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


Open Letter to Pope Francis: Help Save My Vocation

August 22, 2014
Benjamin Brenkert

Benjamin Brenkert

Guest Blogger: In an open letter to Pope Francis,  Benjamin Brenkert explains his decision to leave the Jesuits because of LGBTQ issues, and asks the pontiff to be stronger in his statements about LGBTQ equality.

Dear Pope Francis,

              In your time as Pope, your commitment to poverty has awakened the world to the evils of globalization, capitalism, and materialism. Many now understand poverty to be a structural sin and a social evil. Through your public statements you have sparked the interest of Catholics and non-Catholics, believers and atheists. The world looks to you as a shepherd, a man filled with the joy of the Gospel.

Yet, while you have focused on physical and material poverty, members of my community–lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgendered and queer/questioning men, women and youth–have been neglected. They remain on the frontiers, the margins, living spiritually poor lives. Some need the voice of Cardinals like Walter Kasper to tell them that God loves them. Others know that God loves them, but Church leadership rejects them as disordered and disoriented. Your prophetic question “Who am I to judge?” encourages people everywhere to have a non-judgmental attitude towards members of the LGBTQ community. But being non-judgmental is not enough; especially when Jesus tells us to be like the Good Samaritan and “Go, Do likewise.”

But who am I to write you?

As an openly gay man, I’ve spent the past 10 years pursuing the priesthood in the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). I am full of gratitude for this time. I loved being a Jesuit, a son of St. Ignatius of Loyola. This July, I left the Jesuits in good standing.

Today, I can no longer justly or freely pursue ordination to the priesthood as a gay man in a Church where gay men and lesbian women are being fired from their jobs. The last straw for me was when a married lesbian social justice minister was fired from a Jesuit parish in Kansas City. 

Such marginalization is contrary to what many have called the “Francis Effect.”  These firings negate your emphasis on eradicating poverty by bringing men and women closer to physical and material poverty. Firing people because of their sexuality, or their right to marry, is discriminatory. It is unjust, especially since many Catholic institutions have employment non-discrimination disclaimers that state they are equal opportunity employers that comply with all federal, state and local laws which prohibit discrimination in employment based on race, color, national origin, age, gender, religion, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, veteran status and arrest record.

In my decision letter to my Provincial I noted my awareness of how LGBTQ injustice contradicts the Gospel. Furthermore,  I pointed out how anti-gay legislation in countries like Uganda and Russia, and the subsequent lack of action by the Church, led me to start questioning my membership in the Church. As I pray about why I left the Society of Jesus, because of LGBTQ injustice in the Church, I continue to pray St. Ignatius’ Suscipe Prayer:

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own. You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

I pray that God continues to give me the grace to fulfill my vows, to respond to the needs of our world, an Incarnated reality that needs an ecumenical Church–one that responds to the needs of the physically and spiritually poor together, as evidenced by Matthew 25. I long to not be a safe outsider or a fringe character.  Yet, I, an openly gay man, was told by my superiors to focus on other pastoral concerns. Why?

As an openly gay man I sought ordination because of God’s calling me to the priesthood. From the age of 15 I prayed to understand that question. I prayed not to run but to be found. Time and again vocation directors, spiritual directors, and superiors tested my deepest desires, my holiest longing, these men saw me as oriented not disordered, available to the priesthood for good and holy reasons.

As I entered the Jesuit Novitiate, God helped me to know myself, to see myself as a fully self-loving and integrated gay man. Over time, I saw that I had gifts to offer as a sensitive, empathic, joyful, loving, prayerful, articulate, multi-dimensional, well-educated minister. I understand myself to be priestly, despite my humanness and frailty.

Pope Francis, with my vocation evolving, I remain priestly. I write you to help save my vocation, whatever that might be in the future. I ask you to instruct the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to tell Catholic institutions not to fire any more LGBTQ Catholics.  I ask you to speak out against laws that criminalize and oppress LGBTQ people around the globe. These actions would bring true life to your statement “Whom am I to judge?”

As I continue my transition as a member of the laity, I am reminded that like every Jesuit, I am “a sinner yet called to be a companion of Jesus as our founder Saint Ignatius of Loyola was.” And like many of my Jesuit brothers worldwide, gay or straight, I still reflect on the three principle questions of Jesuit and Ignatian prayer: “What have I done for Jesus?, What am I doing for Jesus?, and What will I do for Jesus?” For this, I am full of gratitude.

As a former Jesuit, I know that at the core of Saint Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises is a meeting of God, others, and self. This meeting takes place in a dynamic way that draws on our human and godly desires for relationship and love. In short, it is a pilgrimage that places Jesus at the center of one’s life. This pilgrimage is open to homosexuals and heterosexuals. Jesus instructed us all to be good Samaritans,to “Go, Do Likewise.”

With love and affection,

Ben Brenkert

 

Related resources

Bondings 2.0  “Catholicism, Employment, & LGBT Issues”

Call To Action:  Church Worker Justice

The Riverdale Press: “Priestly, but no longer a candidate for priesthood”


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


Is Celibacy the New Form of Reparative Therapy for Lesbians and Gays?

August 6, 2014

Religion News Service published an article this week entitled “Gay, Christian and … celibate: The changing face of the homosexuality debate,” which examines how the concept of celibacy is re-shaping the conservative religious establishment’s approach to lesbian and gay issues.   That is a shame for gay and lesbian people, religion, and, most of all, celibacy.

According to the article, with reparative therapy falling into greater and greater disrepute, many of its former proponents are now promoting celibacy as the proper option for lesbian and gay people.  Using Exodus, one of the former premier religious reparative therapy groups, the article states:

“When Exodus shut down in 2013, some said it spelled the end of ex-gay ministries that encourage reparative or conversion therapy for gays to become straight. Ex-gay groups such as Restored Hope Network stepped in to the gap, but many religious leaders are now encouraging those with same-sex orientation or attraction to consider a life of celibacy. . . .

“Earlier this year, the 50,000-member American Association of Christian Counselors amended its code of ethics to eliminate the promotion of reparative therapy, and encouraged celibacy instead.”

Not surprisingly, these conservative religious groups have looked to Catholicism, which has a long tradition of celibacy, for support in this endeavor.  The article states:

“Some evangelicals mine Catholicism’s centuries-old tradition of celibacy, said Wesley Hill, a professor of New Testament at Trinity School for Ministry, who wrote Washed and Waiting, a 2010 book on being gay and celibate.

“‘They already have a rich history of celibacy that I had to discover as an evangelical,’ Hill said. ‘Twenty years ago, being gay would be considered irredeemably bad, something to be delivered from or be changed. (Celibacy) leads me to form close bonds with friends, to have self-denial and sacrifice.’ ”

There is no doubt that celibacy can be a beautiful, satisfying, and enriching way to live.   And Catholicism’s history is filled with many holy and virtuous celibates.   But these conservative Christians will be making the same mistake that Catholic leaders have made for decades by saying that celibacy is the only moral option for lesbian and gay people.

Catholicism, and perhaps more accurately, early Christianity viewed celibacy as a gift and a calling.  It was something that grew out of a personal relationship with God and also seen as a way of responding to this relationship.  It was never something that was required of a whole class of people.  It was seen as a calling, a vocation, which arose out of one’s spiritual longings and experiences.

In the Middle Ages church officials eventually did make it a discipline and requirement for ordination to priesthood, but it was something that, in most of the ordinary circumstances, no one was morally required to adopt because of an outside moral obligation.

Most importantly, for the most part celibacy was seen as something that grew in the context of community.  Religious celibates enacted their calling with the mutual support of others who shared a similar call in a monastery, convent, and eventually in religious life that stressed apostolic ministry.

So, when Catholic leaders make the case that celibacy is the moral requirement of all lesbian and gay people, they are actually re-imagining a totally different understanding of what celibacy is.  Instead of a calling, it seems to be imagined as a punishment or a remedy.  Celibacy of this kind cannot be life-giving to individuals or to the community of the Church.

I have met many lesbian and gay Catholics who are called to celibacy.  They live their lives as priests, in religious communities, and as lay people active in the world.  Their celibacy is a calling, a response, and a choice.  For them, it is a joy.

I have also met a number of celibate people, both homosexual and heterosexual, who experienced this life practice as a burden and an unwanted cross.  For some, it is viewed as an endurance test rather than as a spiritual aid.  They are not happy people, and I cannot imagine that God wants them to live so unhappily.

For conservative Christians to turn to celibacy as a way to deal with an unwanted homosexual orientation, they are not experiencing the gift of this practice in the way that God intended.  If they are turning to Catholicism for a model in how to live celibacy, they should also pay attention to the way that Catholics have abused and mistreated this potentially beautiful gift.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

Slate.com: “Thou Shalt Not Forsake Thy Celibate Christian LGBTQ Brethren”

 

 


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

 

 

 


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