Does a Martyr’s Sexual Orientation Matter? James Martin, SJ, says “Yes!”

August 16, 2014

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Was Dietrich Bonhoeffer a gay man? This question about the famed theologian and martyr’s private life will likely never be answered conclusively, but evidence points to ‘yes’ — and this ‘yes’ has major implications according to Jesuit Fr. James Martin.

Martin published a Facebook post (and Twitter) last Wednesday taking up the question of Bonhoeffer’s sexuality after reading a new biography of the German theologian , Strange Glory by Charles Marsh. After offering high praise for Marsh’s work, Martin writes:

“But the biggest surprise for me was his intense, even romantic, relationship with his friend Eberhard Bethge. It was something that I don’t remember reading before. Was Bonhoeffer gay? It would seem so, particularly based on his letters to Bethge. Yes, I know that times were different and men often wrote passionate letters to one another, but Marsh’s book, without sensationalizing the matter all (and underlining the fact that the relationship was not physical), makes it hard for the reader to draw any other conclusion. It’s one of the most striking aspects of the book: Bonhoeffer seemed first infatuated and then in love with Bethge.”

Linked to Martin’s post is an interview with Marsh from Religion and Politics. He explains why one can comfortably conclude Bonhoeffer was a gay man:

“Over the years, I’ve gone to many Bonhoeffer conferences. This subject has been discussed often over meals and drinks and beers, but it’s never been discussed in an academic session or a lecture. But there’s been conversation among scholars for as long as I can remember. What I had that scholars didn’t have, and do now, is the body of letters that Bonhoeffer and Eberhard exchanged…

“The challenge for trying to narrate this complicated relationship is, on the one hand, it was a chaste relationship. It was a relationship that was centered on their shared love of Jesus and shared devotional practices and it had a kind of liturgical shape to it…Even so, in a curious letter—I think it’s kind of a humorous letter—after Bonhoeffer had matched Eberhard’s engagement with his own engagement, he wrote to say, ‘Now, we can resume our partnership, and we can travel together in those places where we found so much joy, and we can leave our wives back in Germany, in Berlin, or some place.’…

“[T]his is not my own attempt to sensationalize a relationship. If anything, I tried to capture it and respect it in its uniqueness, and not politicize it or insinuate. It was understood as a unique relationship, a different kind of relationship, in 1935 and 1936. The letters that we have now between Bonhoeffer and Eberhard are love letters, at least Bonhoeffer’s letters to Eberhard.”

Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor and theologian when he died in 1945, executed by the Nazis for his involvement in a plot to kill Adolf Hitler. In life and in death, Bonhoeffer has inspired Christians to be engaged in the historical events of this world and has helped Christians do theology from the perspective of suffering and marginalized peoples. So what to make of these letters and Bonhoeffer’s sexuality in general? Martin concludes:

“Does it matter if Dietrich Bonhoeffer was gay or not? Yes it does. Very much. It matters because it reminds us that people with homosexual orientations can be holy–very holy, even martyrs.”

Rev. James Martin, SJ

Rev. James Martin, SJ

This is not the first time that James Martin, who is editor-at-large for America magazine, has highlighted LGBT issues in a positive light. Last year, he called on Catholic leaders to #SaySomethingPositive about lesbian and gay people — or at the very least not include critiques each time they made a statement on LGBT issues. Martin also applauded NBA player Jason Collins for coming out and commemorated PFLAG founder Jeanne Manford on his Facebook page. Most recently, he explored the reasons why LGBT people feel the Catholic Church hates them and offered suggestions for improving this dynamic.

Highlighting the reality that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals are not only members of Christ’s body, but frequently in the ranks of saints and martyrs.  They make important contributions to a church that is not yet fully inclusive. To help create respect for the positive contributions LGBT church workers and ministers are making in our world today, it is sometimes helpful to look to the past and see all that LGBT and ally people have done.

Bonhoeffer’s life is but one example, but it is a most powerful one. Let us pray that more Catholic leaders will acknowledge this reality.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Mandating Celibacy for Gay People Reveals Deep Incoherence in Church’s Teachings

August 7, 2014

Yesterday, Bondings 2.0 asked whether a Catholic understanding of mandatory celibacy for lesbian and gay people was becoming the new ‘reparative’ therapy option among conservative Christians. Today, we look at Catholic teaching on celibacy from a different angle – and ask what this magisterial requirement of mandatory celibacy for lesbian and gay Catholics reveals about the hierarchy’s teachings on homosexuality.

In July, America magazine posted an interview with Catholic lesbian writer Eve Tushnet in which she laid out the argument that gay Catholics can affirm their sexual orientation while abiding by the hierarchy’s teaching against same-sex relationships, including mandatory celibacy. You can read that interview in full here.

Katie Grimes, writer on the Women in Theology blog responded to Tushnet in two posts, available here and here, to reveal why “A lesbian who accepts her sexuality already defies church teaching just by existing.”  Grimes examines Tushnet’s argument using an ethical paradigm known as virtue theory. Grimes makes the claim that if one argues that homogenital acts are indeed unconditionally evil, then what would logically follow is that a sexual orientation towards such acts must also be considered evil as well. Grimes explains:

“Thomistic virtue theory describes the relationship between actions, habits, and character…But because virtue theory cares about not just what we do, but also who we are, it recognizes that our thoughts and desires possess more than merely instrumental importance. Rightly ordered thoughts and desires are good in and of themselves. A good person does not merely do the right thing; she both desires to do the right thing and she takes pleasure in acting rightly. Goodness involves more than just what we do.”

Flowing from this theory, Grimes says that we would then have to posit that a lesbian woman or gay man wills evil when they experience sexual feelings for a person of the same-sex, for to act on that desire would be evil. Though not reducing a gay orientation to sex alone, the desire for sex is a constitutive part of sexual attraction. Therefore, Grimes writes:

“If a woman finds herself deriving pleasure from the thought of sexual contact with the bodies and beings of other women, she ought to react to these thoughts just as you or I would if we suddenly started fantasizing about torturing a poor little bunny rabbit.

“We would be horrified and alarmed. We would seek to eradicate these thoughts from our minds as soon as possible. We would recognize them as an incitement to sin. We surely should not accept these thoughts as a constituent part of our personalities…

“So too with sexual orientation. Even if a person acquires the desire for gay sex through innocent happenstance, she retains and cultivates these malignant desires only if she chooses to. As gay and lesbian people know all too well, one comes out of the closet through a struggle born out of a resolute and long-deliberated choice…

“Tushnet rightly calls on the church to make room for its lesbian and gay members. But perhaps lesbian and gay Catholics struggle to find a home within ordinary Catholic parishes because there is no place for them in the pages of magisterial teaching.

“The magisterium tells lesbians and gays to be but do not do. But, if one should not do, then neither should one be.”

Thus, Grimes concludes that “A lesbian who accepts her sexuality already defies church teaching just by existing.” By drawing the virtue theory logic on homosexuality to its logical conclusion, even while she disagrees with it, Grimes reveals the deep incoherence in the hierarchy’s teaching. A desire for something which is sinful is itself sinful as well in a virtue ethics framework, and  disproves the idea that mandatory celibacy as the attempted middle ground by people like Eve Tushnet, is a workable solution.  The hierarchical position cannot logically claim, as it does, that a homosexual orientation is not sinful while at the same time claiming that homosexual activity is.

Yesterday’s post noted Catholicism’s mixed history on celibacy, highlighting both the beautiful gift it has been for so many in the Church’s history and the damage that forced celibacy does to our understanding of this gift.. If other Christians seek to learn from Catholics about celibacy, they should look to those of our saints who have lived single lives in service to the world. They should not look to illogical understandings of sexual orientation that condemn too many LGBT people to lives of hurt and loneliness.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Is Celibacy the New Form of Reparative Therapy for Lesbians and Gays?

August 6, 2014

Religion News Service published an article this week entitled “Gay, Christian and … celibate: The changing face of the homosexuality debate,” which examines how the concept of celibacy is re-shaping the conservative religious establishment’s approach to lesbian and gay issues.   That is a shame for gay and lesbian people, religion, and, most of all, celibacy.

According to the article, with reparative therapy falling into greater and greater disrepute, many of its former proponents are now promoting celibacy as the proper option for lesbian and gay people.  Using Exodus, one of the former premier religious reparative therapy groups, the article states:

“When Exodus shut down in 2013, some said it spelled the end of ex-gay ministries that encourage reparative or conversion therapy for gays to become straight. Ex-gay groups such as Restored Hope Network stepped in to the gap, but many religious leaders are now encouraging those with same-sex orientation or attraction to consider a life of celibacy. . . .

“Earlier this year, the 50,000-member American Association of Christian Counselors amended its code of ethics to eliminate the promotion of reparative therapy, and encouraged celibacy instead.”

Not surprisingly, these conservative religious groups have looked to Catholicism, which has a long tradition of celibacy, for support in this endeavor.  The article states:

“Some evangelicals mine Catholicism’s centuries-old tradition of celibacy, said Wesley Hill, a professor of New Testament at Trinity School for Ministry, who wrote Washed and Waiting, a 2010 book on being gay and celibate.

“‘They already have a rich history of celibacy that I had to discover as an evangelical,’ Hill said. ‘Twenty years ago, being gay would be considered irredeemably bad, something to be delivered from or be changed. (Celibacy) leads me to form close bonds with friends, to have self-denial and sacrifice.’ ”

There is no doubt that celibacy can be a beautiful, satisfying, and enriching way to live.   And Catholicism’s history is filled with many holy and virtuous celibates.   But these conservative Christians will be making the same mistake that Catholic leaders have made for decades by saying that celibacy is the only moral option for lesbian and gay people.

Catholicism, and perhaps more accurately, early Christianity viewed celibacy as a gift and a calling.  It was something that grew out of a personal relationship with God and also seen as a way of responding to this relationship.  It was never something that was required of a whole class of people.  It was seen as a calling, a vocation, which arose out of one’s spiritual longings and experiences.

In the Middle Ages church officials eventually did make it a discipline and requirement for ordination to priesthood, but it was something that, in most of the ordinary circumstances, no one was morally required to adopt because of an outside moral obligation.

Most importantly, for the most part celibacy was seen as something that grew in the context of community.  Religious celibates enacted their calling with the mutual support of others who shared a similar call in a monastery, convent, and eventually in religious life that stressed apostolic ministry.

So, when Catholic leaders make the case that celibacy is the moral requirement of all lesbian and gay people, they are actually re-imagining a totally different understanding of what celibacy is.  Instead of a calling, it seems to be imagined as a punishment or a remedy.  Celibacy of this kind cannot be life-giving to individuals or to the community of the Church.

I have met many lesbian and gay Catholics who are called to celibacy.  They live their lives as priests, in religious communities, and as lay people active in the world.  Their celibacy is a calling, a response, and a choice.  For them, it is a joy.

I have also met a number of celibate people, both homosexual and heterosexual, who experienced this life practice as a burden and an unwanted cross.  For some, it is viewed as an endurance test rather than as a spiritual aid.  They are not happy people, and I cannot imagine that God wants them to live so unhappily.

For conservative Christians to turn to celibacy as a way to deal with an unwanted homosexual orientation, they are not experiencing the gift of this practice in the way that God intended.  If they are turning to Catholicism for a model in how to live celibacy, they should also pay attention to the way that Catholics have abused and mistreated this potentially beautiful gift.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

Slate.com: “Thou Shalt Not Forsake Thy Celibate Christian LGBTQ Brethren”

 

 


“Everybody was welcome…That’s become a lie.”

August 1, 2014

Colin Collette and his partner in Rome

“Everybody was welcome. That was our hallmark. All are welcome. Well, that’s all changed now. That’s become a lie.” Those are the words of the latest church worker to be fired for being part of a committed same-gender relationship, and this time it has happened in a Chicago suburb.

Colin Collette was the beloved music director at Holy Family Church in Inverness for seventeen years, but lost that job when he became engaged to his longtime partner last week. The couple was traveling in Rome, when Collette’s partner proposed in front of St. Peter’s Basilica, and then they posted the good news on Facebook. The Daily Herald details what happened next:

“On Sunday, after leading the music for all five Masses at Holy Family, Collette said church pastor [Father] Terry Keehan asked him to come to his office.

” ‘He said, “I know this is something you’ve been longing for a long time, and in light of this I’d be happy to accept your resignation,” ‘ Collette said, recounting what Keehan told him.

“Collette said at first he considered resigning, but something inside him told him he shouldn’t because he had done nothing wrong. He left Keehan’s office without resigning, but was fired Monday, he said.”

According to Collette, his relationship was never secret and his partner, who is Catholic, was an active member of the parish and known to Keehan. The music director cleared out his office on Tuesday and notified the 100-plus members of the parish’s choir in an email, saying:

” ‘I needed them to know that I’m not doing this to contradict church teachings or make a political statement…I believe God has given me this in my life and saying no to this relationship would be saying no to God.’

“The response from his choir was overwhelmingly positive, Collette said. Their kindness and acceptance often moved him to tears….

” ‘This has been so horrific that I just pray that we even have a wedding,’ Collette said. ‘There’s no way to describe how horrible this has been.’ “

Collette joins other parishioners in pointing out Holy Family’s reputation as a place where all are welcome, and indeed the parish’s motto is “Inviting all to new life in Christ.” Liturgical minister Joe Offenburger told ABC 7 that the firing is “like a dagger in your heart for this parish” because Holy Family was “a place for Catholics where we had hope, until now.”

Still, a news report from the Sun-Times indicates pressure from the archdiocese led to Fr. Keehan’s decision to fire the music director. In a statement, the Archdiocese of Chicago acknowledged the firing saying only that “worship ministers are expected to conform their lives publicly with the teachings of the church.”

The Sun-Times reported the chronology of events this way:

“Collette told the Chicago Sun-Times someone sent to Cardinal Francis George a Facebook image featuring the couple after their engagement. The cardinal then sent the church’s pastor an email calling for Collette’s resignation, he says. When he refused to resign, he was fired.

“ ‘This voice inside of me said, “No, wait a minute. Well, no. I didn’t do anything wrong.” I said, “I’m not going to resign. God brought me to this moment and God is saying this is why I created you. You are here to live and love.’”

“Collette said the church’s pastor knew he was gay, and had attended dinners with the couple. He also helped him walk down the aisle during his mother’s funeral two years ago.

“ ‘He made it very clear that he was getting pressure from above,’ Collette said.”

Collette commented further about the situation of  LGBT church workers:

” ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell is the policy in the Church. So I guess as long as you’re willing to live the lie, you’re safe. Actually, you’re never safe. You live in fear every day someone is going to call the Cardinal or someone is going to turn you in.’ “

As of now, Collette says he would welcome a return to the parish and plans to continue worshipping there. Of the immense hurt he and his partner are experiencing, the fired employee says:

” ‘I’m not angry. The closest way to describe how I feel is if you’ve ever lost anyone that you loved, your mom or dad or grandmother…That feeling you get in your stomach that your life is never going to be the same. That’s what I’m feeling. Only instead of losing one person, I just lost 3,000 people.’ “

The firing of Colin Collette brings the total number of reported church worker and volunteers firings in 2014 up to thirteen. You can access New Ways Ministry’s record of LGBT and ally church worker firings since 2008 by clicking here, and on that page there are links for further information about each case.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


NEWS NOTES: July 28, 2014

July 28, 2014

News NotesHere are some items that you might find of interest:

1) LGBT Catholics in Chicago have been remembering the life and ministry of Jerry McEnany, the founder of that city’s Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach over 25 years ago.  A newspaper account of McEnany’s legacy described him as “a gay man who played a pivotal role in trying to bridge a gap between hierarchical harshness and doctrinal hostility to LGBTs among the faithful and a Church instinct for pastoral respect, compassion, and sensitivity in ministry with them.”

2) A transgender woman is suing Seton Medical Center, Daly City, California, because they denied her request for breast augmentation.  Charlene Hastings, who has already had gender reassignment surgery, stated, “I honestly believe that God has plans for me to have this surgery.”

3) Brian Cahill, former executive director of San Francisco Catholic Charities, published an essay on DignityUSA’s website in which he rebuts Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s arguments at last month’s March for Marriage in Washington, DC.

4) When an Indiana judge struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional according to the federal constitution, the Roman Catholic bishops of the state issued a statement which affirmed marriage between one man and one woman.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Catholic Mother Speaks of Hope, Joy in LGBT Ministry

July 24, 2014

Erma Durkin

Parents of LGBT children are some of the most committed Catholics seeking equality in the Church and  society. Sr. Camille D’Arienzo of the National Catholic Reporter recently interviewed one parent, Erma Durkin, who has been a longtime advocate for LGBT justice and friend of New Ways Ministry.

Erma details her life to Sr. Camille, including her childhood growing up in Baltimore in a home where “anyone who dropped by was greeted warmly and offered a treat freshly baked in the big iron coal stove.” The family’s life was deeply connected with their Catholic parish, where Erma attended school and daily Mass. She still describes Mass as the most meaningful aspect of her faith and a source of joy, saying:

“To be part of a eucharistic liturgy where the community is truly inclusive and members are invited to do one of the readings then enjoy a meaningful homily afterward. Where members of the laity bring the gifts to the altar and recite the offering prayer. Where at Communion time, the priest announces that the wine is alcohol-free and the bread is gluten-free, and everyone is welcome to the table.

“And where almost everyone knows one another’s name.

“This is what gives me a special joy.”

You can read the full interview here.

When later in life,  Erma and her husband, Dick, had a gay son, she was introduced to the LGBT community and ministry. Forty years later, Erma speaks fondly of the many people and organizations, including New Ways Ministry, which have been companions on her journey:

“Because one of my sons is gay, my concern for him brought me into the enjoyable company of wonderful men and women who, as parents or friends of lesbian or gay children, were in active ministry to LGBT members of their parish…I made an effort to participate in New Ways Ministry’s many consciousness-raising events.”

Erma also singled out Fortunate Families, a national network of Catholic parents of LGBT people, for their support, guidance, and encouragement.

Most recently, Erma was involved with the successful marriage equality campaign in Maryland and you can read about her work in the ‘Related Articles’ section below. When asked what advice she would offer other parents, she told Sr. Camille:

“Parents know and love their child better than anyone else…My advice would be to get in touch with a reputable group that ministers to parents who have LGBT children. Many faith communities, including Catholic communities, have resources that are immensely helpful to parents and their adult children alike.

“It’s up to parents to make the first move to help themselves be supportive of their children. They need to be positive and never, never go negative on their children. Disowning a child, forcing change by reparative therapy, public shaming in a church never changed a person with a homosexual orientation to one with a heterosexual orientation. Only horror stories result from the mental suffering caused by those who attempt to ‘heal’ LGBT people.”

Erma’s greatest offering in the interview, and in her life, is the profound Catholic faith underlying her advocacy for LGBT people. Of her faith, she says:

“Christianity offers me the basic story of a person, Jesus, whose teachings on fidelity to the love of God and the practical love of neighbor inspired many to live unselfish lives…

“From Catholicism, I want a church that thinks globally but prepares pastors, whether bishops or priests, to be well versed in the language and culture of the people in the church they serve…

“From Catholicism, I want a more mature church, and I’m seeing it emerge here and there. Just as from the earliest days of Christianity, the church saw its conflicts give birth to saints, philosophers, mystics, and theologians who attempted to meet and defeat by their writings the errors that troubled her, so today we have the many publications of scholarly, ethical and faithful women and men to help us mature in our spiritual lives. They move us along from the imaginings and understandings of the faith stories of our childhood to a more mature understanding. I thank God for them.”

As for the state of the Church today, Erma is distressed by injustices in Catholic structures like the firing of LGBT church workers and the ban on discussing topics deemed controversial. These actions make the church “look small-minded, vindictive, and unable to dialogue.”

However, there are positive signs for Catholics. Erma says though she is encouraged by Pope Francis, what gives her most hope are:

“All the loving people I have met in my lifetime who take seriously their call to do justice while trying to create peace and harmony in their little orbits — and beyond!”

Surely, Erma Durkin is counted foremost among those loving people committed to seeking justice in the Church and beyond. For her LGBT advocacy and deep Catholic faith, New Ways Ministry is most grateful!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

Bondings 2.0: “Maryland Catholics Spread Marriage Equality Message

Bondings 2.0: Kathleen Kennedy Townsend – and Other Maryland Catholics – Speak Out for Marriage Equality

Bondings 2.0: “Catholic Mom vs. Maryland Catholic Conference


Transgender Woman Prepares to Enter Carmelite Convent

July 14, 2014

One of the places where Catholicism and gender are most strongly inscribed together is the area of vowed religious life.  There are communities for only men and other communities for only women.  What if your gender doesn’t fit into this binary?

Tia Michelle Pesando

That question is being answered in London, Ontario, where a transgender woman is preparing to enter a community of Carmelite women.  When Canada’s Tia Michelle Pesando, who is already living as a consecrated virgin, is accepted into the community, it is being said that she will be the world’s first transgender nun.

CTV News reported that Pesando, who is a hermaphrodite* (born with physical characteristics of both male and female) has already begun a process of taking hormones to live as a woman.  But the process of becoming a nun is more a spiritual, than a physical, notion for her.  As CTV News stated:

“Two years ago Pesando heard God calling her and she knew she had to take her transformation farther.

“ ‘I’m very convinced of the reality of God and the importance of such a calling,’ she says.

“When Pesando decided to become a nun, she received her priest’s blessing and is now going through the process to become a Carolinian sister and the first ever Roman Catholic transgender nun.

“ ‘I’m in the training process which is starting this August, so it’s a positive start that I’ve undergone.’ “

While there is always the possibility of hierarchical intervention in the admissions process,  Pesando remains positive:

“ ‘Forgiveness needs to begin somewhere,” she says. “It needs to begin with us, all of us, those in the LGBT community and those of the Christian faith.’

“Pope Francis has made huge strides with the gay community, preaching for greater inclusion and acceptance of homosexuals. This in part has helped to fuel her decision. She says the time is right for a transgender nun.”

Pesando recently published a book, Why God Doesn’t Hate Youin which she develops the theme of God’s unconditional acceptance and love of everyone, regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation.  In a wide-ranging interview with London Community News  where she describes her spiritual development and challenges,  she also explained the need for the book’s message:

“ ‘From a theological perspective, I think I have a solid argument,’ Pesando said. ‘People are leaving the church because they feel the God of love has betrayed them, and betrayal is one of the worst feelings you can imagine. So I am reaching out to people saying this is what the Bible actually says.’

“Her purpose in writing Why God Doesn’t Hate You is to reach out to everyone ‘who feels like they are rejected by God, who feels like they are a second-class citizen in God’s eyes.’ ”

And she notes an interesting detail about the Bible:

“ ‘There is actually nothing in the Bible to condemn the trans community because they were simply not aware of it,’ Pesando said. ‘Just like there is nothing in the Bible that talks about aerospace engineering, both of these things were discovered about 1,500 years after the it was written.’ ”

(EDITOR’S NOTE:  The same is true about constitutional homosexuality.  Biblical authors did not have the awareness that some people are naturally homosexually oriented.  Therefore, in the places where homosexual acts are Biblically condemned, the authors are not condemning what is now known to be a natural, normal way of loving.  More often, they are condemning homosexual rape, pagan rituals, or sexual novelty.)

My only minor gripe with this story is not about Pesando’s eligibility to become a nun, but the claim that some have made that she will be “the world’s first transgender nun.”  I would probably want to modify that to “the world’s first OPENLY transgender nun.”   Though I have no historical evidence, I imagine that over the centuries, other transgender women have joined convents, though probably being secretive about their identities.   We do know that transgender characteristics have often been very accepted in Catholic spirituality and practice (St. Joan of Arc).  And it was always common practice for nuns to take male religious names, and for religious men to often add “Mary” or “Marie” to their religious names.

If you know of other examples of Catholic transgender history or cultural details, please add them in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

*There has been some discussion in the “Comments” section of this blog as to whether “intersex” or “hermaphrodite” is the correct word to use.  There has also been some discussion as to whether Tia Michelle Pesando is actually transgender.  I recognize that language is a sensitive and powerful arena, and I am open to correction.  Upon reflection, I have decided to keep the original terms I used.

To answer the first issue, I have used “hermaphrodite” because that is the term that Tia Michelle Pesando uses to describe herself on her website: http://www.whygoddoesnthateyou.com/.   It is also the term used in the original article upon which this post is based, so I have assumed that it was the term she used while being interviewed.

To answer the second issue,  because Tia Michelle Pesando lived the first thirty years as a man and has now decided to live as a woman, including taking hormones, I think it is accurate to describe the process she went through as “transitioning,” and thus “transgender” seems to be an accurate description.  Again, I assume, based on the fact that news articles about her use the term “transgender” that this is a label of which she approves.

 

 

 

 


What Makes a Catholic Advocate for LGBT Equality Tick?

July 10, 2014
Francis DeBernardo

Francis DeBernardo

As one of the co-founders of New Ways Ministry, I’ve had the pleasure of working for more than 20 years with Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry and editor of this blog. Many New Ways Ministry supporters and Bondings 2.0 readers have had the opportunity to meet him as he travels around the country doing workshops and talks on Catholic LGBT topics.

But, even if you know Frank personally, you will probably see a new side to him, as I have,  in the recent in-depth personal interview conducted by The National Catholic Reporter’s Sister Camille D’Arienzo, RSM.  The interview is this week’s installment of the popular series “Conversations with Camille” which focuses on the lived faith experiences of unique Catholics.

Of course, if you want to get the full experience, you should probably read the entire interview, which you can access by clicking here.  In this blog post, I’ll provide some excerpts that may give you some insights into what motivates and sustains him in his work for LGBT equality and justice in the Catholic Church and civil society.

In the interview, Frank speaks candidly and lovingly of his early development within his family:

“I grew up in a large Italian family in Brooklyn. I was one of eight siblings. We lived in a house with members of my mother’s extended family, and Sundays and holidays were always filled with cousins, aunts, uncles and close friends getting together. Family was always a very important part of my life. . . .

“My mother died when I was 3 years old, leaving my father with six children, two of whom were newborn twins and the other four ranging in age from 3 to 10. My father remarried the following year, and our “new” family began a lifelong journey of bonding together. My new mother had two more children in the coming years, bringing my large family to 10 members. I learned early the responsibility, benefits and power of belonging to a strong family unit. . . .

“This unique family experience taught me powerfully at a very early age that love, not biological reproduction, is what makes a family. That lesson has served me well as my work at New Ways Ministry continues to place me in the midst of marriage equality debates.”

Frank relates the strange and humorous set of circumstances that brought him to New Ways Ministry:

“New Ways Ministry was only 2 miles from my house. When I wanted to start working on LGBT justice, they were the closest place for me to be involved. I started as a volunteer, and then I joined the staff part time. I had been teaching writing part time, too, but I was getting burned out from that work, and the work at New Ways Ministry was very exciting to me. It just felt natural.

“I always tell people as a joke that I started work at New Ways Ministry for the money. At the time, I had just received my first credit card, and in a few short months, I racked up what I thought was a horrible debt. I realized that I would not be able to pay off the bill unless I took a second job. Just at that time, New Ways Ministry was looking for a part-time worker, and since I had been volunteering there, I was hired.

“The funniest thing about this story is that my whopping credit card debt was $800. I’ve since learned that the average credit card debt in the U.S. is about $10,000. Since that time, I have paid off my balance in full every month.”

He speaks gratefully about what he has witnessed in his ministry with LGBT people:

“The main thing that attracted me to work at New Ways Ministry and has kept me here for 20 years has been the people that I have met as I travel. I have had the incredible opportunity to hear so many amazing stories of courage, love and faith. I’ve met a number of real saints: Catholic LGBT people who faced immense amounts of oppression, often from their church and its leaders, and who still continue to testify to the truth about themselves and to live in love the way they know that God has created them. . . .

“When I first started working at New Ways Ministry, I was reading a book called Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed by Philip P. Hallie. It is the story of the Huguenot village of Le Chambon, France, which sheltered Jewish people during World War II in open defiance of the Nazi regime. The courage of these French Protestants, who took literally the commandment “Love one another,” had a profound effect on me. And as I met LGBT Catholics, their parents, and their pastoral ministers who were speaking out for their human rights and their rights as baptized people, I saw the same courageous spirit as the people of Le Chambon.”

He describes how the challenging work of Catholic LGBT ministry brings him joy:

“People tend to think that I spend my days arguing and fighting with homophobes, and as a result, I must get really down. It’s not true. Most of the people that I come in contact with are Catholics who are seeking creative ways to ensure LGBT justice and equality. I find so much joy in my work because I see so much good happening. It’s like almost every day I get to learn about real miracles taking place. How can I not be lighthearted? I get to witness so much joy.”

And, perhaps most intimately, he reveals the inner workings of his relationship with God, including his favorite Scripture verse:

“Psalm 27: 8-9. ‘Of You my heart has spoken, seek God’s face. It is your face O God, that I seek. Hide not your face from me.’ Whenever I feel lost, this reminds me of the true direction of my life. I’ve also found it helpful when I have to deal with difficult people. It reminds me that they, too, are the face of God. . . .

“Lately, my image of God is a bed. A big, soft, comfy bed with lots of pillows and quilts and blankets where I can just relax and be myself. In that bed, I can be at peace and learn to deal with and respect my morning grumpies, my terror-filled nightmares, my most hopeful dreams, my anxious questions and challenges that keep me awake at night, and, of course, my moments of joy-filled bliss.”

In the full interview, Frank illustrates many of the turning points of his life with details and stories that are poignant and telling.  I think you will find the interview enlightening, inspiring and fun.   As one of the commenters on The National Catholic Reporter’s  website said:

“Thank you, Sister Camille, for this is a wonderful interview, I am so inspired by it! Francis DeBernardo seems like a a man I would want for a friend; a delightful person.”

–Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, New Ways Ministry

 

 


ALL ARE WELCOME: Pope Francis’ Impact Visible During Pride Celebrations

July 1, 2014

OECTA teachers march in WorldPride 2014 held in Toronto

The ALL ARE WELCOME series is an occasional feature on this blog which highlights Catholic parishes and faith communities that support and affirm LGBT people. 

LGBT and ally Catholics appeared at Pride festivities around the world this month, visible signs of Pope Francis’ desire for a more merciful and welcoming Church. Canadians welcomed Catholics from around the world for WorldPride 2014 celebrations, while Catholics in the U.S. participated in local celebrations.

Toronto was the site for WorldPride this year. All Inclusive Ministries (AIM), based at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in that city, brought “its message of faith and love to this celebration” by welcoming Catholics from around the world to their monthly Mass and gathering. AIM began with support of the Archdiocese of Toronto in 2012 after the Jesuit parish ended its affiliation with Dignity Toronto Dignité, which now meets elsewhere. Another church, St. Joseph’s Church in Ottawa, sent a delegation to join AIM’s liturgy and march in the WorldPride parade, having witnessed in their local parade for many years.

Members of St. Clement Church in Chicago march during Pride

The Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA) also marched in WorldPride’s parade following several months of criticism from Toronto’s cardinal and others who opposed the teachers union’s decision to march. OECTA President James Ryan told the National Post the teachers’ participation was an “internal union matter” made through a democratic process. The paper reports further:

“In March, the OECTA voted to send a contingent of more than 100 to the parade as a visible and vocal message that Catholic-school teachers in the province want students to feel supported and free from discrimination.

“OECTA is just aligning with other public unions and teachers’ unions Canada-wide, said Mr. Ryan, whether Catholic or not.

” ‘Coast to coast in Canada, pretty much every teachers’ union I know of does support LGBT rights without exception,’ [Ryan] said. ‘The Canadian Teachers Federation has been very forward with its support for LGBT rights.’ “

You can read Bondings 2.0‘s ongoing coverage of OECTA’s decision this spring by clicking here.

Boston College’s Graduate Pride Alliance marching

Catholic parishes in the U.S. marched in Pride parades in their citis, as well. In Chicago, St. Clement Church parishioners marched alongside Dignity/Chicago members for the second year in a row. The Chicago Tribune reported on the marchers:

” ‘We don’t want to be dictated to anymore,’ said Rob Svendsen, 41, a parishioner at St. Clement for nine years. ‘With the new pope, we’ve all been given a new ray of hope.’…

” ‘What St. Clement demonstrates is there are Catholics in the pews out there who think this is a time to be united and give witness to what the church’s true mission is,’ [former Dignity president Chris] Pett said. ‘We are here to advance justice. We should be a church united in justice, love and respect for one another. What’s exciting about it is they come from a very affirming community.’ “

In Boston, contingents from both Boston College and St. Anthony Shrine were present during the city’s June 14th Pride festival. For their part, the Franciscan friars from St. Anthony’s in Boston hoisted a banner with the pope’s famous “Who am I to judge?” quote in rainbow lettering.

Franciscans from St. Anthony’s staff their Pride booth in Boston.

In San Francisco, St. Agnes, Most Holy Redeemer, and other Bay Area parishes joined together to ‘show their Catholic pride‘ at the city’s parade.

Parishioners from St. Francis Xavier in Manhattan in the city’s Pride parade.

In New York City, parishioners from St. Francis Xavier Church marched, as did a collaborative contingent from various metro NYC area gay-friendly parieshes,  marching behind the banner of “LGBT Catholics and Friends.”

In London, England, members of the Archdiocese of Westminster’s pastoral outreach to LGBT people (called “Soho Masses” because of the neighborhood in which they originated) took part in that city’s pride march, complete with a giant street puppet of Jesus draped in a rainbow flag.  More photos can be found here.

London's LGBT Catholics march in Pride.

London’s LGBT Catholics march in Pride. (Photo by Martin Pendergast)

Repeatedly, Pride participants cited Pope Francis as a reason for their witness this month and also tied their actions to the Church’s standing commitment to social justice that has resulted in American Catholics’ overwhelming support for LGBT equality. Earlier this month, Bondings 2.0 suggested that marching for Pride was a key way to show solidarity for church workers under increased scrutiny for their support and involvement with marriage equality or because of their gender identity.

Additionally, many of the parishes mentioned above are on New Ways Ministry’s listing of gay-friendly Catholic parishes and communities. To find a parish near you, or to suggest a new parish for the list, please click here.

Did your parish or Catholic school participate in a Pride celebration? Let us know in the ‘Comments’ section below, so we can continue spreading the good news of an inclusive Church in the era of Pope Francis.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Will Baptisms Be Celebrated According to Love or the Law?

June 28, 2014

Lourdes Badillo and Cristal Cobas preparing to baptize their child

Recent debates over baptism for children of same-gender parents received into the Church, may mean baptism is an upcoming point of conflict with newborn children right in the middle.

David Gibson of Religion News Service takes up this question, explaining what had been the status quo until recently:

“The default position for most bishops — reiterated in a major Vatican document released on Thursday (June 26) — is that if the parents pledge to raise the child Catholic, then no girl or boy should be refused baptism.

“They generally let parish priests make the final call and let them administer the sacrament, though it is usually done in a private ceremony with the biological parent — not the adoptive mother or father — listed on the baptismal certificate.”

The Diocese of Madison, Wisconsin recently changed procedures on how it handles same-gender couples who wish to have a child baptized. This announcement comes shortly after a judge’s ruling legalized marriage equality in that state, a judicial decision which Madison’s Bishop Robert Morlino vociferously criticized. The Wisconsin State Journal’s report said the two decisions appear unconnected, and the diocese’s decision was developed before marriage equality became law.

Authority for requests from same-gender couples shifted from the parish priest, who could use pastoral sensitivity when addressing a sometimes challenging situation, to the diocese’s office of the vicar general. Monsignor James Bartylla is the current vicar general, and author of the memo announcing the procedural change. He wrote, in part, that there are

” ‘a plethora of difficulties, challenges, and considerations associated with these unnatural unions (including scandal) linked with the baptism of a child, and such considerations touch upon theology, canon law, pastoral approach, liturgical adaptation, and sacramental recording…please seek consultation and coordination with the office of the vicar general, since each case must be evaluated individually.’ “

Gibson’s report highlights the problems that could emerge from Madison’s policy targeting same-gender couples, especially if it is adopted by other bishops across the country:

” ‘While this process might protect couples from the negative whims of a local pastor, Bishop Morlino has such a strong record against supporting lesbian and gay people that I worry he might be more restrictive about baptizing their children than most local priests would be,’ said Francis DeBernardo, head of New Ways Ministry, a leading advocacy group for gay Catholics.

“If that happens, he said, it ‘has the potential to blow up into a pastoral disaster.’ …

“DeBernardo said the problem with a policy that focuses specifically on gay parents is that it ‘stigmatizes lesbian and gay couples as being more suspect than any other parents.’

” ‘It is very likely that no parents that present a child for baptism are perfectly following all church rules,’ he said. ‘Why single out only lesbian and gay parents for further scrutiny?’ “

Commenting on the baptism question, Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese said:

” ‘In general, the Catholic church does not punish the child for the sins of the parents…As archbishop of Buenos Aires, (Pope) Francis got angry at priests who would not baptize children born out of wedlock. I would presume the same principle applies here.’ “

Indeed, at least two bishops are following Pope Francis’ lead. In April, an Argentine bishop welcomed the baptism of the child of a lesbian couple, Karina Villarroel and Soledad Ortiz. There are now reports that Bishop Raul Vera Lopez, of Saltillo, Mexico baptized the child of a lesbian couple, Lourdes Badillo and Cristal Cobas. Bishop Vera Lopez has previously made headlines for his support of lesbian and gay people, even calling homophobia a mental illness at one point. Banderas News reports further:

“The bishop met two weeks ago with Pope Francis in Rome, and according to the Mexican newspaper Excelsior, the prelate discussed his views of ‘caring for vulnerable groups, such as the lesbian-gay community’ with the pope.

” ‘I have been open and given clarity to homosexual couples or whatever…But some groups within the Church say I promote promiscuity, those are conservative groups that harm pastoral care. Who am I to judge? The Pope has the same attitude as Christ did’ …

” ‘If I find the natural daughter of one of two women, how can I deny her baptism? If the parents seek it, it’s because there is a Christian faith,’ he explained to the media.”

These more inclusive practices around baptism, and more broadly, the pastoral welcome that LGBT people and their partners received, stand in stark contrast to those who would make marriage more difficult for these families. Perhaps Bishop Morlino would do well to read a reflection by Benedict Luckhurst published by Quest, a UK LGBT advocacy group.  Luckhurts urges the Church to live by love, not the law. Of Mark 7:1-4 which describes Jesus observing Jewish purity laws, he writes:

“The ritual hand, dish and pot washing practised by the Pharisees – there is no evidence to show that this was a widespread practice among Jews – likely sprang from a fear that they could have come into contact with ritually unclean things in the course of daily use.

“This obsession with purity gave rise to a sharp rebuke from Jesus. Labelling the righteous Pharisees as hypocrites he quotes to them from Isaiah, ‘This people honours me only with lip-service, while their hearts are far from me. Their reverence of me is worthless, the lessons they teach are nothing but human commandments’ (29:13)…

“A little over a year has passed since the Papal Conclave of 2013 that elected Pope Francis I. I am reminded of words he spoke in his interview for Jesuit journals throughout the world: ‘The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you . . .How are we treating the people of God? I dream of a church that is a mother and shepherdess. The church’s ministers must be merciful, take responsibility for the people and accompany them like the good Samaritan, who washes, cleans and raises up his neighbour. This is pure Gospel. God is greater than sin. The structural and organisational reforms are secondary – that is, they come afterward. The first reform must be the attitude. The ministers of the Gospel must be people who can warm the hearts of the people, who walk through the dark night with them, who know how to dialogue and to descend themselves into their people’s night, into the darkness, but without getting lost.’ 

As LGBT rights and acceptance become the rule rather than exceptions in society, clergy and pastoral ministers are faced with a choice: to welcome all in love and celebrate baptisms openly or to adhere so strictly to the law which could cause pastoral damage. The Church must stop baptisms from becoming a battleground over LGBT rights before it even starts. Let’s pray (and urge) our Church’s leaders to be people who are not afraid to be ‘unclean’ when it means following love above all.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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