Social Ills Linked to Marriage Equality? Really?

August 23, 2014

The new Catholic bishop of Springfield, Massachusetts, spoke against marriage equality, and seemed to name it as the cause for a variety of social ills.

Bishop Mitchell Rozanski

It seems odd that Bishop Mitchell Rozanski, formerly an auxiliary bishop in Baltimore, would use this opportunity to speak out a about a political issue which was decided 12 years ago in Massachusetts, when it became the first state to institute marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples.

What’s even more surprising is, according to the report of the interview on MassLive.com, Rozanski brought up the topic of marriage in response to a question about social ills:

“In terms of secular culture, he said, today’s ‘crime, drugs, general lack of respect for one another, is really based on in the disintegration of family life.’

” ‘What we offer as Catholics is to strengthen the family as the basis of society. When there is a solid family life, there is less likelihood of crime, there is less likelihood of drug use. The children grow up with a solid foundation. And that is a foundation they can take all through their lives,’ Rozanski said. ‘And, as a Church, what we are saying is that God made us male and female, and that the institution of marriage is so crucial. It is a sacrament of the Church, if the sacrament is well lived, then the children and future generations will benefit.’ “

(You can read the entire interview here.)

Taken in this context, it seems like the bishop is including marriage for lesbian and gay people as part of the reason that many other aspects of society are disintegrating. The news reporter noted that Pope Francis has asked bishops not to “obsess” about gay marriage:

“Last September, Francis, in an interview, said abortion, contraception and gay marriage had become an “obsessed” focus in the Church.”

The reporter also noted that U.S. bishops have not followed this advice:

“U.S. bishops continue to speak out against abortion, oppose same sex marriages, and to support legislation that would ban them.”

From his statement, it looks like Bishop Rozanski fits this profile.

Besides the dubious connection of marriage equality to social ills, Rozanski’s comments are flawed in three more ways.

First, he attributes the major parts of society’s ills on the disintegration of the family.  While family problems almost certainly contribute to these problems, other problems such as unemployment, poverty, homelessness, untreated mental illness also are major contributing factors.  Why select a personal issue, such as family, and not one of these more social issues, to highlight the causes of society’s problems?

Second, while Rozanski may lament the disintegration of the family, he fails to recognize that marriage equality actually strengthens families rather than contributing to their disintegration.  Marriage equality provides protections for all families, not just those headed by heterosexual couples.  And marriage equality teaches respect for lesbian and gay people, which is an important factor in strengthening their families of origin.

Third, the bishop notes that marriage is a sacrament, but that is not a view that is shared by all people in our pluralistic nation.  While Catholics view marriage as a sacrament, others see it as purely a civil matter, governed by legal realities, not ecclesial or spiritual ones.   Confusion of church marriage with civil marriage is one of the most insidious strategies that marriage equality opponents employ.

Let’s pray that Bishop Rozanski’s tenure in Springfield, Massachusetts will be met with more enlightened and pastoral approaches to LGBT issues than he has already displayed.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Ugandan Archbishop: Do No Harm to Gay and Lesbian People

August 20, 2014

Archbishop John Baptist Odama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


QUOTE TO NOTE: LCWR on Dialogue and Respecting Differences

August 19, 2014

computer_key_Quotation_MarksAs this morning’s post explained, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious’ (LCWR) recent meeting focused on the important topic of how to respond to the Vatican’s directive that their important decisions be overseen by the Archbishop Peter Sartain, who was appointed to this position by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).

The LCWR leadership released a statement in which they said they will continue respectful dialogue with the Vatican concerning the directive.  In that statement, they reflected beautifully on the need for dialogue and respect for differences in our Church:

“We will continue in the conversation with Archbishop Sartain as an expression of hope that new ways may be created within the church for healthy discussion of differences. We know that thousands of persons throughout the country and around the world long for places where they can raise questions and explore ideas on matters of faith in an atmosphere of freedom and respect. We believe that the ongoing conversations between CDF and LCWR may model a way of relating that only deepens and strengthens our capacity to serve a world in desperate need of our care and service.”

May it ever be so!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Under the Vatican’s Dark Cloud, Nuns Continue to Suppport LGBT People

August 19, 2014

Last week, I attended the Leadership Conference of Women Religious’ (LCWR) meeting in Nashville, Tennessee.  Over 800 nuns were there for their annual gathering, and this year, the number one item on the agenda was the discussion of how to respond to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which has required that the LCWR be overseen by Archbishop Peter Sartain.    The CDF’s directive comes after a doctrinal investigation of the LCWR, and their support for lesbian and gay ministry (and their support for New Ways Ministry was singled out as one of the problems), was cited as a problem.

The Sisters were undaunted.  Although understandably concerned about the Vatican’s judgment (at stake is whether LCWR will be canonically recognized, i.e., have an official relationship with the Holy See), this did not stop them from expressing their support for LGBT people, and New Ways Ministry.

Sister Jeannine Gramick, New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, and I staffed an exhibit table at the conference, as we have done for over 20 years.  Scores of nuns stopped by our table and encouraged us in our ministry and expressing gratitude that we were there at the conference.  Many told stories of attending New Ways Ministry programs over the years, and how the attitudes of the women in their communities have grown more positive.  Some told us stories of the personal struggle of LGBT family members who have been hurt by the church, and of the sisters’ efforts to maintain some connection with these alienated individuals.

“Keep going!” they told us,  “Our church needs this kind of outreach!”

So, despite being under a dark cloud of Vatican suspicion, the nuns were standing firm in regards to LGBT issues.  For them this is not a question of sexual ethics, but a question of justice, and, even more so, a question of relationship.  It is their relationships and dialogues with LGBT people that have opened their hearts and minds.  It is their long-standing relationship and support of New Ways Ministry that keeps them welcoming us to their conference every year, even when they are dealing with their own troubles.

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Sister Jeannine Gramick

On Sunday, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, published an essay entitled “Sister Acts” in which he praised nuns for their courage, resilience, humility, and forthrightness in proclaiming the gospel through their actions. One of the nuns he cited is New Ways Ministry’s own Sister Jeannine Gramick, of whom he writes:

“Another remarkable nun is Sister Jeannine Gramick, who, while working toward a doctorate in mathematics, met a gay Catholic man who asked for religious help. She organized a home service for him that grew into a regular liturgy for gay Catholics in private homes.

“In 1977, she helped found New Ways Ministry to support gay and lesbian Catholics. The Vatican tried to suppress her, and her order, the Loretto Sisters, was instructed at least nine times to dismiss her. It passively resisted.

“ ‘The Vatican tried to silence me,’ Sister Jeannine told Piazza, ‘and it just didn’t work.’

“At a time when much of Christianity denounced gays and lesbians, Sister Jeannine was a beacon of compassion and struggled to educate the church she loved.

“ ‘People always emphasize sex, sex, sex,’ Sister Jeannine told Piazza. ‘And it isn’t about sex. It is about love. It is who you fall in love with that makes you lesbian and gay. Love is the important thing here, not sex.’ ”

Sister Jeannine’s story and opinion reflects the ideas of the majority of American nuns.  As I mentioned above, relationship with people is what is important for these women, and Sister Jeannine’s ministry began with the friendship she developed with a gay man.  And for her, like for so many nuns, love, not sex, is the important quality of a romantic relationship.

Kristof praises the nuns, saying:

“. . . in a world of narcissism and cynicism, they constitute an inspiring contingent of moral leaders who actually walk the walk.”

The sisters’ example of “walking the walk” with LGBT people is an exercise that many bishops should emulate.  If bishops would open their hearts–and their ears–the way nuns have, the Church’s inequality for LGBT people could dissolve overnight.

I am always very fond of telling people that New Ways Ministry has been able to thrive for over 37 years because we have always had the support of the sisters in our church.  They have hosted most of our educational programs, and they have continually supported with us with prayers, financial contributions, and hospitality, not to mention the frequent messages of support that I described above.

When the LCWR meeting ended, Sister Jeannine and I traveled to Knoxville, Tennessee, with the hope of meeting with priests there to advise and encourage them to develop LGBT ministry and outreach there.  As it turned out, no priests materialized, but, not surprisingly, a community of Sisters of Mercy, the youngest of whom was in her 60s, welcomed us, offered us hospitality, and were open to doing what they can to support the LGBT community in eastern Tennessee.

The nuns continue to lead the way for an inclusive and welcoming church!  Let’s pray in gratitude for their lives and love!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related post:

May 19, 2014: “U.S. Catholics Stand with Nuns As Vatican Crackdown Re-Emerges


Marriage Equality Court Cases Raise Opposition from Catholic Bishops

August 13, 2014

In recent weeks, bishops and archbishops in various parts of the U.S. have been speaking out against marriage equality as the issue continues to be debated in different states.  Below is a round-up of a variety of actions which have made the news.

Cincinnati, Ohio

As an appeals court begins to weigh the arguments about lifting the ban on same-gender marriage in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Michigan, Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati has called on Catholics to pray for maintaining marriage as an institution only for heterosexual couples.

Cincinnati.com reported that the archbishop sent an email to thousands of Catholics in the 19-country archdiocese, reminding them that Ohio’s Catholic bishops supported the ban on same-gender marriage in 2004. The article quoted an excerpt from the email:

” ‘Traditional marriage, the union of one man and one woman for life, is the cradle of the family, which is the basic building block of society,’ said Schnurr, who suggested an ‘appropriate prayer’ would be the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Prayer in Defense of Marriage.”

Michigan

An interfaith prayer service in support of marriage equality was recently held in Lansing, Michigan, to support the same court case which is affecting Cincinnati.   While many people of different faiths gathered to pray together, MLive.com reported that the Michigan Catholic Conference issued a statement against marriage equality.  The article excerpted the statement:

“For the sake of future generations and to uphold the common good for all of society, the Catholic Church recognizes and teaches that marriage is rooted in natural law and as such cannot be redefined. By no means should the Catholic Church’s teaching in support of natural marriage between one man and one woman diminish the dignity or sensitivity that must be afforded to all human persons, regardless of their orientation.”

Texas

In Texas, where the state attorney general is appealing a decision which reversed the state’s ban on same-gender marriage, Catholic bishops there have put their support behind this initiative.

According to CBSLocal.com:

“Catholic Bishops said in a statement they hope the U.S. 5th Court of Appeals will objectively review the case and ‘affirm the right of the people of Texas to continue to upholding marriage as a union between one man and one woman.’ ”

Miami, Florida

Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami spoke out against a recent court ruling in that state which said that same-gender couples have the right to marry.  Wenski called the decision “another salvo in the ‘culture wars’ that ultimately seek to redefine the institution of marriage as solely for adult gratification,” according to The Catholic Sentinel.

The court case, which was initiated by same-gender couples in the Florida Keys, invalidates the voter-endorsed constitutional ban from 2008, but only applies to the state’s Monroe County.

Virginia

When an appeals court in Virginia recently ruled that the state’s ban on same-gender marriage was unconstitutional, the two Catholic bishops there spoke out against the ruling.   Bishop Paul LoVerde of Arlington and Bishop Francis DiLorenzo of Richmond issued a statement  which called the ruling“a fundamental misunderstanding of the intrinsic nature of marriage and is an injustice to Virginia voters,” according to a Catholic News Service story.

At the same time, the two bishops affirmed that  “those with same-sex attractions must be treated with respect and sensitivity.”

Conclusion

While Catholic bishops continue to speak out against same-gender marriage, Catholic people continue to grow in their support for equality for lesbian and gay couples.   More important than the political realities, bishops need to understand the harmful pastoral realities that their negative statements cause.  It’s time for bishops to be pastors, not politicians.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 


Liberian Archbishop Signs Statement Linking Ebola and Homosexuality

August 8, 2014

Archbishop Lewis Zeiglier

Liberia’s top Catholic official join more than 100 religious leaders in linking that nation’s Ebola outbreak to homosexuality, lending his support to a prejudiced and potentially dangerous statement according to The Daily Observer.

Archbishop Lewis Zeiglier of Monrovia joined a Liberia Council of Churches meeting this week, which discussed a “spiritual response” to the epidemic that has claimed more than 1,000 lives in West Africa and caused a state of emergency in several nations. The meeting, a potential response to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s comments that ignorance and religious practices were contributing to Ebola’s spread, released a unanimous resolution which said in part:

“God is angry with Liberia, and that Ebola is a plague. Liberians have to pray and seek God’s forgiveness over the corruption and immoral acts (such as homosexualism, etc.) that continue to penetrate our society. As Christians, we must repent and seek God’s forgiveness.”

The resolution also suggested the government restrict movement for three days of fasting and prayer, something which Liberia’s Catholics had already done this week.

Being gay is illegal in Liberia and same-gender marriages are banned, which has been insufficient for some politicians and clergy. Legislation was introduced in 2012 that would have sentenced anyone convicted of being in such a marriage to death. A Catholic priest used his Easter homily to attack President Sirleaf’s silence on the question of marriage equality.

AmericaBlog points out that Archbishop Zeiglier himself harshly condemned lesbian and gay people in April, warning that God would punish Liberia if it allowed same-sex marriage:

“The Archbishop said Liberians are ‘whole-heartedly’ engaging themselves in this act and that is being promoted in the country.

“The Catholic Archbishop also stated: ‘Where are we going as Liberians if we are advocating for homosexuality? Are we not calling for curses upon ourselves? How will a man marry his fellow man, this is an abomination. These are the same things that brought down Sodom and Gomorrah.’ “

Negative comments against LGBT people are often made by members of the Catholic hierarchy, but Archbishop Zeiglier’s support for a resolution linking the deadly Ebola outbreak and homosexuality is particularly dangerous. In an anti-gay climate like Liberia’s, an archbishop’s words can easily be used to justify discrimination and violence against LGBT people. This is doubly true when an epidemic like Ebola has created a climate of intensified fear and people are seeking an easy scapegoat.

When several African bishops made anti-gay comments in May, essentially endorsing the discrimination of LGBT people, Bondings 2.0 asked how the Church can respond. At that time, we quoted CNN columnist LZ Granderson who called on Catholics to end their silence on anti-gay laws, writing:

“To move Pope Francis’ question from a global headline to global change, Christians must stop allowing silence to be the de facto weapon of choice against the senseless persecution of gay people.”

Looking for a first step to make your voice heard and counter voices like Archbishop Zeigliers? Participate (again if you have already) in the #PopeSpeakOut campaign, asking Pope Francis to condemn in no uncertain terms laws and language which encourages prejudice and violence against LGBT people. To find out more information and take action, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Malawi Human Rights Advocates Call Out Catholic Bishops on LGBT Issues

August 5, 2014

Two prominent human rights activists in Malawi have strongly criticized recent statements made by a group representing some of Africa’s Catholic bishops conferences which cast lesbian and gay people in a negative light.

Timothy Mtambo

According to The Maravi Post, Timothy Mtambo and Gift Trapence, wrote in their column in Malwai’s Weekend Nation, that the Catholic Church ““should be the last to condemn people who did not choose their homosexual condition.”   Their comment was in response to statements made by the Association of Member Episcopal Conference in East Africa (AMECEA) which met in Malawi last month.

The AMECEA statement “strongly condemns same-sex unions and other deviations that go against human nature and natural law.” (Bondings 2.0’s report of that meeting, and another African association of Catholic bishops conferences meeting, can be read by clicking here.)

Gift Trapence

According to the Maravi Post, Mtambo and Trapence called on the bishops to live up to the Catholic Catechism’s call for non-discrimination of lesbian and gay people:

“[The Catechism] emphasises acceptance and tolerance, not condemnation. It is therefore strange that our African bishops are ignoring this text and promoting discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation.

“They said the ‘refusal to accept people with homosexual tendencies within the Church has led to unspeakable conflict, brief and death on our continent,’ adding that there have been daily stories of gays being ‘harassed, threatened and even physically assaulted simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.’ ”

Similar to our posting from yesterday on HIV/AIDS, the pair also noted that there is

“good evidence that the HIV epidemic hits harder where anti-gay laws and prejudice exist. Voices of reason and goodwill must speak out against this hatred and irrationality.”

Mtambo is the head of the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation and Trapence is the head of the Centre for the Development of People.

In Malawi, a gay or lesbian person can face a sentence of up to 14 years in prison, though one report notes that the nation has recently placed a moratorium on arresting people because of sexual orientation.  Still, Malawi, a predominantly Christian nation, has very conservative views on homosexuality, which one advocate notes can be softened with proper education.  The Maravi Post quoted:

“[Billy] Mayaya, a member of the Civic and Political Platform, a network of church and rights groups, said it will be difficult for the gays activists to ;penetrate through’ because the ‘Malawi culture remains conservative.’ . . . .

“Mayaya says for the rights groups to win the fight, they need to change their strategy and launch a media blitz to ‘educate the masses about the need to repeal the laws for sexual minorities to enjoy their rights.’

“ ‘Secondly, the gays themselves must come out in the open to explain their plight and not fight from the shadows,”’Mayaya said.”

Trapence agreed with the need for education.  He noted that homosexuality is a

“contentious issue and a challenge in Malawi because people don’t have the right information about sexual minorities. . . . People and lawmakers need to understand the rights gays from an objective point of view. Malawi needs to remove all biases and prejudices against gays.”

That education must begin with the Catholic bishops of that nation, and many other nations.   Last month, when the Vatican’s Archbishop Vincent Paglia, who heads the Pontifical Council on the Family, addressed the conference, he referred to homosexuality only in terms of new conceptions of marriage.  He could have used the opportunity to educate the bishops on the Catechism’s call for accepting lesbian and gay people with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

(Editor’s Note:  An internet search for an online version of the Mtambo/Trapence column did not produce it.  Since two news stories from legitimate, professional sources discuss the column, I am left to believe that the column only appeared in print.)

Related article:

Nyasa Times: “Remove prejudice against gays:  Malawi activists react to Catholic stand”


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