unlikely to do so.

“Yet even quibbling over words of qualified welcome, they have reminded the faithful that their church has developed over time through conflict and contradiction, and may again.”

Manseau concludes with an allusion to the Holy Family–” a woman who conceived a child before she was married, a chaste stepfather who nearly divorced her as a result, and that original sign of contradiction, the human son of God”–and he asks two questions: “What family is not wounded?” and “Was any family ever more irregular than that?”

Anne Marie DeMint

In an essay for the Washington Post, Elizabeth Tenety explores one Catholic family’s struggle to welcome and to love their lesbian daughter and sister, Anne Marie DeMent. Tenety opens her piece on the 30-year-old from Maryland by writing:

“It’s hard to come out as gay…It is even harder when your parents are profoundly committed conservative Catholics, your brother is a prominent priest who represents traditional church views on Fox News, and you were raised to believe that everything the church teaches is true.”

DeMent came out to a highly conservative Catholic family, a family that her brother, celebrity priest Fr. Jonathan Morris, called an “idyllic Catholic family.” Her parents did not respond well, nor did extended relatives who used pastorally damaging language. Yet, she found her wife, Katie, to be “life-giving” and the two were married four years ago after DeMent recognized the Catholic Church was wrong on homosexuality and marriage equality.

Her family, however, has not fully evolved. Her mother, Sharon Morris, says “We’re trying to figure out what love is…We wanted to live our whole life for God.” DeMent’s parents and brother skipped the wedding, though a few siblings were present, and since then the couple has not been welcomed to Christmas.

The arrival of Pope Francis changed some of DeMent’s relationships, healed divisions between siblings, and even led to a softening tone from her brother, Fr. Morris, in his public appearances. As for her mother’s journey:

“When people try to remind Sharon Morris that the Catholic Church ‘loves the sinner but not the sin,’ she says: ‘It goes through me, because I think, “You don’t know my daughter. Do you know your own sin?” ‘ “

“Talking about gays as if ‘they’re a different creature…affects me differently now…That’s why I consider this [experience] a great grace.’ “

DeMent acknowledges the struggle, but continues to press on in relating to her conservative Catholic family.  She offers these inspiring words, perhaps the most Christian quote in the article:

” ‘I truly do not want to strong-arm or persuade my siblings or my parents to at any point go against their conscience in trying to accept me. And vice versa…I don’t want to move away from my personal conscience or what I think is right just in order to have this relationship…

” ‘That’s where, for me, my fundamental call for life is to pursue that. To pursue the good, to pursue love. When it hurts, to be able to look at my sister and understand that we might have these differences but that our learning to love each other is what lasts, is what is everlasting. . . . We’re called to a radical trust in love, a radical trust in each other, as our way forward.’ “

Indeed, growing up in my own family, it was a most radical love which held us together in diversity and even stark differences.  When asking what makes a Catholic family, I fathom the answer is something involving trust, love, and care. And I know DeMent and I are not the only ones who share this experience of love.

So what do you think? What makes a Catholic family? How do families respond in love when there are differences? Leave your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Notre Dame Offers Benefits to Same-Sex Couples, While Set to Host “Gay in Christ” Conference

October 25, 2014

University of Notre Dame’s campus

The University of Notre Dame’s progress on LGBT issues has been a gradual process, but one that is making headway since the unveiling of the University’s pastoral plan in 2012. Still, recent incidents show a campus in tension on this path to full inclusion.

Last week, Notre Dame and its sister school, Saint Mary’s College, notified employees that benefits would now be available to same-gender spouses as marriage equality becomes law in Indiana. A university email obtained by the South Bend Tribune, said in part:

“This means that the law in Indiana now recognizes same-sex marriages and the University will extend benefits to all legally married spouses, including same-sex spouses…

“Notre Dame is a Catholic university and endorses a Catholic view of marriage. However, it will follow the relevant civil law and begin to implement this change immediately.”

Notre Dame is one of the first religiously-affiliated colleges to observe the new law, as other Christian universities are refusing to comply with the latest court rulings. One staff member who is openly gay, Aaron Nichols, said of the announcement:

” ‘Being an out staff member, I feel a lot more confident that my concerns are being heard and responded to…The university is no longer acting in a vacuum…That makes me proud to be ND.’ “

However, not all members of the Notre Dame community are reacting positively. Aleteia reports that Holy Cross Father Wison D. Miscamble, a history professor, spoke with young alumni in Washington, DC on the topic: “For Notre Dame: Battling for the Heart and Soul of a Catholic University.” He gave out Notre Dame president Fr. John Jenkins’ personal email and encouraged alumni to write negatively of the decision.

Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend added his criticism, saying Notre Dame should have waited for a “study of what the law requires” so that Catholic institutions are not “compelled to cooperate in the application of the law redefining marriage.” In response, President Jenkins said Rhoades was consulted before and after the decision’s announcement, and a University spokesperson defended Notre Dame’s decision.

Additionally, the University is set to host a traditionally inclined conference titled “Gay in Christ.” The conference, hosted by the Institute for Church Life and the Gender Relations Center, will “explore how Catholic institutions can coexist comfortable with gay Catholics” and focus on pastoral outreach, according to Indiana Public Radio.

Institute director John Cavadini said the conference has been a point of controversy on campus, adding:

” ‘I feel like our imaginations get cramped. . . We get caught in ways of thinking and don’t allow ourselves to think a little bit farther and this conference is meant to help us think a little bit farther.’ “

However, the conference is not as open ended as Cavadini portrays it. “Gay in Christ” focuses on outreach to “self-identified gay Catholics who accept Church teaching,” and speakers are predominantly Catholics advocating celibacy as the only option for lesbian and gay people. In fact, a writer for Slate recently highlighted the conference and torturously argued that the path of celibacy could be a path for acceptance of lesbian and gay people in the Church.

Bondings 2.0 has previously covered how dangerous and damaging mandatory celibacy can be for LGBT persons, the majority of whom do not discern that God is inviting them to such a lifestyle.

While Notre Dame is to be commended for the several initiatives it has made in enacting the pastoral plan, “Beloved Friends and Allies,” the presence of such a conference on campus proves there is still work to be done.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Actress Ellen Page & Singer Ariana Grande Criticize Catholics’ Anti-LGBT Actions

October 24, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 8.14.11 AMAfter a month of synod coverage, Bondings 2.0 changes pace and offers some recent celebrity news relating to Catholic LGBT issues. Yet, these two items are not throw away items because their impact on younger Catholics’ faith is probably far greater than anything which happened during the last month’s synod.

High School Denies Access for Ellen Page Film

A New York Catholic high school has reversed its decision to allow Ellen Page’s new movie about a same-gender couple’s fight for legal recognition to film on the school’s campus.

Salesian High School in New Rochelle, NY had approved a request for Freeheld to film, but later told production staff that was no longer possible. According to BuzzFeed,

“Michael Shamberg, Freeheld’s producer, told BuzzFeed News that he then appealed to Salesian’s principal, John Flaherty, who told Shamberg to send an email that he could forward to Father John Serio, the school’s president. After doing that, Shamberg never heard back from Serio, and Freeheld shot the scene somewhere else.

Principal Flaherty later told BuzzFeed in a statement that “all are welcomed at Salesian High School” and the school focuses on “helping the less fortunate.” In appealing to administrators, Shamberg told them the film is “about recognizing the dignity of a woman who was a brave civil servant” and further:

” ‘I believe the theme of the movie is what Pope Francis recognized when he called for the church to welcome and accept gay people.’ “

Freeheld, which stars Page, as well as Julianne Moore, tells the real life story of a lesbian couple’s fight for domestic partner benefits when one of them, a police detective, becomes terminally ill with lung cancer. Page, who herself came out as gay earlier this year, tweeted support for LGBT students following the incident:

“Using religion to justify bigotry makes me sad. Sending my support 2 the LGBT students at the school who I hope r able 2 find acceptance.”

Ariana Grande with brother Frankie

Ariana Grande Leaves Catholicism

Pop singer Ariana Grande publicly announced she was leaving the Catholic Church because of LGBT issues. The UK daily The Telegraph reported:

“Grande was raised a Catholic, but in adolescence began questioning her faith out of love and support for her brother, who is gay. ‘When my brother was told that God didn’t love him I was like, “OK, that’s not cool.” They were building a Kabbalah centre in Florida so we both checked it out and really had a connection with it.’ “

Commenting on Grande’s decision, GLAAD News Director Ross Murray noted that Grande, and her celebrity brother Frankie, did not abandon the church, but were “actively chased away from the faith they were nurtured in.” Murray continues:

“This isn’t just about the Roman Catholic Church, although they get more than their share of attention. All faith communities need to examine what their message is, not just because that message is damaging to the people who have to hear and internalize them (although it is), but for the health and future of the faith. It may be easy for some traditions to write off the LGBT people they lose by these messages. What they often don’t count on is how much they lose the rest of their membership.

“I ask for each of us who identify as people of faith to examine our messages, and what impact those messages have, not just on the LGBT people themselves, but on the rest of those who are hearing.  Does our message match what we’ve learned about God to be true? Do we best share the gospel by pushing people away? Are we letting our light shine so that we can glorify our God in heaven? Are our words producing good fruit?”

As the global church asks some of these same questions during the ongoing synodal process around marriage and family life, it is worth reflecting on how the above incidents are forming faith in younger Catholics. Though the synod made secular media, it is not likely that teenage and young adult Catholics followed the happenings too closely — and making sense of it even baffled journalists in Rome at times.

What is far more formative are the tweets and public statements of figures like Ellen Page and Ariana Grande in portraying the Catholic Church as opposing LGBT people. That message sticks in youth’s minds. When coupled with personal experiences of discrimination and prejudice by Catholic institutions, like Salesian High School, it is a highly potent “vaccine against faith” as Pope Francis phrased it.

While younger Catholics are overwhelmingly pro-equality, they are also far more willing to walk away from Catholic faith and find religious homes elsewhere. All the episcopal deliberations in the world are irrelevant if the public perception about Catholicism remain unchanged.

Perhaps Pope Francis’ greatest gift is his ability to produce “tweet-able” statements in support of LGBT people, like his famous “Who am I to judge?”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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