U.S. Catholics Stand with Nuns As Vatican Crackdown Re-Emerges

May 19, 2014

Nun Justice supporters vigil outside the US bishops conference in 2012

The Vatican’s heavy-handed investigations of U.S. women religious appeared to be fading away under Pope Francis. Critiquing the nuns for focusing too heavily on social justice, including equality for LGBT people, did not seem to fit within the new pope’s vision for the Church. Developments since late April have challenged these assumptions, leading progressive Catholics to act.

The Nun Justice Project, a coalition of church reform organizations that includes New Ways Ministry, released an open letter to Pope Francis defending the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and a petition for Catholics to sign. The letter, which you can read about in the National Catholic Reporter, says, in part:

“We write with respect and gratitude for your extraordinary leadership in our Church.

“Sadly, we also write with concern and dismay at the behavior that Cardinal Gerhard Müller recently exhibited toward women leaders of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) and especially toward Dr. Elizabeth Johnson CSJ.

“Cardinal Müller’s preemptive public criticism of LCWR leadership and Dr. Johnson, one of the most beloved and respected theologians in the world, eclipsed any opportunity for public dialogue.

“This communicates that faithful Catholic female leaders are disrespected and discounted in our Church.”

The letter continues by asking Pope Francis to remove the reform mandate against LCWR and to publicly apologize to LCWR and Dr. Johnson.

The latest chapter of the controversy between the Vatican and the nuns started when Cardinal Gerhard Müller, who heads up the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, gave a statement at the opening of meetings between Vatican officials and LCWR’s leadership that Dennis Coday, editor of the National Catholic Reporter, described as “the most direct and confrontational language since the Vatican began to rein in” American sisters in 2012. The cardinal claimed LCWR was not abiding by the mandate, including failing to have speakers at their annual assembly approved, honoring theologian Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ who had been investigated by the US bishops’ doctrinal committee (though he did not specifically name her in the statement), and promoting conscious evolution by having author Barbara Marx Hubbard address an LCWR assembly. Archbishop of Seattle J. Peter Sartain, who is overseeing the mandate’s implementation, said he agreed with Müller’s statement.

In response, LCWR’s leadership initially released a statement which said there had been respectful dialogue. A further statement affirmed their commitment to dialogue, but said meetings with the Vatican have “broken down” and “mistrust has developed.”

Meanwhile, Catholics have questioned what all this means in relation to Pope Francis who, like American nuns, has championed social justice and tried to create a more welcoming Church. NCR columnist Jamie Manson writes that Catholics must admit Pope Francis agrees with the mandate against LCWR, based on some of his recent statements about nuns and about some of the topics that Müller addressed. Commentator Phyllis Zagano seeks an “evolution of consciousness” from the Vatican, borrowing from one of the theological perspectives critiqued by Müller. Sister of Loretto Maureen Fiedler has called on the pope to intervene on behalf of the sisters. Seasoned religion journalist Ken Briggs asks the questions behind many of these pieces:

“If the pope has agreed with yet another censuring of Sister Johnson, what does that say about him and his convincing humility. And if he’s appalled by the Congregation’s treatment, why doesn’t he step in and put a stop to it?”

Lastly, The Guardian columnist Sadhbh Walshe writes:

“The really disheartening thing about the pope’s unwillingness to end the nuns’ censure – indeed, about his unwillingness to openly support them – is that his stated values are no different than the ones the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) is being punished for carrying out…

“Whatever this week’s censure of nuns – who are in trouble precisely for stressing social justice issues over abortion, gay marriage and birth control – says about the pope’s dedication to his stated mission, one thing is more clear than ever: if the church continues to pressure analready-dwindling population of nuns to abandon its social justice work, Pope Francis may undermine his own agenda, just as much as some power players at the Vatican hope to undermine the nuns on and off the bus.”

There is one hopeful note about Pope Francis and LCWR, reported by David Gibson of Religion News Service, which is that Cardinal Walter Kasper, known as the “pope’s theologian” downplayed Müller’s remarks during a presentation at Fordham University. Gibson wrote:

“On Monday, Kasper told the audience that after Francis praised him by name just days after his election, ‘an old cardinal came to him and said, ‘Holy Father, you cannot do this! There are heresies in this book!’

“As Francis recounted the story to Kasper, he said, the pope smiled and added: ‘This enters in one ear and goes out the other.’

“Asked about Johnson and another feminist theologian, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, whose views have also been disputed by the hierarchy, Kasper said that he has known them both for years and added: ‘I esteem them both.’…

“He said that the criticism of Johnson ‘is not a tragedy and we will overcome,’ and he noted that St. Thomas Aquinas, the medieval theologian now considered one of the greatest minds in the church, was condemned by his bishop and lived under a shadow for years.

” ‘So she is in good company!’ Kasper said of Johnson.”

Part of the Vatican’s criticisms of American women religious and LCWR in 2012 included their support for LGBT people and New Ways Ministry. We encourage you to sign the petition and spread the word about the Nun Justice Project, which you can access here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Fortunate Families Founders Feted for Ministry to Catholic Parents of LGBT People

May 11, 2014

Happy Mothers Day!

When the history of the Catholic LGBT movement is written, a major chapter of it must be devoted to Mary Ellen and Casey Lopata, a pair of Catholic parents of a gay son, whose journey of understanding and acceptance led them to ministry with other parents, and eventually the founding of a national network called Fortunate Families. Last weekend, Catholics from around the country gathered in the Lopatas’ hometown of Rochester, New York, for a dinner celebrating their retirement from leadership in Fortunate Families, as well as the 10th anniversary of this network of Catholic parents of LGBT people.

Casey and Mary Ellen Lopata peruse a memory album presented to them by Fortunate Families Board President Deb Word at their retirement dinner.

Casey and Mary Ellen Lopata peruse a memory album presented to them by Fortunate Families Board President Deb Word at their retirement dinner.

During the event, the history of the Lopatas’ ministry was recounted, going back to 1992 when they attended New Ways Ministry’s Third National Symposium on Lesbian/Gay Issues and Catholicism, in Chicago.  The couple attended the meeting with six other pastorally involved people from Rochester, and they returned home fired with enthusiasm to start pastoral outreach to LGBT people, and particularly, their parents.   Their efforts eventually led to the establishment of the Diocese of Rochester’s Catholic Gay and Lesbian Family Ministry.

A few years later, the Lopatas were instrumental in helping to establish the National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian/Gay Ministries (NACDLGM), and in 1998 they organized and hosted the group’s national conference in Rochester, one of the most successful meetings the organization has ever had.  (NACDGLM is now known as the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry.) Throughout the 1990s, the Lopatas were tireless in their education, support, and advocacy ministry for families.  They served as consultants on the U.S. bishops’ 1997 pastoral letter, Always Our Children.

They published several resources including a book, Fortunate Families: Catholic Families with Lesbian Daughters and Gay Sons, and a manual entitled Seeds of Hope: Compassionate Ministry with Gay and Lesbian Catholics and Their Families. In 2004, they established Fortunate Families as a nationwide resource and networking ministry to, for, and with Catholic parents of LGBT people.  In the following year, New Ways Ministry presented them with its Bridge Building Award, “for compassionate ministry, personal witness, and national leadership to promote justice for lesbian/gay Catholics, their parents, and families.”

Fortunate Families is a member of the Equally Blessed Coalition, which also includes Call To Action, DignityUSA, and New Ways Ministry.  Representatives from each of these three other coalition partners were on hand in Rochester to praise and thank the Lopatas at their retirement party.  Jim FitzGerald, executive director, represented Call To Action; Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director, represented DignityUSA; Francis DeBernardo, executive director, represented New Ways Ministry.  Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, and Father James Schexnayder, founder of NACDLGM were unable to attend in person, but they each sent video testimonials about the Lopatas’ contributions to the Catholic LGBT movement.  You can view Sr. Jeannine’s video here:

Emails and letters from parents and pastoral ministers, as well as testimonies from Fortunate Families board members, were also part of the evening’s festivities.  Fortunate Families Board President Deb Word presented the Lopatas with a memory book, and New York State Assemblyman Harry Bronson gave them a resolution from the legislature in honor of their contributions.

The Lopatas are leaving an indelible mark on our church because they have helped to affirm and empower so many parents, and LGBT people, as well. Catholic parents are among the most passionate and persuasive advocates for LGBT people in the church. Their natural love for their LGBT children motivates them to work to make sure that they are treated in the same way as their heterosexual children are treated.

For some parents, it takes some time to adjust to the new information that their children are LGBT.  Support from other parents who have gone through the same experience is often the biggest help for those who are just learning about a child’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Parents of LGBT children are a true gift  to the church. The journey of love and acceptance that Catholic parents go on is the same journey that the entire church eventually will need to go experience.  So, all in the church, particularly pastoral ministers and bishops, can learn a lot from these people that God has made so fortunate.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


New Ways Ministry Promoting Transgender Education and Justice in Church and State

May 3, 2014
Participants listen to Hilary Howes at a fall 2013 transgender workshop sponsored by New Ways Ministry.  Another workshop is being held on May 17th.

Participants listen to Hilary Howes at a fall 2013 transgender workshop sponsored by New Ways Ministry. Another workshop is being held on May 17th.

As marriage equality, and lesbian/gay equality broadly speaking, become widespread, LGBT advocacy has begun focusing more on the “T” of the common acronym.  New Ways Ministry and other Catholic institutions have begun to help church members understand this minority.

Trans-forming Love

According to the Public Religion Research Institute, 84% of Catholics agree that lesbian/gay legal protections should be expanded to the transgender community as well, and 93% of Catholics believe in full equality for transgender people.

In seeking to promote education and justice for transgender people within the Church, as well as society, New Ways Ministry will be hosting its second day-long conference on transgender issues from a Catholic perspective. The workshop, titled “Trans-forming Love,” will take place May 17, 2014 in Washington, DC. Through presentations, discussions, and prayer, the workshop will address issues such as gender identity development, legal considerations, spirituality, and the personal perspective of transgender individuals.

Featured speakers include clinical psychologist Dr. Michael Hendricks, PhD, and Hilary Howes, a Catholic transgender woman involved with LGBT advocacy. Hendricks is president of the American Psychological Association’s Division 44 (for the study of sexual and gender minorities), the Society for the Psychological Study of LGBT Issues, and a partner at the Washington Psychological Center. Howes is the author of an article “To Be or Not to Be: A Catholic Transexual Speaks,” which described her conversion to Catholicism and her gender transition. She is a member of the Pacific School of Religion’s Transgender Roundtable.

For more information, and to preregister, please click here. In March, two Catholic parishes, All Saints and St. Lucy’s, both  in Syracuse, also hosted talks on transgender issues.

Maryland Non-Discrimination Law

In conjunction with its educational efforts within the Catholic community, New Ways Ministry has also been active advocating for transgender legal rights in Maryland. In late March, the state’s legislature passed the Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2014 which established protections related to employment, housing, and public accommodations based on gender identity. It is expected that Governor Martin O’Malley, a Catholic, will sign the bill into law this spring.

Francis DeBernardo, executive director, and Sr. Jeannine Gramick, co-founder, of New Ways Ministry both testified before the Maryland Senate alongside other prominent Catholics in support of the bill.  You can read their testimonies and a full report here.

Though 71% of Maryland citizens supported the law, a Republican state delegate will attempt to overturn the law through a referendum once O’Malley signs it. In response, the Maryland Coalition for Transgender Equality has launched the “Stand for Fairness” educational campaign, according to The Advocate. It is unlikely the law will face enough opposition to be put up for referendum.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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


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