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


Bisexuals and Faith Communities: A New Resource Helps to Bridge the Gap

June 25, 2014

A new resource to help faith communities understand bisexuality and bisexual people has been published today by The Religious Inistitute, a multi-faith ministry which deals with the topics of sexual morality, justice, and healing.

The 95-page booklet, entitled Bisexuality: Making the Invisible Visible
in Faith Communities, is authored by Marie Alford-Harkey and Rev. Deb Haffner.  As stated in the Introduction to the work, the text is divided into three sections:

“Part One of the book, ‘Bisexuality Basics,’ begins by naming the harm that many bisexual people suffer, and includes definitions of terms, models to help understand sexual orientation, research on bisexuality, information on the prevalence of bisexuality in the United States, and myths and facts about bisexuality.

“Part Two, ‘Sacred Texts and Religious Traditions,’ intro-duces theological issues related to bisexuality, and includes a discussion of sexuality in the Hebrew and Christian Scrip-tures, essays authored by theologians from different tra-ditions, and the few denominational policies that exist on bisexuality.

“Part Three, ‘Creating a Bisexually Healthy Congregation,’ presents information and strategies for faith communities and religious leaders to become more welcoming and  affirm-ing of bisexual persons and others who are attracted to people of more than one sex or gender. Sections include welcoming and affirming bisexual persons, bisexually
healthy religious professionals, worship resources, pastoral counseling, youth, social action, and a call to action.”

The authors have long been involved in research and ministry concerning religion and sexuality.  Alford-Harkey is the Deputy Director of The Religious Institute and Haffner is the Co-Founder and President of the same organization.  The new publication emerged from an interfaith colloquium on bisexuality the Institute sponsored in April 2013.

There are two Catholic contributors to the report.  In the section on sacred texts and religious traditions, Dr. Kate Ott, professor of Christian Social Ethics, Drew Theological School, New Jersey, wrote “A Roman Catholic Perspective on Bisexuality.”  In that reflection, she notes:

“Correlations can be made to expand the concept of sexual orientation as a ‘natural’ part of one’s createdness to include bisexuality as an orientation or perhaps even more accurate-
ly to consider each individual as having an orientation that is as unique as their personality. . . .

“Although the Catechism also refers to homosexual acts, unfortunately, as ‘intrinsically disordered,’ I have hope that the Church will continue to re-examine this issue in light of a more loving, inclusive tradition.”

The second Catholic contribution comes from Lacey Louwagie, co-editor of Hungering and Thirsting for Justice: True Stories by Young Adult Catholics.  In the section on developing a welcome for bisexual people in religious congregations, Louwagie tells part of her story:

“Finally, I confronted the reality that somehow, both of these attractions did exist within me. I was truly attracted to men…and to women. I sat alone in the stairwell outside my bed-
room, my head held in my hands, when the thought entered my consciousness for the first time: maybe I was bisexual. As soon as I’d named it, a homophobic solution came on its heels: I would just decide not to pursue my attraction to women. Ironically, this is pretty much exactly what the Catholic Church tells me to do….I thought I’d arrived at a prudent solution: I could inwardly acknowledge who I really was while also pursuing only love that I could declare publicly, only love that didn’t entail the risk of being cast out
of my community. But the solution must not have been too great after all, because I fell into the worst depression of my life.”

Although the publication is not specifically geared to Catholic, or even Christian, faith communities. I think that Catholic parishes and schools can gain immensely from it.  The basic information on bisexuality is clear, understandable, thorough, and authoritative.  The suggestions for how to affirm and welcome bisexual people in religious contexts are excellent, and something that every Catholic parish can do.  There are even suggestions for preaching and public prayer, as well as guidance for bisexual people in professional ministry on how to disclose their sexuality to others.

This publication will be of great help to any Catholic parish that wants to educate its parishioners fully on sexuality or that wants to do outreach to the LGBT community.  Bisexual people are often the “forgotten” group in the LGBT rainbow, and this publication is a great step to remedying that omission.

Copies of the publication are $15.00 each, an can be ordered from The Religious Institute by clicking here.  For international orders, call the Religious Institute 203-222-0055.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Baltimore Parish Deserves Praise, Not Accusation, for Pride Month Celebration

June 24, 2014

I generally don’t like to criticize other bloggers, but when a gay-friendly Catholic parish has been wrongly accused of anti-LGBT behavior, I think it is important to set the record straight (so to speak). Such is the case with a blog post by John Becker, who writes at The Bilerico Project.  I often find Mr. Becker’s commentaries challenging and thought-provoking, but in a recent post, he oversteps the mark by making a claim that needs to be corrected.

Becker’s June 17th post is entitled “Catholic Church’s ‘Pride’ Event Smells Like False Advertising.”  In it he creates suspicion that the LGBT outreach ministry at St. Ignatius parish, Baltimore, may not be as welcoming as it makes itself out to be.

Becker became aware of an event advertisement on the Archdiocese of Baltimore website that stated:

“Embracing God’s Gifts, St. Ignatius’ Gay & Lesbian ministry, is inviting you to join us on Friday, June 13th at 7 PM in the Chapel of Grace, where we will give thanks to God for the gift of family. Through music, readings, prayer and a spirit of gratitude, we will gather to celebrate being members of God’s family. Please contact Gordon Creamer… if you are interested in participating in the planning process. All are welcome and please bring a friend! A light Reception will follow in Ignatian Hall.”

Becker noted that a link on the site led to a page which included the following description of the parish ministry:

“As members of the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church, we are called to celebrate and share the gifts of diversity of sexuality in our church today. Our organization, Embracing God’s Gifts, has been formed as an instrument for recognizing these gifts and incorporating their goodness and use into the life of our parish. Our mission is to create opportunities for the spiritual enrichment, support and inclusion of all diverse individuals, while being informed by church teaching, and to promote awareness and community building among them. We will accomplish this through a variety of endeavors that foster support, communication and social activities. We invite all to participate in this group with open-mindedness and compassion.”

These two announcements aroused Becker’s suspicion, particularly the phrase about “church teaching.”  He stated:

“Now I realize that the flyer says the group is informed by church teaching, not that it necessarily upholds it. I contacted Gordon Creamer, the aforementioned Embracing God’s Gifts organizer at St. Ignatius Parish, and left a message asking him what exactly the program tells gay and lesbian Catholics about themselves and their sexuality. I also asked whether it has any affiliation with Courage, the Catholic ‘ministry that uses a 12-step program similar to Alcoholics Anonymous to encourage LGB Catholics to suppress their sexuality and live totally celibate lives. If Creamer responds, I’ll let you know.

My skepticism, however, is further reinforced by the fact that this so-called ‘Pride’ event was advertised on the archdiocesan website. The head of the Baltimore Archdiocese is none other than William Lori, a high-profile opponent of marriage equality who has spoken at events sponsored by the Family Research Council anti-gay hate group and chairs the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. If his name looks familiar it’s because he’s the prelate who said, just last week, that the American bishops would fight same-sex marriage for generations, if necessary.”

I can understand Becker’s surprise and confusion, especially since  he wasn’t able to be in touch with Gordon Creamer, who leads St. Ignatius’ LGBT ministry.  I wish Becker would have postponed writing about the announcement until he did learn more about the ministry.  The parish has long been a welcoming and accepting home for LGBT people in Baltimore. Run by the Jesuits, they hosted a Dignity chapter there for many years, even after Dignity chapters had been expelled from Catholic property in most other dioceses.

Gordon Creamer

Gordon Creamer is an excellent minister and someone who has taken many courageous steps to reach out to LGBT people to let them know that there are segments in the Catholic Church that welcome and affirm them.

Becker’s comparison of Creamer’s ministry to Courage is totally wrong.  That is not what St. Ignatius’ parish ministry is about.  Courage views a gay or lesbian orientation as a defect. Nothing about the Courage model of ministry would include “Embracing Our Gifts,” as St. Ignatius identifies its ministry.  Moreover, I don’t know of any parish ministry that uses the Courage model as a form of outreach, unless, of course, it is a parish that explicitly advertises itself as such.  Finally, no Courage group would mask one of their events as a Pride activity, even surreptitiously.

Becker was not the only blogger who was suspicious of this announcement. Joe Jervis at “Joe. My. God.”  pondered:

“There’s no mention of celibacy or ‘ex-gay’ therapy at either of the two links above, but it’s entirely possible that either or both are part of the ministry at St. Ignatius.”

I acknowledge that Archbishop Lori has a strong record of opposing marriage equality on both the local and national levels, and so seeing an event advertised on the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s website might cause one to raise an eyebrow.   But, again, further digging would have revealed what I have learned from many Catholic LGBT advocates in Baltimore:  that Archbishop Lori seems to be open to pastoral ministry that integrates LGBT people into the parish community.

The fact that Gordon Creamer and the St. Ignatius community were able to have this event advertised on the archdiocesan website is a sign of a major step forward that needs to be celebrated, not an indication of pastoral deceit lying in wait.

I sympathize somewhat with Becker’s befuddlement.  Catholic leaders have for so long been so opposed to positive LGBT initiatives that it is difficult for  us to change our expectations when something good actually does happen.  Witness the incredulity that many people experience with the positive statements Pope Francis has made.   Unfortunately, it’s a sad commentary that so many people think that Catholic=anti-gay.  Understandable, but sad.  And it’s an image that we must work hard to correct.

Indeed, the untold story for decades now is that Catholic parishes across the U.S. have been welcoming LGBT people and benefiting from their presence in the faith community.   Few journalists and political LGBT advocates are aware of this quiet growth on the grassroots level of the church.   I often tell people that one of the greatest joys of my work at New Ways Ministry has been that I have been privileged to witness and experience the courageous work of so many Catholic pastoral ministers and communities as they affirm and advocate for LGBT people and their families.

You can see the varied communities who do this outreach by checking out New Ways Ministry’s list of gay-friendly Catholic parishes.  If you know of any other parishes that pro-actively welcome LGBT people, please let us know about them through the “Comments” section of this post.

So, let’s say a “Hallelujah!” for the sign of  progress that the archdiocesan website announcement indicates.  And let’s say a prayer of thanksgiving for people like Gordon Creamer and the St. Ignatius community who do the important and courageous day-to-day outreach to LGBT people to let them know that God, and their faith community, loves them.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


Gay Parishioner Told to Observe Mass from Crying Room, Expelled from Ministries

June 18, 2014

Bobby Glenn Brown, right, and his partner, Don Roberts

Bobby Glenn Brown committed himself to his longtime partner, Don Roberts, in a small backyard wedding ceremony. For that, Brown has been removed from several parish volunteer positions in his Catholic parish in Marquette, Michigan, and told he may observe Mass only from the ‘crying room’ at the rear of the church.

The couple gathered with friends and family last Saturday for eacxh partner to make vows to one another after 31 years together, even while Michigan does not yet recognize their relationship legally. ABC News 10 reported on the following morning’s events:

“Brown was an active parishioner at St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Marquette as of Saturday, but an incident Sunday morning with Reverend Larry P. Van Damme caused him and several regular church-goers to boycott services in protest against the diocese. Less than twenty four hours after the a commitment ceremony, the couple’s tears of joy dried to heartbreak as Bobby Glenn Brown was all but blacklisted from participating in traditional Catholic ministries…

“Five parishioners at St. Michaels who were present at Sunday’s services accompanied Brown in the lobby before Sunday Mass then exited the building in solidarity after Van Damme confronted him about Saturday’s “fake”  wedding ceremony. Because of it, Brown said he was informed that clergy decided to restrict his participation.”

Restricted participation means Brown can no longer serve as a lector or music minister during liturgies, and he was removed from the pastoral council where he  had just been re-elected as was serving as acting secretary. The priest also told Brown “he now could only observe in the windowed section in the back of the church designated for crying babies.”

Parishioners rallied around Brown and Roberts. It was no secret that Brown was a partnered gay man during his years of service at the parish. Of the incident, Brown told ABC News 10:

” ‘It’s a mixed message, and I think it’s the wrong message…There is a psalm that says “loving and caring and forgiving are you, oh Lord”. That’s the message that needs to be brought to the students at Northern [Michigan University, which St. Michael's parish ministers] , especially to a church that’s so close to campus and a place where they should feel welcomed and able to worship. And that message is being lost.’…

” ‘And my whole point was, I never was anything else and I always have been who I am…To be told that you can’t worship or aren’t welcomed somewhere to worship where you’ve been so welcomed, that in itself sends a mixed message.’ “

Many parishioners are upset that Brown’s dismissal will  drive younger Catholics from the Universityaway. It seems older Catholics are considering a move as well, with longtime parishioner Kathy Crowley Andel saying:

” ‘I just think it’s wrong…Everybody is supposed to be welcome in the Church and God is a loving God, and I don’t think we should discriminate against anybody because that’s not what God wants us to do. Even Jesus welcomed everybody.’

” ‘I’m not sure where I’m going with things. I am looking at options. I mean, I was born and raised Catholic and have been very active with things, but at this time I just feel very, very crushed with what’s going on because I don’t think it’s right. It’s like, who are we to judge? And they’ve been together 30 years. They love each other…it’s just not right what’s going on.’ “

For their part, Fr. Van Damme and Diocese of Marquette officials have remained quiet aside from a statement from Bishop John Doerfler citing the need for ministers to “give witness to the Gospel and the Church’s teachings.”

In moments of pain, like this exclusion of LGBT Catholics from ministry and even participation in the liturgy, it is important to look for hopeful signs and ways of building bridges. Pope Francis’ more welcoming tone seems to be filtering down through some of the hierarchy, as the English bishops and Cardinal Vincent Nichols’ recent remarks on sexuality make clear. The US bishops do not quite understand yet, but Catholics must not negate the profound and positive impact of lay people can have in righting these parish- and school-based injustices.

Though we cannot necessarily right the wrongs against Bobby Glenn Brown and his partner, this incident is a moment for all of us to pause and consider two questions:

1. How can we actively support LGBT parishioners in the present moment?

2. How might we respond to the exclusion of a volunteer or firing of a church worker at our own parish and school?

If you have suggestions for either question, please leave them in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


NEWS NOTES: June 18, 2014

June 18, 2014

News NotesHere are some items you might find of interest:

1) Most Holy Redeemer Catholic parish, a largely gay congregation in the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco, has new pastoral leadership.  A National Catholic Reporter article states that Precious Blood Father Jack McClure is the new pastor, and Precious Blood Father Matthew Link will be the associate pastor.   The Precious Blood Fathers have had a ministry of dialogue, reconciliation and justice with LGBT people since 2007.

2) The Diocese of Worcester, Massachusetts, has filed a motion to dismiss a suit against them brought by a gay couple charging discrimination, according to The Worcester Telegram.  The newspaper reports that the couple alleges the diocese refused to sell a mansion property to them “because the men were gay and church officials feared they might hold same-sex weddings on the property.”   You can read previous Bondings 2.0 coverage of this case here and here.

3) The parliament of Slovakia has amended the nation’s constitution to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman, reports MetroWeekly.  62% of Slovakians are Catholics, the largest of any religious group in this heavily religious nation.

4) Canada’s Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board (HSCDSB) rejected a resolution which would have opposed the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association’s (OECTA) involvement in Toronto’s World Pride Parade on June 29th, reports SooToday.com.   Other school boards have shown similar support for the OECTA’s decision to participate in the parade.  You can read about these other decisions here and here.

5) A leader of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the largest Protestant party in the country, has wants to court Catholics to join their organization because he thinks they will be attracted by the party’s opposition to same-gender marriage, among other conservative positions. The Belfast Telegraph reports that Health Minister Edwin Poots, who was joined by other party leaders in stating that Catholics might want to switch political allegiances, said “The doctrines of their church largely coincide with the DUP. So conservative Protestantism and conservative Catholicism have an awful lot in common.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


EXCLUSIVE: Laity & Nuns Cause High School to Reverse Decision Against Lesbian Alumna

June 16, 2014

Sarah Rupert-Sullivan, left, with wife, Molly

Proving that Catholic religious and lay people have  the power to effect change in our Church, a Maryland high school has reversed its decision to deny same-gender couples recognition in the alumnae newsletter.

In January, news broke that Notre Dame Preparatory School, Baltimore, had rejected 2003 alumna Sarah Rupert-Sullivan’s announcement about her marriage to wife, Molly, from the school’s “Class Chatter” notes in the alumnae newsletter. The administrators of Notre Dame Preparatory, which is run by the School Sisters of Notre Dame, cited a conflict with Church teaching as the reason for the decision, but over 1,600 people signed a petition in support of Rupert-Sullivan and her wife. You can read Bondings 2.0‘s original coverage of the event by clicking here.

Having learned of the news, alumna Pat Montley, a former School Sister of Notre Dame herself, wrote to the administrators about her own negative experience with the same situation. A decade ago, her own same-gender wedding announcement was rejected, and each class note submitted since has had any reference to her partner expunged. Writing to the Schoo Sisters of Notre Dame’s Mid-Atlantic provincial team, Montley statd, in part:

Patricia Montley, left, with wife, Sally Wall, and granddaughter Alexa

“I am sending the letter to you now in the hope that that you will find it persuasive in reversing this policy.  You would not be alone among local Catholic schools in having a more open policy…

“My teachers at Notre Dame Prep played an immeasurably important role in my life–not just in helping me develop and pursue a life of the mind but in the formation of my conscience and habits of the heart.  I will always be grateful for that training and feel an immense affection for many of those teachers.  Though most are no longer living, I am still in touch with and have visited most who are…and am happy to say they have embraced Sally as my partner/spouse and rejoice in our marriage.  I hope that you can do the same, and that this embrace can be reflected in SSND schools’ publication policy…

“Over the years, I have repeatedly submitted entries to class notes that included a mention of Sally, as schoolmates have done with their spouses…Sadly, each time, her name and any references to her were expunged.  I implore you to try to understand how hurtful this is, what it feels like to have the primary, sustaining relationship in my life rejected and unacknowledged by my alma mater–which, ironically, provided the spiritual values that have made me capable of and desirous of having such a loving and long-lasting relationship in the first place.  It breaks my heart.”

Sr. Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, who was a School Sister of Notre Dame before transferring to the Loretto Community, wrote her own letter to the provincial leadership. In it, she stated:

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Sister Jeannine Gramick

“This unfair policy makes me feel sad because SSND supported me in lesbian/gay ministry from the early 1970s to the late 1990s. Three SSND General Superiors and three SSND provincial leaders supported this ministry for many decades—at a time when lesbian/gay issues were very unpopular. These leaders believed in the human rights of lesbian and gay people, despite the opposition of some church leaders.

“It is distressing that SSND is now maintaining a reactionary stance in its schools when the tide of public opinion has shifted dramatically. According to a number of recent polls, most U.S. Catholics today now support same-sex marriaege (53% according to the 2014 survey from the Public Religion Research Institute)…

“The basic principle of the Church’s social teaching is that all human beings have dignity and worth and should be treated fairly and equally. In school publications, administrators would not treat males and females differently by publishing information about males, but not females, or vice versa. Administrators would not treat people of color differently by publishing information about white students, but not about Black students. Similarly, administrators need to treat people uniformly, whatever their sexual orientation.

“I urge you to change all SSND policies that discriminate against sexual minorities. To do otherwise is not worthy of us as women religious who profess to follow Jesus’ Gospel of love, service, and care for all God’s people.”

These two missives accompanied letters from many alumnae and community members, who have now been notified of a new policy regarding class notes that respects LGBT people and their relationships. In an email, Sister Patricia McCarron, headmistress, writes:

“After much thoughtful and prayerful discernment regarding concerns expressed about the content of ‘Class Chatter,’ Notre Dame Preparatory School has arrived at a policy which we believe respects individuals and upholds the school’s Catholic identity.

” ‘Class Chatter,’ or information submitted by alumnae of Notre Dame Preparatory School, exists for the purpose of alumnae-to-alumnae communication.

“Publication does not signify endorsement by Perspectives or its sponsoring bodies, Notre Dame Preparatory School and the School Sisters of Notre Dame. Notre Dame Preparatory School is an independent, Catholic school for girls which upholds the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

This incident, and the positive outcome that emerged from a poor decision against a lesbian couple, is proof that Catholics, lay and religious united, can indeed respond to school and parish level actions which do not reflect a more inclusive and welcoming tone which even Pope Francis demonstrates. Through sharing personal stories and wisdom with Church officials decisions can be reversed.  This kind of dialogue can help to  build up policies more in keeping with the Catholic tradition of justice and mercy.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 



Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 960 other followers