Pope Francis Calls For Church to Find New Ways to Proclaim Christ to Families Headed by Same-Gender Couples

January 6, 2014

Pope Francis

In a talk from the autumn of 2013 which was made public this past weekend in the Italian magazine La Civilita Cattolica, Pope Francis described families headed by same-gender couples as one of the new educational challenges facing the Church.

Gulf-Times.com reports:

“ ‘On an educational level, gay unions raise challenges for us today which for us are sometimes difficult to understand,’ Francis said in a speech to the Catholic Union of Superiors General in November, extracts of which were published on Italian media websites yesterday [Saturday, January 4, 2014].

“ ‘The number of children in schools whose parents have separated is very high,’ he said, adding that family make-ups were also changing.

“ ‘I remember a case in which a sad little girl confessed to her teacher: “my mother’s girlfriend doesn’t love me’,” he was quoted as saying.

“The Pontiff said educational leaders should ask themselves ‘how can we proclaim Christ to a generation that is changing?’

“ ‘We must be careful not to administer a vaccine against faith to them,’ the 77-year-old Pontiff added.”

It’s difficult to know what to make of the pope’s attitude toward gay couples based on this small amount of information.  On one hand, it is unsettling that he used a negative example of a child’s experience of same-sex guardians.  On the other hand, his comment about not giving them “a vaccine against faith”  seems to indicate that he realizes that a humanitarian approach is needed.

One definite positive insight is the pope’s awareness that the church needs to examine ‘how we proclaim Christ to a generation that is changing.”    That insight is way overdue in the Catholic world.  Social attitudes and practices regarding gender, sexuality, marriage, and family have been changing for decades now, and yet church leaders, for too long, have chosen to either ignore these changes or to staunchly oppose them to the point of alienating whole swaths of the population.

Yes, Pope Francis is right:  a generation is changing.  But, not all those changes are bad.  Indeed, some are very good.  Catholic leaders do need to be aware of these changes and to adjust the way they present the gospel.  What worked in 1954 will not work in 2014.   The gospel message of unconditional love is the same; the audience, however, is vastly different.  People need to hear the gospel message in a way that speaks to their lives and their new realities.

If the pope is serious about developing a new way to proclaim Christ to a new generation, the best thing that he can do is to listen humbly to the voices of the people who experience these new realities:  women,  separated and divorced people,  single parents, same-gender couples, parents of LGBT people, and single LGBT people.  His move last year to encourage bishops to seek input from the laity on marriage and family issues in anticipation of the 2014 Synod on those topics is a good first start, but more has to be done, too.

New ways of proclaiming the gospel to our contemporary world are long overdue.  Pope Francis’ call for change is a good beginning.  He needs to make sure that this new call is truly new and that he does not inherit the old, negative attitudes toward gender, sexuality, marriage, and family, which have done so much harm for so long.

Bishop Francis Mugavero

Pope Francis’ call has a precedent from over 35 years ago, when Brooklyn’s Bishop Francis Mugavero wrote his pastoral letter, Sexuality:  God’s Gift.    In that document, which was the first ecclesiastical document in which a bishop spoke directly to lesbian and gay people, he told them;

“we pledge our willingness …to try to find new ways to communicate the truth of Christ because we believe it will make you free.”

It is from that direct statement that, in 1977, Sister Jeannine Gramick and Father Robert Nugent borrowed the term “new ways” to identify their newly established educational ministry for the church and lesbian/gay community:  New Ways Ministry.

Pope Francis would do well to mirror Bishop Mugavero’s spirit of openness and innovation, which, unfortunately, was not promoted by the Vatican over the past 30-plus years.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Reflecting on the Life and Ministry of Father Robert Nugent

January 4, 2014

Father Robert Nugent, SDS

News of the death of New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, Father Robert Nugent, SDS, has circled the globe in the last few days, and news reports and reflections on his life and ministry have proliferated.  Different stories focused on different aspects of Fr. Nugent’s life and ministry.

Thomas C. Fox, publisher of the National Catholic Reporter reflected on how Nugent’s pioneering spirit of inclusiveness is now being recognized by the highest level of the Church:

“Nugent will be remembered in Catholic history  for his  early efforts to minister to gays and lesbians at a time when few, in any, other clergy and religious would do so publicly.

“In some ways, gay and lesbian ministries have made great strides since the Nugent first reached out to that marginalized segment of our church. In other ways, those ministerial efforts have made only small gains. Gay and lesbian ministries are still not the norm in Catholic parishes and New Ways Ministry is seldom welcomed into parishes.

“Pope Francis, as if taking the lead from the now deceased Nugent, when asked how he views gay clergy, responded: ‘Whom am I to judge?’

“That was precisely Nugent’s attitude — and he lived as Francis now preaches.”

Father James Martin, SJ, editor-at-large of America  magazine was quoted in The Huffington Post’s  news story of Fr. Nugent’s death, praising him for the integrity with which he navigated difficult situations:

“I always admired Father Nugent’s pioneering work with gay and lesbian Catholics; along with Sister Jeannine Gramick he helped many thousands of people feel more welcome in their church. But I admired just as much his fidelity to his vow of obedience. In a complicated time, Father Nugent navigated a course between justice and fidelity with enormous grace and trust in God. All Catholics–not just gays and lesbians –owe him a debt of gratitude. May he rest in peace.”

In talking about “justice and fidelity,” Fr. Martin is likely referring to Fr. Nugent’s response to the Vatican censure of the ministry that he shared with Sister Jeannine Gramick.  The Catholic News Service story in The Catholic Review recounts that challenging time of his life:

“New Ways Ministry was subject to repeated investigations and inquiries at the diocesan, religious-order and Vatican levels, including one ordered in 1994 by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1994, then headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later to become Pope Benedict XVI.
“As a result of the investigation, Father Nugent and Sister Jeannine Gramick, then a member of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, were ordered to stop pastoral ministry to gays, saying they advanced ‘doctrinally unacceptable’ positions ‘regarding the intrinsic evil of homosexual acts and the objective disorder of the homosexual inclination.’
“After a year of speaking and writing about homosexuality, Father Nugent and Sister Gramick were directed to stop talking about the topic and the Vatican investigation itself. Father Nugent complied, but Sister Gramick ultimately decided to defy the ban and left her order to join the Sisters of Loretto.”
In addition, the same news story (which includes a comprehensive biography of the priest) notes an important high point in Fr. Nugent’s ministry:
“The Paulist Center Community in Boston gave its 1995 Isaac Hecker Award for Social Justice, named after the Paulists’ founder, to Sister Gramick and Father Nugent. ‘This is the first time we have received an award as a team from a mainstream, nongay organization,’ Father Nugent said at the award ceremony. “
Previous recipients of the Isaac Hecker Award for Social Justice include Dorothy Day and Cesar Chavez.
The Washington Blade story noted another award that Fr. Nugent received:

“. . . Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of the LGBT Catholic group Dignity USA, said Nugent’s more than 20 years as a leader of New Ways Ministry continues to have an impact on LGBT Catholics and Catholic clergy despite his absence from direct work on LGBT issues in recent years.

“ ‘Dignity USA gave Bob a lifetime achievement award in 2001 to recognize just how important he was as a ground-breaking figure in lesbian and gay ministry throughout the 70s and 80s,’ Duddy-Burke said. ‘I continue to meet people who say Bob’s writings, workshops, and personal ministry were the thing that gave them hope as they were coming out in the 70s and the 80s,’ she said.”

On The Billerico Report blog, John Becker hailed Fr. Nugent as a “Catholic LGBT Rights Hero,” noting that even after he was censured, he continued to do what he could for lesbian and gay people:

“Although Fr. Nugent stopped leading public workshops and retreats about LGBT issues, he continued ministering one-on-one and with small groups. He maintained his pro-equality beliefs until the end of his life.

“The LGBT community has lost one of our heroes, one who stood up and spoke out against the Catholic Church’s institutional homophobia when few others within that church would.

“Well done, good and faithful servant.”

In addition to these public testimonies, New Ways Ministry has been receiving email from all over the nation and the globe attesting to the many ways that Fr. Nugent’s ministry touched people’s lives.   We are so grateful for the many prayers and expressions of support that we have received from so many. Such support is so strengthening for our hearts and souls.

Brother John Gleason, CSC,  sent us an email which contained a poignant story which very accurately captures the essence of Father Nugent.  Brother Gleason wrote:

“For many years, when I was Provincial and later as Vicar General of my community, I supported Sr. Jeannine and Fr. Nugent.  In fact, I was presnote and on it was printed the followent in Rome the day they were ‘silenced’ by the institution and had supper with them that very night!  I was profoundly struck by Fr. Nugent’s calm throughout the entire ordeal.  Later, he sent me a note,  and on it was printed the following word by Fr. Bernard Haring, CSsR, from his book, My Witness for the Church:
” ‘I love the Church because Christ loved it, loved it to the utmost extreme. I love it even when I discover painful attitudes and structures which I do not find in harmony with the Gospel.  I love it as it is because Christ also loved me with all my imperfections, with all my shadows and constantly gives me the first fruits of his Kingdom so that my love may correspond to his eternal plan.  I experience the Church in the celebration of the Eucharist:  Christ and the Church with him remind me of all the limitless evidence of love, grace and mercy. In this the Church helps me to form a grateful memory. lf we open ourselves to this and gratefully remember all the good which has flowed to us in the Church and constantly flows to us, then we can and will all succeed in giving even the suffering from the Church its place in the heart of Jesus.’
“Although these were Fr. Haring’s words, they struck me as utterly true of Fr. Nugent and deeply affected me.  I have them framed for all to see and read and ponder, for it is really our love for Jesus that allows us to continue this, albeit at times painful, journey.
“I am blessed to have known him and grateful there is now such a wonderful intercessor!”

A brief biography of Father Nugent appears on New Ways Ministry’s website.

We will continue to update you with any further reflections on Fr. Nugent’s life, as well as letting you know about details about his funeral, memorial services, and any memorial opportunities.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry.

Related articles

Associated Press: “Catholic priest once condemned by Vatican for his ministry to gays dies”

Edge Miami: “Gay-Friendly Father Robert Nugent Dies on New Year’s Day”

The Holy Irritant: “Fr. Bob Nugent, RIP”

Religion News Service:  “The Rev. Bob Nugent, silenced for his work with gay Catholics, dies at 76″


Father Robert Nugent, New Ways Ministry’s Co-Founder, Passes Into Eternal Life

January 2, 2014

Father Robert Nugent, SDS

With confidence in the promise of the Resurrection, but also with hearts heavy with sorrow, New Ways Ministry reports the passing into eternal life of our co-founder, Father Robert Nugent, SDS.  Fr. Nugent’s three-month battle with cancer ended on Wednesday, January 1, 2014, at 2:10 pm, Central Time, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Present at his side at the time of his death were New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, and Brother John Hauenstein, SDS, a member of his religious congregation, the Salvatorians.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director, reflected on the impact of Father Nugent’s life:

“When few priests would do more than whisper about homosexuality, Father Nugent was meeting with lesbian and gay people and encouraging them to claim their rightful place in the Catholic Church.  During a time of intense homophobia in both church and society, he exhibited uncommon courage and foresight in welcoming and affirming the goodness of God’s lesbian and gay children.

“But his ministry was more than a welcome.  He had the wisdom to know that the real moral problem in the church was not the lives of lesbian and gay people, but the ignorance and fear out of which many church leaders and officials operated.  An uncommon prophet, instead of railing against this ignorance and fear, he and Sister Jeannine set out to educate people about the reality and holiness of lesbian and gay lives.  Instead of battling the institution, he attempted to build bridges of education and dialogue, helping to enlighten Catholic leaders who were sometimes reluctant to break free from their traditional ways.  A loyal son of the Church, he attempted to help the institution live up to its most cherished ideals of human dignity, equality, and respect.

“In founding New Ways Ministry with Sister Jeannine, he helped establish an institutional resource for the Catholic Church on lesbian and gay issues.  Their dream was for New Ways Ministry to be a resource and advocacy center to which pastoral leaders, lesbian and gay Catholics, and family members could turn.  For decades the duo crisscrossed the nation providing support and guidance to those Catholics who were willing to open up to their more inclusive model of church.  He bravely withstood the disapproval of many Church leaders, often experiencing the alienation and marginalization of the lesbian and gay people that he served.

“It is impossible to overestimate the impact and value of Father Nugent’s lesbian and gay ministry.  He educated a generation of pastoral leaders who began to put into practice the inclusive ideals that he taught.  A tireless researcher and writer, he produced a number of important works on pastoral care that helped to shape the movement in Catholicism of gay-friendly parishes.  In the mid-1990s, he served as a consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Marriage and Family Life as they produced their landmark pastoral document, Always Our Children. A sensitive counselor, he supported scores of gay priests and brothers as they worked at reconciling their spirituality with their sexuality.

“When New Ways Ministry informed its supporters of Fr. Nugent’s illness, hundreds of cards and notes expressing gratitude and encouragement flooded his hospice room.  At the end, he knew he was loved and cared for by so, so many on his final journey.

“While we at New Ways Ministry are sad that we will no longer experience his sharp mind, his warm heart, and his delightful wit, we are comforted by the fact that his impact will live on in the lives of those he touched and in the Catholic Church’s continued renewal of its welcome and commitment to its lesbian and gay members–a renewal that he played such a large role in effecting.  We now have another saint to whom we can pray for LGBT equality and justice.”

Bondings 2.0 will continue to update its readers with information about funeral arrangements for Fr. Nugent, as well as any further reflection on Father Nugent’s life and ministry.


The Best of 2013 in Catholic LGBT News

December 31, 2013

Yesterday, we posted our list of the worst of 2013 in Catholic LGBT news.  Today, as promised, we end the year on a positive note by presenting our list of the BEST of the previous year.  It has been quite a good year for Catholic LGBT issues, on all levels of the church.  From a pope who is setting a more positive tone to Catholics in the pews organizing to support marriage equality, we have seen positive movement this year on all levels of the church.  As we noted yesterday, when we drew up our list of  “nominees,” it was hard to come up with 20 serious negative stories from last year, and it was just as hard to limit the positive stories to only 20.

If you’d like  further testimony to the positive movement this year in regard to Catholic LGBT issue, you might want to take a look at Michael O’Loughlin’s essay entitled “For Gay Catholics, 2013 Was A Banner Year. Will It Continue?   It was published on the WBUR website, Boston’s public radio station.

Thanks to the 286 of you who voted in our poll to determine the selection and ranking of these best news stories.  The percentage following each story is the percentage of people who chose this item as one of their top five.

The Top Eleven  (It would have been the top ten, but we had a number of ties) :

1. Pope Francis, in word and action, begins moving the worldwide Catholic Church towards a more accepting and pastoral approach towards LGBT people. 22%

2 and 3 (TIE).  Catholics play a major positive role in the legalization of marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples in Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware, Minnesota, Illinois, Hawaii, France, and Great Britain.  11%

  The Vatican asks for input from lay Catholics around the globe for its upcoming Synod on Marriage and the Family, including questions about pastoral care of families headed by same-gender couples.  11%

4 and 5 (TIE). Catholic high school students and alumni organize in cities around the U.S. to protest decisions by their schools to fire LGBT personnel. 6%

The Vatican presents a top science award to a young gay high school student in Maryland. 6%

6, 7, 8 (TIE).   Cardinals and bishops around the world, including at least two Vatican officials, endorse the idea of legalizing civil unions for lesbian and gay couples. 5%

New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick debates Springfield, Illinois’ Bishop Thomas Paprocki on marriage equality, and the audience supports the pro-marriage equality arguments. 5%

Catholic leaders and commentators welcome the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act, despite criticism of the decision from the U.S. bishops.  5%

9,10,11 (TIE). Catholic parishes in Baltimore, Portland, Oregon, Seattle, and Minneapolis/St. Paul march publicly in Gay Pride parades. 4%

The president of McQuaid H.S., Rochester, N.Y., allows two male students to attend the junior prom as a couple. 4%

Fr. Gary Meier, St. Louis Archdiocese priest, comes out as a gay man and reaches out to LGBT Catholics.  4%

Other Items which garnered votes:

Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai, India, speaks out against his nation’s court decision to allow for the re-criminalization of homosexuality.  3%

The National Catholic Committee on Scouting supports the Boy Scouts of America’s decision to lift the ban against young gay men joining the organization. 3%

Two Catholic hospitals are given national honors for their employment and patient care standards in regard to LGBT equality. 2%

Theologian Bryan Massingale challenges justice and peace Catholics to embrace LGBT issues as part of their social agenda. 2%

Santa Rosa, California’s Bishop Robert Vasa withdraws an orthodoxy oath for church ministers after lay people protest such a measure. 1%

Linda Karle-Nelson and Thomas Nelson, Catholic parents, are presented with PFLAG’s highest honor for LGBT family outreach and advocacy. 1%

LGBT young adults from the Equally Blessed coalition travel to World Youth Day in Brazil to spread the message of inclusion and equality. 1%

Write-in:

One respondent wrote in what he/she considered to be one of the best Catholic LGBT stories of 2013:

“Francis is elected pope, and says with regard to gay people, ‘Who am I to judge?’ “

All in all, it has been a very good year!    Bondings 2.0 and New Ways Ministry looks forward to even greater strides for LGBT equality and justice in 2014!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Sr. Jeannine Gramick Comments on Pope Shaking Up Bishops

December 19, 2013
Sr. Jeannine Gramick

Sr. Jeannine Gramick

Pope Francis moved to solidify his reforms in real ways this week by shaking up the Congregation for Bishops, which oversees episcopal appointments worldwide. The pope’s addition of Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, DC stood in contrast to his removal of Cardinal Raymond Burke, who has led highly conservative factions in the Church through his position at the Vatican. Given the significance of these events, it is worth asking: what could this mean for LGBT issues in the Church?

On Wednesday, Sr. Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, spoke with MSNBC’s Tamron Hall about the new appointments and prospects for greater justice within the Church itself. When asked about LGBT people and Pope Francis, Sr. Jeannine said:

“I’ve been working in ministry on behalf of LGBT people within the Catholic Church and outside the Catholic Church since the 1970s. I never would have imagined that same-sex marriage would be on the agenda of our country, or of the world, or even of our Church.

“It is heartwarming that Francis is returning to the Gospel and saying do not be obsessed with issues like same-sex marriage or abortion or contraception. He’s telling the Congregation for Bishops that when you look for bishops, appoint bishops who smell like the sheep. In other words, he wants men, priests now, who are in the trenches with the people, who are pastoral and not people who are obsessed with cultural issues.”

You can watch the entire interview by clicking here.

In the National Catholic Reporter , John Allen explained why the Congregation for Bishops matters, and specifically what impact new American leadership could have. Allen writes:

“Under the Vatican’s process for picking bishops, the papal ambassador, or nuncio, in each country is responsible for compiling a list of names of candidates, called a terna, for openings as they arise. That terna is then submitted to the Congregation for Bishops, whose members vote on the final list to be submitted to the pope.

“Although all members vote on every nomination, observers say there’s a natural tendency within the congregation to defer to the members who come from a particular part of the world when a vacancy arises in their region. The American members, therefore, tend to be especially influential in shaping picks for the United States.

“Although in theory the pope is free to ignore the recommendations, in most cases the pope simply takes the top pick submitted by the Congregation for Bishops.”

In a separate piece, John Allen comments more specifically to analyze how the pope is setting up a new generation of “Francis Bishops.” He offers commentary on individual appointments in the piece, which are worth reading and writes:

“Putting in the moderate Wuerl and taking the strongly conservative Burke off couldn’t help but seem a signal of the kind of bishop Francis intends to elevate in the United States…

“There’s equally no doubt, however, that as of Monday, Francis shifted the center of the gravity inside the body responsible for selecting bishops towards the middle — not just with the American members, as it turns out, but across the board.”

As for LGBT issues, it seems Pope Francis wants bishops with a more pastoral and less political tone. While Wuerl has not been a strong ally for the LGBT community, he is notable for what he has not done as much as for what he has. He has not denied Communion to politicians based upon their voting records, and he has hardly been as aggressive in speech against LGBT people as his fellow American bishops.  Moreover, it was Wuerl who, in a nationally renowned news story, removed the priest who denied communion to a Catholic lesbian woman at her mother’s funeral.

When Pope Francis was selected as Person of the Year in both Time and The Advocate, critics have claimed his actions of welcome and outreach to the LGBT community were only words. This shake-up at the Vatican seems to indicate that the pope is trying to solidify words into actions.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Pope Francis Named Person of the Year by Leading LGBT Magazine

December 17, 2013

As if being named Time‘s Person of the Year weren’t enough, a leading LGBT magazine has now bestowed Pope Francis with the same honor. The Advocate announced Pope Francis as the “single most influential person for 2013 on the lives of LGBT people” in a year when several highly influential persons, including Edie Windsor and others who battled in US courts to end the Defense of Marriage Act, were also considered.

The Advocate explained its highly unusual decision to select a religious, and specifically, a Catholic, leader:

“The most influential person of 2013 doesn’t come from our ongoing legal conflict but instead from our spiritual one — successes from which are harder to define. There has not been any vote cast or ruling issued, and still 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 leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics all over the world. There are three times as many Catholics in the world than there are citizens in the United States. Like it or not, what he says makes a difference…[do not] underestimate any pope’s capacity for persuading hearts and minds in opening to LGBT people, and not only in the U.S. but globally.”

Critics have questioned why the magazine would choose the leader of an outwardly homophobic religious institution for the honor, to which The Advocate responds:

“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. The moment that grabbed headlines was during a flight from Brazil to Rome. When asked about gay priests, Pope Francis told reporters, according to a translation from Italian, ‘If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?’

“The brevity of that statement and the outsized attention it got immediately are evidence of the pope’s sway. His posing a simple question with very Christian roots, when uttered in this context by this man, ‘Who am I to judge?’ became a signal to Catholics and the world that the new pope is not like the old pope.”

The Advocate thoroughly details the positive words and actions of Pope Francis in less than a year which signal a welcome and openness to love LGBT people. They recall his interview with America where he condemned the bishops’ obsession with anti-equality campaigns and said God sees gay people with love. They recall the impact he has had on bishops, like Cardinal Oswald Gracias of India who recently spoke out against a law criminalizing homosexuality in his nation and demanded priests pastorally speak about LGBT people. They recall the pope’s letter to an Italian gay group, Kairos of Florence, which was respectful and opened a dialogue.

In summary, The Advocate explains that this honor is in part a promise of things to come under Pope Francis as well and the impact he might yet have:

“One could imagine how acceptance of LGBT people might fit into the pope’s case for loving every human being and valuing the contribution made by each to society. With less than a year as pope, Francis still must show whether his aspiration ends at not being our enemy. Will he be an agent for fighting our discrimination worldwide?…

“One thing we know from 2013 is that no matter the dedication of our activists, in the end we are often faced with a straight person who decides our fate…Will any of them consider the pope’s advice against casting judgment?”

Already, it seems most US Catholics have preceded the pope in loving LGBT people and then making the fight for equal rights a common one. The Advocate quotes a statement from Equally Blessed, a coalition of  four Catholic organizations (Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry) which work  for LGBT equality and  justice, to explain this phenomenon. The statement reads:

“Pope Francis today uttered some of the most encouraging words a pontiff has ever spoken about gay and lesbian people…In doing so, he has set a great example for Catholics everywhere…Catholic leaders who continue to belittle gays and lesbians can no longer claim that their inflammatory remarks represent the sentiments of the pope. Bishops who oppose the expansion of basic civil rights — such as an end to discrimination in the work place — can no longer claim that the pope approves of their discriminatory agenda. Pope Francis did not articulate a change in the church’s teaching today, but he spoke compassionately, and in doing so, he has encouraged an already lively conversation that may one day make it possible for the church to fully embrace gay and lesbian Catholics.”

We agree with The Advocate about the importance of Pope Francis’ positive affect on the Catholic conversation about LGBT issues.  We also agree with the magazine’s point that the key to more permanent change will be if the rest of the Church follows his example of acceptance and love.  Change in the church will come not directly from the pope, but from how the rest of the Church–laity and hierarchy–will follow suit.  While Catholic laity in the U.S. and many other countries already support LGBT equality, we must remember that in many other nations, this is not necessarily the case.  The recent example of Croatia’s referendum against marriage equality is instructive here.

As we’ve noted before, the pope’s influence is not in making policy changes, but in setting the tone and establishing processes that will allow true change to percolate up from below.  Pope Francis, with his many positive statements and especially his call for consultation from the laity on matters of marriage and family, is already exerting this type of influence profoundly.

Pope Francis has made 2013 a year of  unexpected excitement for LGBT issues.  He is the first pope to publicly use the word “gay.”  He has corrected church leaders’ “obsession” with same-gender marriage.  He has reached out to lesbian and gay Catholics in unprecedented ways.    In this year of so many “firsts” surrounding the pontiff, the fact that a pope has been named “Person of the Year” by an LGBT publication–something truly unimaginable for far too long–is definitely one of the most remarkable developments.

–Bob Shine and Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Choosing Between Mercy and Judgment

December 8, 2013

For the four Sundays of Advent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections on the day’s Scripture readings by two New Ways Ministry staff members:  Matthew Myers, Associate Director, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder.  The liturgical readings for the second Sunday of Advent are Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72: 1-2. 7-8, 12-13, 17; Romans 15: 4-9; Matthew 3: 1-12.  You can read the texts by clicking here.

“Slay the wicked.”  “Crush the oppressor.”  “Coming wrath.”  “Unquenchable fire.”  In today’s readings, Isaiah and John the Baptist use some strong language about God’s impending judgment and wrath.  And I like it. 

I would not mind seeing some hardcore divine judgment fall upon people who perpetrate evil in our world.  I am tired of reading in the news about hungry children, homeless families, corrupt politicians, war-torn countries, and corporate greed.  I am angry that the strong and influential exploit the weak and unknown.  How long, O Lord, until the oppressors are crushed and the wicked are slain?

However, contrary to Isaiah, John the Baptist, and my own deeply flawed heart, judgment and wrath are not the way of Jesus or the God he proclaimed.

Through Jesus, we see that “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).  God overwhelms all of us with love that exceeds our ability to sin – that is mercy!  It is not asked for or deserved, but freely and lavishly given.  Judgment and wrath bring only sadness and death into our world, not life – and our God is one of abundant life.  Mercy brings true justice and wholeness into our world.   

What does this mean to us?  As Catholic LGBT people and allies, we can create a more inclusive Church by welcoming God’s abundant mercy into our own hearts, and then by sharing that love with others–particularly with those fellow Catholics who may say disparaging things or create discriminatory policies against LGBT people.  It is our own experience of undeserved mercy that compels us to generously extend mercy to others. 

For example, if a bishop or pastor condemns marriage equality, I think denouncing him as a bigot who hates lesbian and gay people is not consistent with what Jesus taught.  Our culture encourages us to attack those who disagree with us, but angry words and vitriol will only magnify and perpetuate the mistrust and rancor in our Church.  Instead, perhaps we should focus on building relationships – invite the bishop or pastor to have coffee or lunch to share our stories.  Send him a Christmas card with a family photo.  If he keeps us at arm’s length, we should keep the doors open by periodically reaching out to him.  Our task is to build bridges rather than throw stones. 

Our loving witness and patient invitation to dialogue will give others the opportunity to experience God’s mercy – and possibly change their hearts about LGBT people.  We pursue justice for LGBT people by changing hearts through showing mercy in personal interactions, not through judgment and wrath.

There is power in mercy.  As we continue our Advent preparations, perhaps we can reflect on how God’s “mercy triumphs over justice” in our own lives – and how we can show mercy to others.

–Matthew Myers, New Ways Ministry


US Bishops Slowly Catching Up to Pope Francis for Synod on Marriage and Family

December 5, 2013

Since Pope Francis asked for widespread consultation about matters relating to marriage and family life, there has been confusion about what exactly this request would look like.  Because the US bishops‘ conference promised to follow ‘usual’ protocol for this unusual papal request in the US, indicating that they would not encourage bishops to consult the laity, church reform organizations prepared online surveys for Catholics to offer input and. Now, it seems, the American hierarchy has caught on to the pope’s message, and opportunities for Catholics to speak out are expanding.

Brian Roewe reviewed available surveys in the United States at National Catholic Reporterand as of November 22nd there were 46 dioceses actively soliciting parishioners’ input. As for the breakdown, Roewe reports:

“So far, dioceses seeking lay consultation stretch as far south as Palm Beach, Fla., to as far north as Juneau, Alaska, with San Jose, Calif.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Rapid City, S.D.; Dallas; New Orleans; and Great Falls-Billings, Mont., among others, scattered in between.

“The bulk — more than a third of the identified dioceses — came from the Midwest; 10 apiece resided in the West/Southwest and the Northeast, and another nine from the South.”

Catholic Organizations for Renewal published one of the first online surveys, as did Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. It appears bishops are reacting to such lay efforts by offering their own options of online surveys, mailed-in responses, and discussion events. However, whether these diocesan solicitations are authentic opportunities for listening is an open question:

“Most dioceses have made clear that the survey is not a poll of Catholic opinions. To give the questions greater context, nearly all dioceses posted alongside the survey the official preparatory document.

“In addition, some dioceses provided links to church teachings and Vatican documents covered in the questions, with several providing a frequently-asked-questions section for additional information.”

“Others took a more narrow approach. The St. Louis archdiocese stated it would retrieve input from ‘targeted focus groups’…”

In Canada, the Grass-roots Catholics for the Synod on Marriage and Family have published their own online survey.

As Bondings 2.0 noted previously, it is unclear what impact these survey results will have during next fall’s Synod of Bishops, and yet there are positive takeaways in the present moment. Charles Martel, co-founder of Catholics for Marriage Equality, told The Rainbow Times:

” ‘The Vatican survey of the faithful is extraordinary because it is asking what the people feel, not hearing it only from the filter of the hierarchy: How lives are actually lived in reality and not theory…’

” ‘Asking questions about gay persons and the pastoral needs of same-sex couples first of all acknowledges the need to be attentive to these members of the church.’ “

For many surveys, their deadlines are in December so there is sufficient time to compile the data for the synod. It is urgent and important that LGBT-positive Catholics to make their voices heard, and re-frame the conversation on matters of sexual orientation and gender identity. Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry noted the need for such re-framing when he spoke to The Rainbow Times:

“It is important that lay Catholics take part in this consultation process…[New Ways Ministry] has been calling for such a process for decades. Now that we have a pope who is willing to listen, it is imperative that Catholics participate by offering their opinions…

“Asked about the LGBT-specific questions, DeBernardo replied, ‘Less emphasis on the question of same-gender unions’ and ‘more emphasis on the pastoral responses that local churches are making to LGBT people generally.’

” ‘The biggest church problem around LGBT issues is not the expansion of marriage equality…The biggest church problem is homophobia, particularly among many of the hierarchy and other pastoral leaders, which prevents good outreach from happening…A good question about the extent of homophobia and how to combat it would have helped.’ “

With the American bishops reluctant to move towards Pope Francis’ leadership style, lay Catholics need to let them know about their desire for changes in teaching, pastoral practice, and leadership style. You can find a growing list of available surveys here and do not delay, as deadlines are fast approaching.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Take a Moment to Open Your Heart

December 3, 2013

Today, we conclude our posts about the 2nd anniversary of Bondings 2.0, and we do so asking for your financial support for this endeavor.   We do so on “Giving Tuesday,” a sort of new “holiday,” set off as a time to allow people to make a contribution to their favorite charities or causes.

As some of you may know, the blog is a project of New Ways Ministry, a national Catholic ministry of justice and reconciliation for LGBT Catholics and the wider church community.  New Ways Ministry relies primarily on individual donations from Catholics across the nation and around the globe.  Bondings 2.0 is just one of our many projects and resources geared toward making the Catholic Church a more welcoming and just place for LGBT people.  Among our many other projects are ones dealing with marriage equality, gay-friendly parishes and schools, lesbian nuns and gay priests, connections between sexuality and spirituality, and outreach to colleges and young adults.

This blog is an integral part of our work because we believe that the Catholic Church can change if people are given information, resources, and tools to make changes in their local communities.  So, we focus here on news stories and opinion pieces which we hope will empower people to take action wherever they are.  New Ways Ministry’s main mission has always been education because we believe that education is the key to any kind of social or institutional change.  With Bondings 2.0, we try to provide information and perspectives that we think will help people formulate their own arguments, opinions, initiatives, and projects.  (Are you curious about how “New Ways Ministry” and “Bondings 2.0” got their names?  Click here for an explanation.)

We are probably more surprised than anyone at how this blog has taken off.  We get new followers every week and new readers every day.  At last count, people from over 160 nations around the globe read our content.  And our material has been picked up by major publications.  For example, Bob Shine’s October 10, 2012 post entitled “Pope Francis’ Letter-Writing Revolution Requires Our Involvement”  was picked up and reprinted by The National Catholic Reporter.    That version of the post was excerpted in one of the U.S.’s leading news magazines, The Week, where it was quoted in a story entitled “The ‘Francis effect’: 5 ways the pope is resuscitating the Catholic Church.”

Bondings 2.0 is a free service, available to all.  Like public radio and television, anyone can share in this resource.   And like public radio and television, we rely on the generosity of our audience to keep the project going.  We have made a commitment to only ask twice a year for funds: once around our annual anniversary (late November) and once in June, about six months later.  We don’t want to bother our readers with requests for funds, but at the same time, we need to make these two appeals to make sure that we have the resources to keep the blog viable.

So, on this Giving Tuesday, would you consider making a donation to New Ways Ministry to support Bondings 2.o?  We appreciate any amount you would like to give.  As a suggestion, why not think of donating $5o, which is less than $1 a week of free posts you receive all year round. That’s cheaper than the cost of most daily newspapers these days!

You can donate by clicking here, and you will be brought to New Ways Ministry’s website donation page.  When you fill out the donation form online, please type “blog” in the comments section of the form so that we know that is why you are contributing.   You can also mail a check made out to “New Ways Ministry” to our offices at 4012  29th Street, Mount Rainier, MD  20712.  Or call us during business hours at 301-277-5674, and we can take your credit card donation over the phone.  However you decide to contribute, your donation is tax-deductible.

There are two other ways you can help us:  1) Take a few minutes to complete our survey of readers.  This will help us better serve you with the material we present;  2) Tell your friends about this blog.  Have you let others know about this resource?  Word of mouth tends to be our best promoter.  Consider emailing a link to one of your favorite recent blog posts to friends on your email list who are interested in Catholic LGBT issues.

Thanks so much for any way that you can help to support this electronic ministry.  We are deeply grateful for your support, and we will continue to offer prayers of gratitude for all that you do for us and all that you do for the Catholic Church’s LGBT brothers and sisters.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Survey 2013: How Can We Improve Bondings 2.0?

December 2, 2013

Since Bondings 2.0 has reached its second year milestone, we thought it would be a good idea to learn a little more about you, our readers, so that we can better provide you with news, information, opinion, and reflection.We’ve written a short survey to get your feedback about your interest in the blog.  The survey should take about five minutes to complete, and it is anonymous and confidential. You can access the survey by clicking here.

The survey will give us a better idea of how you access and use the blog, what you like about it, and what you would like to see us do differently.Your answers will help us as we plan and prepare posts for the coming weeks, months, and year ahead.

Thank you for your interest and support of this blog, and thank you in advance for providing us with information to make reading the blog a better experience for you.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 891 other followers