Elphin Bishop, Bert & Ernie, Gay Priests, and Colin Farrell Are All Involved in Ireland’s LGBT Debates

December 12, 2014

Earlier this week, we posted about the marriage equality debate happening now in Ireland, and the role of Catholic bishops and laity on both sides of the issue.  Today we will look at some other Catholic LGBT issues in both the Republic of Ireland and the six counties which comprise Northern Ireland. These issues include marriage benefits, adoption, religious liberty, and gay priests.

Bishop Kevin Doran

In the heavily Catholic Republic of Ireland, where the marriage equality debate is occurring, Bishop Kevin Doran of the diocese of Elphin, a strong advocate against marriage equality has also spoken in opposition to lesbian and gay couples adopting children.  In a talk in the city of Roscommon, Doran spoke about the importance of procreation in marriage and the idea of complementarity of the the sexes being important for child-rearing.

But Doran did make some concessions.  Gay Star News  reported:

“Although slamming gay marriage and adoption, Doran did say that the state should ensure gay couples in committed relationships should have inheritance and visiting rights in the event of illness or death. He also said that the church, ‘condemns without reservation words or actions which are intended to injure, ridicule or undermine homosexual people.’ “

Catholic opposition to adoption by gay and lesbian couples was also in the spotlight in the more Protestant Northern Ireland, where the Catholic bishops have chosen to sever ties with an adoption agency which has agreed to let such couples adopt.  Gay Star News provided details:

“The agency in question is The Family Care Society NI. The agency was originally founded by the Church and has offices in Belfast.

“Adoption laws were changed in Northern Ireland in 2012 to allow same-sex couples to adopt. . . .

“In a statement. . ., the Catholic Bishops of Northern Ireland said, ‘It is unreasonable for legislators to oblige faith-based organizations to act against their fundamental and reasonable religious beliefs in the provision of services that contribute to the common good.

” ‘As a result the Family Care Society is now legally obliged to receive and process applications in accordance with the new and wider interpretation of adoption law established by the High Court decision.

” ‘Since the provision of adoption services in Northern Ireland now also involves acting against the Church’s teaching and ethos, we too have no option but to end the long established relationship between the Church and The Family Care Society NI.’ “

It is curious that when discussing adoption and Catholic teaching, these bishops only focus on the sexual relationship of the couple, and not the importance of a child being raised in a loving household.

Muppets Bert and Ernie

In a related story, Paul Givan, a politician with the heavily Protestant Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, has called for “reasonable accommodation” for religious conscience as part of his Freedom of Conscience Amendment Bill which he is proposing.  The bill was in response to a case in which a Christian baker refused to make a cake of the Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie, with the slogan “Support Gay Marriage” and including the logo of Queerspace, an LGBTQ organization in Belfast.

The Irish nation has also had an inside view into the lives of some of its gay priests through the publication of a sociological study of priesthood by former seminarian Dr. John Weafer.

Entitled Thirty-Three Good Men: Celibacy, Obedience and Identity, the book examines the lives of a sampling of priests in the context of a variety of their life struggles.  The parts about gay priests have been receiving the most press attention.  The Huffington Post report on the book discussed one gay priest, known as Fr. L, who went on to have a sexual relationship with another priest:

“Fr L went on to discover a ‘clerical gay scene in Ireland,’ saying he believed there were ‘quite a lot of gay guys in the priesthood’ and during one visit to a gay bar in Dublin recognized at least nine priests in the venue.

“Weafer said he did not believe the church hierarchy would be surprised to read these revelations.

” ‘There is a support group for gay priests in Ireland and one respondent said a number of bishops had been invited and met with them in an informal setting,’ Weafer told The Huffington Post over the phone.”

In a story about the book in The Belfast Telegraph, the author noted the difficult situation gay priests live in:

“He believes that there are ‘quite a lot of gay guys in the priesthood’ and on one occasion when he went into a gay bar in Dublin, he recognised at least nine priests in the bar. . . .

” ‘As long as priests don’t go public and don’t flaunt those actions that don’t correspond with being a celibate priest’ they turn a blind eye, he claimed. . . .

“According to Dr Weafer: ‘If a priest was to say in the morning “I am gay,” he would be fired. Priests have learned to keep their heads down.’ “

Actor Colin Farrell and his gay brother, Eamonn Farrell

Given the marriage equality debate and these other controversies which have emerged, Ireland, north and south, seems poised for some lively national dialogues about LGBT people and religion. One news story noted that at least 20,000 students in Ireland have registered to vote to participate in the marriage equality referendum in the spring.  Irish celebrities such as actor Colin Farrell have also become involved in the discussion, making public statements in support of marriage equality.

It would be wonderful if the bishops would relax their defensive posture somewhat and listen to the stories of LGBT people, even their own gay priests. They would learn so much about life, love, and faith.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

The Independent: “Bishop supports inheritance rights for gay couples”

Irish Bishops and Laity Have Differing Views on Marriage Equality

December 9, 2014

The Republic of Ireland has become the latest of focus of Catholic LGBT political involvement. And as is becoming the pattern in many heavily Catholic nations, there is a huge divide between the way that the Catholic hierarchy addresses these issues and the way that the Catholic people in the pews do so.

Ireland is gearing up for a Spring 2015 referendum on whether to extend marriage laws to gay and lesbian couples.  The Irish Catholic Bishops Conference has entered the debate by releasing a pamphlet entitled “The Meaning of Marriage,” in which they defend the position that marriage should only be open to heterosexual couples. The Irish Times reported on the press conference “launch” of the pamphlet:

” ‘The view of marriage as being between man and a woman and for life, that’s not something which is particular to Catholics and Christians. There are people of all kinds of other religious beliefs, and of none, who believe in that,’ said Bishop Liam MacDaid of Clogher, who is chair of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference council for marriage.

“ ‘To put any other view of marriage on the same level as Christian marriage would be a disservice to society rather than a service,’ added Bishop MacDaid . . .

Since same-gender marriage has been a reality around the globe for well over a decade now, and since we have research on the benefits that marriage equality has had for those couples, their children, and society, it is a very weak argument to say that allowing lesbian and gay couples to marry will somehow devalue or harm heterosexual marriage and society.

The Irish Times also noted:

“According to the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll, 67 per cent of Irish people support the notion of same-sex marriage being constitutionally enshrined, with just 20 per cent of respondents opposed to such a move.”

Brian Sheehan, director of the Gay and Lesbian Network, a leading Irish LGBT organization, countered the bishops’ assertions with statistical information about the state of marriage in Ireland, noting:

“ . . . ‘[O]ne third of children born in Ireland are born to single parents. They grow up in a variety of diverse family arrangements.’ Allowing gay and lesbian couples make such a commitment in civil marriage ‘would strengthen marriage.’ ”

Christian Today reported on a significant symbolic gesture which shows how far Catholic Irish leaders have come in their support of LGBT equality. Reporting on the bishops’ release of their document, the article stated:

“The Church’s launch came a day after Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny was pictured in one of Dublin’s main gay bars at an event held by his party’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) society. . . .

” ‘The Taoiseach (Prime Minister) in a gay bar is a first,’ renowned Irish drag queen Panti Bliss, owner of Pantibar, the bar Kenny visited, wrote on its Facebook page.

” ‘Only a few years ago a Taoiseach wouldn’t have dared, so it shows how times have changed.’ “

One week before the brochure on marriage was released, Bishop Kevin Doran of the Elphin Diocese said in a talk that his opposition to marriage equality was

“ ‘not about homosexuality or the gay lifestyle, it is about the meaning of marriage.’

“He said ‘societies rely on families built on strong marriages to produce what they need but cannot secure: healthy upright children who become conscientious citizens.’ “

Doran’s arguments were countered in a letter to the editor from Dave Donnellan, secretary of the Gay Catholic Voice Ireland, the nation’s LGBT Catholic organization.  Citing an Irish Medical Journal report that said that LGBT youth are 14 times more likely to commit suicide and 16 times more likely to be the victim of sexual assault, Donnellan called on Catholic bishops to have their priorities better placed:

“This opposition [to marriage equality] mistakenly suggests that the primary issue from a Catholic perspective is a legal one. It’s not. The primary issue here for the Catholic Church is not legal, it is pastoral.

“The question is, do we as a church care about LGBT people who are suffering greatly as the study mentioned above, and others like it suggest? Have we put in place any pastoral care plan to respond to the needs of these vulnerable young LGBT people?

“The fundamental question for the Catholic Church is: ‘Do we love our LGBT people?’ What the LGBT community needs from Bishop Doran and the other bishops in the run-up to the referendum is a witness to the love that God has for the LGBT community and not instructions on how to vote in a referendum.”

Donnellan’s emphasis seems to be in line with Pope Francis’ admonition that bishops should not be “obsessed” with issues like gay marriage.

Stay tuned for more on LGBT political issues in Ireland later in the week on this blog.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

National Catholic Reporter: “Irish bishops: Marriage between man, woman is matter of justice”

Advocate.com: “Irish Ad Looks to Inspire Youth to Say ‘Yes’ to Marriage Equality”

Catholic Grade School Students Teach Adults a Lesson About LGBT Justice

December 5, 2014

If anyone needs any proof that the younger generation are in the forefront of moving the Catholic Church to become more inclusive and equal for LGBT people, there’s no need to look anywhere past Ottawa, Canada, where Catholic school officials are now allowing two sixth grade students to go forward with a gay-themed project to fulfill a social justice assignment.

Quinn Maloney-Tavares and Polly Hamilton

The Ottawa Catholic School Board reversed an earlier decision by a principal to ban a project being organized by two girls, Quinn Maloney-Tavares and Polly Hamilton, who were preparing a presentation for St. George’s School’s  Social Justice Fair.

According to The Ottawa Citizenthe School Board’s director of education Julian Hanlon said that the school principal had originally had concerns about the project not because it was about gay and lesbian people, but because he felt it might not be age-appropriate for 4th and 5th grade students.

The news account explains some of the board’s rationale for the reversal:

“In a statement on Friday, board chairman Ted Hurley said he had reviewed the matter ‘in the full context of promoting fairness, bullying prevention and Catholic teaching with regard to gay rights.’

“ ‘The Holy Father, Pope Francis, has made it clear that our attitudes to gay and lesbian people should be addressed with love and dignity in an open and transparent way, when he said, “Who am I to judge?” ‘

“He said concern about age-appropriateness of the subject matter for Grade 4 and 5 students drove the decision to disallow the presentation.

“What has since become clear, however, is that the motives behind the planned presentation by the two young girls were simply to combat the kinds of behaviour and attitudes that can lead to bullying of gay people, and violations of human rights,” Hurley’s statement said.”

The linchpin of this story is in the term “age-appropriate.”  Why would it seem that gay and lesbian people are not topics to discuss among elementary school students?   It is always difficult to speculate.  Would it be because discrimination against such people had been so harsh for so long that the subject matter may be too intense for young people?  Or is it because some adults perceive the topic to be primarily about sexual activity, which would not be something that school children have the maturity level to comprehend?  Could it be because Catholic teaching on the subject is so complicated and hotly debated?  Perhaps it was something else entirely.

Whatever the reason, these two young students have shown that the primary defining feature of this topic is the human dignity of people who do not conform to mainstream expectations.  That is a valuable lesson not only for 4th and 5th graders, but, it seems, one that some of the school officials need to learn.

Ann Maloney, Quinn’s mother, defended the project as fitting the assignment and the intended audience.  And, she said the controversy has already taught the girls and the community some important ideas:

“ ‘Social justice is about people who are oppressed, and gay people have been oppressed in society and continue to be,’ she said. ‘That’s all that the kids want to do. It’s a kid-friendly, kid-appropriate topic to do.’

“She said the kids have learned a lot from the experience already: ‘That you don’t have to walk away: that if you do something, there can be change. That’s the exciting part for them.’ ”

This past year alone, we have seen Catholic high school students protesting the firings of lesbian and gay teachers from their schools, Catholic college students developing policies that are inclusive and sensitive to their LGBT friends on campuses, and many other initiatives that young Catholics have undertaken to make sure that their church-run institutions are welcoming of all.  Just click on “Schools & Youth” in the “Categories” box in the column on the right-hand side of this page.

The future is in good hands!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article

The Ottawa Citizen editorial: “The Catholic board and gay rights”


Catholic Leaders’ Spotty Record Against Anti-LGBT Laws

December 2, 2014

Catholicism’s record on the growing trend of repressive laws around the globe which target LGBT people has been a very spotty one.  Despite strong official teaching which clearly opposes such measures, Catholic leaders have not always been courageous in speaking out during legislative debates, and, indeed, sometimes they have been explicit in their support of such laws.  Only a few exceptions exist where bishops have taken any kind of stand against repressive laws.

The church’s mixed record is the focus of an enlightening article in this week’s America magazine.  Celso Perez, a Gruber Fellow at Human Rights Watch and the holder of a theological ethics degree from Jesuit-run Boston College. Perez’ thesis is summed up in the article’s title and subtitle:  “Zero Tolerance: Why Catholics must condemn anti-gay violence.”   I’ll summarize his argument here, but I encourage readers to click on the title above so they can examine the entire article with all of its rich details.

Celso Perez

Perez notes that at least 76 nations have laws which criminalize people who are LGBT, and that this alarming trend has caught the attention of many human rights advocates.  He continues by highlighting Catholicism’s role:

“Growing awareness of such discriminatory practices underscores the importance of having Catholics reiterate a message of care and nonviolence toward these individuals when discussing issues of sexuality and gender. As church leaders have noted, these calls are consistent with Catholic doctrine on the dignity of all human beings. The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls on Catholics to treat “homosexual persons” with “respect, compassion and sensitivity.” The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s letter “On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons” (1986) mandates respect for the intrinsic dignity of each person in word, in action and in law and condemns violence against homosexual people. While some church leaders and faith communities have stressed a message of dignity and respect, many others have not. In recent years, both religious and lay Catholics, through their actions and words, have promoted policies and practices that seem to contribute to a climate of indifference or even hostility, in which violence against members of sexual and gender minorities can occur.

Some positive response offer hope that other Catholic leaders will follow suit:

Last summer, for instance, the Apostolic Nuncio to Kenya, Archbishop Charles Daniel Balvo, stressed that while the church does not approve of homosexual conduct, it recognizes and respects everyone’s individual dignity. In the wake of growing reports of anti-gay violence in parts of Africa, the archbishop said that “homosexuals should be defended against violation of their dignity and human rights; they are human beings like any one of us.” In Brazil, the Peace and Justice Commission of the Archdiocese of São Paulo, a group composed of both lay people and clergy, strongly condemned the alarming number of attacks against sexual and gender minorities reported in the country.

[Editor’s note: The links to Bondings 2.0 posts were not in the original article. We have added them for your reference.]

Perez makes the implicit plea that though Catholic leaders sometimes debate what “unjust discrimination” is, they should, at the very least, agree that repression and violence should not be condoned:

“The meaning and scope of unjust discrimination against homosexual persons is still subject to debate in Catholic circles. But church teaching suggests that, at a minimum, this includes a need to refrain from and condemn violence against people on account of their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender expression. As Catholic leaders have noted, this includes the criminalization of consenting sexual behavior among adults. . . .

“In 2008, at the U.N. General Assembly, the Vatican representative publicly stated that it ‘continues to advocate that every sign of unjust discrimination towards homosexual persons should be avoided and urges states to do away with criminal penalties against them. Governments should do away with unjust criminal penalties.’ “

Unfortunately, local Catholic leaders have not always followed the Vatican’s directives in these matters.  Perez also introduces a sad litany of bishops and archbishops around the globe who have supported anti-gay legislation:

“In Uganda the Catholic Church has wavered in its position on a similar bill. In December 2009 Archbishop Cyprian Lwanga opposed Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which initially proposed the death penalty for same-sex sexual acts. Archbishop Lwanga called the bill “at odds with Christian values” like “respect, compassion and sensitivity.” At the time the Holy See also condemned the bill as unjust discrimination. In June 2012, however, a coalition of Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox churches asked the Ugandan parliament to speed up the process of enacting a version of this same bill. . . .

“. . . [S]everal Ugandan bishops categorically supported the legislation during their Easter homilies. Some came close to tacitly endorsing—or at least excusing—acts of violence. Archbishop Lwanga has more recently published a manuscript noting the need to respect and care for homosexual people, yet as of this writing, the Ugandan church as a whole has done little to condemn the abuses that sexual and gender minorities face.”

Perez’ article contains several more examples of shameful complicity by Catholic bishops.

He concludes his essay with a call for the 2015 Synod of Bishop to condemn anti-LGBT violence around the world.  And he notes the importance of Catholic involvement in this arena:

“The statements and actions of church leaders have a profound impact on the social environment in which people belonging to sexual and gender minorities live. Church leaders need to distinguish between morally condemning certain acts and relationships and implicitly or explicitly condoning violence and persecution. The failure to do so not only contravenes church teaching, but contributes to a climate of hostility that threatens lives.”

In addition to Mr. Perez, America magazine should be commended for their courageous stand against these repressive laws.  As far as I know, in 2012 America became the first Catholic periodical to condemn such laws in an editorial.   And in February of this past year, they again editorialized against these measures, citing Pope Francis as an authority for their argument.

While Pope Francis has made some vague references in this regard, he needs to speak more clearly and forcefully against these laws.  In doing so, he will encourage his local bishops to follow his lead.  That’s why New Ways Ministry has been encouraging people to send a tweet to the pope through our #PopeSpeakOut campaign.

In addition, we heartily support Mr. Perez’ recommendation that the Synod of Bishops in 2015 also condemn anti-LGBT initiatives and violence.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Trinidad Archbishop Opens Gay-Inclusive Shelter, Calls for Families to Welcome LGBT Children

December 1, 2014

Archbishop Joseph Harris

The archbishop of the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago is the latest example of the “Francis Effect.” He recently encouraged parents to love their lesbian and gay children, and he opened a new shelter last week that will be inclusive.

Archbishop Joseph Harris helped open the Credo Center, a new shelter for at-risk children administered by the Holy Faith Sisters. The Center will welcome lesbian and gay youth, echoed in an opening statement:

” ‘Our doors are open to any boy or girl we feel are equipped to help, irrespective of race, religion, sexual orientation, physical ability or socio-economic status.’ “

The Holy Faith Sisters operate three other shelters in the country, all of which welcome youth regardless of their sexual orientation. Family rejection is a key reason why youth find themselves at the shelters. When asked about parents who cast out LGBT children, the archbishop’s words were recorded by Trinidad and Tobago Newsday:

” ‘I think that is the worst thing that you can do…I think people are people. All people have to be respected. All people, whatever orientation, are made in the image and likeness of Almighty God. We have to find God in them…

” ‘May all who enter it be treated with respect and kindness…May the spirit of love and affection touch all who use the rooms of this house. Loving God, may you lovingly care for all who will live, work and recreate here. Amen.’ “

At the center’s opening, Credo director Sr. Roberta O’Flaherty also addressed the problem of abandoned youth saying:

” ‘Our centres offer a second chance to socially displaced young people whose experience has been victimisation and marginalisation…Our worst crime is abandoning our children. For many of our children, the answer to today’s problems is not just tomorrow, it is tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. But tomorrow is much too late for children who are suffering.’ “

Civil leaders in attendance, including the Minister of Gender and Child Development Raziah Ahmed, also spoke against discrimination based on a child’s sexual orientation and chastised parents who would reject their children.

The religious statements against discrimination are even weightier given the status of LGBT rights in Trinidad and Tobago. Though unenforced, the country still criminalizes homosexuality and bars gay visitors, even though some progress has been made in recent years.

It is good that high-ranking Catholic leaders are ministering pastorally and speaking out against prejudice against LGBT people. Too often, Catholic bishops have forgone their responsibility to speak out or care for all people because they were so adamantly opposed to LGBT civil rights. Archbishop Harris’ pastoral words and public blessing of the Holy Faith Sisters’ inclusive ministry are well in keeping with Pope Francis’ welcoming style, and hopefully a sign of more to come!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? U.K. Bishops Open Dialogue; U.S. Bishops Should Do the Same

November 17, 2014

“WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?” is  Bondings 2.0’s series on how Catholics–the hierarchy and laity–can prepare for the Synod on Marriage and Family that will take place at the Vatican in October 2015. If you would like to consider contributing a post to this series, please click here

The news of a slate of mostly conservative bishops being elected to represent the U.S. church at the synod on marriage and the family in Rome next October was disappointing.  However, across the Atlantic, news about the synod preparatory plans of the bishops of England and Wales are much more optimistic.

The Tablet reports that these British bishops are going to “launch a wide-ranging consultation of parishes and clergy ahead of next year’s Synod on the Family.”  The article reports:

Cardinal Vincent Nichols

“Following their biannual plenary meeting in Leeds this week, the bishops would like a period of spiritual reflection in each parish and, separately, to hear the experiences of clergy on the main “pastoral challenges” they encounter with families.

“Speaking at a press conference on Friday Cardinal Vincent Nichols said that material would be sent out to parishes and clergy after Christmas. The period of reflection should go on until June or July of next year ahead of the synod in October 2015.

“ ‘It is not so much a request for opinions as a request for testimony,’ Cardinal Vincent Nichols said at the bishops’ conference offices in London.

“ ‘You will recall that the two great features of the synod in October was on the one hand for it to give a resounding trumpet call in support of marriage and stability of family life, and on the other hand express and strengthen the pastoral response of the Church in a wide variety of difficult and pressurised situations. We hope the material we prepare will find that same balance.’ ”

Nichols also made a point of saying that the results of such discussions should be made public.  When a synod organizer sent a questionnaire to bishops last year to disseminate to the laity, the Vatican asked that the results not be made public.

Such an open discussion is what is needed here in the United States, and it was exactly that kind of discussion that Equally Blessed, a coalition of Catholic groups that work for LGBT equality, asked of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) last week.  Coalition members–Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry–sent a letter to the conference last week in which they asked the bishops the following:

Equally Blessed Logo“To prepare for this upcoming event, we urge each of you to initiate a wide conversation with Catholics in your dioceses on marriage, sexuality, and family life, so that so that you can better understand how these realities are experienced by people of faith who actively work to discern how to follow God’s Will.  Since LGBT issues figured so prominently in this past October’s sessions, and since no openly LGBT person provided testimony at these events, it will be necessary to initiate those conversations with LGBT Catholics and their families, in particular. . . .

“Now is the time for bishops in the U.S. to replicate Pope Francis’ process on the local level by opening up a conversation on marriage, family, and sexuality. Many Catholics, especially LGBT people and their families, have waited decades for such an opportunity, and have been heartened by the fact that this year’s synod opened up this much needed discussion.”

New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo, writing for the Equally Blessed coalition, posted an essay on Advocate.com explaining the importance of such a dialogue:

“Since LGBT issues caused so much discussion and disagreement, it will be especially important for U.S. bishops to open a dialogue with LGBT Catholics and their families. This synod showed that there were a majority of bishops who were willing to recognize that lesbian and gay people “have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community,” in the words of an early draft report. Similarly, that same report noted that the “mutual aid to the point of sacrifice” that same-sex partners offer one another “constitutes a precious support” in the couple’s life. It’s important for U.S. bishops to explore these ideas, and the best way of doing so is to listen intently to those closest to these issues. . . .

“The synod’s free and open discussion among bishops must be replicated in local churches. The Catholic laity are an educated and insightful resource. More importantly, they are the true experts on the topics of marriage, family, and sexual expression, since they are the people who live these realities every day, not the bishops. While Catholics develop their theology from scripture, tradition, and nature, they also develop it from examining the lived experience of people of faith. What leader of any organization would want to ignore the perspectives of the people who know an issue because they live it? . . .

“Last year a number of bishops complained that they could not gather input from laity because they only had two months to do so. Now they have 11 months, which is plenty of time to circulate surveys, hold listening sessions, meet with leaders, and post response forms on diocesan websites. When the bishops want to get a message out about opposing some legislative or judicial measure, they do not seem to lack in creativity in using all sorts of media to alert Catholics. Let’s see them use the same creativity to gather opinions on these matters.”

The U.S. bishops need to be encouraged to open such a dialogue, therefore we urge you to write to your local bishop and ask him for such a possibility.  Use some of the arguments and language from this blog post, the Equally Blessed letter, or the Advocate.com essay to make your point.  You can even start the dialogue yourself by sharing your personal story with your bishop so that he can see the faith lives of LGBT people and families, and also see the situations, positive and negative, that they encounter in their local churches.

#BishopsListen model sign. A blank form can be downloaded from the Equally Blessed website.

Equally Blessed is also promoting a Facebook  and Twitter campaign to encourage people to contact their local bishops.  Here’s how it works:

“Take a photo with a #BishopsListen sign to ask your local bishop to listen to families like yours. Then post your photo on facebook or twitter with the hashtag #bishopslisten, or email your photo to coordinator@equally-blessed.org.”

You can read more about the campaign by clicking here.

The U.S. bishops need to follow the example of the U.K. bishops.  But it is probably going to take the encouragement of the laity to get them to do so.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related posts

Queering the Church:  “For English Catholics, a ‘Request for Testimony’ ”

Bondings 2.0: “WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? Writing Letters to Our Bishops



What to Make of Maltese Bishop’s LGBT Award Nomination?

November 10, 2014

Malta Gay Rights Movement logo

A top Catholic official in Malta has been selected for an LGBT community award, but questions are being raised about his nomination given the bishop’s mixed record on same-sex relationships.

The Malta Gay Rights Movement (MGRM) honored both public input and committee votes by adding Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna to the nominee list in the spirituality and religion category for their annual LGBTI Community Awards gala. When some indivdiuals criticized this choice, MGRM responded in a statement, quoted in part by Malta Today:

” ‘Spirituality and religion have a positive impact on many peoples’ lives. Just as in the heterosexual community, also for some LGBTI people religion and faith are an important part of their identities. Hence, we support the efforts of LGBTI people who wish to be accepted within their faith communities’…

“The gay rights movement said the bishop had received sufficient votes in the online and sub-committee votes, and in a final review, it was decided not to exclude him to preserve the integrity of the selection process. ‘Secondly… we have indeed seen a marked improvement in the quality and tonality of communication from the Catholic Church more generally in relation to issues affecting the LGBTI Community.’ “

MGRM also announced a meeting to discuss Scicluna’s nomination, and the organization hopes the bishop attends as a “gesture of friendship and dialogue.” It is worth noting that Dominican monk and philosopher Mark Montebello was also nominated for the “spirituality and religion” category.

Bishop Charles Scicluna

Bishop Charles Scicluna

Scicluna’s record on LGBT issues is a messy one. He has repeatedly denied that same-sex couples can marry, and even opposed a civil unions law in Malta that ultimately passed in September 2013.  Scicluna, in an unconfirmed report, said Pope Francis was “shocked” at the idea of gay couples adopting.

At the same time, Scicluna has apologized to lesbian and gay people for times the church has made their lives more difficult. He publicly criticized a lay man’s harsh letter against same-sex relationships, saying it was a “caricature of the Church’s teaching on gay relationships,” and that these relationships exhibit more than lust. Scicluna remarked in an interview about homosexuality in the Catholic Church that, “Love is never a sin. God is love.” Earlier this year, he took part in an official event marking the International Day Against Homophobia, alongside pro-equality political leaders.

Still, critics of MGRM’s decision to keep Scicluna on the nominee list are not satisfied. They believe his record opposing LGBT civil rights and his inability to defy church teaching are sufficient to judge him negatively. Malta Today quotes advocate Joseph Carmel Chetcuti as saying:

” ‘I may have missed something but does Scicluna no longer consider homosexuality intrinsically disordered? Is he now saying that gay men and lesbians, as individuals and couples, should be allowed to adopt children and that it is in the interest of children to have gay and lesbian parents?’ “

What to make of all of this?

First, the Malta Gay Rights Movement should be applauded for their approach to this situation. MGRM recognizes that there is no clear distinction between the LGBT community and Catholicism, but that many sexual and gender diverse people are also faithful believers. MGRM’s willingness to advocate critically and inclusively in this tension is commendable, as is the organization’s commitment to respecting the voices of the public and subcommittees who nominated Scicluna.

Second, Malta is one of the most Catholic nations in the world and the church cannot be ignored by LGBT advocates. More than 90% of the population identify as Catholic and the country is officially identified with the church per the constitution. As MGRM itself recognized, ” ‘While it is undeniably an organisation with deep flaws, [the Catholic Church] also does great good’ in the educational and social services it provides for the island nation. And while the institutional church may not support LGBT equality, the Catholic citizenry of Malta do: it was the first European nation to include gender identity protections in its constitution last year proving there is room to grow.

Third, MGRM is not letting the Catholic Church or Bishop Scicluna off the hook just because they are honoring him. There are deep problems with how the institutional church treats and speaks about LGBT people, and much work remains in attaining an inclusive and just Catholic community. MGRM expressed hope that modern scientific and social development in human sexuality will be integrated into the church’s thought. Further, the organization says, “that at some time in the future the Catholic Church will want to apologise to the LGBTI community for its current and historic discriminatory and exclusionary approach.”

In the end, Bishop Scicluna has declined the nomination, reports MGRM on their Facebook page which also explained the bishop’s reasoning as the following:

“Bishop Scicluna feels he should decline the nomination for the LGBTI Community Awards since, as a matter of principle, he does not accept nominations and awards for doing his duty as a Bishop.

“Bishop Scicluna would like to confirm his commitment to promote a community spirit of solidarity and compassion in which LGBTI persons feel they are welcomed. He also commits himself to fight any unjust discrimination against LGBTI persons.”

Scicluna’s welcome of LGBT is imperfect, but he is also far from the worst. It is important to honor Catholic officials who try to offer positive pastoral outreach within the constraints of institution, rather than writing them off wholesale. Who knows? Perhaps Bishop Scicluna’s real reason for not attending the gala is because he will instead be instructing Malta’s newest resident, Cardinal Raymond Burke, on a more pastoral approach to LGBT people!  One can hope!

What do you think? Should Bishop Scicluna and other Catholic leaders be honored by LGBT organizations, even if their records are mixed? Add your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,134 other followers