African Bishops’ Meetings Reveal Underlying Assumptions About LGBT Issues

July 25, 2014

Two recent meetings of bishops’ conferences in Africa reveal some interesting insights about the way that LGBT issues are viewed by both the Vatican and by Catholic leaders on this continent.

Fr. Andrea Ciucci

In the Republic of the Congo’s capital, Brazzaville, the Association of Episcopal Conferences of Central Africa (ACERAC) met and heard from  Fr. Andrea Ciucci, a staff member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family.  In discussing, marriage and the family, Fr. Ciucci explained that one of the biggest threats to this social unit is “gender theory.”  African human rights advocate and blogger Denis Nzioka posted a news story about Ciucci’s comments which described the priest’s position:

He explained that gender identity is an ”increasing problem” for the family in Africa, and is something that is not a natural phenomenon, but rather is being learned through technology and the internet.

“(T)his way of understanding life is not an African problem, but all young African people are connected to the internet, so the younger ones are listening to this” and seeing this “way of humanity, sexuality, and the relationship between a man a woman.”

Although the theory of the internet is “just a hypothesis,” the priest explained that questions regarding gender are very common in African youth, and  Church leaders there are “trying to understand this problem and how this culture of gender is penetrating in Africa and in the different generations of Africans.”

The news story did not elaborate on what Ciucci might have meant by the gender identity problem.  Could it mean new understandings of gender roles or perhaps the more controversial areas of transgender issues or same-sex relationships ?

A comment from Congo’s Cardinal Portella Mbouyou, who is the current chair of  ACERAC might elucidate Ciucci’s remarks.  In discussing marriage, he said:

‘it behooves on us to exercise our doctrinal and pastoral caution to the exogenous threats from the new world ethics which has the goal to deconstruct the moral order regarded as simple socio-cultural construction of an era without any natural basis and therefore likely to be modified at the mercy of desires and individuals, groups and generations.’

Mbouyou’s  quote seems to indicate that the conference is more concerned with the more controversial issues.

One thing that both Mbouyou’s and Ciucci’s comments reveal is an underlying assumption that ideas about sexuality are cultural imports.  Many scholars have pointed out that homosexuality was a part of African culture before Christian missionaries arrived, and that what was imported was not homosexuality, but homophobia.  The recent movements in Uganda and Nigeria to institute harsh penalties on lesbian and gay people have borne out this theory by the fact that it was American fundamentalist churches which fueled and funded the anti-gay ideology.

Bishops at the AMCEA meeting.

At the second African meeting, bishops who are members of the Association of Member Episcopal Conference in Eastern Africa (AMECEA) met in Lilongwe, Malawi, also discussed marriage and family issues, including a specific discussion of homosexuality, according to a news report on AllAfrica.com.

Fr. Andrew Kaufa, a communications officer of AMCEA, struck the note that homosexuality is an imported phenomenon to Africa:

“The church has observed that there are a number of challenges that many families from different African countries are facing which is affecting the preaching of the gospel.

“Many rich countries are imposing strange cultures in poor nations, an issue that calls for discussion and intervention,” Fr. Kaufa said.

He added: “As we try to search for solutions in regard to family matters, the Bishops will also pay attention to the issue of same sex which is at the helm.”

But the news report said that the discussion of homosexuality was “tabled,” which might mean that some bishops had disagreement about certain parts of the conversation.  Malawi, the meeting’s host nation, recently decided not to arrest gay people and to review its anti-gay laws, though homosexuality is still considered criminal in that country.  One of the other member nations of AMCEA is Uganda, which last year added draconian punishments for lesbian and gay people–measures which were implicitly supported by the country’s Catholic bishops.

Archbishop Vincent Paglia

Archbishop Vincent Paglia

Speaking at the AMCEA conference was Archbishop Vincent Paglia, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family.  (You can read the entire text of his talk here.)Paglia made headlines when he spoke favorably of legal protections for same-gender couples.

The archbishop highlighted the same theme that Ciucci mentioned at ACERAC,namely that one of the external forces impacting negatively on African families was the “ideology and theory of gender.”

Paglia also struck out at “individualism” as a threat to the family:

The question of marriage and the family is to be considered in the light of the “individualization” of contemporary society.  Over the last several centuries, we have seen the rise of subjectivity, which is in some ways a positive development because it has made possible the affirmation of the dignity of the individual, but excessive attention to the individual takes society down a dangerous path.  It seems that the “me” is everywhere prevailing over the “us,” and individual over society.

While it is interesting that nowhere in his talk did he mention same-gender relationships or homosexuality, this reference to “individualism,”  and later references to “relativism,” are sometimes used by church leaders as references to lesbian and gay perspectives.

On the other hand, in a long talk about marriage and family, there are very few references to reproduction as a feature of these relationships, which can be seen as moving away from that as a primary focus of the marital bond.

Transgender issues did not receive such a favorable treatment in Paglia’s talk.  Towards the end of his speech he again mentions “gender identity” as an evil, explaining:

“. . . there are a number of cultural and political questions that we cannot avoid, for example gender identity, that is, what does it mean today to be a man or a woman.  We need to be able to give a clear and convincing response to the elimination of sexual differentiation that is being proposed by the new “gender” culture prevailing today in all international contexts.”

Most interesting of all in my read of Paglia’s talk is that all of the positive things he says about marriage and family, all of the hopes families have, and all the challenges that families face, can easily be said about families with LGBT members in them.   When church leaders take off their heterosexist blinders, they will see that LGBT relationships and families are not threats to society, but equally valuable building blocks of our social life together.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article

PinkNews.co.uk: “Malawi: Catholic conference to discuss ‘strange culture’ of homosexuality”

 


Catholic School Teacher in Italy Loses Job Because of Lesbian Rumors

July 23, 2014

The disturbing trend of firing Catholic school teachers because of LGBT issues has moved overseas, and the reason for firing has become even weaker than usual, compared to the cases here in the United States.

Students at the Institute of the Sacred Heart, Trent, Italy.

In Italy, a state-funded school, L’Istituto Sacro Cuore (The Sacred Heart Institute) in the northern city of Trent, did not renew its contract with a teacher because there were rumors that she was a lesbian, which she refused to either confirm or deny.

PinkNews.com reported that the teacher, who is known only by the pseudonym “Silvia” offered a reaction to the school’s decision:

“ ‘What happened to me is medieval.

“ ‘Maybe I’m a lesbian, maybe I’m not. But asking me about my sexual orientation as a condition for renewing my contract is unacceptable.’

“She also said that Sister Eugenia Libratore, headmistress and Mother Superior, ‘told me she was willing to turn a blind eye if I was willing to “solve the problem.” Homosexuality is a problem?’

” ‘Silvia’ said she had worked at the school for five years and lives with her partner in Trento.”

According to Gazzetta del Sudthe teacher has not provided information if her partner is male or female:

“Silvia told La Repubblica (an Italian newspaper) adding that she is aged between 30 and 40, has been teaching an ‘important and mandatory subject’ at Sacro Cuore for five years, and lives in Trento with someone she loves.”

Gay Star News reported Sister Libratore’s side of the story:

“Eugenia Libratore, the headmistress of Sacro Cuore, reportedly said she decided not to renew the ‘adequate and professional’ teacher’s contract because she ‘has the school’s environment to protect’ and ‘moral ethics’ to preserve. . . .

“Libratore told Corriere (an Italian newspaper) she had heard about the teacher’s sexuality through rumors in the staff room.

” ‘I told her I had heard these rumours and hoped they were false rumors, because I have the school environment to protect,’ she said.

” ‘When choosing teachers for a Catholic school, I also do assessments from the point of view of moral ethics…

” ‘The Catholic school has its own characteristics and set of educational guidelines that must be defended at all costs.’ “

Italy’s Education Minister Stefania Giannini

Because employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation has been illegal in Italy since 2003,  and because the school accepts government funding, Italy’s Education Minister, Stefania Giannini, has become involved in the case, after 20 Italian senators requested intervention.  In La Repubblicathe Minister stated:

“Whenever we are faced with a case related to sexual discrimination, we will act with due severity.”

As regular readers of Bondings 2.0  will recognize, most of the firings that have happened in the United States over the last few years have been due to a gay or lesbian teacher becoming legally married.  Only one action from the list of all reported ones since 2008 was due to perceived sexual orientation, that being Tim Nelson in 2013.

This Italian case highlights an attitude on the part of the school’s headmistress that may be important to understanding what motivates administrator’s to react so harshly in such cases. The Italian administrator said:

“The Catholic school has its own characteristics and set of educational guidelines that must be defended at all costs.”

Granted this rendering comes from a translation, not the original Italian in which it was spoken, but it seems curious that the headmistress sees herself as a “defender” of the faith, which seems to be under siege.  Such a sad attitude, and perhaps it is one which other church leaders share.

LGBT people are not out to destroy Catholicism or religion.  On the contrary, their experience of overcoming hatred, oppression, and fear contains many important elements which bring much life and spirit to faith.

If Church leaders would be able to stop seeing homosexuality as “a problem,” as the headmistress in this story described it, I know that it would be simply a small step for them to start recognizing the spiritual richness that LGBT offer the church community.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article

TheLocal.it: “Lesbian teacher fired ‘to protect Catholic school'”


Spanish Nun: Same-Gender Relationships Are a ‘Sacrament’ of God’s Love

July 21, 2014

Spain’s Sister Teresa Forcades is a well-known activist for women’s rights, political autonomy in her home country and region, and economic justice. She has been labeled “Europe’s Most Radical Nun,” and she challenges the Church as often as she challenges unjust structures in society.

This Benedictine nun is also an advocate for LGBT people, offering the following insights in an interview earlier this year. Sr. Forcades goes beyond allowing for LGBT people to express themselves sexually and have relationships to celebrate them as profound and beautiful signs of God’s love in the world:

Sr. Teresa Forcades

“The religious analysis that understands sex as something that is intended for procreation is a utilitarian view of human love and is contrary to Christian spirituality. To surrender to the mystery of an interpersonal relationship is to surrender to growing towards being an image of God, towards incarnating what God represents on earth. Upon entering, you receive a gift, that this union could engender a child, but that’s perfectly compatible with you being able to be responsible and use contraception when you please…

“So I think that homosexual love is perfectly understandable to the church, because it has what is essential: it’s not having children, but an open intimacy to an interpersonal relationship that includes respect for the integrity of the other. Two people who love one another, desire one another, and respect one another are giving testimony: this is the sacrament, a visible sign — like baptism — that’s saying, ‘This creature is accepted in this community as any other.’ Trinitarian theology says that all sacraments are an embodiment of God’s love. God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are different but they are not complementary. Love is not necessity; it’s not when I need you because I’m missing something. It can’t be utilitarian love.”

A tip of the hat to Michael Bayly who writes on on Catholic LGBT issues at The Wild Reed for drawing attention to Sr. Forcades’ powerful words. She has long been a proponent of LGBT rights, and a recent profile in The Guardian notes of Sr. Teresa:

“Before she took her vows in 1997, Forcades tested the other nuns by giving a talk on a group of gay Catholics who celebrated their sexuality as a gift from God. She was humbled by the nuns’ humane reaction and, so, joined them.”

In March, Sr. Teresa visited Baltimore and lectured on a variety of justice-related issues. She views change in the Catholic Church as many do, a bottom-up effort, saying:

“When I talk about church, we talk about how the Gospel inspired us. There are many kinds of church, and I identify with the people at the bottom, at the base. Many people have a hope that the Catholic church might change because of the pope, but if you look at history, change comes from bottom up, not from top down.”

You can read more about that visit in the National Catholic Reporter or read a profile of Sr. Teresa in The Guardian by clicking here.

From her lips to the bishops’ ears! But, in the meantime, it is those same-gender couples living out this sacrament of God’s love who are not waiting for change in the Church, but creating it from the bottom up. Gratitude that Sr. Teresa is willing to speak that truth to power, as she so often does!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Mexican Bishop Calls Homophobic People “Sick”

July 17, 2014

Bishop Raul Vera

In an interview with El País newspaper, the outspoken bishop used some of his most powerful arguments yet to show how Catholic leaders need to refine some of their language in regard to LGBT people and marriage equality.  Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

“Q. Not long ago you baptized the daughter of a lesbian couple. What do you think about homosexuality?

“A. That is a topic that we have refused to address. The people who say homosexuals are sick are sick themselves. The Church needs to come to them not with condemnation, but with dialogue. We cannot cancel out a person’s richness just because of his or her sexual preference. That is sick, that is heartless, that is lacking common sense.

“Q. Is it not the same with abortion?

“A. I share the Church’s views on abortion, and see it as murder. The difference lies in how you penalize it. Abortion, just like same-sex marriage, has served us subterfuge to tell ourselves that we in the Church have our morals. It is very easy to go against a woman who has an abortion, it poses no trouble and we have support from the ultraconservative right. When there was a national campaign against abortion here, I organized rosary recitations to reflect on the defense of the lives of migrants, miners and women as well as the unborn. But we are hypocrites. It would seem that the only moral rules deal with condemning same-sex couples and abortions. You do that and you’re the perfect Christian.

The full interview, in English, can be read by clicking here.

This is not the first time that Bishop Vera has made strong statements about homophobic people.  Almost a year ago, he made headlines by calling homophobia “a mental illness in which you see gays as depraved and promiscuous. You have to be sick in the head for that.”

At the time of that earlier statement, I made the following comment on this blog, which I think is appropriate to repeat at this time:

“It is wonderful to know that this bishop is speaking out so strongly for lesbian and gay rights.  One caution:  I don’t think that he was using ‘mental illness’ as a technical or clinical term.  From the manner in which he is speaking on the video, he seems to be using it as a rhetorical flourish, more than a diagnosis.  It is interesting to see him turn the tables on homophobic people:  it is usually they who are calling lesbian and gay people ‘mentally ill.’

“And because lesbian and gay people have so often been so mislabeled with that diagnosis, I think we have to be very careful of labeling their opponents in the same way.  In my experience in working with LGBT issues, homophobia is more often a result of ignorance and misguided piety than by a clinical disturbance.”

While noting that distinction, it’s important to recognize that Bishop Vera operates out of deep courage fpr speaking out for all sorts of marginalized groups.  The El País article referred to him as

“the Mexican bishop who holds the record for death threats. He has survived more than one attempt on his life, and his work in favor of missing persons, immigrants, children and juveniles, indigenous populations, prostitutes and pariahs of all types has earned him the undying hatred of many, including the drug rings.”

In the interview, he explains how his work with exploited indigenous communities in southern Mexico taught him about the importance of courage:

“I learned that you have to risk your life if you want to stand on the side of the poor. I learned that in order to defend human life, you have to put your own life on the line. There is no other way to be a shepherd.”

In The Advocate’s report on this story, they noted:

“In 2011, when John Paul II was pope, the Vatican investigated Vera’s work with a gay group. But much has changed under Pope Francis’s leadership.”

The El País article made note of the change of atmosphere in the Church since that time:

“For a long time, Raúl Vera was the Catholic Church’s black sheep, the old-fashioned left-winger. But that was until the ideological earthquake represented by the new pope, Francis I, gave renewed relevance to his words. Now, other bishops are suddenly turning to Vera for guidance.”

Let’s hope and pray that his guidance sways many more bishops to his line of thinking.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Croatia Defies Catholic Bishops by Legally Recognizing Same-Gender Couples

July 16, 2014

Pro-equality demonstration in Croatia

Croatian government officials challenged the predominantly Catholic nation’s ban on marriage equality by passing a law recognizing same-gender couples, directly opposing Church leaders who have vigorously opposed any LGBT rights.

Lawmakers approved the Life Partnership Act on Tuesday, the fulfillment of Prime Minister Zoran Milonavic’s promise to rectify problems created by a same-gender marriage ban approved via referendum last December. The new law grants gay couples all the rights of marriage except adoption. Ahram Online reports further:

“Gay rights activists hailed the legislation in the largely conservative EU member state, which is strongly influenced by the powerful Roman Catholic Church.

” ‘Croatia made a historic step forward to stand along progressive countries which have already resolved the issue,’ Iva Tomecic, editor-in-chief of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) news portal CroL, told AFP.

” ‘From now on same-sex couples and families can finally legally regulate their unions… knowing that the country where they live, work and pay taxes is treating them as equal citizens,’ she said.”

Croatian voters amended the constitution last year to limit marriage to one man and one, although many questioned whether that is how people feel given turnout was only 35% and that a high level of anti-European Union sentiments may have contributed.

Moreovoer, the Catholic hierarchy was heavily involved in the campaign behind the anti-marriage equality amendment, advocating for it from the pulpits and organizing more than 750,000 signatures in a nation of just 4.4 million people. Anti-LGBT activists have already expressed their disappointment with the law, but there seems to be little room to challenge it as the Croatian Constitutional Court said last year’s referendum “cannot limit in any way the future development of legislative regulations concerning civil unions between same-sex partners.”

In light of this new law, it seems appropriate to reiterate the questions about pastoral care for LGBT people and the larger Croatian Church posed by Bondings 2.0 last December:

“Having succeeded in banning marriage rights for same-gender couples, it remains unknown how the Catholic hierarchy will now respond to LGBT people in Croatia…

“With nearly 90% of the population being Catholic, how the Church hierarchy responds in these new circumstances will have a tremendous impact. It’s worth asking whether bishops and conservative leaders will seek to heal wounds created by the divisive amendment and pursue pastoral tones. Or will they seek to suppress further rights for LGBT people and families, such as opposing civil union legislation.”

With civil unions approved for same-gender couples and few options to oppose them left, let us hope Croatia’s bishops will end their crusade against LGBT rights once and for all.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Even an Apology from Singapore Archbishop Causes Harm and Displays Ignorance

July 5, 2014

Archbishop William Goh of Singapore

Singapore’s Archbishop William Goh has apologized to lesbian and gay Catholics for disparaging remarks he made in late June, which has satsified some who now seek furthered dialogue and angered others in the small Asian nation.

Goh released the first open letter to Catholics in the archdiocese on June 21, allegedly in an attempt to make clear the hierarchy’s position on family. Gay Asia News reports on the contents, quoting parts of the letter:

“The Church ‘recognizes that there are individuals who are attracted to people of the same sex’ but ‘continues to maintain, that the family, comprising a father, mother and children, remains the basic building block of society,’ he said.

“It ‘upholds the view that LGBT sexual relationships are not in accordance with the plan of God,’ he said adding that ‘this kind of lifestyle should not be promoted by Catholics as it is detrimental to society, is not helpful to integral human development and contrary to Christian values.’

“In his letter he prays that ‘the Holy Spirit restore them to wholeness.’ “

Goh included language about the need for the Church to show “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” towards LGBT people and to oppose discrimination, though Singapore still criminalizes homosexuality in a law dating to the days of British rule. The archdiocese’s 300,000 Catholics are a small minority at about 5.7% of the nation’s population, and the archbishop’s comments come as LGBT rights are an increasingly debated issue there.

Prominent Singapore political leader Vincent Wijeysingha, who is gay and was raised Catholic, lashed out at Archbishop Goh’s comments, saying:

” ‘The Catholic leadership has remained silent on the real problems that face our world…Today, it has no authority whatsoever, moral or otherwise, to comment on whom I can and cannot love.’ “

Last week, Archbishop Goh released a second letter apologizing for harm caused by the aforementioned statements on homosexuality. He recognized that many had “expressed hurt, anger and disappointment” due to his words, writing:

“I apologize if my initial statement conveyed insensitivity as from your feedback, I have come to realize that there is much variation in thought and lifestyle within this community. I want you to know that I am not indifferent to your pain and frustration, as I see many Catholics with same-sex orientation for spiritual support, counselling [sic] and healing.”

He then went on to explain the Church’s teaching at length, as he understands it. Notable statements from this second letter include the following, which seem based on questionable assumptions:

  • “Hence when science seems to contradict divine revelation as taught in the Bible, our faith must hold fast to the Word of God even if we cannot agree…There are many texts in sacred scripture which explicitly state that sexual relationships between those of the same gender are not permissible.”
  • “Whether same-sex orientation is due to nature or nurture is something that science has not proven conclusively. If it were so, there would be no debate. To date, there has been no concrete discovery of a homosexual gene but only inferential studies from behavioural observation to postulate nature. In contrary, we find that upbringing, culture or education may play a part in nurturing persons with same-sex attraction. In addition, inner wounds inflicted on a person in-utero or in childhood through sexual abuse or otherwise, can also nurture this. In this respect, healing of such wounds may quell any tendencies as seen by several individuals who lost their attraction for the same sex after encountering inner healing of their childhood wounds.”
  • “While the argument is that the child may still receive love from both partners who are in a stable same-sex relationship, the lack of a parental figure as portrayed by a member of the opposite sex may still render the child at risk…Those who come from same-sex parentage share how they face an identity crisis as to their sexuality and orientation and their confusion as to how they should relate to people of different sexes. Some also shared the tendency to be unfaithful and to have multiple sexual partners.”

At the second letter’s end, Goh announced the creation of a new pastoral group to help “those with same-sex orientation” to live chastely. You can read the full letter here.

Pink Dot, a grassroots LGBT organization, released a statement saying they were “heartened that this constructive debate is taking place within the Catholic Church under the leadership of Pope Francis” and hope it will inspire other communities to follow suit.

As is often the case, the real scandal regarding LGBT people is the misinformed and vicious attacks against them that some bishops feel are necessary. Archbishop Goh’s initial letter was meant to clarify Church teaching, but instead he created a damaging pastoral situation that captured news headlines. His second letter reveals a deep misunderstanding about homosexuality, the relationship between faith and science, a responsible exegesis of Scripture, and the truth about children raised by same-gender parents.

Diverse views are integral to being part of the Catholic community, and the bishops are free to have differing opinions on LGBT issues, just as Catholic lay people do. That said, the situation in Singapore reveals how essential it is for bishops to speak from an educated perspective and be clear with their words. Hopefully, Archbishop Goh will use this controversy as an opportunity to overcome his ignorance by sitting down with LGBT Catholics and their allies to listen and learn.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


On Independence Day, Remembering the Global Struggle for LGBT “Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness”

July 4, 2014

In the United States, today is Independence Day, when we commemorate the establishment of our democratic nation which allows people to enjoy “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” to quote the Declaration of Independence.

Amid the celebration, we might take a moment to remember LGBT people around the globe who do not enjoy these blessings due to restrictive and oppressive laws.  As we do so, it is good to note that the United States government is trying to promote LGBT human rights around the globe.

While Catholic bishops in Uganda have supported that nation’s new law which promotes harsh punishments for homosexuality, a Catholic lay person here in the United States has recently spoken out strongly against this measure, and others like it which are springing up around the globe.

Vice President Joseph Biden

United States Vice-President Joseph Biden, a practicing Catholic, did not mince words recently when he addressed a “Forum on Global LGBT Human Rights” which he hosted at his residence.   Huffington Post reported:

“Seeking to mobilize a global front against anti-gay violence and discrimination, Vice President Joe Biden declared Tuesday that protecting gay rights is a defining mark of a civilized nation and must trump national cultures and social traditions.

“Biden told a gathering of U.S. and international gay rights advocates that President Barack Obama has directed that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender men and women around the world

” ‘I don’t care what your culture is,’ Biden told about 100 guests at the Naval Observatory’s vice presidential mansion. ‘Inhumanity is inhumanity is inhumanity. Prejudice is prejudice is prejudice.’ “

Vice President Biden is largely credited with moving the Obama administration to much more progressive policies in regard to marriage equality and LGBT rights.

Marianne Duddy-Burke at the forum.

In attendance at the forum was Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity/USA, a national organization of LGBT Catholics.

Buzzfeed reported that days before the Vice President’s statements, President Obama instituted new directives towards Uganda because of the anti-gay law:

“The White House announced . . . that it would cancel a U.S.-funded aviation exercise with Uganda and impose a visa ban on officials involved in human rights abuses and corruption as part of a package of steps in response to enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act in February.

“ ‘As President Obama has stated, the Government of Uganda’s enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA) runs counter to universal human rights and complicates our bilateral relationship,’ said the NSC Spokesperson Caitlin Hayden in a statement.

“In addition to the travel ban and the cancellation of the aviation exercise, the White House also announced that it is ‘redirecting funds for certain additional programs involving the Ugandan Police Force, Ministry of Health, and National Public Health Institute.’ ”

MSNBC.com has reported on the deteriorating quality of life that lesbian and gay Ugandans have experienced since the law as enacted:

“Some gays and lesbians have decided to flee; others are choosing to stay, trapped indoors and inside a prison of fear.

“ ‘Before, we were an underground community, but at the same time we were vibrant, we were engaged,’ photographer Aldo Soligno recalls a woman telling him while shooting in Kampala.

“ ‘Since the law passed, everything has changed,’ she said to him. ‘Now we are scared to go out from our homes.’

“The situation is far worse for lower-income gays and lesbians, Soligno told MSNBC. Wealthier people can take cabs and spend their weekends at country clubs, free from the threat of violence and police raids that often accompany public transportation trips. ‘But if they don’t have this money,’ Soligno said, ‘they can’t go outside.’ ”

Uganda, a heavily Catholic nation, has very strong anti-gay cultural values.  The Catholic heritage is, in some ways, responsible for this reality.  Kittredge Cherry, who blogs at Jesus In Love Blog, has written about how the nation’s religious heritage influenced its homophobia:

“Forty-five Ugandan male pages refused to have sex with their king after they converted to Christianity — so he executed them. Many were burned to death on June 3, 1886. These boys and young men were canonized by the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, leaving some truths hidden by their halos.”

But Cherry refuses to buy into the traditional anti-gay spin that this story often carries.  She asks the following questions:

“Does the experience of the Ugandan martyrs illustrate a gay king being oppressed and demonized by conservative Christians? Or does it exemplify Christians heroically trying to rescue boys from sexual abuse by a pedophile king? Did Christians teach young African men shame about their own same-gender-loving desires? Or did Christians give the pages a way to refuse rape by a ruler with absolute authority? Maybe the truth lies somewhere in between? How can the story be interpreted so that LGBT Ugandans have equal access to justice… and to God? “

Cherry’s answers to these questions are too expansive to reproduce here.  I recommend reading her entire blog post on the subject for a very interesting analysis.  (A “hat tip” to highly respected Catholic gay blogger Michael Bayly for alerting me to Cherry’s post.”)

New Ways Ministry continues to encourage Catholics and others to tweet to Pope Francis to denounce anti-gay laws such as the one in Uganda.  For information on the #PopeSpeakOut campaign, click here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Rainbow Socks at Graduation: A Sign of Catholic Students’ Victory

June 6, 2014

Vanier Catholic students wearing rainbow socks during their graduation

When Liam Finnegan was 16, he challenged his Catholic high school about its use of pastorally damaging language about gay and lesbian people.  He  eventually succeeded in making changes. His message of acceptance has spread since then, and recently Finnegan’s peers donned rainbow socks for graduation to show their support for LGBT students.

Seniors at Vanier Catholic Secondary School in Canada’s Yukon province sported knee-high rainbow socks under their gowns in solidarity with the school’s gay-straight alliance which had been hotly contested. According to CBC, more than half the graduating class participated in the action, which was started by Kate Power, a friend of Finnegan’s. The socks represented a year’s worth of organizing, which resulted in the GSA’s formation and the removal of pastorally insensitive language in the Catholic school district’s written policy on homosexuality.

In April 2013, Finnegan, who is gay, successfully challenged Vanier Catholic’s use of the terms “intrinsically disordered” and “acts of grave depravity” when referring to lesbian and gay people on the school’s website. At the time, he said:

“There were a few things in the document that were not homophobic and that made me think that maybe this isn’t such a terrible thing, since it said homosexuals shouldn’t be discriminated against, and I liked that part of it. But then as I continued reading the policy it veered into the ridiculous, describing homosexuality as an ‘intrinsically moral evil’ and saying that I was a ‘sinner’ and that I needed to be ‘healed.’ ”

“Somebody had to say something.”

Due to Finnegan’s complaint, the bishop and province’s education minister met and agreed that the offending document should be removed because it violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Canada’s Catholic schools are publicly-funded and must abide by government policies.

In the fall of 2013, a new policy on homosexuality was released. The offending language was removed and language about the dignity of LGBT people and need for respecting them was added.  The policy also mandated students be allowed to form GSAs and that administrators deal with hate crimes immediately.

Of Kate Power’s rainbow sock demonstration, and the broader changes at Vanier Catholic, Finnegan said:

” ‘She wanted to make a statement saying “We’re not a homophobic school’ because a lot of people have that perception, so it was a really cool experience to see that,” ‘

” ‘I remember my dad telling me afterwards how it was an emotional experience, because it showed my class really supporting me, my cause and just being a really open group of people.’…

” ‘It’s a big difference and it’s noticeable…Even though it might have just been a few words that changed in the policy, it’s given us the chance to start a wonderful  group that’s trying to make a huge difference in our school and in our community.’ “

Mural painted as part of a Pride Week celebration at a Canadian Catholic high school.

The school’s GSA had about 30 members this year, and it will continue next year. Bondings 2.0 has written previously bout the many inroads towards LGBT inclusion that Canada’s Catholic schools are making, including the Ontario teachers’ decision to march in World Pride this month and the beautiful mural painted during one high school’s first ever Pride week. For full coverage of developments on Catholic LGBT issues in Canada, click here.

Congratulations to Liam Finnegan and the students of Vanier Catholic Secondary School on graduating, and for the LGBT-inclusive legacy they will leave behind!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

Canadian Catholic Schools Update LGBT Policy, But Not All Are Satisfied

Gay Teenager on Catholic Policy: ‘Somebody Had to Say Something’ 

 


Abusive Parents in UK “Frightened” That Gay Couple Will Raise Children

June 4, 2014

Catholic birth parents in the United Kingdom lost a court battle over plans by a gay couple to adopt two of their children, in the latest Catholic adoption controversy.

More than a year ago, the two boys in question, now ages two and four, were removed from the Slovakian birth parents’ custody due to neglect. According to Pink News, the father admitted to beating them and the young children were not adequately supervised or cared for.

Two organizations, Christian Concern and Children Belong to Parents, supported the birth parents’ challenge to the planned adoption, arguing that removing them from Catholicism and placing them with same-gender parents would cause psychological damage.

They lost their case in the UK’s High Court last week. Lucie Boddington, head of Children Belong to Parents, told The Tablet the birth parents “feel horrible” and are “frightened” that a gay couple would adopt the boys. The birth parents now plan to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. Responding to these claims, Sir James Munby, senior judge of the Family Court, said the adoption case was adjudicated according to standards “of reasonable men and women in contemporary English society.”

In a related note, news broke recently that St. Margaret’s Children and Family Care Society, a Catholic adoption agency in Scotland, successfully appealed a ruling which had deemed it discriminatory to withhold adoptions from same-gender couples. The Scottish Charity Appeals Panel restored the Society’s charitable standing, even as the Society’s chairman is on the record as describing gay couples’ parenting as a “terrible social experiment.”

Legalizing marriage equality in the United Kingdom and elsewhere has meant anti-LGBT activists have taken a different route, and unfortunately adoption equality is a new chosen target. In Scotland, Malta, France, and elsewhere, adoptions by same-gender couples have been flash points. In several locales in the US, Catholic Charities has stopped all adoption services rather than place children with married gay couples.

As was noted on this blog several years ago, and as many experts have indicated, it is essential when discussing adoption and LGBT people that the well-being of children be the foremost concern, and not any discriminatory agenda by the anti-gay activists. Perhaps the Catholic parents in this story’s first court case could be comforted by the fact that the judge has placed their children in what is known to be a loving and supportive home.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Canada’s Catholic Schools Take Further Steps toward LGBT Inclusion

May 30, 2014

Mural painted as part of a Pride Week celebration at a Canadian Catholic high school.

Canada’s publicly-funded Catholic school system has made some great strides in regard to LGBT issues over the past few years. Three recent developments provide hope that these schools will only become more and more inclusive of differing gender identities and sexual orientations.

In April, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) drew criticism from traditionalist groups over the union’s decision to march in the WorldPride Parade. Now, trustees of the Waterloo Catholic District School Board have voted 8-1 in support of OECTA sending over 100 educators to march in Toronto this June.

Several trustees like Anthony Piscitelli spoke about LGBT justice in light of their faith, according  The Record:

” ‘As lay leaders in the Catholic community our words and actions matter,’ Trustee Anthony Piscitelli said. ‘Let’s make it clear here today that the board of trustees supports inclusion.’ “

Other trustees, like Frank Johnson, countered anti-LGBT critics of the teachers’ participation in WorldPride by saying:

” ‘I question your understanding of God’s design…It’s diametrically opposed to what I believe about God.’

“Johnson argued that censuring teachers could force gay Catholic students further underground, where they might harm themselves.”

Elsewhere, fired transgender teacher Jan Buterman’s legal battle with the Catholic school system which fired him after transitioning has moved forward. The Alberta Human Rights Commission will hear the case, and speculation about how the court will rule and what the impacts may be has already begun. National Post writes:

“Between recent rulings demanding greater ease for transgendered people who wish to change their sex on government identification, to debates over whether public and quasi-public religious schools should be able to enforce strict covenants and morality codes that exclude gay, lesbian and transgendered students and staff, Mr. Buterman’s case has provided a worrying precedent for the faithful.

“If Mr. Buterman wins his case with the Alberta Human Rights Commission — its hearing date still to be decided — these schools fear they will be forced to accommodate people whose values and behaviour differ markedly from their own in an environment that is explicitly religious.

“If he loses, it could prove to be a gut-wrenching setback for those with unconventional gender identities.”

You can read Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of Jan Buterman’s case and find links to stories about all fired LGBT and ally church workers here.

Finally, this blog reported last week on a Canadian Catholic high school’s first Pride week celebration, which included educational programming and a film screening. Students at Blessed Pope John Paul II also painted a mural to promote inclusion of all people, and in our original post, we showed the mural in progress.  At the top of this post, you can see the finished product.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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