Homelessness Advocate Asks Pope Francis to Protect LGBT Youth

April 14, 2014

Siciliano’s letter as printed in the New York Times

The head of the largest shelter i the U.S.  for homeless  LGBT youth has written an open letter to Pope Francis asking for his support for these teens.

Carl Siciliano’s letter, published as a full-page ad in The New York Times, asks the pope to counter the religious rejection of LGBT youth by their families which is so often the cause of homelessness. Siciliano is founder and executive director of the Ali Forney Center in New York City, and also a former Benedictine monk and gay Catholic man.

In the letter reported on by LGBTQ Nation, he urges Pope Francis to reverse the hierarchy’s teaching that homogenital acts are wrong and that a homosexual orientation is disordered, writing:

“I ask you to take urgent action to protect them from the devastating consequences of religious rejection, which is the most common reason LGBT youths are driven from their homes. At the heart of the problem is that the church still teaches that homosexual conduct is a sin, and that being gay is disordered. I hope that if you understand how this teaching tears families apart and brings suffering to innocent youths, you will end this teaching and prevent your bishops from fighting against the acceptance of LGBT people as equal members of society…

“What these youths endure is horrific. They endure the torment of being unloved and unwanted by their parents, combined with the ordeals of hunger, cold and sexual exploitation while homeless. LGBT youths who are rejected by their families are eight times more likely to attempt suicide than LGBT youths whose parents accept them…

“A teaching’s wisdom and efficacy must be judged in part by its outcome. The teaching that homosexual conduct is a sin has a poisonous outcome, bearing fruit in many Christian parents who abandon their LGBT children to homelessness and destitution. How could a good seed yield such a bitter harvest?”

Siciliano cites shocking statistics that while LGBT youth only make up 5% of the youth population, they comprise 40% 0f homeless youth. That’s a minimum of 200,000 homeless LGBT youth last year in the US alone. He ties this to Pope Francis’ obvious love for the poor, and writes further:

“Jesus Christ is never recorded as having said a word in judgment or condemnation of homosexuality or of LGBT people. He spoke of a loving, compassionate God, and commanded his followers to act with love and compassion. Jesus spoke of God as a loving parent who would never abandon his children.”

The letter’s appearance in the Times was funded by Faith in America, which educates about the harm caused by religious-based stigma. Brent Childers, who heads up the organization, said in a press statement:

“Pope Francis has the opportunity to lead faith communities around the world in gifting parents of LGBT youth with an unconditional spiritual embrace, a gift which most surely will bring peace to these lives and these families.”

The letter was accompanied by a new Facebook page and Change.org petition. This  initiative ties LGBT justice to Pope Francis’ existing concern for the homeless and those experiencing poverty. Hopefully, Siciliano’s letter and the surrounding efforts will open the pope’s eyes to how disproportionately these issues affect LGBT youth.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Lesbian Couple’s Child Baptized with Argentine Archbishop’s Blessing

April 7, 2014

The child of a lesbian couple in Argentina was baptized with the open support of their local archbishop, perhaps owing to Pope Francis’ more pastoral tone on LGBT issues.

Father Carlos Varras baptizes Umma Azul, as parents Karina Villarroel and Soledad Ortiz look on.

Marriage equality was made law in 2010 in Argentina, but the April 5th baptism of Umma Azul is believed to be a first for a child with same-gender parents. Karina Villarroel and Soledad Ortiz, the mothers, were raised Catholic and reached out to the archbishop of Cordoba about the baptism. Gay Star News reports:

” ‘We had a hearing with Archbishop [Carlos] Ñáñez and he told us there was no problem with our daughter being baptized in the Cathedral.’

“Archbishop Ñáñez reportedly gave ‘special instructions’ regarding the selection of godparents to Father Carlos Varras, who will be presiding over the baptism.”

Villarroeal said that though the couple does not attend church currently, they wanted their daughter baptized so she could decide for herself about whether to be Catholic. They also asked Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to be Umma’s godmother, who agreed though did not attend the baptism.

Archbishop Ñáñez’s welcome of the couple and their daughter has been attributed to Pope Francis’ leadership by some. While still Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, the pope had once sternly mandated that priests baptize children from non-traditional family structures after hearing that priests were turning away single mothers requesting the sacrament. A rough translation of La Stampa reports:

“When he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, the current pontiff has struggled to not exclude any child from the first sacrament, without taking into account the situation of the parents. This request is the result of a profound theological reflection, the priest Javier Klajner, head of youth ministry at the time and a close associate of Bergoglio in Buenos Aires, told Vatican Insider.

” ‘If a person comes to ask for baptism, is there no prompting of the Spirit? That ‘s what we call actual grace in theology to have moved the heart. As the Ethiopian, in the Acts of the Apostles, when he walked, and said, “Here is water. Why not baptize me?” ‘ …

” ‘If a parent asks for his son’s baptism, as we do? Do not give it to him? Francis says that we are ministers, not bureaucratic administrators in the sense of the term. In my parish, we can baptize any day, in any setting. It would be crazy not to. Then no one can come to criticize and say that people are not being baptized, because this is a contradiction,’ he said.”

Since being elected, Pope Francis has continued insisting that pastoral concerns are of the highest order. There is no way to know what impact Pope Francis has had exactly, but this baptism is a clear example that parish priests can and should minister to families led by same-gender parents, as they would to anyone else.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Who Is Perpetuating Real Harm in the Marriage Equality Debate?

April 4, 2014
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

Commensurate with expanding LGBT rights is the increasingly harsh anti-gay rhetoric of Catholic leaders opposed to equal marriage rights and non-discrimination laws inclusive of sexual orientation/gender identity. Brian Cahill has written a piece in the National Catholic Reporter questioning the Catholic leaders who harshly criticized a United Nations report which urged the Vatican to adopt a more LGBT-positive tone for the benefit of children.

Cahill, the former executive director of San Francisco Catholic Charities, highlights the Vatican’s ambivalent relationship with the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. Though legally mandated as a signatory to provide annual reports on its efforts to protect children, the Vatican ignored this obligation from 1990 through 2012 as clergy sexual abuse came to light. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger did, however, cite the Convention in a 2003 document prohibiting same-gender couples from adopting children. Cahill writes:

“When it came to priests abusing vulnerable children, the agreement was ignored, but when it came to gay and lesbian couples adopting vulnerable children, it was run up the Roman flagpole. The irony is only exceeded by the hypocrisy.

“In restoring church credibility, Francis can start by ensuring that the U.N. agreement is used to protect children and not discriminate against loving, nurturing adoptive parents. And if he wants to continue his compassionate and pastoral leadership, he should get rid of the harsh and disrespectful language in the 2003 Vatican document. In referring to same-sex couples, the Vatican language states, ‘Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to these children.’ “

Yet, this harmful rhetoric is not unique to the Vatican only in the years before Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” comment. Cahill lists Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Archbishop John Neinstedt of St. Paul-Minneapolis, Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit, and Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco as examples of just how extreme the hierarchy has been in the past year. Cahill focuses in on Cordileone, writing:

“And then there’s San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, energetically tilting at windmills all over the country in his failed effort to stop civil gay marriage. Cordileone has also spoken out aggressively against federal legislation prohibiting workplace discrimination against gays and lesbians…

“He also told the communication directors that when they are asked to explain their opposition to same-sex marriage, their response should be, ‘Why are you opposed to every child having a mother and a father?’

“I don’t know anyone, gay or straight, who is opposed to children having mothers and fathers. But I do know that there are hundreds of thousands of children in the foster care system in this country, and they are there because of the abuse and neglect of their heterosexual parents, and these ‘mothers and fathers’ are living proof that sexual orientation has nothing to do with good parenting.”

Cahill sees no end to this hardline approach by the bishops against LGBT rights, citing recent incidents in Kansas and in Virginia where local bishops reaffirmed their commitment to stop equal marriage rights and legalize the discrimination of LGBT people.

It is not only the bishops, but other Catholics who are speaking and acting in a pastorally harmful manner. In recent weeks, anti-LGBT activists have said that legalizing marriage equality will lead to the kind of violence that occurred during China’s Cultural Revolution in which millions were killed. One leader has claimed that marriage equality will cause heterosexual men to desire anal sex. The head of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, which was recently added to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of “Active Anti-LGBT Groups,” told a radio audience that liberal university leaders should “all be taken out and shot.

While Cahill focused solely on anti-gay rhetoric coming from bishops, his conclusion is relevant for every instance of hyperbolic and harmful comments:

“Facts, political reality, the opinion of a Catholic majority, even a papal tone of compassion — these factors don’t seem to get in Cordileone’s way. He is a single-minded, energetic advocate for his cause, a true believer, a nonstop culture warrior…

“This intense crusade against civil gay marriage calls to mind the cautionary words of the great American Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr: “Frantic orthodoxy is never rooted in faith, but in doubt. It is when we are unsure that we are doubly sure.’

“Some American bishops seem to realize that they’ve lost the battle of civil gay marriage, that it’s time to move on from a harsh, critical stance and begin instead to develop a more pastoral approach to gays and lesbians. These are the bishops we need to hear from, not the culture warriors who don’t seem to know that this particular war is over.”

The question the American Church as a whole must ask itself is: who is perpetuating real harm in this debate over marriage equality and LGBT rights? It is not the loving same-gender couple who adopts a child and builds up a family.  It is not their fellow parishioners who welcome LGBT people with open arms. The most dangerous harm comes from those Catholic prelates and activists whose comments and actions against LGBT people and their families perpetuate destructive attitudes and misinformation about sexual and gender minorities.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

NCR Editorial Raises Questions, Expresses Hope Amid Synod Survey Results

April 1, 2014

As international bishops continue releasing survey results for the Synod on Bishops on marriage & family life this fall, the National Catholic Reporter is raising questions about why more American prelates did not participate.

Last fall, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops announced it would follow the ‘usual process’ for the Vatican’s unusual request to consult with Catholics “immediately” and “as widely as possible.” Michael O’Loughlin, on behalf of NCR, explored what this meant in reality for synod preparations by US dioceses.

It appears 78 dioceses made survey information easily available to the public, using a combination of online data gathering, direct consultations, and reports from parishes or diocesan offices. Only about a dozen released the results, including an extremely honest article from Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg. In a blog post on how NCR put together O’Loughlin’s article, editor Dennis Coday notes of the bishops’ lackluster participation:

“We are reporting that 76 dioceses out of nearly 200 publicly and actively sought some kind consultation with their people…

“Now, certainly, more than 76 dioceses could have turned in reports to the Vatican — it doesn’t seem logical that nearly two-thirds of U.S. dioceses wouldn’t respond to a Vatican request for information — but we don’t know what that number would be. We also have no idea whom they consulted, let alone what they reported.

“That not knowing is the story behind the story of the questionnaire.”

In a follow-up post a week later, Coday promised an updated report based upon reader input, adding a few diocese and also speaking to the incredible dismay Catholics expressed when their dioceses were missing. He writes as well of a “shadow category” for when it was unclear whether the diocese responded or not:

“And most of the people I heard from are engaged, practicing Catholics: ‘I didn’t hear anything about the questionnaire even though I am on my parish’s pastoral council,’ a woman from a Western state wrote me.

“This woman’s diocese — and still the vast majority of dioceses — falls into what I call the ‘shadow category,’ where we can’t figure out what the diocese did. This doesn’t mean that the bishop did not consult broadly or that he didn’t report back to the people he consulted what he heard, but we can’t find any easily, publicly available information that describes the process he used or what he did with the data.”

And what of those diocese which did release results? O’Loughlin concludes that the data shows “American Catholics have questions about the church’s teachings on a range of family-related issues.” You can read his full breakdown of several diocese’s reports here. Also of interest is that Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton and Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore were among the bishops calling for professional research organizations to conduct the consultations next time. There have also been voices of the small, eight-week timeline dioceses had for information collection.

Noting that Pope Francis urged participants at last summer’s World Youth Day to ‘make a mess,’ National Catholic Reporter’s editorial on this issue claims messiness is truly the pope’s modus operandi and this  is most evident by how he has handled preparations for the Synod. From there, NCR writes about the American response to these preparations:

“The story of how bishops responded or didn’t respond to the sharing of the questionnaire in the United States and beyond has been described in nearly every issue of this newspaper since…

“The bishops in this country approached the questionnaire in a variety of ways. Those who did their best to consult with the widest possible cross section of their dioceses and then tried even in limited ways to respond to or report back what they had heard deserve a good deal of praise. It’s exciting to see bishops reaching out like this. Our hope is that it portends a return to the consultations the bishops conducted in the 1980s around their peace and economic pastoral letters. Those exercises created national conversations that brought the church together if ‘not in unanimity’ at least in ‘unity in the richness of diversity.’ “

Now, the office charged with organizing the synod will collate the survey results into a working paper for bishops and NCR expresses their hope that there will be “more creative messiness” as a result. The editorial makes two conclusions from the data available so far:

“We think it is important to bring up two points: First, the majority of responses that have been reported publicly are coming only from the Western world. One of the few exceptions is the report from the Japanese bishops, which actually closely matched what we are hearing from North America and Europe. We have yet to hear from the developing world, where Catholicism is growing, and which we suspect will have unique perspectives that the universal church cannot ignore…

“The second thing to remember is that the responses about rejected church teaching are only half the story. It is especially important that bishops and clergy remember this. The other half of the story is the eagerness that Catholics felt when given the chance to participate in this survey of Catholic family life. Certain teachings or aspects of certain teachings have been rejected, but what shines through is the desire to be part of the church community.”

The editorial expresses hope that Catholics’ enthusiasm to participate and express their views on family life is a foundation for improved pastoral responses amid new realities. It specifically cites the spread of marriage equality as an example of where pastoral responses can grow, even where there is disagreement:

“A number of the U.S. bishops report among their respondents the ambiguity Catholics feel toward same-sex marriage that mirrors public opinion surveys and election polls. Many Catholics haven’t accepted same-sex marriage as valid, but in places as different as St. Petersburg, Fla., Stockton, Calif., and Davenport, Iowa, respondents say that individuals in same-sex relationships should have pastoral care and be made to feel welcome, and children in whatever family configuration they are in deserve to be accepted and nurtured.”

You can read the full editorial from the National Catholic Reporter by clicking here. You can read Bondings 2.0‘s continuing coverage of this Synod of Bishops by accessing the ‘Synod 2014‘ category to the right or by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Overemphasizing Pope Harms the Church, Says Commonweal Editor

March 31, 2014

Pope Francis

Pope Francis’ widespread popularity seems to be good news for the Catholic Church, gained in part by his welcoming words and actions towards LGBT people and their allies. Yet, one leading Catholic observer has criticized this intense focus on the papacy as harmful to the Church.

Paul Baumann, the editor of Commonweal, wrote an article for Slate titled, “The Public Pope: Why the intense fascination paid to Pope Francis – or any pope – isn’t good for the Catholic Church.” Baumann acknowledges the upsides to modern popes, gaining media coverage and secular attention in a world otherwise skeptical of religion. The allure of Pope Francis, who is preaching God’s love in new ways, is a prime example. However, even with these positives, the author explains:

“Whatever people think Pope Francis is offering, he is no magician; he can’t alter the course of secular history or bridge the church’s deepening ideological divisions simply by asserting what in truth are the papacy’s rather anemic powers. In this light, the inordinate attention paid to the papacy, while perhaps good for business, is not good for the church. Why not? Because it encourages the illusion that what ails the church can be cured by one man, especially by a new man.”

Baumann points to three popes to make his point about the weakness of the papacy: St. Peter, a “man of legendary weakness” who denied Jesus three times, John Paul II, a “media superstar” who failed to effectively deal with clergy sexual abuse, and Benedict XVI, a “man of towering intellect…overmastered by palace intrigue within the Vatican.”  There are surely more examples of papal failings. Instead of fixating on popes though, Baumann wants to shift attention back to Catholics at large who are both the problem and solution:

“The truth is that the more the world flatters the Catholic Church by fixating on the papacy—and the more the internal Catholic conversation is monopolized by speculation about the intentions of one man—the less likely it is that the church will succeed in moving beyond the confusions and conflicts that have preoccupied it since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). The church desperately needs to reclaim its cultural and spiritual equilibrium; it must find a density and richness of worship and mission and a renewed public presence, which far transcend mere loyalty to the pope.”

The modern papacy, in Baumann’s estimation, is overly involved in the affairs of the global Catholic Church. Vatican meddling in the most local of cases has ‘infantilized’ bishops and suppressed theological discourse. The pope no longer exists as a source of unity, but has become a disciplinarian along ideological lines. This has all caused great harm to the Church. Baumann states:

“As in any heavily top-down organization, local initiatives fail to gain a foothold, or fizzle out for lack of dynamic leadership, and apathy prevails in the pews. Institutional gridlock and paralysis have become the norm. Seminaries are empty, and clerical talent is thin on the ground.”

There is also the reality of a divided Church, and Baumann mentions the topics of homosexuality and marriage equality among the laundry list of topics that provoke “mind-numbingly familiar” debates. Vatican II’s documents proved to be ambiguous, and even contradictory, allowing for the conservative/liberal divides to develop without any way means of conflict resolution:

“The persistent nature of such divisions reminds us that Catholics must find a way to live with and through their ongoing disputes and, most important, to live with one another. Perhaps this is precisely what Pope Francis is trying to tell Catholics in his efforts to shift the focus: away from Rome and back to the poor and afflicted, away from the question of who is living in the papal apartments to who is breaking bread with whom in more modest surroundings, and away—most winningly—from the popemobile to a used Renault.

“Lex orandi, lex credendi is one of the church’s most venerable teachings. Roughly translated, it means that the church’s worship determines its theology…Whatever their ideological disagreements, Catholics will find unity, and a less anachronistic relationship with the papacy, in practicing their faith together—or they will not find unity at all. That may mean that the same-sex couple in the pew next to you will provide a more faithful example of Christian witness than you might now imagine possible. Or perhaps the ardent piety of a Latin Mass enthusiast will lead you to reconsider parts of the church’s tradition you have long dismissed as irrelevant and sterile. In any event, the church’s unity and renewed vitality will be—must be—a gift that the faithful bring to the pope, and not the other way around.”

The history of LGBT advocacy within the Church confirms Baumann’s claims that it is the People of God who create change and build up a better Church, not necessarily the pope or the Vatican. While Pope Francis’ comments like “Who am I to judge?” are welcome, they are so positively received because thousands of LGBT Catholics, parents, friends, nuns and priests, and allies have committed decades to creating LGBT-positive parishes and communities. Through painstaking conversations, workshops, and pushing the boundaries bit by bit, LGBT advocates have fostered a Church more welcoming of all, even if this work is less media-friendly than papal pronouncements.

All that said, anti-gay laws are on the rise internationally, leading to discrimination and violence in nations like Uganda, India, and Russia. The firing of LGBT church workers, and even those who just support equal rights, is on the rise in the United States. Non-discrimination protections that include sexual orientation and gender identity are still not universaland neither is marriage equality. While I join many in celebrating Pope Francis after his first year, and affirm Equally Blessed’s statement that his LGBT-positive actions are like ‘rain on parched land,’ we must remember there is much work we must do, and that change emerges up from the People of God, not down from the pope.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Hawaii Catholic Schools Add Tougher Morality Clause to Teacher Contracts

March 29, 2014

Catholics schools in Hawaii have revised the contract for teachers, adding an an amplified morality clause that explicitly names offenses for which teachers can be fired, including homosexual activity . This announcement comes a little over a week after the Cincinnati Archdiocese announced similar changes in their contract for Catholic school teachers.

According to the Civil Beatthe new contract affects educators at three dozen parochial schools and includes prohibitions against “homosexual activity” and “same sex unions,” along with several other selectively enforced teachings relating to sexuality. Notably, “unmarried cohabitation” is included. Civil Beat reports further:

” ‘The school expressly reserves the right to terminate the employment of any Teacher, who by word or example, denies the teachings or authority of the Church, or whose personal life or conduct is, based on Catholic teaching, immoral,’ says a portion of the contract..

“Schools have not yet distributed the contracts to teachers, but the documents will apply to all teachers working in parochial schools operated by the Diocese of Honolulu, which covers the entire state. A few private Catholic schools are not parochial schools.”

Both full- and part-time educators will need to sign this new contract annually, beginning next year. Except for a handful of religious-order run schools, the contract will affect every Catholic school in the state. Dioocese of Honolulu Schools’ Superintendent Michael Rockers claimed there was nothing new in the contracts and attempted to tie teachers to ministry, which has been a common tactic to defend discriminatory firings as a matter of religious liberty.

Most troubling are additional comments by Rockers, noted by Civil Beat:

“[Rockers] said the ultimate goal is to provide positive role models for students and that if a teacher’s homosexuality were made public it would negatively affect the children.

” ‘We want to be authentic about what our moral teaching is,’ he said. ‘We’re trying to be pastoral about this and centered on what’s best for the students.’ “

Bishop Larry Silva

Bishop Larry Silva

While the diocesan schools’ office denies this new contract is a reaction to the state’s passage of marriage equality last November, it is hard to see it as anything but a reaction to advancing LGBT equality. It is part of an increasingly punitive reaction by anti-LGBT Catholic leaders who, recognizing they have lost the civil rights struggle, are trying to punish those who are LGBT or their allies. There have been instances of a Virginia priest withholding funds raised by the Boy Scout troop he expelled from their parish, and a British bishop who recently raised the issue of denying Communion to legislators who voted for marriage equality.

Closer to Hawaii, Bishop Larry Silva is on record linking marriage equality to incest, polygamy, and juvenile suicide, as well as defending ‘just discrimination.’  It is not surprising that he would follow the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s decision to add an enhanced morality clause targeting homosexuality and same-gender marriage. Cincinnati’s Catholic schools proposed novel ideas, legally speaking, by more closely tying teachers to ministerial roles,  and adding ‘public support’ of any banned activities as a reason for termination.

In that first instance, I voiced my hope that it would not be adapted by other dioceses and that fairer minds would prevail. It appears Silva will instead continue harming LGBT equality Catholic education, and the Hawaii Church, instead of following Pope Francis’ lead of strengthening communities and welcoming all. If these selectively-targeted morality clauses spread, Catholic schools must be ready to sacrifice talented faculty, committed families, and the wide support from the majority of Catholics supportive of LGBT justice.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

In England, Bishop Would Deny Communion & Priest Admits to Same-Gender Marriage

March 28, 2014

Bishop Philip Egan

Two incidents made headlines in the UK this week, which stress the reality that even in places where there is legal recognition of marriage equality, the Catholic Church’s need for renewal is still great.

Communion Controversy

Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth told a conservative Catholic website that Communion should be denied to Catholic members of Parliament who supported England’s recent passage of marriage equality and called it an “act of mercy.” The Tablet reports Egan told the interviewer:

” ‘When people are not in communion with the Catholic Church … in terms of the teachings of the Church on marriage and family life – they are voting in favour of same-sex marriage – then they shouldn’t be receiving Holy Communion….I personally would be in favour of saying that somebody should not be receiving communion.’ “

He also added that any action should be carried out in consultation with the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. A Conference spokesperson denied that the country’s bishops would follow Egan’s suggestion and discuss the issue.

Meanwhile, legislators from both leading parties criticized Egan and there was no support for the bishop. Marriage equality was supported by 47 of 82 Catholic members of parliament last year. Conservative MP Conor Burns called Egan’s statement a “tragedy” and said “this bishop appears not to have noticed that we have a new gentle shepherd preaching a Christ-like message of inclusivity, love, tolerance, and forgiveness” in reference to Pope Francis. Even MPs who voted against equal marriage rights, like Labour’s Stephen Pound, criticized Egan’s position as “wholly disproportionate.”

Fr. Donald Minchew

Priest’s Marriage

The Tablet also reported that a Catholic priest has been suspended from ministry after it was revealed he had entered into a civil partnership with a man several years ago. Fr. Donald Minchew was part of the Ordinariate, which caters to converts from the Anglican Church, and entered a civil union with Mustajab Hussain in 2008 while still in his former position with the Church of England. The article reports further:

“Fr. Minchew, 66, told The Mail on Sunday his civil partnership to Mr Hussain, 32, was ‘the only way I could see of getting him in the country’, adding that he and Mr Hussain had not seen each other for ‘donkey’s years’.”

Hussain is a Pakistani immigrant who is married. He initially stated the civil union was a formality to bypass immigration laws, but later suggested he and Fr. Minchew had been in a romantic relationship. Both men are now facing charges for breaking immigration laws.

In both incidents, the hierarchy’s opposition to marriage equality remains harmfully influential. Bishop Egan’s proposal to deny Communion to MPs months after marriage equality was legalized is not unique. There are other instances where Catholic leaders have sought to punish those supporting LGBT rights, like a priest in Virginia who kept Boy Scout funds after the national organization allowed openly gay scouts.

As for Fr. Minchew, it is a less clear situation given the contradictory accounts and lack of details in media reports. However, priest’s suspension is, at some level, likely related to entering a same-gender partnership, and he might not have been treated similarly had he entered marriage with a woman. Prayers are needed for all involved in what seems to be a troubling situation.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Christian Voices Ask Pope Francis for More on LGBT Inclusion

March 27, 2014

Episcopalian Bishop Gene Robinson

Pope Francis has received accolades for attempting to build a more inclusive Catholic culture, including his welcome of LGBT people, and these have come from Protestant, as well as Catholic believers. Still, two Protestant voices are asking the pope to do more in his second year to reverse homophobia and transphobia in the Church.

Episcopalian Bishop Gene Robinson, who was the first gay bishop consecrated in his church, wrote an open letter to Pope Francis in The Daily Beast about how to move forward on LGBT issues. Acknowledging his appreciation for what Pope Francis has done, especially the “Who am I to judge?” remark, Robinson notes that this first year has been marked by charity. But justice, the overturning of systemic problems, must always accompany charity. He continues:

“If Pope Francis is to be believed in all the kindly pronouncements of his first year (and I do), his good tone should be followed by the tough work of changing the systems of belief, doctrine and religious practice which perpetuate the victimization of those he seeks to serve. It is a small step forward to say of homosexuals, ‘Who am I to judge?’  Yet the official teaching of the Catholic Church is that homosexuals are ‘intrinsically disordered.’  Not a lot of wriggle room in that, is there?  That judgment and teaching about LGBT people is the basis for discrimination, rejection and violence the world over.”

However, Robinson is realistic about Pope Francis’ power, and he acknowledges that a systemic overhaul of the Church’s professed sexual ethics is a tall order. He writes:

“There will be resistance to any change, much less the kind of change to which Francis’s humble ways point.  Over the years, we have learned what happens to people who are just too good for us!  But this pope seems to know that sacrifice is part of the deal of living with God.

“I hope this pope keeps surprising and delighting us, sitting a boy in his papal chair and allegedly sneaking out of the Vatican at night to work with the homeless!  I hope he continues to show us the mind of Christ by his acts of humility and compassion. I pray that he persists in eschewing luxury and pretension. And I pray that he will stay close to the Son of God he is supposed to represent on earth, despite the institution’s every effort to tame their new leader and rob him of his pizazz.”

Elsewhere, Bill Tammeus, a Presbyterian Elder, echoes Robinson’s sentiments in his column at the National Catholic Reporter. Pope Francis is not judging gay people, but what about the pesky problem of doctrine? Tammeus writes:

“So far, although he suggested he’s in no position to judge someone who might be gay, he’s done nothing we know of to repeal of Section 2358 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which says that ‘deep-seated homosexual tendencies’ are ‘objectively disordered.’

“There is, of course, still some debate even among scientists about the causes of homosexuality, but there’s now almost no doubt — save among some people who distort the Bible – that being gay is not a choice. The church should be in the forefront of welcoming all people into the embrace of the Gospel of Jesus Christ — and ‘all’ is a pretty inclusive term. Calling someone’s sexual orientation ‘objectively disordered’ fails that test.”

Finally, John Gallagher lists five changes Pope Francis could make in year two for Queerty that “don’t challenge Church teaching on the nature of homosexuality or its opposition to marriage equality. All they do is acknowledge that LGBT people should be treated with respect, an idea that is clearly in keeping with the pope’s pastoral approach.”

The changes he suggests are as follows: tell Catholic schools to stop picking on gay and lesbian teachers; let priests know that ‘Who am I to judge?’ isn’t just for the pope; come out in favor of nondiscrimination laws; reprimand Nigeria’s bishops who supported a brutal anti-gay law; end the rhetoric equating pedophilia and gayness. You can read commentaries on each suggestion here.

Though Pope Francis may not  change doctrinal teachings on homosexuality any time soon, he has surprised the world often with his words and deeds. It will be interesting to see how year two shapes up on LGBT issues.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

Washington Blade, “LGBT Catholics Reflect on First Year of Francis Papacy

Uganda’s Bishops Remain Quiet on Anti-Gay Law; Pope Francis Will Not Visit There

March 26, 2014

Pope Francis

More than a month after Uganda’s president signed an infamous anti-gay law, that nation’s bishops still remain silent on the controversial legislation which has received international condemnation. In this same period, it was announced that Pope Francis will not visit Uganda next fall, as had been discussed, causing speculation about whether this cancellation is related to the anti-gay law.

Initially, the Ugandan [Catholic] Episcopal Conference’s head announced the bishops would study the new law before commenting. America magazine now reports any public remarks, especially a condemnation, seems unlikely. The magazine cites two priests with knowledge of the situation:

“An informed Ugandan priest, meanwhile, suggested the bishops had opted to keep ‘safe’ and silent over the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act.

” ‘I am not aware that there has been an official statement … nor that there should be,’ said Msgr. John Wynand Katende, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Kampala, Uganda’s capital…

“The same day, a Catholic priest based in Uganda told CNS that, to his knowledge, the bishops would not officially be commenting on the contentious new law.

” ‘The bishops, to my knowledge, opted to keep safe off the issue, saying that they were not given the original text. But now … they have said that the law should not be politicized,’ the priest said on condition of anonymity.”

However, the country’s president, Yoweri Museveni, stated that Catholic bishops have privately expressed their support for the law and there is a well-document record of religious leaders supporting the anti-gay law.

Hundreds have urged the pope to condemn such laws through the #PopeSpeakOut campaign, and Catholics outside Uganda have been vocal in their defense of LGBT people’s lives. However, Pope Francis has remained quiet while Uganda and other nations have passed laws criminalizing homosexuality and creating stiff penalties for LGBT people. It is now confirmed the pope will not travel to Uganda in October for celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the Ugandan Martyr’s canonizations, according to the Ugandan newspaper Daily MonitorPope Francis’ global popularity resounds in Africa as well, with one Kenyan columnist urging Africans to “vote with the Pope” on gay rights:

“The revolutionary bishop from Argentina took a sledgehammer to homophobes when he asked – ‘who am I to judge?’ Those simple, if venerable five words, demolished millennia of official hatred for homosexuals in the Church that Saint Peter built…

“To the Jesuit Pope, gays should be welcomed, loved, and accepted. That’s why Pope Francis is a godsend. I’ve watched with dismay – and utter disbelief – as some states in Africa descend into an orgy of homophobia…Rogue politicians and bigoted clergymen whip up hapless followers with anti-gay propaganda…

“Pope Francis wasn’t only criticising longstanding Church doctrine. The Pope’s message was a sharp rebuke to unprincipled politicians and leaders like Mr Museveni. It’s leaders like Mr Museveni who use ‘wedge’ hot-button issues like sexuality, mini-skirts, abortion, or fake attacks on cultural imperialism to cling to power…Why all the vitriol and anger against gays who’ve never done a thing to you? I end where I started…Let’s vote with the Pope on gays – and embrace them.”

It is unclear whether Pope Francis cancelled this trip or declined the invitation in the first place. What is clear is this provided an opportunity for Pope Francis to condemn clearly laws which violate the dignity and well-being of LGBT people and call upon bishops around the world to raise their voices as well.  However, perhaps he declined to visit the country because he did not want to seem to be approving of the new law.  He is already seen as a gay-positive influence in the Church and in the world. It is time for Pope Francis to speak out clearly and forcefully against Uganda’s law, and other similar anti-gay laws around the globe.  He can save lives.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Vice President Biden, Hobby Lobby, and a Religious Liberty Round-Up

March 25, 2014

Vice President Joe Biden at the Human Rights Campaign gala

This week Vice President Joe Biden called for a renewed legislative push to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Action (ENDA), just as the Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.. These events, and others in the country, are the result of an ongoing debate in America about religious liberty. This debate is important for Catholic LGBT advocates because judicial rulings and legislative developments on seemingly unrelated matters do impact the lives of LGBT people. Below are summaries about several religious liberty issues, and you can read more with the provided links.

Employment Non-Discrimination Act

Vice President Biden, a Catholic, robustly criticized Congress’ failure to pass ENDA at the Human Rights Campaign’s gala last Saturday. ENDA would provide nationwide employment protections for people based upon their sexual orientation and gender identity, but failed in the House of Representatives after passing the Senate in 2013.  The Advocate reported on his speech to the HRC crowd:

” ‘It’s close to barbaric,’ Biden said of it still being legal to fire someone for being gay or lesbian. ‘Pass ENDA now,’ he demanded of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, calling it ‘outrageous we’re even debating this.’ …

” ‘The single most basic of all human rights is the right to decide who you love, it is the single basic building block…Hate can never never be defended because it’s a so-called “cultural norm.” I’ve had it up to here with cultural norms.’ “

The Catholic bishops have been prominently opposed to ENDA and similar legislation, even threatening to scuttle immigration reform because LGBT protections were included in that bill.

Hobby Lobby Lawsuit

While the Hobby Lobby lawsuit concerns private businesses and healthcare coverage, the plaintiffs are arguing from the vantage point of religious liberty. Hobby Lobby’s Christian owners want to be exempt from providing birth control coverage to employees as part of the company’s health insurance, on the grounds that birth control violates their religious belief. The New York Times editorialized:

“These companies are not religious organizations, nor are they affiliated with religious organizations. But the owners say they are victims of an assault on religious liberty because they personally disapprove of certain contraceptives. They are wrong, and the Supreme Court’s task is to issue a decisive ruling saying so. The real threat to religious liberty comes from the owners trying to impose their religious beliefs on thousands of employees.

“The legal question is whether the contraception coverage rule violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which says government may not ‘substantially burden a person’s free exercise of religion’ unless the burden is necessary to further a ‘compelling government interest’ and does so by ‘the least restrictive means.’ …

“If there is a Supreme Court decision in favor of these businesses, the ripple effect could be enormous. One immediate result would be to encourage other companies to seek exemptions from other health care needs, like blood transfusions, psychiatric care, vaccinations or anesthesia. It could also encourage toxic measures like the one vetoed last month by Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona that would have given businesses and individuals a broad right to deny services to same-sex couples in the name of religion. The Supreme Court cannot go there.”

The eventual ruling in this case could have far reaching impacts on the lives of LGBT people. Catholic schools and parishes have cited religious liberty arguments to justify firing LGBT people, or even those who simply support equal rights. You can read these cases in the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right.

Third Way

While it is clear that ENDA would not infringe upon religious liberty, this has still been a powerful talking point by anti-LGBT activists to stall progress. While every state which has passed marriage equality included strong religious liberty protections in the laws, the Catholic bishops and anti-LGBT activists have continued to pick the religious liberty fight. Hopefully, more Catholics in politics and policymaking will speak out like the vice president and Representative Louis Ruiz of Kansas who called that state’s non-discrimination bill a “no-brainer.”

Michael Peppard, a theology professor at Fordham University, writes in the Washington Post about the false cries of “religious liberty”:

“But U.S. history, which juxtaposes firm anti-discrimination laws and a robust religious liberty tradition, has shown that the price of citizenship is drawing distinctions: finding footholds on supposedly slippery slopes…

“Asking and answering these questions has been essential to Americans’ governance. Some civil rights are limited; some religious consciences are infringed. We may or may not decide, in the end, that baking a cake and photographing a wedding are sufficiently different interactions with the event to suggest anti-discrimination protections for one and conscience protections for the other. But the process of making such decisions is worth the effort.

Doing so need not entail an apocalyptic war of religion vs. state-sponsored secularism. Rather, we would continue to tinker with a delicate balance. In terms of religious pluralism, the American experiment remains unique, with more diversity in Washington or New York — or even just one of its wards or boroughs — than in most countries. Fashioning social order out of such variety is not a process to be taken for granted. The more civil rights expand and deepen, the more carefully responsibilities must be negotiated and articulated. E pluribus unum is ever fragile.

“Drawing distinctions to maintain a precise balance of religious conscience protections and publicly accommodated civil rights is neither a sign of fastidious hairsplitting nor a distraction from prophetically proclaimed truths on either side. Rather, it is necessary to preserve and perfect our experiment in diversity.”

And what about Catholics like the bishops who have championed the religious liberty cause, claiming persecution because LGBT rights are advancing. Michael Sean Winters writes in the National Catholic Reporter about Peppard’s call for nuance and dialogue Winters says the need to understand that this argument is not a battle, but an adjudication of law is all the more pressing as the religious liberty debate on a national level shifts from healthcare to LGBT rights.

“The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has a real dilemma facing them: They have chosen to make domestic religious liberty a matter of intense focus. We have had two ‘Fortnights for Freedom,’ testimony before Congress, countless essentially political campaigns launched from the pulpits and in church bulletins. Very little effort has been made to even recognize the good faith of those who disagree with us. The whole effort has been, shall we say, very un-Francis…as the debate on religious liberty seems likely to shift to gay rights, I fear that our Church will make itself look like a paragon of intolerance in the coming months…We must resist, on Gospel grounds, the prospect of religious liberty becoming an anti-gay fight…

“We are Catholics…Our Catholic identity, in a pluralistic culture, should not become a battering ram with which we hit others over the head. It should not be a spur to ideological purity. In our Church’s long history, we see, instead, countless saints who evidenced that moral friction that proved a bump for the mockers and haters and killers. I hope in the coming months, our bishops will resist turning our understandable and laudable concern for religious liberty into a kind of anti-gay campaign. We all deserve better.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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