Overemphasizing Pope Harms the Church, Says Commonweal Editor

March 31, 2014

Pope Francis

Pope Francis’ widespread popularity seems to be good news for the Catholic Church, gained in part by his welcoming words and actions towards LGBT people and their allies. Yet, one leading Catholic observer has criticized this intense focus on the papacy as harmful to the Church.

Paul Baumann, the editor of Commonweal, wrote an article for Slate titled, “The Public Pope: Why the intense fascination paid to Pope Francis – or any pope – isn’t good for the Catholic Church.” Baumann acknowledges the upsides to modern popes, gaining media coverage and secular attention in a world otherwise skeptical of religion. The allure of Pope Francis, who is preaching God’s love in new ways, is a prime example. However, even with these positives, the author explains:

“Whatever people think Pope Francis is offering, he is no magician; he can’t alter the course of secular history or bridge the church’s deepening ideological divisions simply by asserting what in truth are the papacy’s rather anemic powers. In this light, the inordinate attention paid to the papacy, while perhaps good for business, is not good for the church. Why not? Because it encourages the illusion that what ails the church can be cured by one man, especially by a new man.”

Baumann points to three popes to make his point about the weakness of the papacy: St. Peter, a “man of legendary weakness” who denied Jesus three times, John Paul II, a “media superstar” who failed to effectively deal with clergy sexual abuse, and Benedict XVI, a “man of towering intellect…overmastered by palace intrigue within the Vatican.”  There are surely more examples of papal failings. Instead of fixating on popes though, Baumann wants to shift attention back to Catholics at large who are both the problem and solution:

“The truth is that the more the world flatters the Catholic Church by fixating on the papacy—and the more the internal Catholic conversation is monopolized by speculation about the intentions of one man—the less likely it is that the church will succeed in moving beyond the confusions and conflicts that have preoccupied it since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). The church desperately needs to reclaim its cultural and spiritual equilibrium; it must find a density and richness of worship and mission and a renewed public presence, which far transcend mere loyalty to the pope.”

The modern papacy, in Baumann’s estimation, is overly involved in the affairs of the global Catholic Church. Vatican meddling in the most local of cases has ‘infantilized’ bishops and suppressed theological discourse. The pope no longer exists as a source of unity, but has become a disciplinarian along ideological lines. This has all caused great harm to the Church. Baumann states:

“As in any heavily top-down organization, local initiatives fail to gain a foothold, or fizzle out for lack of dynamic leadership, and apathy prevails in the pews. Institutional gridlock and paralysis have become the norm. Seminaries are empty, and clerical talent is thin on the ground.”

There is also the reality of a divided Church, and Baumann mentions the topics of homosexuality and marriage equality among the laundry list of topics that provoke “mind-numbingly familiar” debates. Vatican II’s documents proved to be ambiguous, and even contradictory, allowing for the conservative/liberal divides to develop without any way means of conflict resolution:

“The persistent nature of such divisions reminds us that Catholics must find a way to live with and through their ongoing disputes and, most important, to live with one another. Perhaps this is precisely what Pope Francis is trying to tell Catholics in his efforts to shift the focus: away from Rome and back to the poor and afflicted, away from the question of who is living in the papal apartments to who is breaking bread with whom in more modest surroundings, and away—most winningly—from the popemobile to a used Renault.

“Lex orandi, lex credendi is one of the church’s most venerable teachings. Roughly translated, it means that the church’s worship determines its theology…Whatever their ideological disagreements, Catholics will find unity, and a less anachronistic relationship with the papacy, in practicing their faith together—or they will not find unity at all. That may mean that the same-sex couple in the pew next to you will provide a more faithful example of Christian witness than you might now imagine possible. Or perhaps the ardent piety of a Latin Mass enthusiast will lead you to reconsider parts of the church’s tradition you have long dismissed as irrelevant and sterile. In any event, the church’s unity and renewed vitality will be—must be—a gift that the faithful bring to the pope, and not the other way around.”

The history of LGBT advocacy within the Church confirms Baumann’s claims that it is the People of God who create change and build up a better Church, not necessarily the pope or the Vatican. While Pope Francis’ comments like “Who am I to judge?” are welcome, they are so positively received because thousands of LGBT Catholics, parents, friends, nuns and priests, and allies have committed decades to creating LGBT-positive parishes and communities. Through painstaking conversations, workshops, and pushing the boundaries bit by bit, LGBT advocates have fostered a Church more welcoming of all, even if this work is less media-friendly than papal pronouncements.

All that said, anti-gay laws are on the rise internationally, leading to discrimination and violence in nations like Uganda, India, and Russia. The firing of LGBT church workers, and even those who just support equal rights, is on the rise in the United States. Non-discrimination protections that include sexual orientation and gender identity are still not universaland neither is marriage equality. While I join many in celebrating Pope Francis after his first year, and affirm Equally Blessed’s statement that his LGBT-positive actions are like ‘rain on parched land,’ we must remember there is much work we must do, and that change emerges up from the People of God, not down from the pope.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

We Are God’s Unlikely Choice

March 30, 2014

Periodically in Lent, Bondings 2.0 will feature reflections by two New Ways Ministry staff members:  Matthew Myers, Associate Director, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder. The liturgical readings for the Fourth Sunday of Lent are: 1 Samuel 16: 1, 6-7, 10-13; Psalm 23:1-6; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41.

King David by Marc Chagall

God makes unlikely choices.  If in doubt, these Lenten readings confirm it.

In the first reading, Samuel was sent by God to Bethlehem to anoint one of Jesse’s sons as king.  God instructed Samuel to disregard what he would normally look for in a king – strength, lofty stature, and regal appearance.  Instead, God looked into the heart of each of Jesse’s sons and told Samuel to anoint the youngest son, a shepherd named David.  Samuel, Jesse, and David were probably shocked by this improbable selection – but this choice illustrated God’s ability to work through an unlikely person.

In the Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul uses the light/dark imagery to emphasize that we are adopted sons and daughters of God.  In our own ways, each of us is an incredibly poor choice by God to “produce every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.”  We are far too talented at producing not-so-good fruits on our own, yet God nonetheless adopts through baptism and slowly molds us into children of light capable of remarkable goodness.  God chooses us – unlikely choices all – to build the reign of justice and love in our own ways.

The Gospel parable of the blind man is often interpreted as a comparison between physical sight and spiritual awareness.  As the blind man regained his physical sight, he came to know and worship Jesus as the Messiah.  There is nothing wrong with this interpretation, but perhaps we can change one word in the Gospel to reveal a new meaning for us:

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born gay?”

Many LGBT people and their parents have asked similar questions.  LGBT folks ask themselves, “Why did God make me this way? Did I do something wrong or not try hard enough?”  Parents often ask, “What did I do wrong in raising my child?  Is it my fault?”

However, Jesus gives an incredibly affirming reply to all these questions:  “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.”  Jesus responds that some people are created a bit differently on purpose so that God’s love can be made manifest through them in an equally unique way.  God gives LGBT people, an often marginalized and maligned group, the opportunity to teach the rest of humankind about self-acceptance, just relationships, and the unimaginable power and durability of love.  God makes unlikely choices.

An interesting side-note:  the Pharisees in the parable turned the man’s blindness into a theological problem.  The Pharisees wonder who was responsible for God’s punishment upon the blind man.  But they never ask how God’s love might be revealed through the blind man – how his difference can enrich the community and how his presence might be an experience of God to others.  Perhaps this is a problem among some Catholic leaders – they have turned sexual orientation and gender identity into theological problems that must be solved.  However, Jesus invites us to understand LGBT identities as gifts to be accepted and appreciated within our church.

I recently heard a new song entitled, “With Every Act of Love” by Jason Gray, which fits so well with today’s scriptural message.  Gray sings, “God put a million, million doors in the world for his love to walk through, and one of those doors is you.”  God makes many unlikely choices – you and me among them.  May we rejoice in the opportunity to be doors for God’s love in our world today.

–Matthew Myers, New Ways Ministry


In England, Bishop Would Deny Communion & Priest Admits to Same-Gender Marriage

March 28, 2014

Bishop Philip Egan

Two incidents made headlines in the UK this week, which stress the reality that even in places where there is legal recognition of marriage equality, the Catholic Church’s need for renewal is still great.

Communion Controversy

Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth told a conservative Catholic website that Communion should be denied to Catholic members of Parliament who supported England’s recent passage of marriage equality and called it an “act of mercy.” The Tablet reports Egan told the interviewer:

” ‘When people are not in communion with the Catholic Church … in terms of the teachings of the Church on marriage and family life – they are voting in favour of same-sex marriage – then they shouldn’t be receiving Holy Communion….I personally would be in favour of saying that somebody should not be receiving communion.’ “

He also added that any action should be carried out in consultation with the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. A Conference spokesperson denied that the country’s bishops would follow Egan’s suggestion and discuss the issue.

Meanwhile, legislators from both leading parties criticized Egan and there was no support for the bishop. Marriage equality was supported by 47 of 82 Catholic members of parliament last year. Conservative MP Conor Burns called Egan’s statement a “tragedy” and said “this bishop appears not to have noticed that we have a new gentle shepherd preaching a Christ-like message of inclusivity, love, tolerance, and forgiveness” in reference to Pope Francis. Even MPs who voted against equal marriage rights, like Labour’s Stephen Pound, criticized Egan’s position as “wholly disproportionate.”

Fr. Donald Minchew

Priest’s Marriage

The Tablet also reported that a Catholic priest has been suspended from ministry after it was revealed he had entered into a civil partnership with a man several years ago. Fr. Donald Minchew was part of the Ordinariate, which caters to converts from the Anglican Church, and entered a civil union with Mustajab Hussain in 2008 while still in his former position with the Church of England. The article reports further:

“Fr. Minchew, 66, told The Mail on Sunday his civil partnership to Mr Hussain, 32, was ‘the only way I could see of getting him in the country’, adding that he and Mr Hussain had not seen each other for ‘donkey’s years’.”

Hussain is a Pakistani immigrant who is married. He initially stated the civil union was a formality to bypass immigration laws, but later suggested he and Fr. Minchew had been in a romantic relationship. Both men are now facing charges for breaking immigration laws.

In both incidents, the hierarchy’s opposition to marriage equality remains harmfully influential. Bishop Egan’s proposal to deny Communion to MPs months after marriage equality was legalized is not unique. There are other instances where Catholic leaders have sought to punish those supporting LGBT rights, like a priest in Virginia who kept Boy Scout funds after the national organization allowed openly gay scouts.

As for Fr. Minchew, it is a less clear situation given the contradictory accounts and lack of details in media reports. However, priest’s suspension is, at some level, likely related to entering a same-gender partnership, and he might not have been treated similarly had he entered marriage with a woman. Prayers are needed for all involved in what seems to be a troubling situation.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Courage Workshops Face Protests in Detroit and Santa Rosa

March 21, 2014

Catholics protest the Courage workshops at Sacred Heart Seminary, Detroit.

Catholics in Detroit braved the cold to protest Courage International’s presence at a local seminary, where the controversial ministry was offering seminars to discuss its view of homosexuality with priests, seminarians, and pastoral ministers. This protest is yet another incident where Catholics stood up for LGBT inclusion in the Church against Courage, which also drew criticism in Santa Rosa, California, recently from both conservative and progressive Catholics.

Courage was invited by the Archdiocese of Detroit to offer two seminars at the archdiocese’s Sacred Heart Seminary, according to the Detroit Free Press. About two hundred people came to hear about Courage’s 12-step style program for gay and lesbian people to live celibate lives.

Outside the seminary, Catholics witnessed against Courage’s harmful ministry and advocated for LGBT inclusion in the Church. PrideSource reports:

“When Tom Nelson and Linda Karle-Nelson learned that Sacred Heart . . . in Detroit was holding classes on how to minister to potential LGBT members of congregations by asking that they be celibate, the couple knew they had to do something. They rallied supporters through various inclusive faith-based organizations and held a prayer vigil in front of the church. The Nelsons also went inside for the class.

“Friday was for clergy and Saturday was for parents, educators and therapists,’ Karle-Nelson said. ‘We had 20-25 people each day doing a peaceful prayer out front. We had very positive signs and a very positive message “standing on the side of love.” ‘…

“[Nelson said,] ‘The reason Linda and I go to these things is because it is important. In our work with PFLAG and Fortunate Families we see the consequences first-hand. They are blind to how it affects LGBT people when they judge and discriminate.’

” ‘We see broken families. We see kids that are close to suicide and in depression. We see families that are torn apart. A large number of homosexual people do not come out of the closet.’ “

The Nelsons said that the seminar included psychologists telling participants that homosexuality was not natural, but the result of childhood trauma or bad parents. Karle-Nelson told the Detroit Free Press that Courage’s position demands lesbian and gay people deny who they really are. She believes these seminars were really an effort to build anti-marriage equality support in the Archdiocese if this issue arises in Michigan. The Nelsons were previously awarded for their advocacy as Catholic parents of LGBT children, and have helped lead protests in the past when the Archdiocese has failed the LGBT community.

Meanwhile, conservative Catholic media criticized Courage for hosting Joseph Sciambra at a program in Santa Rosa, California. Sciambra is a former gay pornography actor who no longer identifies as gay and endorses what many believe is a a form of ‘reparative therapy.’ According to The Press Democrat, he has said being gay is “tantamount to imprisonment of the soul within the disorder” and that certain gay sexual activities release “into the world these rare demonic entities.” Conservative voices criticized Courage for hosting someone formerly involved in the pornography industry. The news report on the program also contained local progressive Catholics who objected to the Courage approach.

In both Detroit and Santa Rosa, the Catholics standing for LGBT people’s dignity would likely the words of Tom Zerafa, who was part of the protests in Detroit and told The Times Herald:

“I’m out here this week on behalf of the GLBT community. Our relationships are valid. Our relationships are full, they’re life-giving, they’re affirming. Our sexuality is a gift of God and it should not be tampered with. Our sexuality is also not just a gift from God, but it’s a way that we give back our lives to God and to humanity.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Cincinnati Archdiocese’s New Morality Clauses Set Troubling Precedents

March 18, 2014

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati has amplified the morality clause in its contract for Catholic school employees to ensure that those deemed to be living outside certain Church teachings can easily be fired, including lesbian and gay couples in committed or marriage relationships. This new contract sets a troubling precedent, and places the archdiocese in the  position of excusing its desire to discriminate.

More than 2,200 educators at 94 parochial schools in the archdiocese will be affected when they sign new contracts for the 2014-15 year, reports Cincinnati.com. Teachers will be required to sign a contract which includes the following section, according to WCPO-TV:

“Such conduct or lifestyle that is in contradiction to Catholic doctrine or morals includes, but is not limited to, improper use of social media/communication, public support of or publicly living together outside marriage, public support of or sexual activity out of wedlock, public support of or homosexual lifestyle, public support of or use of abortion, public support of or use of surrogate mother, public support of or use of in vitro fertilization or artificial insemination, public membership in organization whose mission and message are incompatible with Catholic doctrine or morals, and/or flagrant deceit or dishonesty.”

Elsewhere, the contract refers to educators as “teacher-ministers” and ties education to the “formation of students by personal witness to the stated philosophy and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.” Failure to adhere to these guidelines is grounds for an immediate firing.

The Archdiocese, through a spokesperson, tried to downplay this new contract as consistent with past contracts which included morality clauses. The spokesperson stated the new language was meant to clarify the Church’s teachings as “some teachers didn’t fully understand what [the moral conduct clause] meant.”

National trends expanding marriage equality and non-discrimination laws inclusive of LGBT people have led to a marked increase in the firing of LGBT and Ally church workers, which you can read about in full in the ‘Employment Issues‘ category of Bondings 2.0.

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati has witnessed at least two incidents where LGBT teachers were fired in recent years. In 2013, the Archdiocese was forced to pay nearly $200,000 to Christa Dias, a lesbian teacher fired for becoming pregnant through artificial means. There was the  was the firing of assistant principal Mike Moroski for publicly supporting marriage equality on a personal blog. Finally, the high-profile firing of gym teacher Carla Hale because it became public that she had a woman partner happened next door in Columbus, Ohio.

Moroski spoke to WCPO after this new contract wording was announced. He stated:

” ‘The only people who will be hurt by this are the students whose teachers will leave or he fired; not to mention the potential teachers who won’t even come close the Archdiocese’…

“Moroksi pointed to dwindling archdiocesan enrollment numbers in recent years and stated the decision enforce the rigorous moral code isn’t in the best interest of the schools. Nor is it in the parents who send their children to local parochial schools if this how their teacher applicants are selected, he added.

” ‘The Archdiocese needs to look in the mirror and ask “why.” Catholics aren’t coming home. Schools are closing. And the schools that are closing or struggling are often the ones who educate low-income students and take a hit because they accept so many EdChoice students. So, students, especially lower income ones, are suffering so that a select few can dispense what they see as “morality.” ‘ “

There are two novel ideas proposed by the Archdiocese in the new contract, which set troubling precedents for Catholic institutions in the US. First, the contract refers to educators as “teacher-ministers.” In a handful of cases where LGBT church workers have been fired for who they are or for marrying a same-gender partner, the Catholic institutions have claimed the firings are justified under a ‘ministerial exemption.’ LGBT advocates have argued there is little connection to ministry for physical education teachers, computer teachers, or food service directors, categories in which we have seen firings occur. By explicitly tying the educators to ministerial roles, the schools have a much broader justification for firing them.

Second, the Archdiocese has added ‘public support of’ before each of the reasons for which a teacher may be terminated. It is not simply being gay or entering into a same-gender marriage that puts one’s job at risk, but it seems that publicly supporting rights for LGBT people or perhaps even attending the same-gender wedding of a family member of friend might be grounds for termination.

It will be important to watch if other dioceses follow this example.  Hopefully, fairer minds will rule the day.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Nun Advocating for Transgender Justice Profiled During Catholic Sisters Week

March 12, 2014


Sr. Monica, in middle

National Catholic Sisters Week, currently underway in the US, seeks to honor and celebrate the many women religious who have positively contributed to our world and our Church. For decades, Catholic sisters included justice for gay and lesbian people in these efforts to create change, and they have been ardent advocates for the full equality of every person. Now, Nathan Schneider’s article published by Al Jazeera America reveals the crucial role Catholic sisters play in advancing justice for transgender people in the Church.

Sr. Monica, a pseudonym used in the article due a request by her congregation for anonymity, began ministering among the transgender community in the late 1990s. Her smaller congregation is noted for ministering on society’s margins, and Monica is trained as a spiritual director and liturgist. She began ministering to the lesbian/gay community at first, before recognizing a “call within a call” to accompany the transgender community. The article notes of Sr. Monica’s ministry now:

“Monica has welcomed trans people into her home for retreats, and helped them to pray, and taken them out to dinner dressed, for the first time in public, according to the gender they know themselves to be. She often stays in touch with them for years on end. ‘Her basic message,’ [psychologist Maureen] Osborne says, ‘is to let them know that they are loved by God and that they are meant to embody exactly who they are.’

“Monica has healed souls and saved lives. Yet the leadership of the Catholic Church she serves acts as if her ministry doesn’t exist.”

Currently, there is no official teaching from the Vatican on gender identity aside from an ad hoc document suggesting guidelines on gender transitions,  and a few condemnatory remarks from Pope Benedict XVI in public speeches. Neither can be considered the result of substantive theological reflection or “official” in any way.

In 2010, Sr. Monica convened  a meeting of seven Catholic priests, a deacon, and four transgender Catholics for an afternoon of sharing and reflection. Schneider describes the meeting, the first of its kind, in the following way:

“Over the course of an hour, two trans men and two trans women told their life stories in brief, and the priests had to listen. They talked about the process of discovering that their gender didn’t fit their body — some in childhood, others later in life. They talked about struggles with priests and longings to be reconciled with their faith…

“During the second hour, there was an open discussion. The priests didn’t ask questions so much as affirm, and express sympathy. ‘I commend you for the integrity that you have’ — that kind of thing.

“As the second hour ended, some of the priests began to slip out for other appointments. One of them began to speak, paused, and then said, ‘Your ministry is to us today, and your spirituality is very, very apparent. You’ve helped me personally a great deal.’

“Another pause: ‘Because I’m a queer man.’ After what he’d heard, somehow, his own secret didn’t seem so scary. ‘I’ve come out to a number of people — but not yet to my brothers here.’ “

Sr. Monica’s ministry was sustained for a long time by her religious community, even when bishops were sharply critical of her work. These critics have kept her from being more public about transgender ministry, and now illness has forced her into an early retirement. Sr. Monica has withdrawn from leading retreats and counseling more than 200 transgender people, instead spending time in prayer and silence with the hope of ‘melting into God.’

Hilary Howes

Hilary Howes

At the same time, transgender topics are increasingly addressed by Catholics through writings and workshops sponsored by New Ways Ministry, of which Schneider writes:

“The first-ever Catholic trans conference in the United States took place one Saturday last November at a suburban convent in Towson, Md. About 35 people attended, mostly older women, sitting together in a room with a crucifix on one wall facing another wall of stained glass. The morning’s presentation was by a psychiatrist who works with gender-variant patients at Children’s Hospital. In the afternoon there was a talk by Hilary Howes, a middle-aged businesswoman who converted to Catholicism after her transition at age 40, almost two decades ago…

“Howes said during the conference in Towson, ‘The idea that God is beyond gender is quite clearly there…It’s a beautiful spiritual journey, but if you don’t have to go through it, please don’t.’…

“The day was full of epiphanies…Some who were already familiar with transgender terms and categories were trying to wrap their heads around the genderqueer label that increasingly resonates with young people  — not one gender or the other so much as somewhere in between, or both, or neither.”

Sr. Jeannine Gramick, who has ministered to lesbian/gay people for decades, is quoted in the article as saying, “The trans issue is in the Catholic community now where the lesbian and gay issue was in the late ’70s.” Schneider highlights these two sisters as he concludes the article, writing:

“For decades Grammick [sic] has spoken boldly on behalf of the queer community and has been censured mightily for it; where Monica agonizes about whether or not to speak, Grammick simply does so and then deals with whatever blowback comes from the hierarchy. Where Grammick has advocated, Monica has internalized.

“And this eats at her. ‘I am silent while trans people are being killed,’ she says, clenching her shoulders as if holding an invisible weight. ‘They’re being murdered and committing suicide, and I’m silent!’ When she’s worked up like this Monica can flash a gaze that makes her eyes seem steely and certain, until they fill with tears. And then a saying from St. Catherine of Siena comes to mind, turning her anger to a duller sadness. She recites it: ‘Preach the truth as if you had a million voices — it is silence that kills the world.’ “

IMG_0701In whatever way sisters have ministered, the religious women’s persistent accompaniment and advocacy for LGBT justice is a central reason to celebrate them during Catholic Sisters Week. At the same time, the voices of LGBT Catholics, their family, friends, and allies are all needed to carry on Sr. Monica and the sisters’ desire for transgender inclusion.

You can read the full article at Al Jazeera America by clicking here, and read more coverage of trans Catholic issues by this blog by clicking here. New Ways Ministry will also be offering another transgender workshop on Saturday, May 17, 2014, in Washington, DC. For more information on that, please call (301) 277-5674 or email info@newwaysministry.org.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

ONE YEAR LATER: Pope Francis’ Revolution in Context

March 11, 2014

Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis

ONE YEAR LATER is an afternoon series focusing on the first year of Pope Francis’ papacy. Bondings 2.0 will be running this series all week.  The anniversary of his election is Thursday, March 13th.

Pope Francis’ first year has been a whirlwind for Catholics of all stripes, and the world at large. To further understand why and how the new pope is changing the Church, this post sets Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio’s election in the context of his immediate predecessors, Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II, to draw out just what has made Pope Francis different.

Dennis Coday, editor of the National Catholic Reporter, set the scene in a February column published on the anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation (and for an analysis of Benedict’s legacy, read Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese’s column). Coday writes:

“Remember what we, in the U.S. Catholic church, had been through: an ‘apostolic visitation’ of congregations of American women religious; a doctrinal investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the appointment of overlords to help them ‘reform.’ Maryknoll Fr. Roy Bourgeois had been excommunicated because he supported women’s ordination. Long established and trusted scholars, Mercy Sr. Margaret Farley and St. Joseph Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, had been censured. The chairman of the U.S. bishops’ National Review Board for child protection had warned the bishops that complacency threatened the continuing implementation of their policies and guidelines meant to keep children safe. The U.S. bishops seemed to be doing their best to scuttle health care reform over — of all things — artificial contraception; their campaign for religious freedom seemed petty and partisan. A clunky, ideologically driven translation of the Mass prayers had been thrust upon us.

“I remember people feeling dejected and drifting away from the church. Not storming out, just drifting away.

“Writing last year about the state of the church (and by ‘the church’ I mean we, the people in the pews who form the body of Christ), Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister used the word ‘weary.’…’weariness is a condition of the heart that has lost the energy to care anymore.’ “

In light of where the Church was, and where it is now with Pope Francis leading, the author notes, “What a difference a year makes.” Since his election, the new pope has made headlines repeatedly for positive words and acts on LGBT matters. Sr. Jeannine Gramick, New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, wrote a piece assessing what Pope Francis has done in regard to LGBT topics.

And what is so different?

Michael Sean Winters wrote a lengthy blog post on the continuity/discontinuity of Pope Francis with Benedict XVI and John Paul II for the National Catholic Reporter. While noting overlaps, Winters points to a key distinction relevant to those concerned with sexual ethics and social justice: 

“It can be fairly said that in the pontificate of John Paul II, pastoral theology was made to be a subset of moral theology. Responding to what he perceived as theological chaos in the post-Vatican II era, rightly or wrongly, and I think there was a bit of both, John Paul II came down hard on those who were trying to push the envelope on matters of moral theology…No one could credibly claim that there was not a large measure of old-style, Polish clerical authoritarianism in John Paul’s character…

“Under Francis, it can be said that moral theology has been returned to its proper place as a subset of pastoral theology, not the other way round. Indeed, you could say that one of the principal differences between Francis and his predecessors is that he has placed far less emphasis on his job as teacher of the faith and far more emphasis on his job as pastor of the flock.”

Yet, the narrative that Pope Francis is the dichotomy to Benedict XVI and John Paul II is not quite right. To further understand what is happening, The New York Times documented personnel changes made by Pope Francis, including the demotion of Cardinal Raymond Burke and other cultural warriors who rose under the previous two papacies. Jason Horowitz and Jim Yardley write:

“Less apparent, if equally significant [than public actions] for the future of the church, is how Francis has taken on a Vatican bureaucracy so plagued by intrigue and inertia that it contributed, numerous church officials now believe, to the historic resignation of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, last February.

“Francis’ reign may not ultimately affect centuries-old church doctrine, but it is already reshaping the way the church is run and who is running it. Francis is steadily replacing traditionalists with moderates as the church prepares for a debate about the role of far-flung bishops in Vatican decision-making and a broad discussion on the family that could touch on delicate issues such as homosexuality and divorce…

“Francis remains tricky to define, a doctrinal conservative whose humble style and symbolic gestures have thrilled many liberals.”

Later this week, “One Year Later” will explore just how Catholics in the pews have responded and what long-term impact Pope Francis might have as he embarks on a second year. You can view the full series by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

QUOTE TO NOTE: Cardinal Dolan, Michael Sam, Civil Unions, and Pope Francis

March 11, 2014

computer_key_Quotation_MarksOn Sunday, New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan was interviewed on Meet The Press, and he made two quotes worth noting related to LGBT issues.  One quote indicates that Pope Francis seems to be having an influence on the cardinal’s language concerning LGBT issues, but the second one shows that there might be disagreement between these church leaders.

When host David Gregory asked him to respond to Michael Sam, the NFL draft prospect who recently came out,  the cardinal had this to say:

Michael Sam

“Good for him. I would have no sense of judgment on him. God bless ya. . . . look the same Bible that tells us, that teaches us well about the virtues of chastity and the virtue of fidelity and marriage also tells us not to judge people. So I would say, ‘Bravo.’ “

Gay Star News reported this information. Dolan’s quote seems to echo Pope Francis’ famous “Who am I to judge?” line.

In the same interview, Cardinal Dolan indicated that he believes Pope Francis is interested in exploring the issue of civil unions.  According to Religion News Service, Dolan answered a question about  pope’s recent interview with an Italian newspaper by saying that he thought

Cardinal Timothy Dolan

“. . .Francis was telling Catholics that ‘we need to think about that and look into it and see the reasons that have driven’ the public to accept them.”

“ ‘It wasn’t as if he came out and approved them,’ said Dolan, the nation’s most prominent Catholic bishop and the former president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. ‘But Francis was instead saying, “Rather than quickly condemn them … let’s just ask the questions as to why that has appealed to certain people.” ‘ “

But Dolan and Pope Francis might not see eye to eye on this issue:

“When host David Gregory asked Dolan if accepting civil unions would make him ‘uncomfortable,’ Dolan said it would because it could ‘water down’ the traditional religious view of marriage.”

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

In last week’s blog post about Pope Francis’ interview, we noted that there seemed to be reasons to doubt whether the pope was speaking about same-gender civil unions when he made his remarks.  He was, at best, ambiguous.  It is significant that as prominent a church leader as Cardinal Dolan has interpreted the pope’s comments as indicating interest in same-gender unions–perhaps a sign that discussions of supporting lesbian and gay relationships are on the agendas of church leaders.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

The Telegraph: Pope says Catholic Church should not dismiss gay marriage

ONE YEAR LATER: Sr. Jeannine Gramick Assesses Pope Francis’ 1st Year

March 10, 2014

ONE YEAR LATER is an afternoon series focusing on the first year of Pope Francis’ papacy. Bondings 2.0 will be running this series all week.  The anniversary of his election is Thursday, March 13th.

A group of Catholic church reform organizations have banded together to organize a website/blog about the pope’s first year:  PopeFrancis365.orgIn addition to LGBT topics, the site includes resources on a variety of issues:  women’s ordination, non-violence, divorce and re-marriage, worker justice, church governance, to name a few.

New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, wrote the website’s section on Pope Francis and LGBT issues.  You can link to the website by clicking here.  Below is the main portion of the text, but you need to go to the website to see action items and other resources.


By Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, New Ways Ministry


Like the shot heard round the world, “Who am I to judge?” has, without doubt, come to define Pope Francis. His answer to a question about gay priests, asked by a reporter during a press conference on the plane ride back to Rome from World Youth Day celebrations in July 2013, was reprinted in headlines all over the globe. These five words represent an unambiguous departure from the harsh language of his predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, toward LGBT persons.

A mere nine months after his election to the papacy, Time magazine named Pope Francis its Person of the Year, in part for his welcome of LGBT people. The Advocate, the leading LGBT magazine, chose him as the single most influential person of 2013 for LGBT people, claiming that, because of Francis, “a significant and unprecedented shift took place this year in how LGBT people are considered by one of the world’s largest faith communities.” Pope Francis is turning into a rock star pontiff as he takes his place on the cover of the Rolling Stone magazine alongside other pop icons of American culture.

Equally Blessed, a coalition of four Catholic groups (Call to Action, Dignity, Fortunate Families, and New Ways Ministry) with a special outreach to LGBT persons and their allies, stated that the pope’s statements are “like rain on a parched land” for their constituents.

Pope Francis has given courage to thousands of Catholics who have been ministering with LGBT persons, many of whom have been penalized by church authorities who do not share Pope Francis’ welcoming vision. For LGBT advocates, Pope Francis is reinvigorating the Spirit called forth by Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council.

The First Year

Pope Francis is the first pope to publicly use the word “gay.” And this, in his first year in 2013! He spoke directly about lesbian and gay persons on his return flight from World Youth Day in July. In August, he gave a lengthy three-part interview to Antonio Spadaro, SJ, the Editor-in-Chief of La Civilta Cattolica in Rome at the request of all the editors of Jesuit magazines worldwide. In this interview Pope Francis elaborated on his remarks about lesbian and gay people. In November in Rome, he addressed the Union of Superiors General, an organization of the heads of religious congregations of men and spoke of new kinds of families, some headed by same-gender couples. Children in these situations present new educational challenges for the Church, he said .

In his famous “Who am I to Judge” statement on the plane from Rio, reporters asked about Italian news reports on a “gay lobby” of clerics at the Vatican, blackmailing each other about sexual exploits. Pope Francis joked that he had never seen the word gay on a Vatican identity card, but in seriousness said there is a distinction between the “fact of a person being gay” and “the fact of a lobby.” “Lobbies are not good,” he said, implying that being gay is good. There was public speculation that Francis was affirming only gay celibate priests, not all gay and lesbian people. He contradicted this theory in the coming months.

“During the return flight from Rio de Janeiro I said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge. By saying this, I said what the catechism says. Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.”

In the quote cited above, Pope Francis spoke about freedom and respect for the spiritual life of each person—all in the context of LGBT people. His words, spoken in this context, affirm the decision that most lesbian and gay Catholics have made to follow their conscience regarding sexuality, knowing in their hearts that they are at peace with God. It is particularly reassuring for them to hear such affirmation from the highest authority of our Church.

A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being.

In this quote, Francis reiterated his belief that the heart of the Gospel, and therefore the Church’s primary message, is God’s love for the person, not the repetition or enforcement of sterile doctrines about sexuality. His obvious intent is to by-pass offensive words like “intrinsically disordered” and “objectively immoral.” Francis is telling us to think of lesbian and gay individuals as human beings, as persons, instead of associating them with sexual activity.

We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context… The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.

Pope Francis’ above quote seems to be directly aimed at members of the hierarchy who are obsessed with cultural wars and the hot-button issues of abortion, gay marriage, and contraception. Time magazine pointed out, ”That might not seem like significant progress in the U.S. and other developed nations. But the Pope’s sensitivity to sexual orientation has a different impact in many developing countries, where homo­phobia is institutionalized, widespread and sanctioned.”

What’s Ahead

LGBT Catholics and their advocates are looking ahead for Pope Francis’ leadership in at least two specific areas: anti-discrimination laws and pastoral outreach to same-sex couples.

1.  Non-discrimination 

Uganda’s Parliament recently criminalized homosexuality, including life imprisonment for repeat offenders. Similar persecution of LGBT persons is occurring in Nigeria, Zambia, India, Russia, Croatia, and Jamaica, to name but a few nation states. Catholics and people of faith worldwide are calling on Pope Francis to condemn anti-LGBT laws implemented in several nations recently in a campaign called No More Triangle Nations.

The campaign, organized by New Ways Ministry and Fellowship Global, is a coalition of groups, including some COR groups. It encourages people to contact Pope Francis to urge him to speak out against repressive laws. People can tweet at the Pope (@Pontifex), send him an email (av@pccs.va), or write him a letter (His Holiness Pope Francis, Apostolic Palace, Vatican City State, 00120).

2.  Same-Sex Couples

In a speech to the Union of Superiors General in November 2013, Pope Francis described families headed by same-gender couples as one of the new educational challenges facing the Church.

Pope Francis has publicly advocated civil unions, but not gay marriage, for same-sex couples. From this speech, it is difficult to ascertain the extent of his sympathy for gay couples. He cast same-sex couples in a negative light by recalling sadly that a little girl told her teacher, “My mother’s girlfriend doesn’t love me.” However, he showed concern that we not give these children “a vaccine against faith” by showing hostility to their parents.

If the pope is serious about “proclaiming Christ to a generation that is changing,” as he said in this speech, he needs to listen humbly to those in the changing generation. His solicitation of input from the laity for the 2014 Synod on the Family is a good first start, but more needs to be done. For example, he could speak about workers’ rights, particularly the injustice of firing someone in a same-sex relationship, for issues unrelated to job performance.


Pope Francis has provided unexpected exhilaration for LGBT advocates. As Mark Segal, a leading gay activist, observed, “The actual doctrine of the church has not changed, but the message that Pope Francis is sending is more powerful than the doctrines themselves. Francis seems to understand that messages can create instant change, while doctrine can take years. He performs simple gestures as a priest looking after his flock.”

      The Advocate succinctly concluded, “Pope Francis is still not pro-gay by today’s standard…But what Francis does say about LGBT people has already caused reflection and consternation within his church.” His example has made a difference. The pope’s influence is not in making policy changes, but in setting the tone that will enable change to bubble up from below.


–Post by Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Oregon Catholics Begin Lent by Showing Support for Marriage Equality

March 8, 2014

As Lent began this week, Catholic marriage equality supporters in Oregon took the opportunity to offer their fasting and prayers for the success of a November referendum to decide whether the state should rescind its 2004 ban on same-gender marriage.

On Ash Wednesday, Catholic Oregonians for Marriage Equality met outside Portland’s St. Mary’s Cathedral to demonstrate that their faith compels them to work for equality for lesbian and gay couples.  About twenty members went to the Cathedral’s prayer service wearing badges which indicated their support for marriage equality.

KATU-TV quoted Jackie Yerby, the group’s spokesperson, explaining why they were there:

“Treating people differently because of who they are and who they love is discrimination. . . .

“I am here today because I love God and I want to do all I can so that all Oregonians can live in a state free from discrimination of any kind.”

Catholic Oregonians for Marriage Equality outside St. Mary’s Cathedral, Portland, on Ash Wednesday

The Los Angeles Times, in an extensive article on how people of faith are divided on the marriage question, noted that the archbishop of Portland has stated that he will be encouraging Catholics to uphold the ban on same-gender marriage:

“Just three weeks ago, Portland Archbishop Andrew K. Sample told his staff via email that the Roman Catholic Church in the state would be joining a coalition called Protect Marriage Oregon to fight the effort to legalize same-sex marriage here.”

KATU-TV quoted the archbishop’s words:

“ ‘As the chief shepherd of this local flock it is my intention to commit the energies of the Church to help defeat this initiative,’ the archbishop wrote.

“He also asked staff to make defeating the measure a ‘top pastoral priority.’ ”

OregonLive.com has provided a copy of the full-text of the archbishop’s letter.

But, as polls continue to show, the majority of Catholics support marriage equality, and many recent efforts by bishops to oppose measures that would extend marriage to lesbian and gay couples have failed.

Jackie Yerby

Ms. Yerby, who was a board member of Catholic Charities Portland for six years, explained that the position of Catholic Oregonians for Marriage Equality is not just a political one, but a faith decision.  The Los Angeles Times quotes her:

“The newly formed group wants to show that ‘just because we’re Catholic doesn’t mean we don’t support same-sex marriage,’ said Yerby. . . .’We support same-sex marriage because we are Catholic.’ “

For more information on Catholic Oregonians for Marriage Equality, check out their Facebook page.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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