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”


Ugandan Archbishop: Do No Harm to Gay and Lesbian People

August 20, 2014

Archbishop John Baptist Odama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Public School Religion Teacher in Canary Islands Fired by Catholic Bishop

August 15, 2014

Catholic education will continue to suffer as more LGBT and ally educators are fired.

Luis Alberto González taught as a married gay man for two years, but, for the first time in fifteen years, he will not be returning to school this fall.  He was told by a local bishop it is “no longer appropriate” that he teach religion at a public school in the Canary Islands, a Spanish autonomous community off the coast of Africa.

González, formerly a Catholic priest, married his husband in 2012.  Aware that Spanish law grants Catholic bishops hiring and firing abilities related to religion teachers in public schools, González was forthright and wrote to his local bishop about the marriage. In letter to the editor entitled “Good News” to the Spanish daily El País, González wrote:

“I got married civilly to another man in 2012. The fact would not be very significant except that I work in Lanzarote as a professor of Religion at two institutes. At the end of the school year in which the union took place, I considered it appropriate, for openness, put my job in the bishop’s hands (in writing even)…

“Therefore, I assumed I would be fired, but my employment contract has been renewed year after year. Either the bishop of Canarias doesn’t consider the matter very important, or he’s taking a new approach to the issue in his jurisdiction. In either case, it’s good news.”

However, it seems the “Good News” letter has now led to his firing. The Diocese of Canarias reported he has been fired by the bishop.  In a fax to González, the diocese explained:

“For reasons of doctrine and morality and under canon law, your suitability as a religion teacher is retracted.”

There is some confusion as the Canary Island’s Ministry of Education still lists González as a teacher and Deputy Minister of Education Manuela Armas said there had been no communication to his office from the diocese.

For his part,González is resigned to the firing and said he “knew it could happen.” González asserts that he may no longer meet criteria for religion teachers set forth by the Spanish hierarchy, and he is only demanding that he be fairly compensated and allowed to access unemployment benefits.

More broadly, González wonders about the “manipulation of beliefs by those who have power in religion” and says Catholicism should not institutionally seek to ‘get into’ every aspect of people’s lives. Iglesia Descalza reports that the fired educator remains hopeful and has promised to remain in the Catholic Church to continue affecting change:

“The teacher argues that ‘there are elements of the citizenry, such as the people who make up the educational community, who don’t think it’s bad for someone who is gay and married to teach religion, but as you go up the pyramid of the Catholic hierarchy, one is aware that they’re on a different wavelength, advocating certain themes, including ones that could be considered medieval.’ …

” ‘There will always be those who will say that the Church is like a club. If you don’t want to be there, go. I, however, argue — and I’ve been a priest — that you can help change it from within…The Church itself has to be revised, take up these debates normally and face them.’ “

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

El País (in Spanish): “El Obispado de Canarias expulsa a un profesor gay casado”

Iglesia Descalza (English translation of  El País article): “Diocese of Canarias expels married gay teacher”


Liberian Archbishop Signs Statement Linking Ebola and Homosexuality

August 8, 2014

Archbishop Lewis Zeiglier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Malawi Human Rights Advocates Call Out Catholic Bishops on LGBT Issues

August 5, 2014

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

Timothy Mtambo

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

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

Gift Trapence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

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

Related article:

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


AIDS Conference: Anti-Gay Laws Harm Public Health; Catholic Support Still Essential

August 4, 2014

Participants in the 20th International AIDS Conference, held in Australia in July, expressed concerns about the uptick in anti-gay legislation around the globe, as well as cuts to faith-based healthcare providers.  Both factors exacerbate existing problems created by declining public interest in and funding for HIV/AIDS issues.

Addressing 18,000 delegates at the closing session in Melbourne, Australia, president-elect of the International AIDS Society, Dr. Chris Beyrer, criticized laws targeting LGBT communities saying these “are setting us back toward exclusion: limiting rights, reducing health care access and aiding and abetting the virus.” He specifically named Russia, Nigeria, Uganda, and India as places where discrimination is harming prevention and treatment efforts.

Deborah Birx, the U.S. global AIDS coordinator, spoke about the dual impact religion can have when dealing with HIV/AIDS. Highlighting the positive effects, she called faith-based efforts the “heartbeat of the response to HIV” and continued:

” ‘Many of us in the United States can remember the early scenes from St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City in the 1980s of desperate and dying young men being cared for by extraordinary and compassionate medical professionals and tireless nuns, when we didn’t know how to treat or what to do…What began as an awkward relationship between the gay community and the Catholic health care system became a story of acceptance, partnership, compassion and service that became a model for communities around the country and around the world.’…

“She said faith-based groups today provide 30-60 percent of the health care in countries where the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief operates, and much of that work is carried out by Catholics.”

Birx, however, warned conference attendees that stigma and discrimination against LGBT people, too often sanctioned or even promoted by religious leaders, could deeply set back the realistic goal of controlling AIDS. According to the National Catholic Reporter, the U.S. official challenged faith organizations saying:

” ‘[I]t is imperative that faith-based communities engage in renouncing and reducing the stigma and discrimination, hatred and violence that hamper our ability to reach and care for those in the society that are disenfranchised.’ “

Msgr. Robert Vitillo, longtime HIV/AIDS adviser to Caritas International, commented on the anti-gay laws:

“At face value, the legislation in some countries is supposedly to protect marriage between a man and a woman, or to prevent a more open concept of marriage which many northern countries seem to be legislating now. But many times legislation like this causes more discrimination, even violence, against sexual minorities…Yet many religious leaders do speak out against violence and discrimination.’ “

“He said while the Catechism of the Catholic Church does not condone homosexual behavior, ‘in no way would the Catholic church condone violence or discrimination against anyone.’ “

Vitillo added that cuts in international assistance are a concurrent threat, and they are based upon false understandings about economic development in nations once considered impoverished. Vitillo explained, in a separate piece in the National Catholic Reporter:

” ‘It’s true that a small number of people are getting richer and richer, and the country’s GNP may have risen into the middle-income category, but the situation of the poor is often worse. And some governments claim they can handle all of their own health care, but they really can’t, and what they do provide they tend to concentrate in the large cities. As a result, the churches that have been providing care in rural areas have less access to funding today.’ “

Funding cuts and a shift away from faith-based providers are part of the fallout from decreased awareness and attention to HIV/AIDS issues in the international community. Maryknoll Fr. Rick Bauer, head of the Catholic HIV and AIDS Network, said of this emerging dynamic:

” ‘AIDS is not a designer charity anymore…And this comes just as we’re starting to believe we might end the pandemic as a global health emergency by 2030…To achieve that, however, we’ve got to get more people on treatment and get their viral loads down. Such treatment is the best prevention, but it’s going to be hard to do if we can’t keep attention focused on the challenge and if we can’t have access to the necessary funding.’ “

Bauer cited his own situation in Namibia, where funding through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief has dropped from $100 million to $40 million annually has caused treatment center closings and a lack of adequate research. He said Catholic efforts to prevent and combat HIV/AIDS treat the whole person–medical, social, emotional, spiritual–and have greater success than simply medical solutions, favored by secular programs. In summary, Bauer told the National Catholic Reporter:

” ‘We now have the science to suppress the virus living in our sisters and brothers living with HIV. We now have the data that say if you get sufficient viral load suppression your life expectancy is the exactly the same as someone who is HIV-negative. Now we need the political will, the social mobilization, the church mobilization, to accompany our brothers and sisters to get the compliance and the viral load suppression that will ultimately make AIDS a manageable health issue.’ “

Still, Msgr. Vitillo expressed hope when leaving the conference:

“[T]here is more collaboration among the scientists than I’ve seen before, and more cooperation across disciplines, all of which gives hope for new discoveries’…

“Using benchmarks that experts have dubbed the 90-90-90 strategy, the new global assault on AIDS aims to expand testing so that 90 percent of HIV-infected individuals are aware of their status. Of that population, 90 percent will receive regular treatment with antiretroviral drugs. And 90 percent of those receiving that treatment will achieve sufficiently suppressed levels of the virus in their bodies that they will be unlikely to transmit it to others.”

This, according to Msgr. Vitillo, is a “step forward” in recognizing that treatment is really prevention and will help the AIDS pandemic become “a more or less managable chronic disease by 2030.”

Catholics and people of faith worldwide have joined the #PopeSpeakOut campaign, asking Pope Francis to condemn anti-gay legislation as inconsistent with Catholic teaching. These laws clearly increase discrimination and violence against people who are LGBT, and now it is clear they also harm the church’s longstanding commitment to end HIV/AIDS. To add your voice to #PopeSpeakOut, click here.

For AIDS-related posts on Bondings 2.0, see some of the related articles below or click here for full coverage.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles:

Bondings 2.0: “Discomfort with the Body of Christ 

Bondings 2.0: “Prayers for World AIDS Day

Bondings 2.0: “Mixed Review for New Book on Gay Life, AIDS, and Spirituality

Bondings 2.0: “The Catholic Dimension at the International AIDS Conference


LGBT Advocates Will Explain ‘Ways of Love’ to Synod of Bishops

August 3, 2014

As you probably already know, in October this year, the Vatican will be hosting a world synod of bishops to discuss marriage and family issues.  Just days before that  meeting begins, an international group of Catholic supporters of LGBT people will be meeting in Rome, along with representatives of the Waldensian Church and of the civil society, in order to discuss about how to renew the pastoral care with a view of fully including the LGBT people, and same-gender couples and families.

The conference, entitled “The Ways of Love: International Conference for a Pastoral Care with Homosexual and Transsexual People,” will take place on Friday, October 3, 2014, in Rome.   At the close of the conference, an appeal for appropriate pastoral care for LGBT people will be made to the bishops meeting in the synod.

A keynote speaker at the event will be Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, a retired auxiliary bishop from Australia who is the author of the book, Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church.  Bishop Robinson was a featured speaker at New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium in 2012, where he called for a total re-vamping of the Catholic Church’s teaching on sexuality.

In addition to Bishop Robinson, the other speakers will be:

 James Alison, Catholic theologian and priest. Originally from the United Kingdom, he residesin Brazil and has worked extensively on homosexuality and Catholic faith, in particular on Catholic consciousness and gay consciousness;
Antonietta Potente, theologian and Italian Dominican nun based in Bolivia. She will offer a reflection on a new approach of the Gospel to the LGBT people;
Letizia Tomassone, Waldensian pastor, President of the Commission on Faith and Homosexuality of the Baptist, Methodist, and Waldensian Churches in Italy. She will tell about the path that these Churches have undertaken before openly including the LGBT people and couples;
Joseanne Peregin, President of the Christian Life Community in Malta and mother of a homosexual man. She will tell about the feelings and the fears that Catholic parents may have when it comes to homosexual children.

In anticipation of this conference, the website for the meeting has been posting interviews with some of the conference organizers, an international group of people from five continents.   Below is a sampling from some of those interviews, describing the needs of LGBT Catholics and the hopes for the syond.  Clicking on each name will bring you to the page with the entire interview with that person.

Michael Clifton, David et Jonathan, France:

“When the PACS (Civil Union bill) was introduced in 1999, the Roman Catholic Church’s reaction was quite hysterical, with demonstrators chanting ‘Les pédés au bûcher!’ (‘Burn the faggots!’). When last year (2013) the present government introduced a law allowing marriage and adoption for same-sex couples, there were once again enormous demonstrations, sometimes violent.

“The Church paid for special trains and buses to carry demonstrators to Paris and in churches the faithful were asked to pray for the demonstrators. But officially no members of the hierarchy took part in these demonstrations: some of them just went along before the demonstrations to congratulate and encourage the demonstrators.

“The archbishops of Paris and Lyon made quite strong public statements, likening homosexuality to, for example, zoophilia. Since the law has been enacted, the climate has become quieter and rumours are going around that a large number of the bishops regret the excessive language of last year.

“Even so, the bishop of Bayonne, earlier this year, went to Russia to congratulate Putin on his energetic persecution of homosexuals. On the other hand, two or three bishops have made definite attempts to set up some dialogue with homosexual groups and there is also some contact with influential theologians.”

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, USA

“I think this synod is a great opportunity for bishops to discuss LGBT people, relationships, and families. It is the first time the bishops are covering the topics of marriage and family in a synod since the question of legal marriages for gay and lesbian couples has become a reality. Many bishops from around the world have already publicly acknowledged that most Catholics do not accept the moral condemnation of loving, committed lesbian and gay relationships.

“If these bishops are honest, I think they will realize that this rejection of the church’s teaching is not because people don’t understand it, but because Catholics of good faith have reflected prayerfully on their experiences of lesbian and gay people and couples and have witnessed something holy in their lives and commitment.

“It’s also the first synod under Pope Francis. I think the bishops know that people around the world have responded positively to Francis’ new, welcoming approach to LGBT people. I think they will realize that any negative statements from the synod about lesbian and gay couples will alienate a great number of Catholics in the pews.”

Gianni Geraci, Progetto Gionata, Italy:

“Pointing out new ways where the ecclesial communities and homosexuals can meet and discover a new meaning for the announcement of the Gospel is what is needed. The idea is to follow in Abram’s footsteps, who wasn’t defeated by fear, who didn’t stand still in Harran where his father took him, who didn’t want to know in advance where the Lord was taking him, who didn’t ask for reassurance but only God’s promise to keep him under His blessing. (Gen. 12:1, 2).

“Homosexuals’ experience is deeply connected to Abram’s vocation: just like him, they need to face a horizon they don’t know, go down a road of which the final destination is unknown and the challenge of turning their homosexuality into sanctity without role models or points of reference. Just as happened to Abram, they will hear their old friends ask: ‘Why are you doing this? Live your life and give up unrealistic ambitions. Don’t walk roads you are not familiar with.

“But just as Abram did, they will hear God’s promise echo in their hearts: it is absurd to human reasoning (‘I will make you into a great Nation’, the Lord said to him when he was seventy-five and with no children because of his wife’s barreness) and it is demanding (‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household’). This promise, apart from His blessing (‘I will bless you’), has no warranty (‘Go to the land I will show you’). There is only an undefined destination that the Lord will point out on the way. Yet it is God’s promise.”

The conference is sponsored by the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups and financially supported by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture of the Netherlands.  It will be held at the Waldensian Faculty of Theology, Rome.

In addition to the three people quoted abover, other conference organizers include:

Francesco Boschi (REFO, Italy); Michael Brinkschroeder (European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups, Netherlands); Marianne Duddy-Burke (DignityUSA, United States); David Musonda (Dette Resource Foundation, Zambia); Innocenzo Pontillo (Progetto Gionata, Italy); Andrea Rubera (Nuova Proposta, Italy); Diane Xuereb (Drachma LGBT, Malta).

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


British Lesbian Bridges Gap Between Catholic and LGBT Communities

August 2, 2014

For this blog, which covers Catholic LGBT issues, we usually think of it as important news when an LGBT person achieves some positive recognition by a Catholic institution.   Today’s news is actually the inverse of that scenario: a Catholic person achieving recognition by an LGBT institution.

Ruth Hunt

Ruth Hunt, a practicing Catholic has been appointed as the new chief executive of Stonewall, the premier LGB equality organization in the United Kingdom.  London’s Independent reported that Hunt, who has been serving as acting chief executive for six months, has said that she is pledging to win over “hearts and minds” as part of her agenda.

PinkNews.co.uk reported that another item Hunt has mentioned to be on her radar screen is to be more in contact with the transgender community. Stonewall currently only works on lesbian, gay, and bisexual issues.  The news story quoted her comments:

“We’ve always spoken to trans groups – I have hosted round tables at Stonewall with trans groups, and there are a lot of conversations to be had with a lot of people who have strong opinions. . . .

Transgender activists in the UK have traditionally maintained their own equality agenda, but Paris Lees, a commentator, sees that Hunt may provide a good opportunity for building bridges:

“I understand that in the past prominent trans activists asked Stonewall to let trans people campaign on their own issues. I certainly understand that request, but we can’t ignore the fact that Stonewall is well funded, respected and professional, and I firmly believe there are many areas where we cannot separate combatting homophobia from transphobia. I look forward to the discussions that now look likely to happen happen between Stonewall and the trans community.

“I wish Ruth and Stonewall well, sadly we still need charities that fight prejudice.”

The Guardian noted Hunt’s faith perspective as important to her work:

“Hunt, who is a Catholic, said there were still many isolated gay people, including those with faith, throughout the country who needed support. ‘Some have gained more from these legislative changes than others,’ she said. ‘People living outside big cities people belonging to faith groups – I have been speaking to a young woman who is a committed Muslim and gay, and she can’t imagine speaking to her parents, never mind meeting a partner – there is still a lot to be done.’ “

In the recent past, Hunt has spoken out specifically on the pastoral care of lesbian and gay Catholics.  When London’s “Soho Masses” for LGBT people was moved to a different parish by Archbishop Vincent Nichols, Hunt, who was then Stonewall’s public affairs director was quoted by the BBC:

“Given what’s happened over Christmas, where there were vitriolic and mean messages from the pulpit about same-sex marriage, there has never been a more important time to provide a safe space for gay Catholics to pray. . . .

“”The archbishop’s views on gay issues are well rehearsed and have nothing to do with the spirituality of some lesbian and gay people and their desire to express their faith.”

We extend our very best wishes and congratulations to Ms. Hunt, who is personally serving as a bridge between the Catholic Church and the LGBT community!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 


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'”


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