Does a Martyr’s Sexual Orientation Matter? James Martin, SJ, says “Yes!”

August 16, 2014

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Was Dietrich Bonhoeffer a gay man? This question about the famed theologian and martyr’s private life will likely never be answered conclusively, but evidence points to ‘yes’ — and this ‘yes’ has major implications according to Jesuit Fr. James Martin.

Martin published a Facebook post (and Twitter) last Wednesday taking up the question of Bonhoeffer’s sexuality after reading a new biography of the German theologian , Strange Glory by Charles Marsh. After offering high praise for Marsh’s work, Martin writes:

“But the biggest surprise for me was his intense, even romantic, relationship with his friend Eberhard Bethge. It was something that I don’t remember reading before. Was Bonhoeffer gay? It would seem so, particularly based on his letters to Bethge. Yes, I know that times were different and men often wrote passionate letters to one another, but Marsh’s book, without sensationalizing the matter all (and underlining the fact that the relationship was not physical), makes it hard for the reader to draw any other conclusion. It’s one of the most striking aspects of the book: Bonhoeffer seemed first infatuated and then in love with Bethge.”

Linked to Martin’s post is an interview with Marsh from Religion and Politics. He explains why one can comfortably conclude Bonhoeffer was a gay man:

“Over the years, I’ve gone to many Bonhoeffer conferences. This subject has been discussed often over meals and drinks and beers, but it’s never been discussed in an academic session or a lecture. But there’s been conversation among scholars for as long as I can remember. What I had that scholars didn’t have, and do now, is the body of letters that Bonhoeffer and Eberhard exchanged…

“The challenge for trying to narrate this complicated relationship is, on the one hand, it was a chaste relationship. It was a relationship that was centered on their shared love of Jesus and shared devotional practices and it had a kind of liturgical shape to it…Even so, in a curious letter—I think it’s kind of a humorous letter—after Bonhoeffer had matched Eberhard’s engagement with his own engagement, he wrote to say, ‘Now, we can resume our partnership, and we can travel together in those places where we found so much joy, and we can leave our wives back in Germany, in Berlin, or some place.’…

“[T]his is not my own attempt to sensationalize a relationship. If anything, I tried to capture it and respect it in its uniqueness, and not politicize it or insinuate. It was understood as a unique relationship, a different kind of relationship, in 1935 and 1936. The letters that we have now between Bonhoeffer and Eberhard are love letters, at least Bonhoeffer’s letters to Eberhard.”

Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor and theologian when he died in 1945, executed by the Nazis for his involvement in a plot to kill Adolf Hitler. In life and in death, Bonhoeffer has inspired Christians to be engaged in the historical events of this world and has helped Christians do theology from the perspective of suffering and marginalized peoples. So what to make of these letters and Bonhoeffer’s sexuality in general? Martin concludes:

“Does it matter if Dietrich Bonhoeffer was gay or not? Yes it does. Very much. It matters because it reminds us that people with homosexual orientations can be holy–very holy, even martyrs.”

Rev. James Martin, SJ

Rev. James Martin, SJ

This is not the first time that James Martin, who is editor-at-large for America magazine, has highlighted LGBT issues in a positive light. Last year, he called on Catholic leaders to #SaySomethingPositive about lesbian and gay people — or at the very least not include critiques each time they made a statement on LGBT issues. Martin also applauded NBA player Jason Collins for coming out and commemorated PFLAG founder Jeanne Manford on his Facebook page. Most recently, he explored the reasons why LGBT people feel the Catholic Church hates them and offered suggestions for improving this dynamic.

Highlighting the reality that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals are not only members of Christ’s body, but frequently in the ranks of saints and martyrs.  They make important contributions to a church that is not yet fully inclusive. To help create respect for the positive contributions LGBT church workers and ministers are making in our world today, it is sometimes helpful to look to the past and see all that LGBT and ally people have done.

Bonhoeffer’s life is but one example, but it is a most powerful one. Let us pray that more Catholic leaders will acknowledge this reality.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


QUOTE TO NOTE: Antonio Banderas on Homophobes and Pope Francis

June 20, 2014

computer_key_Quotation_MarksMovie star Antonio Banderas recently spoke out in support of LGBT people and about his hopes for the papacy of Pope Francis.  LatinTimes.com reported his statements:

Antonio Banderas

“To those who believe that homosexuals are sick people, I would say that the real sufferers are the homophobes. Those who judge others from an irrational and intolerant point of view are those who really have a serious problem that must be solved . In this sense, I think that homosexuals lead a much healthier life. . . .

“I think the Catholic Church more needs to pay more attention to the real needs of the people are, and hopefully the arrival of a Latin American pope will help Catholics evolve and be better connected with others.  Pope Francis helps the institution to make huge strides in this area.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


When All the World Should Be Bright and Gay

March 17, 2014

There’s a long history to the controversy between LGBT people wanting to march in St. Patrick’s Day Parades that dates back to the 1990s.  This year, the debate about LGBT participation or exclusion is being waged in the two U.S. cities with the most prominent March 17th parades:  New York and Boston.

NEW YORK

New York City’s new mayor, Bill deBlasio, won’t be marching down Fifth Avenue today in the world’s oldest and largest parade celebrating Irish culture because he disagrees with the parade organizer’s decision to continue to prohibit marchers who want to carry signs expressing LGBT pride.

Religion News Service cites deBlasio’s explanation:

“The new mayor said he will participate in other events to honor New Yorkers of Irish descent on March 17. “But I simply disagree with the organizers of that parade in their exclusion of some individuals in this city,’ he said. “

Mayor Bill deBlasio

Though deBlasio’s decision differs from his immediate predecessor, some LGBT equality organizations are disappointed that the new mayor did not take a stronger stand:

“De Blasio’s predecessor, former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, was a supporter of gay rights but marched in the St. Patrick’s Day parade. De Blasio did not march when he served as the city’s public advocate. But he said he will not stop any city employee from marching in uniform.

“Gay groups in New York City acknowledge that court rulings have established the parade as a private, religious procession that may exclude gay groups. But allowing city workers such as police officers to march in uniform violates the city’s human rights laws, they argued in an open letter to de Blasio.”

BBC.com reported on Irish reaction on both sides of the Atlantic to deBlasio’s decision:

“Cahir O’Doherty in the New York-based Irish Central website counters that it’s important for gay Irish-Americans to be able to carry a banner in the parade ‘because if you are not seen you are not heard. And when you are neither seen nor heard, bad things can happen to you without anyone noticing. Gay people know this, but apparently quite a few others need to be reminded.’

“The parade controversy is making waves across the Atlantic, as well, where Irish government officials are split on whether to participate or join Mr de Blasio’s boycott. Irish Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton, who will be in New York on St Patrick’s Day, has announced she will not march. Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, on the other hand, has said he will travel to New York to attend.”

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd supports deBlasio’s decision:

“It has just always seemed strange to me that gays were fighting so hard for so long to bust into such a hoary, boozy, corny tradition. Didn’t they have something more fun and cool to do? . . .

“But certainly, if gays want in, they should get in. And that’s why Mayor Bill de Blasio is right to blow off the parade in protest of the Putinesque restrictions.”

BOSTON

In Boston, a bastion of Irish-American culture and history, that city’s mayor did not march in the annual parade, which was held on Sunday, March 16th.  His decision followed weeks of negotiations and decisions by gay rights groups, the city’s mayor, and others.

The Boston parade is organized by the South Boston War Veterans Council, and this year a group of gay veterans requested to march in the parade carrying a banner from Mass Equality, the state’s LGBT rights organization.  The gay vets were members of LGBT Veterans for Equality.

Mayor Marty Walsh

Parade organizers originally denied the request, but then Boston’s Irish-American mayor, Marty Walsh, stepped into the discussion, saying that he would not march in the March 16th parade unless the gay individuals were allowed to participate. The Boston Globe reported his reason for not marching:

 “As mayor, I feel like I should use my influence. I feel the parade should be inclusive.”

Walsh tried to broker an agreement between the two groups.  At one point, there was hope that an agreement could be reached.  According to Gay Star News, the tentative agreement was that the gay vets could march, as long as they didn’t wear any signs which acknowledged their sexual orientation.

MassEquality Executive Director Kara Coredini

The tentative deal to allow the gay group eventually collapsed because MassEquality said it could not abide by the provision that people not be allowed to identify their sexual orientation.  According to NECN.comMassEquality Executive Director Kara Coredini said:

“LGBT people need to be able to identify themselves as LGBT people. It’s as simple as that. There’s a lot of ways that can be done, and that is a conversation we’re having now with organizers.”

So, after two weeks of negotiation, it was decided that the gay group would not march.  Not all loyal Irish Americans were happy with the decision to exclude the group.  The Boston Globe noted one man’s support for the gay veterans:

“Neil MacInnes-Barker, a former sergeant in the US Air Force, said he signed up for the march two weeks ago, as negotiations were starting. He said that normally he does not participate in the parades, including ones celebrating the gay community, but that he wanted to be present in the St. Patrick’s Day event.

“ ‘If there are people — Irish Americans — who are LGBT in South Boston, then I want to march for them,’ MacInnes-Barker said. ‘If they are afraid of being intimidated . . . then I will stand for them.’ ”

Michael O’Loughlin, writing at Advocate.com observed:

“It wasn’t long ago in this country that the Irish and Roman Catholics were both subject to extreme bigotry.

“That some in these demographic groups are in a position to be bigoted toward others is perhaps an accomplishment in itself, showing that they’ve moved up the ranks. But what a sad cycle and a shameful tradition for this great American city.”

Perhaps most significantly, the Sam Adams beer company, announced that they would be pulling out of the parade.  In a statement, quoted by The Boston Globe the company said:

“We were hopeful that both sides of this issue would be able to come to an agreement that would allow everyone, regardless of orientation, to participate in the parade. But given the current status of the negotiations, we realize this may not be possible.”

Chuck Colbert, a gay, Irish American veteran, wrote in The Boston Globe that he hoped some creative solution could be found to the impasse:

“So let me offer a suggestion: If I — or anyone — were to march in an LGBT-identified contingent, holding a small Irish tricolor and rainbow flag, would that be acceptable to parade organizers? What about green T-shirts with a rainbow flag imprinted on it? What about carrying rainbow-colored balloons or banners?

“With all the creativity among the Irish of Boston and the city’s LGBT community, surely we can move the parade to forward march for all.”

And though they won’t be carrying signs about their sexual identities, gay marchers did, in fact, take part in the parade.  According to The Boston Globe,  Randy Foster, a gay man organized a “diversity float” with his neighbors:

Organizers building the diversity float for Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day parade.

“Foster and his friends and neighbors are not marching Sunday as part of a gay organization. They are marching as South Boston residents who have coalesced around building a park in a corner of the neighborhood known as the Lower End. Many of the people working on the float just happen to be gay. And they have been embraced by the Allied War Veterans Council, the parade’s longtime sponsor.

“’They know us as their neighbors first and as gay second,’ said Foster, an Air Force veteran who served in Desert Storm and who has lived with his husband in South Boston for seven years. Of outside gay groups coming in and hoping to march, he said: ‘How in the world do you ever get compromise if the first statement out of your mouth is, “I’m different than you?” ‘

“Fact: South Boston has a substantial and growing gay population. Fact: A second neighborhood contingent with gay marchers will also be in the parade. Fact: Bill Linehan, City Council president, attacked as unfriendly to gay causes recently by some liberal activists, has been a catalyst behind the scenes to get the neighborhood groups accepted in the parade.”

So, perhaps creativity did make some advancement in the parade, which may help future possibilities for full equality on St. Patrick’s Day.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


“Philomena” Film Contains Lessons on Justice & Forgiveness for Catholics Hurt by Church

March 2, 2014

Pope Francis meeting Philomena Lee

“Philomena” is nominated for four Oscars at tonight’s Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and  has already been celebrated for its artistic accomplishments. The film, based upon a book published in 2009, details the true story of a young girl forced to give up her child to Irish nuns in the 1950s. Touching upon the abuse scandals of the Irish Church and the problems of mid-20th century Catholicism, the movie also comments on LGBT matters.

Jamie Manson wrote a review last fall for the National Catholic Reporter viewed from the lens of a progressive Catholic, and highlighted lessons the film might offer to the Church today. She writes:

“What appears from the ads as a middlebrow, sentimental comedy about a quirky Irish lady and a slightly exasperated English writer on a road trip is in fact a study in the gift of fortitude, an exploration of a dark chapter in the history of the Catholic church in Ireland and, in the end, a meditation on power of mercy in the face of an unconscionable abuse of power.”

Philomena Lee (played by Judi Dench) was sent to one of Ireland’s infamous ‘Magdalene Laundry’ establishments after becoming pregnant at 18. The Catholic nuns administering the laundry forced her to allow her son, Anthony, to be adopted by an American couple and it was not until 2004 that Philomena broke her silence about this child. The film details her search to find Anthony, aided by Jane (Anna Maxwell Martin), her daughter, and, Martin (Steve Coogan), a journalist who have a far more critical view of the Church than Philomena. They learn that Anthony, who was gay, has died of AIDS before Philomena was able reconnect with him, but the story doesn’t end there.

The film’s producers had hoped Pope Francis would view it and offer a nuanced perspective against those who had deemed it as ‘anti-Catholic.’ Speaking to both the issues of corruption and abuse, as well as the LGBT component, New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, Loretto Sr. Jeannine Gramick, and executive director, Francis DeBernardo, spoke to The Huffington Post:

” [Sr. Gramick:] ‘I think ‘Philomena’ is a sensitive portrayal of a woman whose deep love for her son impels her to search for him across the ocean to another continent…As a woman religious, I was ashamed of the behavior of the nuns in charge of the Catholic institution in which she was placed. Not only did they snatch her child and put him up for adoption, but they also refused to help her trace him years later. [Lee's] lack of bitterness and pardon toward those who wronged her is an example of the kind of forgiveness Jesus spoke of in the Gospel. I think Pope Francis would like this film because it shows how Christians should, and should not, act.’…

“[DeBernardo:] ‘I found the depiction of Philomena Lee’s Catholicism to be very accurate…Philomena reminded me of many of the Catholic parents of LGBT people I have met over the years who have both a deep love for their faith and for their children. And they find no contradiction in these two loves. Their strong faith even allows them to love the institutional church which has often been so negative and harmful towards them and their children.’ “

Lee, like many parents and Catholics, transformed her pain into constructive action and co-founded The Philomena Project, which attempts to make public information about the more 60,000 women separated from their children by the Church and the Irish government. And though he did not view the film, Pope Francis met Lee on February 5th during a private audience. Her wisdom reported by Religion News Service is relevant for all Catholics, especially those harmed by the Church, to pause and reflect upon:

“Asked if she felt resentment against the church, Lee said, ‘You can’t go through life being so unyielding; you’ve got to forgive.’…

” ‘I have always put great faith in the church and the goodwill to put the wrongs of the past right…I hope and believe that his Holiness Pope Francis joins me in the fight to help the thousands of mothers and children who need closure on their own stories.’ “

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholics Tweet Their Support for Mike Sam

February 12, 2014

Michael Sam

Michael Sam’s decision to come out as a gay man, just as he is potentially drafted as the NFL’s first openly gay player, has been lauded by commentators from all corners. Column inches have been filled with discussions about homophobia in sports, and a Missouri legislator introduced anti-discrimination legislation protecting gay and lesbian people , as a response to Sam’s announcement.

Included among these congratulations have been several high profile Catholics, including tweets from Vice President Joe Biden and Jesuit Fr. James Martin which we included below:

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 12.20.10 PM

Screen Shot 2014-02-12 at 12.27.31 PM

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Bob Newhart Cancels Appearance at Anti-Gay Catholic Organization’s Conference

December 21, 2013

Bob Newhart

Nationally-renowned comedian and actor Bob Newhart has bowed out of headlining at the conference of an anti-gay, conservative Catholic organization’s conference, after a campaign launched by GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) and Faithful America requested that he do so.

Newhart, who is a lifelong Catholic who has been supportive of LGBT people,  posted the following on his Twitter account on December 18th:

“Upcoming Bob Newhart Tour Date Change — Bob will not be performing at the Legatus Summit in Orlando FL on February 6th, 2014″

GLAAD had made its request to Mr. Newhart in a blog post which recounted many of the anti-gay initiatives that Legatus has performed.  Here’s a sample from GLAAD’s post:

“On November 1, 2012, Legatus magazine, the print publication of the conservative Catholic organization of the same name, listed five “non-negotiables” for voters about to head to the polls.  Marriage equality (which the magazine labeled homosexual “marriage,” smear quotes and all) was one of the five listed items, with the staff writer instructing Catholics “to avoid voting for candidates who endorse or promote policies that provide for any of these acts and to vote instead for those who promote policies in keeping with moral law.”  The phrase “intrinsic evil” was used seven times.

“Although this organization’s insistence that civil marriage equality is one of God’s major unacceptables shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, considering Legatus pushes the idea that homosexuality itself is a “disorder” from which one must be “cured.”  I’m not exaggerating when I say that.  In a 2011 Legatus piece, Legate John Haas (whose family has close ties to the National Organization for Marriage, by the way) called for our “curing” in the clearest of language:

There are many reasons why people suffer from SSA [same-sex attraction] disorder. Some “discover” this tendency within them. Others grow into it through pursuits of pleasure or experimentation. Some use it to punish themselves or others. Whether the disorder has some deep, unknown roots over which one has virtually no control, or whether it’s a developed disorder resulting from bad choices, it leaves an individual disposed toward activities and a lifestyle that are dangerous — physically, emotionally and spiritually. 

“Fortunately there is hope for those who suffer from the disorder. The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality reports that significant numbers of homosexual persons have undergone treatment and had their sexual drives properly ordered. These findings are a beacon of hope to those suffering from SSA, as well as for their family and friends who desire their happiness and good health. Finally, for those who for whatever reason cannot be cured, there is a support group known as Courage to help them live safe, moral, chaste lives. Those who continue to suffer from this disorder can find true help through an orientation toward their Savior and Redeemer, “the Orient from on High,” and the life that He offers them in Himself. “

According to the Legatus website, the group, founded by Domino’s Pizza magnate Tom Monaghan in 1987, is described as:

“an international organization of practicing Catholic laymen and laywomen, comprised of CEOs, Presidents, Managing Partners and Business Owners, with their spouses, from the business community and professional enterprises.”

The organization’s website says that its mission is:

“To study, live and spread the Catholic faith in our business, professional and personal lives.”

In GLAAD’s blog post alerting Bob Newhart and the world to the anti-gay positions that Legatus has taken, blogger Jeremy Hooper noted the following:

“Personally, I’m choosing to believe that he just doesn’t know and that this booking is the result of bad advice.  I’m looking at this post as an opportunity to fill in the missing details so that Mr. Newhart makes a more informed choice rather than presuming to know his intent.  That’s the only way I know to approach it, since I can’t stand to think that this man who I admire is actually supportive of the truly shocking ideas that I showed you at the beginning of this post.  As a kid who stayed up late to watch Nick at Nite reruns of multiple Newhart shows, I have to believe that this is an act of ignorance, not malice.  I have to believe that he simply doesn’t know.

“GLAAD is reaching out to Mr. Newhart’s representatives to let them know how, exactly, an appearance at this event will come across to LGBT people and allied voices.  I am hoping that I am right, and Mr. Newhart doesn’t want to go down that path. He can still express his Catholic faith in a way more consistent with the rest of American Catholics, by loving and supporting his LGBT friends and family. GLAAD is urging him to do the right thing.”

In GLAAD’s follow-up blog post, announcing Newhart’s decision to bow out of the event, Ross Murray noted the actor/comedian’s long record of supporting LGBT people in the media:

“Bob Newhart is a lifelong Catholic. He also has a history of working with LGBT people and storylines. In 1976 The Bob Newhart Show featured an episode with an openly gay character. It was remarkably groundbreaking for its time.

“Newhart also was in the film In & Out, in which he played a principal dealing (not so well, but very comically) with the coming out of one of his teachers, played by Kevin Kline. Most recently, Newhart won an Emmy Award for his guest appearances on Big Bang Theory, opposite of openly gay actor, Jim Parsons.”

GLAAD also noted that Faithful America collected approximately 17,000 signatures on a petition asking Newhart not to attend the conference.

Though Newhart has not explained his reason to step down, the likelihood that this campaign has influenced him is very likely.  There seem to be no other reasons why he would do so.    New Ways Ministry congratulates GLAAD and Faithful America on their powerful action, and we agree with GLAAD’s Vice President of Communications Rich Ferraro when he stated:

“Newhart is merely siding with the majority of fair-minded Americans who do not support the anti-LGBT agenda of organizations like Legatus. “These groups constantly struggle to find high-profile people of faith to speak at their events, but at a time when more and more people of faith are accepting of LGBT people, they will continue to be left to choose between increasingly fringe figures.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Young Gay Scientist Awarded by Vatican

November 24, 2013

Jack Andraka

Maryland’s Jack Andraka is only 16 years old, but already he has broken ground in cancer research — and Catholic culture.

The Vatican recently awarded him for scientific efforts, but others, including Andraka, note the importance of this award, given that this prodigy is also openly gay.

Andraka received the International Giuseppe Sciacca Award for developing a pancreatic cancer early-detection test. The award is presented in Rome to young people who have made outstanding progress in their given field, and is named after an architecture student who died at 26.

The Advocate reports on Andraka’s cancer research for which the young man has won many other awards and media appearances:

“Andraka’s test for pancreatic cancer is significant because this is one of the deadliest forms of the disease, difficult to detect before it has affected other organs. He is in negotiations with a couple of biotech firms to refine and market the test, which would likely be available to the public in five to 10 years.”

In an interview with a Baltimore-area radio station, Andraka, a native of Anne Arundel County, spoke more about the cultural step that has been taken by the Vatican awarding a young gay man. He is quoted by WBAL as saying:

” ‘It’s really amazing to be recognized by the Vatican, especially as a gay scientist. I mean this would be unheard of just a few years ago. To be part of this bridge of progress is really amazing…’ “

“It just shows how much the world has grown to accept people that are gay and are LGBT. It’s really amazing.”

Andraka not only advocates for more LGBT inclusion in the Church, but in scientific fields as well where he claims diversity in sexual orientation and gender identity is lacking. To hear Andraka speak about LGBT inclusion, among several other topics, you can watch a video interview with him here.

Pope Francis has asked for open doors to the LGBT community. The Vatican’s recognition that LGBT people contribute countless gifts to our world when it comes to Andraka should be followed up with more positive outreach and dialogue. Hopefully, this one award foreshadows many good developments to come.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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