Marriage Equality Court Cases Raise Opposition from Catholic Bishops

August 13, 2014

In recent weeks, bishops and archbishops in various parts of the U.S. have been speaking out against marriage equality as the issue continues to be debated in different states.  Below is a round-up of a variety of actions which have made the news.

Cincinnati, Ohio

As an appeals court begins to weigh the arguments about lifting the ban on same-gender marriage in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Michigan, Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati has called on Catholics to pray for maintaining marriage as an institution only for heterosexual couples.

Cincinnati.com reported that the archbishop sent an email to thousands of Catholics in the 19-country archdiocese, reminding them that Ohio’s Catholic bishops supported the ban on same-gender marriage in 2004. The article quoted an excerpt from the email:

” ‘Traditional marriage, the union of one man and one woman for life, is the cradle of the family, which is the basic building block of society,’ said Schnurr, who suggested an ‘appropriate prayer’ would be the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Prayer in Defense of Marriage.”

Michigan

An interfaith prayer service in support of marriage equality was recently held in Lansing, Michigan, to support the same court case which is affecting Cincinnati.   While many people of different faiths gathered to pray together, MLive.com reported that the Michigan Catholic Conference issued a statement against marriage equality.  The article excerpted the statement:

“For the sake of future generations and to uphold the common good for all of society, the Catholic Church recognizes and teaches that marriage is rooted in natural law and as such cannot be redefined. By no means should the Catholic Church’s teaching in support of natural marriage between one man and one woman diminish the dignity or sensitivity that must be afforded to all human persons, regardless of their orientation.”

Texas

In Texas, where the state attorney general is appealing a decision which reversed the state’s ban on same-gender marriage, Catholic bishops there have put their support behind this initiative.

According to CBSLocal.com:

“Catholic Bishops said in a statement they hope the U.S. 5th Court of Appeals will objectively review the case and ‘affirm the right of the people of Texas to continue to upholding marriage as a union between one man and one woman.’ ”

Miami, Florida

Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami spoke out against a recent court ruling in that state which said that same-gender couples have the right to marry.  Wenski called the decision “another salvo in the ‘culture wars’ that ultimately seek to redefine the institution of marriage as solely for adult gratification,” according to The Catholic Sentinel.

The court case, which was initiated by same-gender couples in the Florida Keys, invalidates the voter-endorsed constitutional ban from 2008, but only applies to the state’s Monroe County.

Virginia

When an appeals court in Virginia recently ruled that the state’s ban on same-gender marriage was unconstitutional, the two Catholic bishops there spoke out against the ruling.   Bishop Paul LoVerde of Arlington and Bishop Francis DiLorenzo of Richmond issued a statement  which called the ruling“a fundamental misunderstanding of the intrinsic nature of marriage and is an injustice to Virginia voters,” according to a Catholic News Service story.

At the same time, the two bishops affirmed that  “those with same-sex attractions must be treated with respect and sensitivity.”

Conclusion

While Catholic bishops continue to speak out against same-gender marriage, Catholic people continue to grow in their support for equality for lesbian and gay couples.   More important than the political realities, bishops need to understand the harmful pastoral realities that their negative statements cause.  It’s time for bishops to be pastors, not politicians.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 


Catholics Seek Legal Rights, Pastoral Welcome for All Families

August 10, 2014

Advancing LGBT rights in the U.S. is increasingly a struggle about supporting families, both in the church and under the law. Below are several stories in which Catholics are standing up for just civil laws and inclusive pastoral care.

Adoption Rights

New legislation, known as the Inclusion Act, has been introduced in the U.S. Congress that would allow religiously-based agencies receiving government funds to refuse same-gender couples access to foster care and adoption services. This act has received the support of at least three Catholic bishops, but Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA criticized it in an essay on  The Huffington Post. She also happens to be the adoptive parent, with her wife ,of two girls.  She wrote:

“In almost every case, [same-sex couples] have given their kids an abundance of love and stability. The intentionality with which they chose to parent is carried forward into their raising of their daughters and sons. They have done all the things that other parents do, often while facing stigma and a lack of legal stability for their families…

“The so-called Inclusion Act does nothing to protect children. To the contrary, it could continue depriving children of potentially loving, stable homes. And it does nothing to protect religious liberty. If there are agencies that truly believe they have a religious mandate to place children only with married, opposite-sex parents, and that there are parents wanting to place children for adoption clamoring for such agencies, then let them manage that service with private funding.”

Parents Speak Out

Parents, adoptive and biological, have long spoken out for their LGBT children, and in the Catholic Church, they have some of the most active advocates for inclusion. Patrick Nugent, the parent of a gay son and an adoptive parent, recently wrote to Catholic Charities of the USA (CCUSA) about President Obama’s executive order barring LGBT non-discrimination by federal contractors.

Concerned that CCUSA CEO Larry Snyder had joined a letter of religious leaders asking the president to expand religious exemptions, Nugent asked Norbertine Brother Steve Herro, manager of mission and ministry at CCUSA, about how Catholic Charities would treat LGBT employees. Nugent writes:

“Why did [Snyder] not ask for exemption from the Civil Rights Act as well, there is no difference…Snyder’s effort to essentially codify continuing discrimination against LGBT people casts a pall on all the activities of CCUSA.  Do you refuse service to LGBT people?  Do you refuse service to African-American people?  Do you refuse service to handicapped people?  I trust the answer to all those questions is ‘No’.  So then why refuse them employment?”

Nugent and his wife, both Catholics for more than 70 years, adopted two children through Catholic Charities of Washington, DC. He adds that this would no longer be possible because foster care and adoption services have been shuttered by the Archdiocese of Washington for fear same-gender couples might adopt the children. This father and LGBT advocte concludes:

“In the future I will read of the accomplishments of CCUSA and its affiliates with two reserve questions:  what did they not do because of Larry Snyder’s gender based discrimination, and what faithful, practicing Catholics were not permitted to participate due to Snyder’s gender-based hiring practices…I will pray that CCUSA will one day embrace traditional Catholic Social Teaching and truly respect the dignity of all people.”

You can read Patrick Nugent’s full letter, and find more information about Catholic parents efforts on behalf of their LGBT children at the Fortunate Families blog. You can also read the inspiring words of Erma Durkin, a longtime LGBT advocate and mother, who was recently interviewed by the National Catholic Reporter.

In a hopeful sign, Larry Snyder said that Catholic Charities was “pleased” with President Obama’s executive order and would continue working with the federal government.

Baptisms

Finally, a new policy in the Diocese of Madison centralizing approval for baptism is again drawing fire and raising questions of whether the sacrament will be dispensed in a spirit of love or according to the letter of the law. A 20,000-plus petition sponsored by Faithful America was delivered to the chancery at the end of July asking Bishop Robert Morlino to affirm that such children can indeed be baptized, according to WKOW.

Critics say the policy is an attempt to prevent same-gender couples from having their children welcomed into the church. Francis DeBernardo of New Ways Ministry explained that Morlino has a “strong record against supporting lesbian and gay people” and could easily be more restrictive in allowing baptisms than a pastorally-inclined parish priest might be.

While the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops stated in 2006 that children of same-gender couples should be welcomed to baptism if there is sufficient hope they will be brought up in the Catholic faith, the matter remains a lingering question as more couples legally marry and gain adoption rights.

Pope Francis

Though not directly addressing the civil and canonical matters in question in the U.S., Pope Francis offered fruitful words about family in his message to the First Latin American Congress on the Pastoral Care of the Family in Panama. The pope said, in part:

” ‘What is the family? Beyond its more pressing problems and its most urgent needs, the family is a “centre of love,” where reigns the law of respect and communion, able to withstand the attacks of manipulation and dominance of the  worldly “centres of power “. In the home, the person is integrated in a natural and harmonious way in a human group, overcoming the false opposition between the individual and society. Within the family, no one is discarded: both the elder and child are welcome. The culture of encounter and dialogue, openness to solidarity and transcendence have it in its cradle.’ “

Terence Weldon of Queering the Church posted the text, noting that nothing in it excludes families led by same-gender parents. He comments:

“Take a closer look at the portion of Francis’ message quoted above, at the important sentence, ‘Within the family, no one is discarded: both the elder and child are welcome’. Indeed, within authentic Catholic families, all are fully included, the old and the young, the strong and the weak, the straight and the gay.

“The Church sometimes likes to present itself as an example of the human family on a grand scale, with itself as mother. By extension of the above, the Church needs to remember and practice the Pope’s message–within the family of the Church, just as in the domestic family–no-one should be discarded.”

Only months away from October’s Synod on marriage and family life, LGBT people and their parents are offering bright examples of what it means to form homes where all are welcome and where no one is discarded. Now it is time for Catholic officials to learn from these courageous lay voices.

You can view Bondings 2.0‘s continuing coverage of the Synod by clicking here or the ‘Synod 2014‘ category to the right.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Malawi Human Rights Advocates Call Out Catholic Bishops on LGBT Issues

August 5, 2014

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

Timothy Mtambo

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

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

Gift Trapence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

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

Related article:

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


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

August 4, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles:

Bondings 2.0: “Discomfort with the Body of Christ 

Bondings 2.0: “Prayers for World AIDS Day

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

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


British Lesbian Bridges Gap Between Catholic and LGBT Communities

August 2, 2014

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

Ruth Hunt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 


What Will ‘Religious Liberty’ Mean in a Post-Hobby Lobby Context?

July 31, 2014

LGBT demonstrators outside the Supreme Court

Balancing the goods of religious liberty and equality under the law is a centuries-old process in the U.S., but it has entered a new phase after the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision. That decision expanded corporate personhood and opened the door for businesses to take actions that would otherwise be considered discrimination if not for the corporations’ new ability to possess religious beliefs.

In this emerging reality, how will the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) be affected, what will religious liberty look like, and how will LGBT people be affected?

A new four-minute video from the Coalition for Liberty and Justice (of which New Ways Ministry is a member) lays out the challenges an unbalanced understanding of religious liberty could pose. It notes the fundamental role religious freedom has been granted in American history–both freedom of religion and freedom from religion–and that long-held understandings are currently being changed.

Specific to LGBT rights, the video highlights the firing of Carla Hale who taught at a Catholic school in Columbus, Ohio before being fired when her long term committed relationship to another woman became public in an obituary for  Carla’s mother. The school was legally protected in the discriminatory firing because of its religious identity. The video notes:

“This is not an isolated issue. Carla’s story is just one of many where men and women are being forced out of institutions run by religious organizations for being gay, for being single and pregnant, for being married, or for using in vitro fertilization.”

New Ways Ministry has tracked related employment issues at Catholic institutions since 2008, which you can access by clicking here. You can view the Coalition’s video in full below or by clicking here.

Catholic publications, which have regularly covered domestic religious liberty controversies, published prolifically about Hobby Lobby and what it means for religious liberty in the US. Cathleen Kaveny wrote a lengthy piece for Commonweal that is worth one’s time to read in its entirety. She explains how the Supreme Court’s decision came to be, and what implications it may have for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which has helped balance competing claims since the 1990s. Kaveny writes:

“So, at this early date, it very much remains to be seen whether the Court has issued a narrow or sweeping decision with regard to the scope of religious exemptions from laws such as the Affordable Care Act…It is the future course of cases that makes me worry about the majority opinion—not the outcome in this particular case. For what the Court has done in the Hobby Lobby case is transform the Religious Freedom Restoration Act [RFRA]—a statute enacted by Congress to counteract a bad Supreme Court decision that harmed powerless religious minorities—into a tool for powerful minorities to resist what they believe to be dangerous social and political change. For example, it is not hard to see how the religious exemptions justified in the Hobby Lobby decision could also be applied to businesses that object to dealing with same-sex couples…

“The test [regarding RFRA claims] proffered in the majority opinion in Hobby Lobby amounts to little more than judicial intuitionism. Does the government have a compelling state interest, say, in combatting racism? In the majority opinion, Alito suggests the answer is yes—but we’re not sure on what grounds. What about combatting discrimination on the grounds of gender or sexual orientation? My guess is that he would say no, but there’s no way to know. The logic of the Hobby Lobby decision is, I fear, as arbitrary as it is partisan.”

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne observed that the Court’s decision is also rooted in class divisions, privileging corporations over the rights of individuals and workers.

Jesuit Fr. John Whitney wrote for America‘s blog about the troubling notion of granting personal rights to corporations and the negative impact this will have on the common good. As an aside, one wonders how some Catholics support a vision of religious liberty which does not privilege the marginalized in our society while advocating for discrimination against women and LGBT people.

Moving forward, the editors of the National Catholic Reporter predict further legal difficulties, saying “One of the few certainties…is a guarantee of more litigation.” Their editorial wades into healthcare accommodations, but continues by pointing out such accommodations are not possible in other instances, like LGBT rights:

“The U.S. Catholic bishops, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and like-minded religious freedom warriors might cheer victory in this instance, but it is a thin liberty bought on the cheap with a blind eye to the long-term implications written into the fine print of this deal…

“The real questions in the future — having granted corporations religious personhood — is how the reasoning of this case will come to bear on issues like spousal benefits for gays, stem cell treatments, rental space for gay receptions and the like. In such cases, the cost cannot be dumped on an insurance company. Whatever accommodations are finally arrived at for the Affordable Care Act will only be the equivalent of a legal Band-Aid that may work for the contraceptive mandate. It won’t for tougher cases further on down the road.”

Finally, Jack Jenkins at ThinkProgress explained why the Hobby Lobby decision not only undermines religious liberty and will cause further litigation, but actually harms most people of faith. He identifiess religious adherents who reject Hobby Lobby‘s flawed understanding of religious liberty and the changes to RFRA it imposed:

“These voices represent the majority of religious Americans who insist that today’s pro-Hobby Lobby decision isn’t about protecting “religious liberty.” Instead, it’s just a victory for one kind of religion, specifically the (usually conservative) faith of those privileged enough to own and operate massive corporations. That might be good news for the wealthy private business owners like the heads of Hobby Lobby, but for millions of religious Americans sitting in the pews — not to mention thousands working in Hobby Lobby stores — their sacred and constitutional right to religious freedom just became compromised.”

You can read Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of the Hobby Lobby decision, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act’s future, and the Obama executive order banning LGBT discrimination by federal contractors by clicking here or the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

America: After Hobby Lobby

Talking Points Memo: How Hobby Lobby Came to Represent Christianity, While Progressives were Left Behind


Obama’s Executive Order Won’t Deter Catholic Organizations That Reject Discrimination

July 29, 2014

President Obama signing the executive order

President Obama’s executive order banning LGBT discrimination by federal contractors has received generally positive reactions from Catholics, as Bondings 2.0 reported earlier this month.

Now, we offer further reactions and examine the broader question of how faith informs the question of non-discrimination laws. The National Catholic Reporter covered reactions from several Catholic organizations who contract with the federal government to provide social and educational services as part of the Church’s ministry.

Fr. Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA said:

” ‘As has always been the case, Catholic Charities USA supports the rights of all to employment and abides by the hiring requirements of all federal contracts’…

” ‘Specifically, we are pleased that the religious exemption in this executive order ensures that those positions within Catholic Charities USA that are entrusted with maintaining our Catholic identity are to be held exempt.’ “

Catholic Relief Services released a statement, saying:

“[CRS is] concerned about the serious implications of the president’s order for Catholic agencies now and in the future.’…

” ‘As an agency of the USCCB, we will work with the bishops to promote a mutually acceptable solution…We remain hopeful that compassion and goodwill will rule and that our work on behalf of the poor around the world will not be unduly affected.’ “

The Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities’ president Michael Galligan-Stierle said in a statement:

” ‘[ACCU] stands with both the president and the U.S. bishops — each of whom has affirmed the principles of human dignity and diversity as key values of our nation and our faith.’

” ‘Where differences arise is in determining how to put those principles into practice, which can be complicated. Given that, ACCU is conferring with other faith-based organizations to determine the extent to which the executive order applies to our member colleges and universities. We remain hopeful that common ground between principle and practice may be found.’ “

The National Catholic Reporter also published an editorial applauding the order and criticizing the hyperbolic reaction of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who called it “unprecedented and extreme.” The editorial’s criticism continues:

“More distressing, however, is the failure of the nation’s bishops to reflect deeply upon their own teaching. The church clearly distinguishes between homosexual persons and homosexual acts or inclinations. We have problems with that distinction on other grounds, but think it bears on the issue at hand.

“A religiously affiliated organization does not hire an inclination or an act, it hires a person, and the church has affirmed, repeatedly, that the homosexual person is to be loved and is not to be unjustly discriminated against. On what basis, then, should we decline to abide by a government regulation that we not discriminate against LGBT people in hiring? This is not just about legal or political strategy, but about being true to what the church actually teaches, instead of joining the latest culture war battle.”

NCR highlights the real threat to Catholic identity when it comes to the executive order. It is not the presence of LGBT employees at Catholic organizations, which NCR proudly stands by, but instead:

“At risk, rather, is the church’s reputation by continuing to look like the infantry in the culture wars. Surely, the words and gestures of Pope Francis suggest a different, less litigious approach to the culture than that advocated by the U.S. bishops’ conference. We hope the culture wars will end, but if not, and in this battle, NCR is happy to stand with its LGBT brothers and sisters.”

Re-examining the theological and pastoral bases to one’s position on LGBT issues has led several proponents to condemn discrimination because of, not in spite of faith. Believe Out Loud director James Roewe wrote a piece in The Advocate, stating in part:

“President Obama’s insistence on protecting all employees from discrimination, including those who work in religious institutions, is a victory for religious freedom in our country. Obama refused to cede protections to the small but vocal group of religious and civic leaders who urged him to include broad religious exemptions in his executive order…

“We reject these theologies of exclusion as we embrace the God-given diversity of sexual orientation and gender identity. We no longer have to accept the word of the small but vocal minority who believe the LGBTQ community has no place in Christianity. Nothing could be further from the truth. The same God these individuals use to justify their discrimination against LGBTQ people is the same God who created us in all of our fabulousness.”

Also commenting on the situation was Sister of Loretto Maureen Fiedler, host of the radio show Interfaith Voices. She put President Obama’s executive order in context with the firing of gay music teacher Flint Dollar from a Catholic school several months back. On her NCR blog, Fiedler writes:

“Enough already. Such marriages may be contrary to official Catholic teaching, but nothing mandates firing people who go against such teachings. (I wonder if schools ever ask female teachers if they use contraception. Probably not; there would be few teachers left if they did.) The Flint Dollar case is discrimination, plain and simple…

“Catholic institutions, unfortunately, have been in the forefront of shameful efforts to say that discrimination against LGBT people is somehow ‘religious’ or ‘Christian.’

“Not too long ago, some people claimed religion as a basis for racial discrimination, too. That was shameful. And today’s efforts to claim religion as a basis for LGBT discrimination are equally shameful.”

While the executive order is progress, it still only protects those employees working for organizations that contract with the federal government. Broader non-discrimination protections are needed, but in a post-Hobby Lobby reality the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) has lost support from LGBT organizations. Check back later this week for further analysis of where faith-based non-discrimination advocacy might go from here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


2016 Hopeful Marco Rubio Addresses Catholics on Marriage

July 28, 2014

Senator Marco Rubio

United States Senator Marco Rubio of Florida delivered a speech entitled “Strong Values for a Strong America”at The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC,  last week. Rubio, who identifies as Catholic and attends evangelical services regularly as well, is thought to be considering a presidential run in 2016 and this speech is a first step in an emerging campaign. Yet, he used this speech to promote views that are out of touch with U.S. Catholics, and Americans overall,  on LGBT equality.

The event was co-hosted by the university’s Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies and also the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The speech, which focused on family life, also commented on marriage equality. In opening the speech’s section concerning LGBT rights, Rubio acknowledged the lengthy history of prejudice and discrimination against gay and lesbian people, stating, in part:

” ‘[O]ur nation is marred by a history of discrimination against gays and lesbians…There was once a time when our federal government not only banned the hiring of gay employees, it required federal contractors to identify and fire them. Some laws prohibited gays from being served in bars and restaurants, and many states carried out law enforcement efforts targeting gay marriages.’

” ‘Fortunately, we’ve come a long way since then…Many committed gay and lesbian couples feel humiliated by the law’s failure to recognize their relationship as a marriage, and supporters of same-sex marriage argue that laws banning same-sex marriage are discrimination. I respect their arguments, and I would concede that they pose a legitimate question for lawmakers and society.’ “

That was as far as Rubio went in affirming pro-LGBT advocates’ claims that legal rights need to be equalized, pivoting quickly towards his firm opposition to marriage equality. The senator criticized judges who are “defining and redefining marriage from the bench” and said Americans working to stop marriage equality “have the right to work to keep the traditional definition of marriage in our laws without seeing them overturned by a judge.”

Rubio also criticized LGBT advocates for promoting intolerance against those who oppose equality under the law, citing incidents like the firing of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich or the controversies around the Chick-Fil-A fast food chain, saying:

” ‘I promise you even before this speech is over I’ll be attacked as a hater or a bigot or someone who is anti-gay…This intolerance in the name of tolerance is hypocrisy. Support for the definition of marriage as one man and one woman is not anti-gay, it is pro-traditional marriage. And if support for traditional marriage is bigotry, then Barack Obama was a bigot until just before 2012 election.’ “

Rubio’s address, which you can view in full by clicking here, was followed up by a panel discussion featuring other anti-LGBT voices, including Brad Wilcox of the National Marriage Project.

The senator, set to run for president in 2016 and participate in the primary system that set election agendas, raises important issues about family life and ways to strengthen couples and children in America today. He recognizes that issues like poverty and education negatively impact families.

Sadly, he still joins other Catholic politicians in continuing to stump against marriage equality even when public opinion polls now show a majority of Americans supporting the issue, with Catholic numbers around 65%. This support is often the result of wanting stronger families in the U.S. and a more stable culture for marriage. Hopefully, by the time 2016 rolls around, Rubio will learn this most important–and Catholic–lesson.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related article

MSNBC.com: “Marco Rubio defends gays, attacks gay marriage”

 


African Bishops’ Meetings Reveal Underlying Assumptions About LGBT Issues

July 25, 2014

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

Fr. Andrea Ciucci

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bishops at the AMCEA meeting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Archbishop Vincent Paglia

Archbishop Vincent Paglia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article

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

 


Catholics React to Obama Signing LGBT Executive Order

July 22, 2014

President Obama signing the executive order on Monday

President Barack Obama signed an executive order yesterday prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity by companies and organizations which contract with the federal government.

Most notably, Obama stood up to pressure from some religious leaders and did not include expanded religious exemptions in the order, the possibility of which had caused renewed fears in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision earlier this month.

Catholic LGBT advocates generally applauded the president, while the US bishops decried the order as “unprecedented and extreme.”

Below, Bondings 2.0 offers several commentaries on the executive order. We will cover religious exemptions, and specifically the future of LGBT rights in light of such exemptions, tomorrow.

Shortly after the executive order was signed, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, and Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, chair of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth called on Catholics to oppose it, claiming that it “implements discrimination” by using the government’s economic power to enforce a “deeply flawed understanding of human sexuality.” Because the executive order omitted religious exemptions they claim the directive “is fundamentally flawed in itself, also needlessly prefers conflict and exclusion over coexistence and cooperation.”

Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter wants the US bishops to move on and set the LGBT non-discrimination issue aside altogether:

“Too many bishops are still crouched in a defensive posture, too willing to let the faith be reduced to ethics (and that, only sexual ethics), then reduced to a legal strategy, convinced that the forces of secularization are hostile, organized and winning. This worldview, I would submit, is not the approach that has permitted Pope Francis to capture the imagination of the world…there is nothing in the Church’s teaching that demands gay people be systematically discriminated against in hiring at our Catholic institutions. This is a fight we should decline.”

However, many Catholics not only accept the order but have welcomed it without broader religious exemptions. Francis DeBernardo, executive director, of New Ways Ministry wrote in The Advocate about why Catholics and people of faith do not want broad religious exemptions in a post-Hobby Lobby nation. He begins:

“It used to be that religious leaders and lawmakers could strike a comfortable balance of protecting faith groups’ rights to self-determination and LGBT people’s rights to equal opportunity. But the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision disturbed that balance…

“Because the Hobby Lobby decision broadened the scope of what kind of entities can claim religious exemptions, several national organizations working for LGBT equality now fear that such provisions in ENDA will render the proposed law’s protections meaningless…Similarly, the Supreme Court case seems to have emboldened some conservative religious leaders to lobby Obama to include strong exemption language in his upcoming executive order.”

DeBernardo points out that though Hobby Lobby referred to the debate over insurance coverage for birth control, the connections to LGBT rights is an easy leap. Corporations are now granted religious beliefs, and could conceivably be able to seek religious exemptions to discriminate against LGBT people. He writes:

“Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said, ‘If a private company can take its own religious beliefs and say you can’t have access to certain health care, it’s a hop, skip, and a jump to an interpretation that a private company could have religious beliefs that LGBT people are not equal or somehow go against their beliefs and therefore fire them.’ And Equally Blessed, the Catholic LGBT equality coalition, detailed some of the potential disasters that can spring from this case: ‘This ruling might open the door for corporations not to provide benefits to employees in same-sex marriages, or not to cover appropriate health care services for transgender employees.’ “

He closes by speaking about his own Catholic faith, and the importance of understanding a few key points: that conscience is supreme for Catholics, that religions are not homogenous, that the bishops do not speak for lay Catholics, and that LGBT justice is something Catholics and other people of faith seek because of, not in spite of, their faith. DeBernardo concludes:

“As a practicing Catholic, I see that such an expansion cheapens the position of faith in society. Faith is about developing an intimate relationship with a personal God and reflecting that relationship in my attitudes and practices toward other people. Faith is about sacrificing some privileges because of wanting to live in accord with principles. Faith is not about having access to government contracts. Faith is not about forcing people to live by an employer’s personal beliefs, no matter how sincerely those beliefs may be held. Hobby Lobby’s approach to religious exemptions diminishes the importance of persons and relationships in religion…

“My Catholic faith teaches me that all people have human dignity, that all people are equal. The Catholic social justice tradition teaches me that the right to employment is a sacred and basic human right and should be respected by individuals and institutions such as government. My respect for religion teaches me to value the diversity of religious opinions, as well as the diversity of human beings. From these perspectives, both ENDA and the expected executive order are better served without any religious exemptions included.”

You can read the full piece on The Advocate‘s website by clicking here.

The Equally Blessed coalition, which consists of four national Catholic organizations which work for justice and equality for LGBT people, applauded President Obama’s action, noting:

“As Catholics, we know firsthand why these protections are so important. On a near weekly basis, a Catholic teacher, parish employee or hospital worker is fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In the last few months, news headlines have been filled with stories about Catholic employees who lost their jobs after marrying their same-sex partners, coming out as transgender, or for simply standing in support of their LGBT children.

“The President’s executive order will be an important step toward protecting these LGBT Catholic employees who serve our church and wider society so faithfully and who have been particularly vulnerable to discrimination. We applaud President Obama’s decision to not include a broad religious exemption in his executive order, which would have left our Catholic teachers, health care workers and administrators open to continued discrimination.”

Finally, David Gibson of Religion News Service reports that even  a religious leader who had sought broad exemptions are pleased with Obama because the executive order  maintains the Bush-era policy which allows preferential hiring of co-religionists.  For example, Stephen Schneck of The Catholic University of America and former co-chair of Catholics for Obama, who had lobbied for broader religious exemptions, said he was pleased with the executive order as it was signed because it  “has left open a path that religious groups can work with.”

In the coming week, Bondings 2.0 will consider the failure of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, commonly known as ENDA, and where Catholic advocates for LGBT justice are moving next when it comes to protecting employment rights.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

New York Times: “Obama Urges Congress to Ban Job Bias Against Gays”

New York Times: “Obama to Issue Order Barring Anti-Gay Bias by Contractors


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