Parish Bulletin Tells the Story of a Lesbian Couple’s Commitment

August 25, 2014

Parish bulletins often tell a person a lot about the atmosphere of a Catholic community.  Even in many gay-friendly parishes, pastors and lay leaders are sometimes reluctant to mention, in print, their welcome of LGBT people. A recent example shows how one parish is working at breaking that wall of silence.

St. Francis Xavier Parish, Manhattan, N.Y., has long been known as a welcoming and affirming community.  They have marched in NYC’s Pride Parade many times, and they have two strong spirituality programs in the parish, one for gay men and one for lesbian woman.  LGBT people are integrated intimately in all aspects of parish life.

Earlier this summer, in the June 22nd, 2014 bulletin of St. Francis Xavier parish, a lesbian couple told the story of their relationship over the course of more than four decades.  Entitled “Forty-Four Years of Love and Commitment,” the short piece by Maria Formoso and Joan O’Brien, describes the difficult early years of their closeted relationship:

“We had the lucky fortune to meet in 1968 when we were employed as teachers in a Catholic high school in New York City. We became a couple in 1970 but we never disclosed it to our parents. It was difficult enough for ourselves to accept this relationship since we had been brought up Roman Catholic in Pre-Vatican II. We tried hard to reconcile our faith and our sexuality.

“Other people whom we suspected were gay were secretive and closeted as well, but we were eager to meet folks with whom we could openly share our lives and our values.”

Little by little, they began to reach out to others for support, including other Catholics:

“. . . at Dignity New York, we met Karen Doherty and Christine Nusse, who started the Conference for Catholic Lesbians in 1983. We were astonished and astounded to meet people from all over the United States who were struggling just like us to live their lives as Catholic lesbians.”

After praising a number of Catholic leaders including Sister Jeannine Gramick, Mary Hunt, Sister Theresa Kane, Father John McNeill, Barbara Zanotti, for their assistance in helping them to reconcile their lesbian and Catholic identities, the couple ended their essay with praise for St. Francis Xavier parish:

“Finally, Christmas Eve 1994, we, accompanied by Maria’s brother José, who also was gay, went to the Church of St.
Francis Xavier. Our good friends Anne and Frank Sheridan invited us. We had not attended mass in a number of years because, as lesbians, we did not feel welcome. The church was packed with people, many standing in the back. Sister Honora Nicholson came to our rescue, and we found ourselves seated on the left side of the altar. The service was beautiful. We were home! “

It was so refreshing to read such a positive piece about a lesbian relationship in a parish bulletin.  It’s quite an example of acceptance and affirmation, and also a wonderful way to educate the entire community about the lived reality of lesbian lives.  It’s a perfect way to let the rest of the parish benefit from the spiritual journey of two of their parishioners.

May other parishes do likewise!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Gay Coach Will Keep His Job at Catholic High School

August 14, 2014

Click here to share this graphic on Facebook.

Click to share this graphic on Facebook.

Last Saturday, Bondings 2.0 reported on the coming out of Nate Alfson, coach at a South Dakota Catholic high school, and raised the question of whether the school administrators would allow him to remain employed. Now it is clear that St. Mary’s High School will welcome the newly-out Alfson with open arms.

After coming out in an article for OutSports, Alfson, who coaches volleyball and baseball, met Tuesday with administrators. It was in this meeting Alfson was told he could keep his job, of which the Argus Leader reports the coach saying:

” ‘We talked about being on the same page as each other and that they were willing to walk through this with me and support me…They want me to be their volleyball coach again and that I was a great role model to the athletes.’ …

” ‘I couldn’t be happier that they are supportive and want me to be a part of the coaching team…It’s a sense of relief to be able to move forward and focus on volleyball and the girls. This season is about them and the hard work they put in. The support has been amazing and I can’t wait to live a free life.’ “

School administrators did not comment, though the Diocese of Sioux Falls released a statement saying gay church workers are welcome to work as long as their lifestyles were deemed chaste, the same expectations made of heterosexual workers.  (Though the definitions of chastity are different for these two groups.)

Alfson’s decision to come out publicly was a courageous one, especially with so many recent instances of LGBT church workers being fired for telling the truth about their lives. New Ways Ministry tracks the firing and resignations of LGBT and ally church workers. Fourteen people have been forced out this year alone. I was worried that after writing about Alfson’s deeply personal and wise article, I would shortly be writing the story about his firing too. That St. Mary’s administrators are willing to stand by Alfson and foremost follow Catholic teachings on the dignity of each person and social justice, especially relating to labor issues, is a hopeful sign.

This development comes in the same week that news broke that a high school run by the Sisters of Mercy dedicated their athletic field to alumna Abby Wamback, an internationally famous athlete who is also a married lesbian.

Now, it is essential for Catholic schools to keep this momentum going. The last two weeks, staff members from New Ways Ministry have attended annual meetings for the Conference of Major Superiors of Men and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the two separate organizations of the leaders of men’s and women’s religious communities in the U.S. While at these meetings, New Ways Ministry is asking these leaders  to implement LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination policies at their schools and institutions.   At our exhibit table, we are distributing a brochure explaining how such policies can be adopted.  While non-committal, the leaders’ responses have been positive to this idea.

Additionally, you can advocate for LGBT and ally church workers by raising the issue of non-discrimination policies within their your local parish or Catholic school. Below are suggestions for how you can make a difference:

1. Educate Yourself. Learn more about the current challenges LGBT church workers face, including firings, by reading Francis DeBernardo’s essay in Conscience magazine. You can find that by clicking hereBondings 2.0 also lists every LGBT-related public firing at a Catholic institution since 2008 on our “Catholicism, Employment, and LGBT Issues” page. There you will find further information about each case. Finally, you can read Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage by checking out the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right and to receive the latest updates enter your email in the “Subscribe” box in the upper right hand of this page.”

2. Take Action. Adding a sufficient non-discrimination policy at your local Catholic institution could be as simple as adding the following: “(Name of parish, school, or institution) will not discriminate in employment practices on the basis of marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and personal support for marriage equality.” For more tips on establishing LGBT-inclusive policies, click here.

3. Connect. If you want help with adopting a non-discrimination policy or anything related to Catholic LGBT employment issues, you can contact New Ways Ministry by emailing info@newwaysministry.org or calling (301) 277-5674 for further resources and information.

Now that Nate Alfson is proudly out and ready to return to coaching, he told reporters: “I can breath, I can smile, and I’m not afraid to cry, and I’m not afraid to feel what I’m feeling.” It is past time to make this sense of freedom and authenticity normative for every teacher, student, administrator, parent, and alumni involved with Catholic education. What difference will you make this fall?

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Minneapolis Archbishop Nienstedt: “I’m not gay…I’m not anti-gay.”

August 11, 2014
Archbishop John Nienstedt

Archbishop John Nienstedt

Archbishop John Nienstedt of Minneapolis-St. Paul denied suggestions that he was gay or could be considered anti-gay in recent media blitz intended to confront intensifying calls for his resignation. He also spoke about a failed 2012 campaign to ban marriage equality, archdiocesan financial difficulties, and clergy sexual abuse of minors.

Controversy has surrounded the archbishop for more than a year, with concurrent claims that he mishandled clergy sexual abuse claims and made advances on other men, including priests and seminarians in the diocese. Nienstedt also possesses a strong anti-LGBT record that many church justice advocates have criticized.

However, Nienstedt said he would not resign unless asked to do so by the papal nuncio because he is confident the archdiocese was “in a much better place” now.

Regarding allegations of sexual misconduct against priests and seminarians, Nienstedt ordered an independent investigation that has produced a report now under review by church officials. The Star Tribune reported the archbishop denies any misconduct and blames ‘enemies’ for the allegations:

“Nienstedt said he believed that the investigation involved five allegations of sexual impropriety, including from the time he served in the Detroit Archdiocese in the 1990s. . .The allegations were made by priests and seminarians.

“When asked why Catholic priests and seminarians alleged he had same-sex attraction, Nienstedt responded, ‘I have no idea.’

” ‘But I made a lot of enemies by the stands I’ve taken in Detroit and here,’ he said. ‘I assume it feeds into that.’ “

In a separate interview with KCCO, video of which is available at The Advocate, Nienstedt was asked directly if he was gay  and responded:

” ‘No, I’m not gay. But I also want to say, as it was quoted in the paper this morning, I’m not anti-gay either. At the time of the marriage amendment, a lot of people said I was bigoted, that I was homophobic and I’m not.’ “

Nienstedt spoke about that 2012 campaign for an amendment banning marriage equality, for which he mailed more than 400,000 DVDs to Catholics, had anti-marriage equality prayers inserted into the liturgy, and told the mother of a gay son that acceptance of her son might imperil salvation. Administratively, Nienstedt banned priests from endorsing marriage equality or opposing the proposed ban — though this did not stop several courageous priests from speaking out and donating to pro-LGBT causes. In the end, Catholics in Minnesota played a crucial role in defeating the ban and stood on the side of LGBT justice.

Whereas Nienstedt  once said that “marriage equality is the work of Satan,” the archbishop now says he was “not against gays” and “didn’t fight gay marriage.” Instead, he was positively advancing a ‘traditional’ understanding of marriage and clarifying Catholic teaching on homosexuality. An attempt by the archbishop to explain these teachings came up short when pressed by reporter Tom Lyden:

“[Lyden]: Okay. What about homosexuals?

“[Nienstedt]: Homosexuals need to lead chaste lives.

“L: They need to lead celibate lives?

“N: Well, yes.

“L: Okay. Does that seem reasonable to you, that we should all lead the lives of priests?

“N: Well… um…

“L: Tell me, archbishop, why should I lead the life of a priest?

“A: Because it is of your nature to, um, express yourself sexually through a committed relationship.

“L: I am. I’ve been with the same partner and husband now for 21 years.”

You can view the full 30-minute Fox interview at The New Civil Rights Movement

Archbishop Nienstedt’s history in the Twin Cities is deeply troubled, but these interviews make clear he is not planning on resigning.  The allegations of personal misconduct proving true would only add to this tragedy, as Francis DeBernardo wrote on this blog in July. I reiterate DeBernardo’s concluding words about Nienstedt:

“I am angry at the harm he has caused others, but I find myself strangely sympathetic towards him if it turns out that he caused even greater harm to himself.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholics Seek Legal Rights, Pastoral Welcome for All Families

August 10, 2014

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

Adoption Rights

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

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

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

Parents Speak Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baptisms

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

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

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

Pope Francis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Gay Coach at Catholic H.S.: “Be You, Be True, and Never Forget that You Matter.”

August 9, 2014

Nate Alfson

“It’s a closet so small you literally can’t move. No turning, no bending, no squatting, nothing. Along with the pitch black atmosphere, there are sharp needles pointing at you everywhere and any time you make too big of a movement it jabs you. Some jabs hurt more than others. For those who are or were in the closet, we became masters of standing still and hiding from the world.”

With these words, South Dakota’s first openly gay high school coach has come out — and now many wonder how the Dell Rapids Catholic high school where Nate Alfson coaches will respond.

In a piece published by OutSports, the baseball and volleyball coach told his story of being a closeted gay athlete. A hyper-masculine and homophobic sports culture put Alfson on edge: “When you aren’t openly gay and you are an athlete or a coach, any subtle tell turns into an insecurity.” Other players’ suggestions that he might be gay or listening to teammates’ conversations about women caused Alfson a great deal of uncomfortability. Now, in the article, he is introducing himself anew to the world and to the athletes he coaches:

“I identify myself as a gay, Christian, athlete with a lot of different interests. I am writing my story to share with the world that it is OK to be who you are born as and feel confident about it. I have found that there are other people in the world just like me and I don’t have to feel alone any longer. I am a proud openly gay man with a great job as a program coordinator for an agency that serves adults with disabilities.”

Alfson played baseball while attending Augustana College, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where he felt increasingly “insecure and lonely” as a closeted gay Christian. He sought close friendships, which would allow him to confide in someone about his sexual orientation, while, at the same time asking God to ‘cure’ him of being gay. Being outed was a “daily fear” for Alfson. You can read a full account of his struggles in college by clicking here.

In 2012, Alfson decided to come out to family and friends, and since then he has broadened the circle of those to whom he is out.  He writes:

“It was hard at first to be able to accept being gay and actually say it out loud. My friendships have become stronger than ever. I have now been accepted and embraced by some former teammates and coaches, some athletes I’ve coached, family friends, family members and all my closest friends. The freedom and happiness that comes along with being yourself is like nothing I’ve ever felt before…

“I used to believe that my happiness was being successful as an athlete and by making other people happy; a people-pleaser to the max. After coming out, and freely talking about who I am, I found what true happiness actually was. My  burden lifted, I have never felt ‘lighter’ in my life. Being cared about by others is a great and necessary feeling, but caring about yourself is even important. The quote that says you can’t love someone else without first loving yourself is true.”

However, Alfson also writes about a potentially troubling situation: his employment at St. Mary High School, Dell Rapids, South Dakota, where he had not been out. The coach admits it could be a potential challenge, but is “confident it will work out for the best and the Earth will still keep turning regardless of the outcome.”

In a separate article, OutSports raises the same question and offers advice to school administrators:

“They would be smart–and they would be Christian–to praise him for being his true self and continuing to work with him to empower youth to explore their beliefs as he coaches them through the physical challenges of high school sports.

“The question will be whether the school focuses on the first couple of books in the Holy Bible, or whether they let the actual words of Jesus Christ guide their decisions. Gay coaches have been fired by Christian schools in the past. This is the Catholic school’s opportunity to turn the tide of acceptance.”

In the video below, OutSports founder Cyd Zeigler asks, “Whether firing someone because they’re gay is really the Christian thing to do.”

Alfson closes with advice for closeted LGBT athletes, and really advice for us all:

“My advice to closeted gay athletes or anyone who may be struggling with themselves would be to first take a deep breath and know that there are people in the world who care about you and understand what you’re going through…

“We are all in this together and we can change this fear inside ourselves one story at a time. Make a difference in the world by being kind to one another and don’t be afraid to do good deeds to those around you. A smile goes a long way. Be you, be true, and never forget that you matter.”

Let us pray that administrators at St. Mary High School in South Dakota will embrace Alfson’s authenticity, faith, and wisdom as being beneficial for the students he coaches.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Liberian Archbishop Signs Statement Linking Ebola and Homosexuality

August 8, 2014

Archbishop Lewis Zeiglier

Liberia’s top Catholic official join more than 100 religious leaders in linking that nation’s Ebola outbreak to homosexuality, lending his support to a prejudiced and potentially dangerous statement according to The Daily Observer.

Archbishop Lewis Zeiglier of Monrovia joined a Liberia Council of Churches meeting this week, which discussed a “spiritual response” to the epidemic that has claimed more than 1,000 lives in West Africa and caused a state of emergency in several nations. The meeting, a potential response to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s comments that ignorance and religious practices were contributing to Ebola’s spread, released a unanimous resolution which said in part:

“God is angry with Liberia, and that Ebola is a plague. Liberians have to pray and seek God’s forgiveness over the corruption and immoral acts (such as homosexualism, etc.) that continue to penetrate our society. As Christians, we must repent and seek God’s forgiveness.”

The resolution also suggested the government restrict movement for three days of fasting and prayer, something which Liberia’s Catholics had already done this week.

Being gay is illegal in Liberia and same-gender marriages are banned, which has been insufficient for some politicians and clergy. Legislation was introduced in 2012 that would have sentenced anyone convicted of being in such a marriage to death. A Catholic priest used his Easter homily to attack President Sirleaf’s silence on the question of marriage equality.

AmericaBlog points out that Archbishop Zeiglier himself harshly condemned lesbian and gay people in April, warning that God would punish Liberia if it allowed same-sex marriage:

“The Archbishop said Liberians are ‘whole-heartedly’ engaging themselves in this act and that is being promoted in the country.

“The Catholic Archbishop also stated: ‘Where are we going as Liberians if we are advocating for homosexuality? Are we not calling for curses upon ourselves? How will a man marry his fellow man, this is an abomination. These are the same things that brought down Sodom and Gomorrah.’ “

Negative comments against LGBT people are often made by members of the Catholic hierarchy, but Archbishop Zeiglier’s support for a resolution linking the deadly Ebola outbreak and homosexuality is particularly dangerous. In an anti-gay climate like Liberia’s, an archbishop’s words can easily be used to justify discrimination and violence against LGBT people. This is doubly true when an epidemic like Ebola has created a climate of intensified fear and people are seeking an easy scapegoat.

When several African bishops made anti-gay comments in May, essentially endorsing the discrimination of LGBT people, Bondings 2.0 asked how the Church can respond. At that time, we quoted CNN columnist LZ Granderson who called on Catholics to end their silence on anti-gay laws, writing:

“To move Pope Francis’ question from a global headline to global change, Christians must stop allowing silence to be the de facto weapon of choice against the senseless persecution of gay people.”

Looking for a first step to make your voice heard and counter voices like Archbishop Zeigliers? Participate (again if you have already) in the #PopeSpeakOut campaign, asking Pope Francis to condemn in no uncertain terms laws and language which encourages prejudice and violence against LGBT people. To find out more information and take action, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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

August 4, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles:

Bondings 2.0: “Discomfort with the Body of Christ 

Bondings 2.0: “Prayers for World AIDS Day

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

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


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,041 other followers