On Restrictive Employment Policies: ‘Catholics have to stand up to this.’

April 29, 2014

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s controversial new loyalty oath for Catholic school teachers which requires that they do not express “public support for a homosexual lifestyle,” among other things, has been receiving opposition recently, and has been the subject of scrutiny of several labor and education professionals.

Some of the Cincinnati protesters.

Over 100 Catholic protesters took to the street in front of the archdiocese’s chancery when they delivered 24,000 signatures on a petition which called on Archbishop Dennis Schnurr to re-write the teachers’ contract without the objectionable clauses.

Parents, teachers, and parishioners were among the protestors.  WCPO-TV quoted one teacher who is also a parent of a gay man:

“Molly Shumate says she has been a teacher at a Catholic elementary school in Hamilton County for 14 years. She has a gay son and refused to sign a contract that says she’s can’t publicly support a homosexual lifestyle.

” ‘I would never initial next to a statement saying that I will not support my son who in my eyes my God made perfectly. I will not do that,’ Shumate said.”

WLWT-TV further quoted Shumate about her decision not to sign the contract:

“The main reason I will not sign this contract is my son is gay, and the day he came out to me, the world was lifted off of his shoulder as well as mine, and it was at that moment that I said to myself I will never hide who he is, be embarrassed of who he is and at that point I said I’m going to use this opportunity to make a difference.”

The Human Rights Campaign joined in the protest by sending a letter to Archbishop Schnurr, from which WKRC-TV quoted the following:

“Dozens of LGBT teachers, who have committed their life’s work to their Catholic faith, have already lost their jobs in schools across the country.  HRC calls on Archbishop Schnurr to remove this anti-LGBT police from Cincinnati Catholic schools and ensure that LGBT Catholics no longer have to choose between who they are, who they love and what they believe.”

The Diocese of Honolulu, Hawaii, has recently instituted a similar policy to that of Cincinnati.

The National Catholic Reporter’s Joshua McElwee has reported on the growing trend in U.S. Catholic dioceses of making teaching contracts more explicit about what types of ideas teachers can support.  One expert quoted notes that the new, stricter policies “are effectively an end-run around legislation protecting employees from discrimination in the workplace.”   Leslie Griffin, the William S. Boyd Professor of Law at the University of  Nevada, Las Vegas, stated:

“It’s about churches trying to do everything they can to avoid the anti-discrimination laws, because they don’t want to be held to gender equality, sexual orientation equality, racial equality or equal pay. . . . They want to do their best to get outside all of these laws.”

Rita Schwartz

Rita Schwartz, president of the National Association of Catholic School Teachers, a labor union for Catholic educators, worries too about other implications of these new policies which seem to try to solidify the ministerial role of a teacher:

“When dioceses start to call their employees ministers, I look at that as a way for a diocese to tell an employee, ‘Well, you’re a minister, you can’t unionize.’

“If that’s what they’re aiming to do, I have serious issue with that.”

Though diocesan officials state that teaching is a ministerial activity, Schwartz doesn’t disagree totally with that notion.  Where she differs is in the detailed, explicit listing of all the things that a teacher cannot support.  For instance, the Archdiocese of Cincinnati morality section expanded from two pages to six.  McElwee reported on her position:

“While she said she understood the need for a morality clause in Catholic teachers’ contracts –‘I don’t think you can be a Catholic school teacher without one,’ she said — the organizer called the Cincinnati contract ‘six pages of “thou shalt not.” “

” ‘There’s no reason for that,’ she said. ‘There’s got to be a happy medium here.’ “

McElwee’s reporting expands on these themes with interesting details and perspectives.  For those who want more information about the complexities of these employment situations, I recommend you read his entire article by clicking here.  He closes with a plea from Schwartz for greater organizing on the part of Catholic teachers:

“Most Catholic teachers, she said, ‘have no job security, have no due process. They just work at the pleasure of the employer.’

” ‘They need to stop doing that,’ she said. ‘They need to organize themselves into an association, they need to petition for recognize and collective bargaining. That’s the only way that they’re going to have a say over the conditions under which they work. And the sooner they do it, the better.’

“Griffin suggested that teachers consider consulting with lawyers if they have to sign contracts defining them as ministers. Particularly, she said, those teachers might consider trying to insert language into their contracts that specify that while they are ministers, they still claim their rights to sue for workplace discrimination.

“Ultimately, said Griffin, ‘Catholics have to stand up to this.’

” ‘The laws won’t change unless people start seeing it more from the employee perspective,’ she said.”

New Ways Ministry has been encouraging Catholics to adopt employment non-discrimination policies for their church institutions.  To find out how to begin the process of implementing one, click here.  New Ways Ministry has also supported DignityUSA’s call to write letters to church leaders protesting restrictive employment policies.  All three efforts can have an impact on our church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related Article:

Cincinnati.com: Marchers seek change to Catholic teacher contract

 

 


Ugandan Bishops Support Anti-Gay Law, While Others Call Pope to Condemn It

April 23, 2014

Over the past few weeks, news about Catholic reaction to Uganda’s newly-enacted anti-gay law has shown how insidious homophobia can be within a culture.  The most recent story that caught my attention because is horrific, if true.  I make the qualification “if true” because I have only seen one report about it, which is from an independent blogger, not a professional news source.

Bishop Charles Wamika

The O-blog-dee-O-blog-da site, maintained by Melanie Nathan, a respected lawyer, LGBT advocate, and journalist, reports  that on Easter Sunday, Bishop Charles Wamika of the Jinja Diocese in Uganda

“called for a blessing for Uganda’s Christians who worked so hard to ‘free the land of gays.’  The Bishop also asked for parents to hand over their gay children to authorities, so they would be rewarded in heaven.”

Nathan cites an anonymous Ugandan gay man in hiding with reporting on Wamika’s statements.

A Ugandan newspaper, The Daily Monitor did not mention Wamika in its report of Easter Sunday messages, but it did note that other Catholic bishops in that country also supported the new anti-gay law on Easter Sunday.  The paper reported on the statement of Bishop Augustine Salimo of the Sebei Diocese:

In reference to the Anti-Homosexual Act, he also urged the government not to back down but to continue the right path pursued to protect values of Ugandans.

And a third bishop also praised the new law:

“In Tororo District, Bishop Emmanuel Obbo, the Archbishop of Tororo Archdiocese, urged every citizen who supported the anti-homosexuality law to lay down greed, corruption and ‘put them to death and let generosity rise up within us and flow out in abundance.

“ ‘In Christ, we have victory over dysfunctional relationships, bad habits, painful experiences, sexual temptation and devastating circumstances,’ he said.”

These statements show that Uganda’s bishops’ minds have been clouded by homophobia to the point that they ignore basic Catholic teaching on the human dignity of all persons–including towards LGBT people.

Catholic hospitals in Uganda are maintaining a non-discrimination policy toward lesbian and gay people, The Observer reported, though the attitude of the hospital’s administrator indicates a negative bias against them.  The news story stated:

“Dr Sam Orach, the executive secretary of Uganda Catholic Medical Bureau (UCMB), yesterday said although AHA [Anti-Homosexuality Act] criminalises homosexuality, which is also considered a sin in the Church, homosexuals would not be locked out of Catholic hospitals.

“ ‘In the current context of the aftermath of the anti-homosexuality law, no health worker in our facilities has expressed concern that service provision is being affected. That is what we believe as UCMB. We equate this to the post-abortion care we provide to a sick woman who has otherwise criminally and immorally committed abortion.

“We distinguish between a crime or a sin and the disease. Catholic health services are, therefore, non- discriminatory,’ Orach said at the opening of UCMB’s hospital managers’ workshop in Kampala.”

Meanwhile, around the globe, more and more commentators have been calling upon Pope Francis to make a clear statement condemning Uganda’s law and other laws like it that have been appearing in other countries.

National Catholic Reporter columnist Jamie Manson cited the #PopeSpeakOut campaign as a way to encourage the pope to make a statement against these laws.  Manson wrote:

“Anti-homosexuality legislation is quickly becoming a global threat to human dignity. These laws do not simply violate human rights; they foster a climate of rage, scapegoating, and violence against LGBT people.

“This situation brings to the forefront the ongoing debate among progressive Catholics about the efficacy of the Pope Francis’ kinder, gentler papacy. Some believe Francis’ expressions of compassion will eventually lead to greater inclusion for LGBT Catholics while others argue that Francis’ words are not substantive enough to amount to real change.

“These repressive laws offer an opportunity for the pope’s now-legendary ‘Who am I to judge?’ comment to actually translate into action. No one is asking Pope Francis to change doctrine or create a revolution. We are only asking him to honor the catechism’s teaching that gays and lesbians should be ‘accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.’ “

And in Australia, the head of Rainbow Sash, a Catholic LGBT organization, last week called on Pope Francis to use Easter as the occasion to speak out against anti-LGBT laws. The Star Observer quotes Michael Kelly as saying:

“The whole experience of Easter is about moving from slavery to freedom for persecuted people.

“It would be the perfect time for Pope Francis to make a statement that could be heard around the world about justice for people being persecuted right now in Africa. . . .”

“You can see the seeds of what could be genocide so people abroad have to stand up.”

Ugandan religious leaders thank President Museveni (far right) for signing the nation’s anti-gay law. Catholic Archbishop Charles Lwanga stands next to Museveni.

Writing in The Atlantic Matt Ford pointed out that Arcbhisop Charles Lwanga of Kampala, the head of the Catholic Church in Uganda, offered a closing prayer at a rally staged by the country’s President Yoweri Museveni to celebrate the signing of the anti-gay law. Many other national religious leaders took part in the event, even giving a plaque to the president to thank him for support of the law.

Yet, Ford also notes that, significantly, Pope Francis has turned down an invitation to visit Uganda to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the canonization of the Ugandan Martyrs, who resisted a native king’s homosexual advances.   Perhaps it was good that Pope Francis rejected the invitation to the event since it could easily have been used to suggest his support for the new law.  But, as Ford points out, Francis can not be silent forever:

“This time around, it seems, Pope Francis is not taking Uganda’s Catholic leaders up on their invitation to visit the shrine—at least not yet. But regardless of whether he travels to the country, will he take a public position on the debate over homosexuality in Uganda—and similar debates taking place elsewhere in the world?

“The pontiff’s tenure, now in its second year, has so far been characterized by two themes: greater compassion on social issues in the developed world, and greater outreach to and inclusion of the developing world. Until now, these goals have rarely clashed. How he bridges the divide between the two in Uganda, if he chooses to try, will be one of the great challenges of his papacy.”

You can help urge Pope Francis to speak out by participating in the #PopeSpeakOut campaign.  Send him an email or a tweet today!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


How Can Ordinary Catholics Respond to the Firing of LGBT Church Employees?

April 5, 2014

Responding  to the terrible trend of LGBT church employees being fired from their jobs has been a difficult challenge.  What are ways that Catholic people in the pews can help to stave off these unjust actions?

Marianne Duddy-Burke

Marianne Duddy-Burke

DignityUSA‘s Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke offered some alternatives in an op-ed recently in The National Catholic Reporter .   She begins her essay by pointing out a poignant twist:

“About a century ago, Catholic job-seekers were routinely confronted with signs reading, ‘No Catholics need apply.’ Now, it seems administrators in some Catholic schools are prepared to post signs that say, ‘No gay people need apply.’ “

Sparked by the recent developments, particularly those in the diocese of Honolulu and the archdiocese of Cincinnati, where bishops have made orthodoxy pledges which explicitly disparage lesbian and gay relationships a requirement for working in Catholic schools, Duddy-Burke proposed the following actions that ordinary Catholics can take:

  1. “Write or email Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati and Bishop Clarence Silva of Honolulu to demand these ill-conceived contracts not be implemented. Tell them how you believe these documents violate the very soul of our faith.
  2. Send a similar letter to Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha, Neb., chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Catholic Education about why LGBT people should not be banned from teaching in our schools.
  3. Catholics whose children or grandchildren attend Catholic schools can speak with their administrators to insist they not adopt this type of contract. Talk about the values of respect and inclusion that you believe are central to our faith and how important it is that these values are part of your children’s education. Work with other parents to ensure the school’s leadership knows this matters to lots of tuition-payers. Alumni of these institutions also have an important voice. You can reflect on the values that you carry with you as a result of your education and your sense of how these contracts violate them.”

Duddy-Burke notes that the firings teach a terrible lesson to students and families who attend Catholic schools:

Catholic schools and other institutions do embody central values of our faith, and I believe all of us understand the important role they play in our communities. However, having them be models of exclusion, intimidation and oppression radically lessens their effectiveness.

New Ways Ministry strongly supports DignityUSA’s call to action.  Bishops and other church leaders need to hear from the majority of Catholics who support LGBT equality in church and society.  Without hearing from us,  church leaders will not be able to discern the voice of the Spirit active in our church.

New Ways Ministry also encourages Catholics to help prevent future firings by working to establish non-discrimination policies in Catholic institutions.  You can read more about how to start discussions to establish such policies by clicking on our blog post entitled  “How to Establish LGBT Employment Non-Discrimination Policies in Catholic Institutions.”     Even if your parish or school is ultimately unsuccessful in getting such a policy adopted, the discussion of these issues will help to let Catholic leaders know that the laity do not want this terrible firing trend to continue.

Several other voices have recently expressed their opinions about the Cincinnati situation.

Tom Sauter

Cincinnati.com published  an op-ed by Tom Sauter, an attorney and the advocacy chair of the Greater Cincinnati Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network, which notes that the archdiocese of Cincinnati should be more concerned with the safety of their LGBT students than with the lives of their teachers.  He states:

“The language of the pledge creates unsafe spaces for youth who are or are perceived to be gay.

“How could a teacher who has signed the pledge be reasonably expected to intervene in the bullying of an LGBTQ student? . . .

“The archdiocese should focus on providing a safe space for a world class Catholic education rather than policing the personal lives of its teachers.”

ABC-News reported on the new, stricter policies in Cincinnati and Honolulu, noting the opposition of a national Catholic schoolteachers’ union:

“The president of the Philadelphia-based National Association of Catholic School Teachers says some educators in the archdiocese have contacted the union with contract concerns, even though the union doesn’t represent them.

” ‘This contract is way over the top and very oppressive,’ said union president Rita Schwartz.”

Peg Hanna

Cincinnati.com also published an op-ed from Peg Hanna, a Catholic mother of nine and grandmother of 16 who finds the archdiocese of Cincinnati’s new policy totally unacceptable:

“Of course, I want our children’s teachers to be people of integrity and good will. But according to this language, a teacher could be fired for attending her lesbian daughter’s wedding, for having intimate relations with a fiancée, being seen buying birth control at a local pharmacy, standing along the route at a gay pride parade, or dealing with infertility through medical means. It wouldn’t matter how good a teacher she or he is, that she or he opted to follow a call to serve people in the church rather than teaching in a public school for higher pay, or how involved in the social justice mandates of our Gospel that teacher is.

“The so-called morality clause has nothing to do with morals at all. It ignores the fact that married Catholic couples use artificial contraception; that a strong majority of Catholics support equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people; and that many young couples are delaying marriage for financial and other reasons. Many of these are still good, conscientious, faith-filled people.

“It is tragic that the Archdiocese of Cincinnati is forcing parents to make a difficult choice. Do they want their children taught by people who are so rigid they have no understanding of the situations most Catholics find themselves in, or who have to lie about their lives to maintain employment? To do so would be a mockery of the faith we hold so dear.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Nun Advocating for Transgender Justice Profiled During Catholic Sisters Week

March 12, 2014

 

Sr. Monica, in middle

National Catholic Sisters Week, currently underway in the US, seeks to honor and celebrate the many women religious who have positively contributed to our world and our Church. For decades, Catholic sisters included justice for gay and lesbian people in these efforts to create change, and they have been ardent advocates for the full equality of every person. Now, Nathan Schneider’s article published by Al Jazeera America reveals the crucial role Catholic sisters play in advancing justice for transgender people in the Church.

Sr. Monica, a pseudonym used in the article due a request by her congregation for anonymity, began ministering among the transgender community in the late 1990s. Her smaller congregation is noted for ministering on society’s margins, and Monica is trained as a spiritual director and liturgist. She began ministering to the lesbian/gay community at first, before recognizing a “call within a call” to accompany the transgender community. The article notes of Sr. Monica’s ministry now:

“Monica has welcomed trans people into her home for retreats, and helped them to pray, and taken them out to dinner dressed, for the first time in public, according to the gender they know themselves to be. She often stays in touch with them for years on end. ‘Her basic message,’ [psychologist Maureen] Osborne says, ‘is to let them know that they are loved by God and that they are meant to embody exactly who they are.’

“Monica has healed souls and saved lives. Yet the leadership of the Catholic Church she serves acts as if her ministry doesn’t exist.”

Currently, there is no official teaching from the Vatican on gender identity aside from an ad hoc document suggesting guidelines on gender transitions,  and a few condemnatory remarks from Pope Benedict XVI in public speeches. Neither can be considered the result of substantive theological reflection or “official” in any way.

In 2010, Sr. Monica convened  a meeting of seven Catholic priests, a deacon, and four transgender Catholics for an afternoon of sharing and reflection. Schneider describes the meeting, the first of its kind, in the following way:

“Over the course of an hour, two trans men and two trans women told their life stories in brief, and the priests had to listen. They talked about the process of discovering that their gender didn’t fit their body — some in childhood, others later in life. They talked about struggles with priests and longings to be reconciled with their faith…

“During the second hour, there was an open discussion. The priests didn’t ask questions so much as affirm, and express sympathy. ‘I commend you for the integrity that you have’ — that kind of thing.

“As the second hour ended, some of the priests began to slip out for other appointments. One of them began to speak, paused, and then said, ‘Your ministry is to us today, and your spirituality is very, very apparent. You’ve helped me personally a great deal.’

“Another pause: ‘Because I’m a queer man.’ After what he’d heard, somehow, his own secret didn’t seem so scary. ‘I’ve come out to a number of people — but not yet to my brothers here.’ “

Sr. Monica’s ministry was sustained for a long time by her religious community, even when bishops were sharply critical of her work. These critics have kept her from being more public about transgender ministry, and now illness has forced her into an early retirement. Sr. Monica has withdrawn from leading retreats and counseling more than 200 transgender people, instead spending time in prayer and silence with the hope of ‘melting into God.’

Hilary Howes

Hilary Howes

At the same time, transgender topics are increasingly addressed by Catholics through writings and workshops sponsored by New Ways Ministry, of which Schneider writes:

“The first-ever Catholic trans conference in the United States took place one Saturday last November at a suburban convent in Towson, Md. About 35 people attended, mostly older women, sitting together in a room with a crucifix on one wall facing another wall of stained glass. The morning’s presentation was by a psychiatrist who works with gender-variant patients at Children’s Hospital. In the afternoon there was a talk by Hilary Howes, a middle-aged businesswoman who converted to Catholicism after her transition at age 40, almost two decades ago…

“Howes said during the conference in Towson, ‘The idea that God is beyond gender is quite clearly there…It’s a beautiful spiritual journey, but if you don’t have to go through it, please don’t.’…

“The day was full of epiphanies…Some who were already familiar with transgender terms and categories were trying to wrap their heads around the genderqueer label that increasingly resonates with young people  — not one gender or the other so much as somewhere in between, or both, or neither.”

Sr. Jeannine Gramick, who has ministered to lesbian/gay people for decades, is quoted in the article as saying, “The trans issue is in the Catholic community now where the lesbian and gay issue was in the late ’70s.” Schneider highlights these two sisters as he concludes the article, writing:

“For decades Grammick [sic] has spoken boldly on behalf of the queer community and has been censured mightily for it; where Monica agonizes about whether or not to speak, Grammick simply does so and then deals with whatever blowback comes from the hierarchy. Where Grammick has advocated, Monica has internalized.

“And this eats at her. ‘I am silent while trans people are being killed,’ she says, clenching her shoulders as if holding an invisible weight. ‘They’re being murdered and committing suicide, and I’m silent!’ When she’s worked up like this Monica can flash a gaze that makes her eyes seem steely and certain, until they fill with tears. And then a saying from St. Catherine of Siena comes to mind, turning her anger to a duller sadness. She recites it: ‘Preach the truth as if you had a million voices — it is silence that kills the world.’ “

IMG_0701In whatever way sisters have ministered, the religious women’s persistent accompaniment and advocacy for LGBT justice is a central reason to celebrate them during Catholic Sisters Week. At the same time, the voices of LGBT Catholics, their family, friends, and allies are all needed to carry on Sr. Monica and the sisters’ desire for transgender inclusion.

You can read the full article at Al Jazeera America by clicking here, and read more coverage of trans Catholic issues by this blog by clicking here. New Ways Ministry will also be offering another transgender workshop on Saturday, May 17, 2014, in Washington, DC. For more information on that, please call (301) 277-5674 or email info@newwaysministry.org.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


ONE YEAR LATER: Sr. Jeannine Gramick Assesses Pope Francis’ 1st Year

March 10, 2014

ONE YEAR LATER is an afternoon series focusing on the first year of Pope Francis’ papacy. Bondings 2.0 will be running this series all week.  The anniversary of his election is Thursday, March 13th.

A group of Catholic church reform organizations have banded together to organize a website/blog about the pope’s first year:  PopeFrancis365.orgIn addition to LGBT topics, the site includes resources on a variety of issues:  women’s ordination, non-violence, divorce and re-marriage, worker justice, church governance, to name a few.

New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, wrote the website’s section on Pope Francis and LGBT issues.  You can link to the website by clicking here.  Below is the main portion of the text, but you need to go to the website to see action items and other resources.

LGBT CATHOLICS

By Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, New Ways Ministry

Overview

Like the shot heard round the world, “Who am I to judge?” has, without doubt, come to define Pope Francis. His answer to a question about gay priests, asked by a reporter during a press conference on the plane ride back to Rome from World Youth Day celebrations in July 2013, was reprinted in headlines all over the globe. These five words represent an unambiguous departure from the harsh language of his predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, toward LGBT persons.

A mere nine months after his election to the papacy, Time magazine named Pope Francis its Person of the Year, in part for his welcome of LGBT people. The Advocate, the leading LGBT magazine, chose him as the single most influential person of 2013 for LGBT people, claiming that, because of Francis, “a significant and unprecedented shift took place this year in how LGBT people are considered by one of the world’s largest faith communities.” Pope Francis is turning into a rock star pontiff as he takes his place on the cover of the Rolling Stone magazine alongside other pop icons of American culture.

Equally Blessed, a coalition of four Catholic groups (Call to Action, Dignity, Fortunate Families, and New Ways Ministry) with a special outreach to LGBT persons and their allies, stated that the pope’s statements are “like rain on a parched land” for their constituents.

Pope Francis has given courage to thousands of Catholics who have been ministering with LGBT persons, many of whom have been penalized by church authorities who do not share Pope Francis’ welcoming vision. For LGBT advocates, Pope Francis is reinvigorating the Spirit called forth by Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council.

The First Year

Pope Francis is the first pope to publicly use the word “gay.” And this, in his first year in 2013! He spoke directly about lesbian and gay persons on his return flight from World Youth Day in July. In August, he gave a lengthy three-part interview to Antonio Spadaro, SJ, the Editor-in-Chief of La Civilta Cattolica in Rome at the request of all the editors of Jesuit magazines worldwide. In this interview Pope Francis elaborated on his remarks about lesbian and gay people. In November in Rome, he addressed the Union of Superiors General, an organization of the heads of religious congregations of men and spoke of new kinds of families, some headed by same-gender couples. Children in these situations present new educational challenges for the Church, he said .

In his famous “Who am I to Judge” statement on the plane from Rio, reporters asked about Italian news reports on a “gay lobby” of clerics at the Vatican, blackmailing each other about sexual exploits. Pope Francis joked that he had never seen the word gay on a Vatican identity card, but in seriousness said there is a distinction between the “fact of a person being gay” and “the fact of a lobby.” “Lobbies are not good,” he said, implying that being gay is good. There was public speculation that Francis was affirming only gay celibate priests, not all gay and lesbian people. He contradicted this theory in the coming months.

“During the return flight from Rio de Janeiro I said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge. By saying this, I said what the catechism says. Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.”

In the quote cited above, Pope Francis spoke about freedom and respect for the spiritual life of each person—all in the context of LGBT people. His words, spoken in this context, affirm the decision that most lesbian and gay Catholics have made to follow their conscience regarding sexuality, knowing in their hearts that they are at peace with God. It is particularly reassuring for them to hear such affirmation from the highest authority of our Church.

A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being.

In this quote, Francis reiterated his belief that the heart of the Gospel, and therefore the Church’s primary message, is God’s love for the person, not the repetition or enforcement of sterile doctrines about sexuality. His obvious intent is to by-pass offensive words like “intrinsically disordered” and “objectively immoral.” Francis is telling us to think of lesbian and gay individuals as human beings, as persons, instead of associating them with sexual activity.

We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context… The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.

Pope Francis’ above quote seems to be directly aimed at members of the hierarchy who are obsessed with cultural wars and the hot-button issues of abortion, gay marriage, and contraception. Time magazine pointed out, ”That might not seem like significant progress in the U.S. and other developed nations. But the Pope’s sensitivity to sexual orientation has a different impact in many developing countries, where homo­phobia is institutionalized, widespread and sanctioned.”

What’s Ahead

LGBT Catholics and their advocates are looking ahead for Pope Francis’ leadership in at least two specific areas: anti-discrimination laws and pastoral outreach to same-sex couples.

1.  Non-discrimination 

Uganda’s Parliament recently criminalized homosexuality, including life imprisonment for repeat offenders. Similar persecution of LGBT persons is occurring in Nigeria, Zambia, India, Russia, Croatia, and Jamaica, to name but a few nation states. Catholics and people of faith worldwide are calling on Pope Francis to condemn anti-LGBT laws implemented in several nations recently in a campaign called No More Triangle Nations.

The campaign, organized by New Ways Ministry and Fellowship Global, is a coalition of groups, including some COR groups. It encourages people to contact Pope Francis to urge him to speak out against repressive laws. People can tweet at the Pope (@Pontifex), send him an email (av@pccs.va), or write him a letter (His Holiness Pope Francis, Apostolic Palace, Vatican City State, 00120).

2.  Same-Sex Couples

In a speech to the Union of Superiors General in November 2013, Pope Francis described families headed by same-gender couples as one of the new educational challenges facing the Church.

Pope Francis has publicly advocated civil unions, but not gay marriage, for same-sex couples. From this speech, it is difficult to ascertain the extent of his sympathy for gay couples. He cast same-sex couples in a negative light by recalling sadly that a little girl told her teacher, “My mother’s girlfriend doesn’t love me.” However, he showed concern that we not give these children “a vaccine against faith” by showing hostility to their parents.

If the pope is serious about “proclaiming Christ to a generation that is changing,” as he said in this speech, he needs to listen humbly to those in the changing generation. His solicitation of input from the laity for the 2014 Synod on the Family is a good first start, but more needs to be done. For example, he could speak about workers’ rights, particularly the injustice of firing someone in a same-sex relationship, for issues unrelated to job performance.

Conclusion

Pope Francis has provided unexpected exhilaration for LGBT advocates. As Mark Segal, a leading gay activist, observed, “The actual doctrine of the church has not changed, but the message that Pope Francis is sending is more powerful than the doctrines themselves. Francis seems to understand that messages can create instant change, while doctrine can take years. He performs simple gestures as a priest looking after his flock.”

      The Advocate succinctly concluded, “Pope Francis is still not pro-gay by today’s standard…But what Francis does say about LGBT people has already caused reflection and consternation within his church.” His example has made a difference. The pope’s influence is not in making policy changes, but in setting the tone that will enable change to bubble up from below.

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–Post by Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


U.S. Catholics Make Known Their Opinions on Marriage and Family Issues

February 22, 2014

In the past few weeks, we’ve posted about a few international bishops’ conferences reporting about what they have learned from their surveys of their lay people on matters of marriage and family life, in anticipation of the October 2014 Synod in Rome on those topics.  More and more bishops’ conferences are starting to disclose the responses to these surveys, and we will be reporting on them in the coming days.

Noticeably absent has been any report from the U.S. bishops, and this is probably due to the fact that very few of them made the survey available to their laity.   To remedy this omission of the voices of U.S. lay Catholics, a network of Catholic reform organizations sent out the survey to their members, and yesterday they have released a report on the compiled responses.  Released by member groups of the Catholic Organizations for Renewal and entitled Voices of the People: Responses to the Vatican Survey in Preparation for the Extraordinary Synod on the Familythe report provides statistics on the information gathered from over 16,000 respondents.   According to a press release, the report categorized responses under seven major themes:

  1. Pastoral care urgently needed
  2. Pedagogical/evangelism challenges
  3. Separated, divorced and remarried Catholics
  4. Same-sex marriage
  5. Women in the Church
  6. Sexual abuse scandals
  7. Skepticism and hope.

The survey responses were analyzed by an independent reviewer, Dr. Peter J. Fagan, M.Div., PhD., from the Department of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, in Baltimore, Maryland. 53% of the respondents identified as weekly church-goers, higher than the national average of 31% of Catholics who do so.

On the issue of  marriage equality, the report offers the following evaluation of Catholic attitudes:

“There  is  a  law  recognizing  marriage  equality  in  the  states  of  57  percent  of  the   respondents  (Q29)  and  marriage  equality  is  very  important  for  26  percent  of  the   respondents  and  extremely  important  for  47  percent  (Q33*).

“Respondents  were  asked  to  judge  the  attitudes  of  their  diocese,  parish  and  small   faith  communities  toward  both  marriage  equality  and  same-­‐sex  couples  in  a   committed  partnership  (Q30).  As  the  geography  of  the  entity  became  more  local  and   familiar,  i.e.  from  diocese  to  parish  to  faith  community,  the  respondents’  judged  that   the  attitudes  were  less  hostile,  less  condemning  and  less  negative  and  became  more   supportive,  even  highly  supportive.  This  pattern  applied  to  both  marriage  equality   and  same-­‐sex  couples  in  a  committed  relationship.    One  third  of  respondents  viewed  their  dioceses  as  hostile  and  condemning  of  marriage  equality  (37  percent)  and  same-­‐ sex  couples  (35  percent);  their  parishes  as  hostile  and  condemning  of  marriage   equality  (11  percent)  and  same-­‐sex  couples  (13  percent);  and  their  faith  communities   as  hostile  and  condemning  of  marriage  equality  (3  percent)  and  same-­‐sex  couples  (4   percent).

“Asked  about  attitudinal  support  of  marriage  equality  and  same-­‐sex  couples,  the   inverse  pattern  applied:  the  more  local,  the  more  support  for  marriage  equality  and   same-­‐sex  couples  in  a  committed  partnership  (Q30).    Seven  percent  of  dioceses  were   seen  being  at  least  somewhat  supportive  of  both  situations,  as  did  thirty  one  percent   of  parishes  and  two  thirds  of  small  faith  communities.    The  striking  contrast  in  this   inverse  pattern  is  the  discrepancy  between  the  dioceses  perceived  as  hostile  and   condemning  toward  marriage  equality  (37  percent)  and  same-­‐sex  couples  (35   percent)  and  the  perception  of  the  respondents’  small  faith  communities  attitudes  as   being  highly  supportive  of  marriage  equality  (45  percent)  and  same-­‐sex  couples  in  a   committed  partnership  (47  percent). “

The entire report concludes with the following observation from the analyst:

There  can  be  no  conclusion  to  this  Report  because  it  is  offered  as  participation  to   the  dialogue  and  discernment  leading  up  to  the  Extraordinary  Synod  on  the  Family   to  be  held  in  the  Vatican  during  October  2014.    However,  if  we  were  to  try  to   capture  what  the  respondents  have  said  in  one  sentence,  we  turn  to  voice  of  Pope   Francis  when  he  wrote,

“ ‘The  Church  must  be  a  place  of  mercy  freely  given,  where  everyone  can  feel   welcomed,  loved,  forgiven  and  encouraged  to  live  the  good  life  of  the  Gospel.’   (Evangelii  Gaudium,  #114)

“If  there  were  one  near-­‐universal  hope  of  the  over  16,000  respondents  to  this  Survey,   it  would  be  that  this  vision  of  the  church  would  become  a  pastoral  reality.”

Organizational sponsors of the survey project from Catholic Organizations for Renewal include American Catholic Council, Call To Action, CORPUS, DignityUSA, Federation of Christian Ministries/Roman Catholic Faith Community Council, FutureChurch, New Ways Ministry, RAPPORT, Roman Catholic Womenpriests, Southeastern Pennsylvania Women’s Ordination Conference, Voice of the Faithful, and Women’s Ordination Conference.   Other supporting organizations include Catholic Church Reform, Fortunate Families, and Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER).

You can read some of the qualitative responses to the survey either in English or Spanish.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Archbishop Meets with LGBT-Friendly Pilgrim Group in Palestine

February 21, 2014
Archbishop Elias Chacour of the Galilee with New Ways Ministry pilgrims and staff

Archbishop Elias Chacour of the Galilee with New Ways Ministry pilgrims and staff

LGBT and Ally Catholics met with Archbishop Elias Chacour on Monday, as part of a pilgrimage being led by New Ways Ministry to Israel this week. The 36 pilgrims dialogued with the archbishop for nearly two hours on a breadth of issues.

Until recently retiring, Chacour was archbishop of the Galilee in Palestine for the Melkite rite, which is in communion with the Vatican. Chacour spoke with the pilgrims from his personal background to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. The program began with an introduction from Sr. Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, and a solicitation by the archbishop of why the pilgrims had journeyed to the Holy Land.

Afterwards, Chacour spoke about what it meant to minister as a man from Galilee, sharing a common location with Jesus Christ. His wisdom comes from both historical roots in the land where Jesus lived and ministered, as well as theological education, and the archbishop told the group:

“We Palestinian Christians are not good philosophers, and even worse theologians, because we are obsessed with telling the story of our man from Galilee…

Archbishop Chacour addressing the pilgrims

Archbishop Chacour addressing the pilgrims

“Those invited to the banquet of heaven are every man and woman without exception…You are called to be the adopted children of God…Nobody is important, but nobody is replaceable…

“All I remember is God does not kill and God is love. tThe rest is commentary.”

In addition to his work as archbishop, Chacour runs educational initiatives that have blossomed into a system offering  early childhood programs to university degree programs for nearly 3,000 students based out of the village called Ibillin. Though he offered anecdotes from these work, his overarching insights focused on creating unity and respect amid diversity between Palestinians and Israelis and these lessons are familiar ones for those working for LGBT justice in the Church.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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