Bishops Defund Immigrant Rights Group in Guilt-By-Association Case

July 19, 2014

The Voz Workers’ Rights Education Project in Portland, Oregon advocates for and aids migrant workers. Their Martin Luther King, Jr. Workers Center assists hundreds of Latino men each month. Their wage theft campaign is alive and well in Oregon.

One thing they do not do, however, is advocate for marriage equality. Still, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) will withhold funding to Voz  because it collaborates with a leading Latino rights organization, the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), which does support marriage equality.

Voz has received ten previous grants from CCHD, a project of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, to aid its work connecting immigrants with employment. Voz was seeking a $75,000 grant when officials from the CCHD national office requested the Portland nonprofit cut ties with NCLR, which endorsed marriage equality in 2013. The Oregonian reports on what happened next:

” ‘Our board felt like what they were asking us to do was take a position on marriage equality,’ said Ranfis Villatoro, Voz’s development director. Voz has never taken a public stance on the issue, he said, although it does offer services to gay and lesbian couples. Therefore, the board voted last month to reject the grant.

“The grant would have been a significant chunk of the nonprofit’s $310,000 annual budget.

” ‘By making this decision, we run the risk of decreasing staff size and decreasing hours,’ Villatoro said.”

It appears Voz has not been the only community organization questioned by CCHD for its ties with NCLR. Victor Merced who heads Hacienda, a Portland nonprofit which assists low-income Latino families with housing and receives CCHD grants, told The Oregonian he was questioned about ties to NCLR. He reported that “leaders from the local chapter [of CCHD] seemed embarrassed that they had to ask in the first place” and said a litmus test on LGBT rights would be “ridiculous” to implement.

CCHD director Ralph McCloud told ABC News that Voz “self-disqualified” by refusing to cut ties with NCLR, from which Voz also receives funding. He said that after a 2010 review of CCHD grant recipients, nine grantees were defunded for being in coalitions which were pro-LGBT and/or pro-choice and other grantees stopped seeking CCHD funding. He continued:

“It’s certainly difficult and painful, because Voz has done some tremendous work…But it became obvious that they were assisting in something that was contrary to the teachings of our traditions.”

Now, many social justice organizations are promising to stand with Voz and the workers its serves in filling the massive funding gap through fundraising and a petition to CCHD leadership. You can view statements from a number of labor, LGBT, and faith leaders in a video posted by Voz supporters by clicking here. The petition reads, in part:

“VOZ has told CCHD: ‘We are a worker-led organization that empowers immigrants and day laborers to gain control over their working conditions. At the root of that mission, is the pursuit of justice and equality for all immigrants and day laborers. We have always found that to do this, we need all allies, day laborers, and immigrants to stand together in unity.’

“We know that our faiths, prophets, and scriptures never put conditions on supporting the poor and caring for the most vulnerable. Just look at Jesus, who offered God’s love to the sick, the poor, corrupt tax-collectors — EVERYONE. That’s why VOZ decided to take a stand, believing that there are more people who want unity and who support its principles than those who want to see them violated.

“With the new Pope, a new era of openness and acceptance is appearing that the groups pressuring the Catholic Campaign for Human Development to corrupt its funding strategies are entirely counter to.”

An important point in all of this was made by Marco Mejia of Portland Jobs with Justice during the Voz supporters’ press conference. Mejia, who is Catholic, reminded everyone that the money granted through CCHD is supplied by American Catholics and they intend for that money to organize marginalized communities for justice. He states:

“The Catholic Church, the money that they’re giving away through the CCHD is not their money. It’s the money of the community. This is the money I give every Sunday right? They are using the money of somebody else to decide what they want to do, not what the people want them to do.”

This is not the first time the Campaign for Human Development has defunded effective and impassioned organizations working to defend those in poverty because they were simply associated with other organizations supportive of LGBT rights. (See our previous posts on past examples at the end of this post.) Each time the CCHD punishes these groups for guilt by association, many are affected and most especially those for whom Christ has called us to make a preferential option.

You can lend your support to Voz and the immigrant workers it assists by signing the petition here or making a donation to their crowdfunding effort here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related posts: 

Bondings 2.0:Immigrant Rights’ Groups Cut Budgets Because of Loss of Catholic Funds

Bondings 2.0: “Donors Fill the Gap When Bishops Cut Funds Because of Marriage Equality Support

Bondings 2.0: “On Gay and Lesbian Immigrants, Catholic Bishops Need to Do a Lot Better”

Bondings 2.0:  “Attacks Against Bishops’ Anti-Poverty Efforts Come at the Expense of LGBT Community

Bondings 2.0:  “Catholic Grant Money Returned Because of Warning About LGBT Rights Involvement

Bondings 2.0: “The Laity’s Pocketbook Expresses Solidarity with LGBT and Immigrant Rights

Bondings 2.0: “WithCharityForAll.org”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Transgender Woman Prepares to Enter Carmelite Convent

July 14, 2014

One of the places where Catholicism and gender are most strongly inscribed together is the area of vowed religious life.  There are communities for only men and other communities for only women.  What if your gender doesn’t fit into this binary?

Tia Michelle Pesando

That question is being answered in London, Ontario, where a transgender woman is preparing to enter a community of Carmelite women.  When Canada’s Tia Michelle Pesando, who is already living as a consecrated virgin, is accepted into the community, it is being said that she will be the world’s first transgender nun.

CTV News reported that Pesando, who is a hermaphrodite* (born with physical characteristics of both male and female) has already begun a process of taking hormones to live as a woman.  But the process of becoming a nun is more a spiritual, than a physical, notion for her.  As CTV News stated:

“Two years ago Pesando heard God calling her and she knew she had to take her transformation farther.

“ ‘I’m very convinced of the reality of God and the importance of such a calling,’ she says.

“When Pesando decided to become a nun, she received her priest’s blessing and is now going through the process to become a Carolinian sister and the first ever Roman Catholic transgender nun.

“ ‘I’m in the training process which is starting this August, so it’s a positive start that I’ve undergone.’ “

While there is always the possibility of hierarchical intervention in the admissions process,  Pesando remains positive:

“ ‘Forgiveness needs to begin somewhere,” she says. “It needs to begin with us, all of us, those in the LGBT community and those of the Christian faith.’

“Pope Francis has made huge strides with the gay community, preaching for greater inclusion and acceptance of homosexuals. This in part has helped to fuel her decision. She says the time is right for a transgender nun.”

Pesando recently published a book, Why God Doesn’t Hate Youin which she develops the theme of God’s unconditional acceptance and love of everyone, regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation.  In a wide-ranging interview with London Community News  where she describes her spiritual development and challenges,  she also explained the need for the book’s message:

“ ‘From a theological perspective, I think I have a solid argument,’ Pesando said. ‘People are leaving the church because they feel the God of love has betrayed them, and betrayal is one of the worst feelings you can imagine. So I am reaching out to people saying this is what the Bible actually says.’

“Her purpose in writing Why God Doesn’t Hate You is to reach out to everyone ‘who feels like they are rejected by God, who feels like they are a second-class citizen in God’s eyes.’ ”

And she notes an interesting detail about the Bible:

“ ‘There is actually nothing in the Bible to condemn the trans community because they were simply not aware of it,’ Pesando said. ‘Just like there is nothing in the Bible that talks about aerospace engineering, both of these things were discovered about 1,500 years after the it was written.’ ”

(EDITOR’S NOTE:  The same is true about constitutional homosexuality.  Biblical authors did not have the awareness that some people are naturally homosexually oriented.  Therefore, in the places where homosexual acts are Biblically condemned, the authors are not condemning what is now known to be a natural, normal way of loving.  More often, they are condemning homosexual rape, pagan rituals, or sexual novelty.)

My only minor gripe with this story is not about Pesando’s eligibility to become a nun, but the claim that some have made that she will be “the world’s first transgender nun.”  I would probably want to modify that to “the world’s first OPENLY transgender nun.”   Though I have no historical evidence, I imagine that over the centuries, other transgender women have joined convents, though probably being secretive about their identities.   We do know that transgender characteristics have often been very accepted in Catholic spirituality and practice (St. Joan of Arc).  And it was always common practice for nuns to take male religious names, and for religious men to often add “Mary” or “Marie” to their religious names.

If you know of other examples of Catholic transgender history or cultural details, please add them in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

*There has been some discussion in the “Comments” section of this blog as to whether “intersex” or “hermaphrodite” is the correct word to use.  There has also been some discussion as to whether Tia Michelle Pesando is actually transgender.  I recognize that language is a sensitive and powerful arena, and I am open to correction.  Upon reflection, I have decided to keep the original terms I used.

To answer the first issue, I have used “hermaphrodite” because that is the term that Tia Michelle Pesando uses to describe herself on her website: http://www.whygoddoesnthateyou.com/.   It is also the term used in the original article upon which this post is based, so I have assumed that it was the term she used while being interviewed.

To answer the second issue,  because Tia Michelle Pesando lived the first thirty years as a man and has now decided to live as a woman, including taking hormones, I think it is accurate to describe the process she went through as “transitioning,” and thus “transgender” seems to be an accurate description.  Again, I assume, based on the fact that news articles about her use the term “transgender” that this is a label of which she approves.

 

 

 

 


Two Archbishops’ Gay-Related Stories Show How Our Church Needs to Grow

July 3, 2014

Two archbishops from the United States made headlines this week related to gay issues.  Each story leaves me with a different feeling, though neither one is a good feeling.

Archbishop John Nienstedt

Archbishop John Nienstedt

The bigger of the two stories centered on Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul, Minnesota.  A news report from Commonweal informed the world that multiple allegations have emerged that Nienstedt made sexual advances toward priests, seminarians, and other men.  The archbishop strongly denied the veracity of these claims.

Nienstedt ordered an investigation of allegations against him, and the archdiocese hired a Twin Cities law firm to conduct the investigation.  In his statement, the archbishop said that he did so because that is what he would do with allegations made against any other priest, too.

This story is complicated by a number of factors.  First, there is Nienstedt’s record of very strong anti-gay comments, many of which were made during Minnesota’s debate about a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-gender marriage in 2012.  Second, Nienstedt has already been under fire because of mishandling of sex abuse claims against some of his priests.

Naturally, one of this story’s most popular responses has been to note the irony of witnessing someone who has been strongly homophobic in his speech possibly turning out to be homosexual himself.   When this accusation is made, it is sometimes made with glee, probably because to many people’s eyes and ears it is so obviously a personal problem when someone becomes so obsessed with homosexuality.   We have seen this behavior so often in our public and private lives:  people hate most in others what they really hate about themselves, and usually cannot admit about themselves.

These allegations have to be further investigated, but should it turn out that they are true, I think I will be sadder, rather than happier, to learn this reality.  To me, what it would mean is that the homophobia in our church and in our world had so affected this particular man that his ability to respond with love towards himself and others was extremely stunted.  I am angry at the harm he has caused others, but I find myself strangely sympathetic towards him if it turns out that he caused even greater harm to himself.

Archbishop Rembert Weakland

The second story, reported briefly in only the Catholic press, focused on the fact that, for the second time, Archbishop Rembert Weakland, the former archbishop of Milwaukee, was refused retirement residency at a Benedictine abbey.

Weakland, a Benedictine monk and former head of the worldwide Benedictine community of men, resigned as archbishop after it became public that he had had a sexual relationship with another man and that he had paid the man to be quiet about their involvement.   The relationship was not pedophilia and it was consensual.

Days after Weakland announced these facts, he expressed repentance publicly, celebrating a Mass where he asked for forgiveness.

The National Catholic Reporter noted that the rejection for residency came from St. Vincent Archabbey, in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, the same abbey where Weakland entered the community when he was 18 and lived for 20 years.  Although though the abbot of the community did not speak to the paper, Weakland offered his own thoughts about why he was refused:

“The Vatican recently laicized a Latrobe monk accused of misconduct, Mark Gruber, whose presence was creating some turmoil in the community. ‘The atmosphere was not a good one for me to return to,’ Weakland wrote. ‘Thus I will not be returning to Latrobe right now and at age 87 one never know what can happen in the future.’ “

The news story went on to explain the archbishop’s life since retirement:

“In Milwaukee, Weakland leads a low-profile life. He lives alone in an apartment and is said to attend daily Mass. He has no public role in the church, and when the current archbishop celebrates Mass and prays for the pope and bishops living in the diocese by name, Weakland is not mentioned. He was not allowed to deliver a homily at an annual priest retreat some years ago.”

This story leaves me feeling very sad–for Weakland, for the Benedictines, for our Church.  As in the Nienstedt case, we see how it is possible that fear of same-sex feelings and relationships can lead to behavior which harms one’s self and others.

The lesson that I take from both of these news stories is that we still have  a lot to learn in our church not only about sexuality, but also about forgiveness.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

Minnesota Public Radio: Archbishop authorized secret investigation of himself”

Star Tribune: Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt faces new sex claims”

National Catholic Reporter: Report: Minnesota Archbishop Nienstedt under scrutiny for same-sex relationships”

TwinCities.com: “Nienstedt under scrutiny for same-sex relationships, ex-official says”

The Wild Reed: “Has Archbishop Nienstedt’s “Shadow” Finally Caught Up With Him?”

 

 


Bisexuals and Faith Communities: A New Resource Helps to Bridge the Gap

June 25, 2014

A new resource to help faith communities understand bisexuality and bisexual people has been published today by The Religious Inistitute, a multi-faith ministry which deals with the topics of sexual morality, justice, and healing.

The 95-page booklet, entitled Bisexuality: Making the Invisible Visible
in Faith Communities, is authored by Marie Alford-Harkey and Rev. Deb Haffner.  As stated in the Introduction to the work, the text is divided into three sections:

“Part One of the book, ‘Bisexuality Basics,’ begins by naming the harm that many bisexual people suffer, and includes definitions of terms, models to help understand sexual orientation, research on bisexuality, information on the prevalence of bisexuality in the United States, and myths and facts about bisexuality.

“Part Two, ‘Sacred Texts and Religious Traditions,’ intro-duces theological issues related to bisexuality, and includes a discussion of sexuality in the Hebrew and Christian Scrip-tures, essays authored by theologians from different tra-ditions, and the few denominational policies that exist on bisexuality.

“Part Three, ‘Creating a Bisexually Healthy Congregation,’ presents information and strategies for faith communities and religious leaders to become more welcoming and  affirm-ing of bisexual persons and others who are attracted to people of more than one sex or gender. Sections include welcoming and affirming bisexual persons, bisexually
healthy religious professionals, worship resources, pastoral counseling, youth, social action, and a call to action.”

The authors have long been involved in research and ministry concerning religion and sexuality.  Alford-Harkey is the Deputy Director of The Religious Institute and Haffner is the Co-Founder and President of the same organization.  The new publication emerged from an interfaith colloquium on bisexuality the Institute sponsored in April 2013.

There are two Catholic contributors to the report.  In the section on sacred texts and religious traditions, Dr. Kate Ott, professor of Christian Social Ethics, Drew Theological School, New Jersey, wrote “A Roman Catholic Perspective on Bisexuality.”  In that reflection, she notes:

“Correlations can be made to expand the concept of sexual orientation as a ‘natural’ part of one’s createdness to include bisexuality as an orientation or perhaps even more accurate-
ly to consider each individual as having an orientation that is as unique as their personality. . . .

“Although the Catechism also refers to homosexual acts, unfortunately, as ‘intrinsically disordered,’ I have hope that the Church will continue to re-examine this issue in light of a more loving, inclusive tradition.”

The second Catholic contribution comes from Lacey Louwagie, co-editor of Hungering and Thirsting for Justice: True Stories by Young Adult Catholics.  In the section on developing a welcome for bisexual people in religious congregations, Louwagie tells part of her story:

“Finally, I confronted the reality that somehow, both of these attractions did exist within me. I was truly attracted to men…and to women. I sat alone in the stairwell outside my bed-
room, my head held in my hands, when the thought entered my consciousness for the first time: maybe I was bisexual. As soon as I’d named it, a homophobic solution came on its heels: I would just decide not to pursue my attraction to women. Ironically, this is pretty much exactly what the Catholic Church tells me to do….I thought I’d arrived at a prudent solution: I could inwardly acknowledge who I really was while also pursuing only love that I could declare publicly, only love that didn’t entail the risk of being cast out
of my community. But the solution must not have been too great after all, because I fell into the worst depression of my life.”

Although the publication is not specifically geared to Catholic, or even Christian, faith communities. I think that Catholic parishes and schools can gain immensely from it.  The basic information on bisexuality is clear, understandable, thorough, and authoritative.  The suggestions for how to affirm and welcome bisexual people in religious contexts are excellent, and something that every Catholic parish can do.  There are even suggestions for preaching and public prayer, as well as guidance for bisexual people in professional ministry on how to disclose their sexuality to others.

This publication will be of great help to any Catholic parish that wants to educate its parishioners fully on sexuality or that wants to do outreach to the LGBT community.  Bisexual people are often the “forgotten” group in the LGBT rainbow, and this publication is a great step to remedying that omission.

Copies of the publication are $15.00 each, an can be ordered from The Religious Institute by clicking here.  For international orders, call the Religious Institute 203-222-0055.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Baltimore Parish Deserves Praise, Not Accusation, for Pride Month Celebration

June 24, 2014

I generally don’t like to criticize other bloggers, but when a gay-friendly Catholic parish has been wrongly accused of anti-LGBT behavior, I think it is important to set the record straight (so to speak). Such is the case with a blog post by John Becker, who writes at The Bilerico Project.  I often find Mr. Becker’s commentaries challenging and thought-provoking, but in a recent post, he oversteps the mark by making a claim that needs to be corrected.

Becker’s June 17th post is entitled “Catholic Church’s ‘Pride’ Event Smells Like False Advertising.”  In it he creates suspicion that the LGBT outreach ministry at St. Ignatius parish, Baltimore, may not be as welcoming as it makes itself out to be.

Becker became aware of an event advertisement on the Archdiocese of Baltimore website that stated:

“Embracing God’s Gifts, St. Ignatius’ Gay & Lesbian ministry, is inviting you to join us on Friday, June 13th at 7 PM in the Chapel of Grace, where we will give thanks to God for the gift of family. Through music, readings, prayer and a spirit of gratitude, we will gather to celebrate being members of God’s family. Please contact Gordon Creamer… if you are interested in participating in the planning process. All are welcome and please bring a friend! A light Reception will follow in Ignatian Hall.”

Becker noted that a link on the site led to a page which included the following description of the parish ministry:

“As members of the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church, we are called to celebrate and share the gifts of diversity of sexuality in our church today. Our organization, Embracing God’s Gifts, has been formed as an instrument for recognizing these gifts and incorporating their goodness and use into the life of our parish. Our mission is to create opportunities for the spiritual enrichment, support and inclusion of all diverse individuals, while being informed by church teaching, and to promote awareness and community building among them. We will accomplish this through a variety of endeavors that foster support, communication and social activities. We invite all to participate in this group with open-mindedness and compassion.”

These two announcements aroused Becker’s suspicion, particularly the phrase about “church teaching.”  He stated:

“Now I realize that the flyer says the group is informed by church teaching, not that it necessarily upholds it. I contacted Gordon Creamer, the aforementioned Embracing God’s Gifts organizer at St. Ignatius Parish, and left a message asking him what exactly the program tells gay and lesbian Catholics about themselves and their sexuality. I also asked whether it has any affiliation with Courage, the Catholic ‘ministry that uses a 12-step program similar to Alcoholics Anonymous to encourage LGB Catholics to suppress their sexuality and live totally celibate lives. If Creamer responds, I’ll let you know.

My skepticism, however, is further reinforced by the fact that this so-called ‘Pride’ event was advertised on the archdiocesan website. The head of the Baltimore Archdiocese is none other than William Lori, a high-profile opponent of marriage equality who has spoken at events sponsored by the Family Research Council anti-gay hate group and chairs the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. If his name looks familiar it’s because he’s the prelate who said, just last week, that the American bishops would fight same-sex marriage for generations, if necessary.”

I can understand Becker’s surprise and confusion, especially since  he wasn’t able to be in touch with Gordon Creamer, who leads St. Ignatius’ LGBT ministry.  I wish Becker would have postponed writing about the announcement until he did learn more about the ministry.  The parish has long been a welcoming and accepting home for LGBT people in Baltimore. Run by the Jesuits, they hosted a Dignity chapter there for many years, even after Dignity chapters had been expelled from Catholic property in most other dioceses.

Gordon Creamer

Gordon Creamer is an excellent minister and someone who has taken many courageous steps to reach out to LGBT people to let them know that there are segments in the Catholic Church that welcome and affirm them.

Becker’s comparison of Creamer’s ministry to Courage is totally wrong.  That is not what St. Ignatius’ parish ministry is about.  Courage views a gay or lesbian orientation as a defect. Nothing about the Courage model of ministry would include “Embracing Our Gifts,” as St. Ignatius identifies its ministry.  Moreover, I don’t know of any parish ministry that uses the Courage model as a form of outreach, unless, of course, it is a parish that explicitly advertises itself as such.  Finally, no Courage group would mask one of their events as a Pride activity, even surreptitiously.

Becker was not the only blogger who was suspicious of this announcement. Joe Jervis at “Joe. My. God.”  pondered:

“There’s no mention of celibacy or ‘ex-gay’ therapy at either of the two links above, but it’s entirely possible that either or both are part of the ministry at St. Ignatius.”

I acknowledge that Archbishop Lori has a strong record of opposing marriage equality on both the local and national levels, and so seeing an event advertised on the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s website might cause one to raise an eyebrow.   But, again, further digging would have revealed what I have learned from many Catholic LGBT advocates in Baltimore:  that Archbishop Lori seems to be open to pastoral ministry that integrates LGBT people into the parish community.

The fact that Gordon Creamer and the St. Ignatius community were able to have this event advertised on the archdiocesan website is a sign of a major step forward that needs to be celebrated, not an indication of pastoral deceit lying in wait.

I sympathize somewhat with Becker’s befuddlement.  Catholic leaders have for so long been so opposed to positive LGBT initiatives that it is difficult for  us to change our expectations when something good actually does happen.  Witness the incredulity that many people experience with the positive statements Pope Francis has made.   Unfortunately, it’s a sad commentary that so many people think that Catholic=anti-gay.  Understandable, but sad.  And it’s an image that we must work hard to correct.

Indeed, the untold story for decades now is that Catholic parishes across the U.S. have been welcoming LGBT people and benefiting from their presence in the faith community.   Few journalists and political LGBT advocates are aware of this quiet growth on the grassroots level of the church.   I often tell people that one of the greatest joys of my work at New Ways Ministry has been that I have been privileged to witness and experience the courageous work of so many Catholic pastoral ministers and communities as they affirm and advocate for LGBT people and their families.

You can see the varied communities who do this outreach by checking out New Ways Ministry’s list of gay-friendly Catholic parishes.  If you know of any other parishes that pro-actively welcome LGBT people, please let us know about them through the “Comments” section of this post.

So, let’s say a “Hallelujah!” for the sign of  progress that the archdiocesan website announcement indicates.  And let’s say a prayer of thanksgiving for people like Gordon Creamer and the St. Ignatius community who do the important and courageous day-to-day outreach to LGBT people to let them know that God, and their faith community, loves them.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


NEWS NOTES: June 18, 2014

June 18, 2014

News NotesHere are some items you might find of interest:

1) Most Holy Redeemer Catholic parish, a largely gay congregation in the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco, has new pastoral leadership.  A National Catholic Reporter article states that Precious Blood Father Jack McClure is the new pastor, and Precious Blood Father Matthew Link will be the associate pastor.   The Precious Blood Fathers have had a ministry of dialogue, reconciliation and justice with LGBT people since 2007.

2) The Diocese of Worcester, Massachusetts, has filed a motion to dismiss a suit against them brought by a gay couple charging discrimination, according to The Worcester Telegram.  The newspaper reports that the couple alleges the diocese refused to sell a mansion property to them “because the men were gay and church officials feared they might hold same-sex weddings on the property.”   You can read previous Bondings 2.0 coverage of this case here and here.

3) The parliament of Slovakia has amended the nation’s constitution to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman, reports MetroWeekly.  62% of Slovakians are Catholics, the largest of any religious group in this heavily religious nation.

4) Canada’s Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board (HSCDSB) rejected a resolution which would have opposed the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association’s (OECTA) involvement in Toronto’s World Pride Parade on June 29th, reports SooToday.com.   Other school boards have shown similar support for the OECTA’s decision to participate in the parade.  You can read about these other decisions here and here.

5) A leader of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the largest Protestant party in the country, has wants to court Catholics to join their organization because he thinks they will be attracted by the party’s opposition to same-gender marriage, among other conservative positions. The Belfast Telegraph reports that Health Minister Edwin Poots, who was joined by other party leaders in stating that Catholics might want to switch political allegiances, said “The doctrines of their church largely coincide with the DUP. So conservative Protestantism and conservative Catholicism have an awful lot in common.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Are Latino Catholics Leaving Catholicism Because of Anti-LGBT Messages?

June 12, 2014

We’ve often commented on this blog about how negative sentiments expressed by Church leaders toward LGBT people harms not only the LGBT community, but the entire Church as a whole.  As more and more Catholics accept the full equality of LGBT people in church and society, negative statements, policies, and practices from those in authority are causing more and more Catholics to leave the institution.

One of the most significant populations in American Catholicism currently are Latino people, since they make up such a large section of the church community.  Yet it seems that while Latinos make up a large portion of the church in the U.S.,  Catholicism is losing its position as the predominant religious affiliation among Latinos. A recent report from Pew Research shows that many Latinos are leaving Catholicism, and it seems that one of the reasons could be because of their support of LGBT people.

First, let’s look at Pew’s statistics.  Pat Perriello in The National Catholic Reporter summarized some of Pew’s most important findings:

“The data from the Pew survey raises some significant issues. The first of these issues has to do with the large number of Latinos who are abandoning Catholicism. In 2010, 67% of Latinos identified themselves as Catholics. That figure is now down to 55%. This change represents a drop of 12 percentage points in just four years.

“A significant percentage of these Latinos are joining Evangelical churches, but there is also a considerable number of Latinos that are simply unaffiliated. Evangelical Latinos are now 16% of the total population while 18% are unaffiliated. About 6% are joining mainline Protestant denominations.

“The exodus seems particularly acute among the young. While a trend persists among foreign born Latinos to join Evangelical communities, this does not appear to hold with those in the 18-29 age group. This group is moving more and more toward no religious affiliation. Less than half of Hispanics (45%) under the age of 30 are now Catholic.”

According to Pew’s report, Latino Catholics tend to leave the church in large part due to disagreement with church teachings:

“Latinos who have left the Catholic Church are especially likely to say that an important reason was that they stopped believing in its teachings; 63% of former Catholics who are now unaffiliated and 57% of former Catholics who are now Protestants give this reason for having left the church.”

We’ve reported before on the growing majority of Latinos, and Latino Catholics in particular, who support LGBT issues, including marriage equality, and the Pew report confirms those findings:

“Like the U.S. public as a whole, Latinos have become more inclined to favor same-sex marriage in recent years; support among Latinos has risen from 30% in 2006 to 46% in 2013. However, there still are sizable differences in views about same-sex marriage among Hispanic religious groups. Religiously unaffiliated Hispanics favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally by a roughly four-to-one margin (67% to 16%). Hispanic Protestants tilt in the opposite direction, with evangelical Protestants much more inclined to oppose same-sex marriage (66% opposed, 19% in favor). Hispanic Catholics fall in between, though more say they favor same-sex marriage (49%) than oppose it (30%). Mainline Protestants are closely divided on the issue, with nearly four-in-ten (37%) opposed to same-sex marriage and 44% in favor. These differences among Hispanic religious groups are largely in keeping with patterns found among the same religious groups in the general public.”

So is support for same-gender marriage part of the reason that Latinos are leaving Catholicism?  It seems likely that it is at least one of the factors and very likely an important one.  I think it is very relevant that when Latinos leave Catholicism, a large portion of them, particularly the younger ones, do not go to the Evangelical churches, which, on the whole, tend to be strongly negative about LGBT issues.  We know from other reports that the younger generation tends to be skeptical about any religious institution that does not welcome and embrace LGBT issues.

On a related note, a recent Gallup poll confirmed that the American population as a whole accepts gay and lesbian relationships as morally acceptable, with 58% of the respondents categorizing them as “largely acceptable.”  For comparison, the largest item in the “largely acceptable” category was divorce, with 69%.

The fact that church authorities do not recognize the pastoral harm done by negative statements is particularly troubling.  No church leader should make any statement without considering how it will be heard by the diverse audiences that exist in the church and outside it as well.

While I agree that church teaching should not be decided by simple majorities, I think that if I were a bishop, I would want to at least understand why so many Catholics find negative statements about LGBT issues so distasteful.   If bishops did ask the faithful about their views, I think the leaders would learn a lot about how lived experience helps faith to grow in new ways.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Columbus Diocese Adds Restrictive Language to Employment Contracts

June 7, 2014

Students protesting the firing of lesbian teacher Carla Hale in 2013.

Another diocese has revised their teachers’ contract to be more explicit about the type of personal behavior which can be used as a reason for terminating employment.

The Diocese of Columbus, Ohio, which last year witnessed one of the largest protests against the firing of a Catholic school teacher because she was involved in a committed lesbian relationship, has added new phrases to their contracts which tell teachers they must follow church teaching “both within and outside their employment duties.”

The Columbus Dispatch reported that “Conduct that could result in firing includes having sex without being married and pursuing or publicly supporting in vitro fertilization.”  Although same-gender marriage is not mentioned in the news story, when the dioceses of Cincinnati, Honolulu, Cleveland, and Oakland instituted new contracts, being part of a legally married lesbian or gay couple, or supporting marriage equality were listed as reasons for dismissal.

In April 2013, Carla Hale , a Methodist, was fired from her 19-year position as a physical education teacher at a Catholic high school when an obituary for her mother listed the name of her lesbian partner.  Her dismissal prompted an enormous amount of student, alumni, and parent protest against the decision.

As in the previous cases where new restrictive clauses have been added to diocesan employment contracts,   objections from the laity are strong.  The Dispatch reports:

“Such morality clauses ‘constitute an immoral act’ because they exclude people — the noncelibate, gays, those who divorce and remarry without church approval — from diocesan jobs, said Tom Lupia, co-director of the Columbus chapter of Call to Action, a group of Catholics who seek to change some aspects of the church.

“ ‘Jesus taught that we should reflect God’s inclusive love for us by loving one another inclusively,’ he said in an email. ‘There is to be no exclusion. We are even to love our enemies.’ “

And the newspaper reports that the new contract language has already claimed one casualty:

“One teacher told The Dispatch that she resigned from her job because she disagrees with the morality clause. She asked that her name not be published because she is still being paid her 2013-14 salary and fears retaliation.

“She and her husband were Catholic but became Episcopalian over the past year because of concerns about the church, she said. ‘Before, the understanding was that when you were in your classroom, you would always uphold Catholic values and principles, which I have no problem with,’ she said. ‘The new contract seemed a little more intrusive into personal life and personal beliefs.

“ ‘I was very bothered by the Carla Hale firing, and I’ve really been searching my conscience ever since then. And I really feel in a lot of ways this isn’t treating people with love and kindness, which is what I essentially believe in.’ ”

Such a comment reveals that the pastoral implications of these new policies can be very harmful.  In addition to the injustice being done to teachers, these new policies are harming others in the church.  If church leaders don’t find another way to handle employment contracts, the consequences for all in the church can be very dire.

Rita Schwartz, the president of the National Association of Catholic School Teachers,  opines that doctrinal or pastoral issues don’t even seem to be of concern to church leaders.  The Dispatch quotes her:

“It’s not being done for religious purposes — it’s being done because they were sued and don’t want to lose any more cases. And that’s not as it should be. That should not be the motivation.”

How do you think that church leaders should handle employment contracts?  How do you think that Catholics can respond effectively to such restrictive actions?    Add you thoughts to the “Comments” section of this post.

One thing you can do is write to the bishop of Columbus to express your disagreement with the new policies:

Bishop Frederick Campbell
Diocese of Columbus
197 East Gay Street
Columbus, Ohio 43215
email:  commailbox@colsdioc.org

And, New Ways Ministry continues to suggest that Catholics organize in the parishes and schools to establish non-discrimination employment policies.

For a complete list of firings and contract restrictions, click here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Space Aliens and Exorcisms: What Are the Lessons for Catholic LGBT Advocates?

May 26, 2014

The most bizarre news stories that have come across my computer desktop in the last few weeks have to be those that have focused around space aliens and exorcisms.  Are there any lessons in these topics that Catholic advocates for LGBT people can learn?

Space aliens made headlines because of Pope Francis’ well-noted line that if Martians showed up on earth and asked to be baptized, he would do so.  Out of context, the statement sounds extremely bizarre, but in the context of the homily he was giving, the pope’s comments make some sense.  He was trying to make the point that the Spirit of God, not our human prejudices, should lead us to act.  Catholic News Service provided context for the pope’s remarks, which were given in a homily on Acts 11:1-18:

“From the very beginnings of Christianity, the pope said, church leaders and members have been tempted at times to block the Holy Spirit’s path or try to control it.

” ‘When the Lord shows us the way, who are we to say, “No, Lord, it is not prudent! No, let’s do it this way” he said. ‘Who are we to close doors?’

“Many parishes, Pope Francis said, have ushers to open the church doors and welcome people in, ‘but there has never been a ministry for those who close the doors. Never.’ “

When Gay Star News ran the story about aliens, they did so with the headline:  “Pope Francis will not marry gay couples, but will baptize aliens.”   While that is true enough, it is a little misleading, too, since the pope did not make any comment at the time about marrying gay couples.  Moreover, the Gay Star News story doesn’t even mention marriage in the body of the text.

But more importantly, it misses the point that Pope Francis’ message was actually a message of welcome, of saying the church is open for all, even those who we might think of as the most “alien” to ourselves.  To me, that is a wonderful message of welcome to Catholics who feel marginalized, such as many LGBT Catholics do.

What is also wonderful about this story is that Pope Francis’ question,”Who are we to close doors?” so beautifully echoes his famous comments about gay priests, “Who am I to judge?”  It seems that Pope Francis is building up a theme in his pontificate of cautioning people from feeling too arrogant.

The news stories about the exorcisms might be a little more complicated.  The Washington Post  ran a story about Pope Francis’ seeming interest in the reality of the devil and the rite of exorcism.  Entitled “A modern pope gets old school on the Devil,” the article notes:

“After his little more than a year atop the Throne of St. Peter, Francis’s teachings on Satan are already regarded as the most old school of any pope since at least Paul VI, whose papacy in the 1960s and 1970s fully embraced the notion of hellish forces plotting to deliver mankind unto damnation.

“Largely under the radar, theologians and Vatican insiders say, Francis has not only dwelled far more on Satan in sermons and speeches than his recent predecessors have, but also sought to rekindle the Devil’s image as a supernatural entity with the forces­ of evil at his beck and call.”

The article explores Catholic history and ideas about the devil, but where the topic becomes problematic for Catholic LGBT advocates is when it quotes a priest who is a practicing Catholic exorcist and an experience he had on an airplane:

“. . . [T]he Rev. Cesar Truqui, an exorcist based in Switzerland, recounted one experience he had aboard a Swissair flight. ‘Two lesbians,’ he said, had sat behind him on the plane. Soon afterward, he said, he felt Satan’s presence. As he silently sought to repel the evil spirit through prayer, one of the women, he said, began growling demonically and threw chocolates at his head.

“Asked how he knew the woman was possessed, he said that ‘once you hear a Satanic growl, you never forget it. It’s like smelling Margherita pizza for the first time. It’s something you never forget.’ ”

The  homophobia in such a comment makes one realize that so much of “devil talk” relies more on people’s own prejudices, and less on a belief in objective evil.

It’s not just Catholicism that runs this risk of prejudicial Satan-labeling when it comes to lesbian and gay people.  Certain Charismatic Christian groups are also involved in such activity.  Slate.com’s Mark Joseph Stern wrote an article that took a look “Inside The Horrifying World of Gay Exorcisms.”   He cites a very reliable source, credible because he experienced such an exorcism:

“Roland Stringfellow, a pastor of the gay-friendly Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit, notes that these denominations spiritualize just about everything and believe that people have a spirit for every problem. Homosexuality, to these religions, is its own discrete problem—one even more troubling than alcoholism or drug addiction. Accordingly, Charismatic congregations are eager to cast the ‘demon’ of homosexuality out of gay people through exorcism, often in public at the altar of a church.

“Stringfellow himself was subject to such an exorcism when he was in college and was still closeted.

“ ‘I was trying to get rid of my same-sex attractions,’ he told me. ‘The person at the altar yelled so everyone could hear: “Demon of homosexuality! Come out of this young man!” And he smacked me on my forehead to “slay me in the spirit.”A friend had to get me up from the altar, pick me up, and get me back to my seat, because I was absolutely mortified. My secret had now been announced, proclaimed, to all of these individuals.’ ”

Professor Mathew Schmalz, College of the Holy Cross, a Jesuit school, acknowledges a belief in the reality of the Devil, but he notes that the recent rise of interest in Satan can be dangerous.  Schmalz concludes a Huffington Post article on the topic with the following concluding paragraph:

“As a Catholic, I do believe that Satan exists and that there is something both intellectually and psychologically valuable in understanding evil as an objective force or entity. But I was also always taught that Lucifer was the most beautiful of the angels — and that evil can come under the most beguiling and attractive forms. For this reason, we have to be very careful where we see the Devil. When you try to cast out demons, it’s all too easy to conjure more in the process.”

Schmalz’ caution is one that U.S. Catholic bishops should heed, especially when they ramp up their rhetoric, a la Springfield, Illinois Bishop Thomas Paprocki, to insinuate that marriage equality is the work of the devil.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Why Do LGBT People Feel the Catholic Church Hates Them?

May 18, 2014

Yesterday, May 17th, was the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.  In Italy, at least 11 of the prayer vigils for this day to show opposition to oppression against sexual and gender minorities were hosted by Catholic parishes, including at least one basilica.   In this most Catholic of nations, it seems, some people take seriously the church’s teaching condemning discrimination, prejudice, and violence against LGBT people.

Catholic support for this important church teaching is relatively minor among the Catholic hierarchy here in the United States.  Our leaders here tend to ignore the fact that the church teaches that lesbian and gay people must be accepted with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity.”  While they may often express that sentiment in words, they are less likely to take any action whatsoever to show that they truly accept that teaching.  Instead, they tend to focus only on the church’s sexual teachings.

Fr. James Martin, SJ

Jesuit Father James Martin, a well-known writer and lecturer, examines this dilemma in a column in America magazine this week.  His essay is well-worth reading in full, and you can do so by clicking here. In this blog post,  I will comment on some excerpts from the essay.

Martin tries to explain to his audience why so many gay and lesbian people feel that the Catholic Church hates them.  He states:

“Let me suggest a reason beyond the fact that many gays and lesbians disagree with church teaching on homosexual acts: only rarely do opponents of same-sex marriage say something positive about gays and lesbians without appending a warning against sin. The language surrounding gay and lesbian Catholics is framed primarily, sometimes exclusively, in terms of sin. For example, ‘We love our gay brothers and sisters—but they must not engage in sexual activity.’ Is any other group of Catholics addressed in this fashion? Imagine someone beginning a parish talk on married life by saying, ‘We love married Catholics—but adultery is a mortal sin.’ With no other group does the church so reflexively link the group’s identity to sin.”

I agree with him, and I would go even a little further:  no other group in the church is discussed primarily in terms of sex as gay and lesbian people are.  I would imagine that in terms of  sheer power of sexual urgency and desire, adolescents and young adults are probably the people most interested in sexual activity out of the entire human population.  Yet, church leaders do not always refer to sexual temptation when they discuss or welcome young people to the church, as they do with gay and lesbian people.  The focus of youth ministry in dioceses and parishes is not on sexual behavior, as some dioceses and parishes would like gay and lesbian outreach to be.  Young people’s concerns are not shunned or ignored because it might seem to give the indication that church leaders are approving of non-marital sexual activity, yet that is routinely done to gay and lesbian people.  Indeed, the highest office of the church offers World Youth Day to let young people know that they are welcome in the Church.  Where is World LGBT Day?

In addition to being thought of primarily as sinners, lesbian and gay people resent that they are thought of primarily as sexual, as if no other aspect of their life mattered, and as if that was the primary factor defining their lives.

Martin offers the gospel story of Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) as a model for how church leaders can approach gay and lesbian people.  He analyzes the important features of this story about Jesus welcoming a much reviled tax collector:

“Notice that Jesus shows love for Zacchaeus even before the man has promised to do anything. That is, Jesus loves him first, by offering to dine with him, a powerful sign of welcome in that time. Jesus does not say, ‘Zacchaeus, you’re a sinful person because you’re gouging people with taxes collected for the oppressive occupying power, but even though you’re a public sinner, I love you anyway.’ He simply loves him—first.

“The story of Zacchaeus illustrates an important difference between the ministry of John the Baptist and of Jesus. For John the Baptist, conversion came first, then communion. First you repent of your sins; then you are welcomed into the community. For Jesus, the opposite was more often the case; first, Jesus welcomed the person, and conversion followed. It’s not loving the sinner; it’s simply loving.

“This is the kind of welcome that LGBT people want from the church.  It is the kind of welcome that all people want from the church.  LGBT people want this kind of welcome not because they are a special category of sinners, but, because they are, like most people, average, garden-variety sinners.  Pope Francis illustrated this profound human reality last September during his groundbreaking interview with a Jesuit magazine.  When asked who Jorge Bergoglio is, the pope answered, “I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”

Martin concludes with some tips about how the church can show its love for gay and lesbian people more deeply:

“First, it would mean listening to their experiences—all their experiences, what their lives are like as a whole. Second, it would mean valuing their contributions to the church. Where would our church be without gays and lesbians—as music ministers, pastoral ministers, teachers, clergy and religious, hospital chaplains and directors of religious education? Infinitely poorer. Finally, it would mean publicly acknowledging their individual contributions: that is, saying that a particular gay Catholic has made a difference in our parish, our school, our diocese. This would help remind people that they are an important part of the body of Christ.”

While, yes, I agree with Martin here, there is also a sense of regret upon reading the passage because for the past two years we have been witnessing dismissals of LGBT people from church employment, a total devaluing of their gifts and personhood.  Yes, this type of welcome is urgently needed, not just for a positive message, but to correct the terribly negative message that firings have sent.

It’s important, too, that LGBT people’s spiritual gifts are also acknowledged and affirmed. The particular journeys that LGBT people go on to accept, affirm, and announce their identities to others often results in incredible spiritual gifts that are not as readily attained by others.  For instance, their journeys often provide them with a strong sense about telling the truth, a deep reservoir of courage to  stand up to fear and rejection, a profound sense of God’s love, and a new respect for the primacy of their consciences. Amazing gifts that they can offer to the rest of the church!

As Fr. Martin concludes, they are indeed an important part of the Body of Christ.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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