Archbishop Responds to Marriage Equality in Style of Pope Francis

June 8, 2014

Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland

A few weeks ago, this blog asked “What happened to ‘respect, compassion, and sensitivity’?” on the part of the US bishops? A new column from Portland’s Archbishop Alexander Sample reveals these values are not quite gone totally.  Could this shift be due to Pope Francis?

Responding to the May 19th court ruling which legalized marriage equality in Oregon, Sample’s column in the diocesan newspaper this week show the ‘Francis Effect’ may just be alive and well in Portland.

The archbishop condemns marriage equality in the Catholic Sentinel, relying on familiar arguments about anatomical complementarity and procreation as the primary functions of marriage.  Yet, he refrains from the harsh, even apocalyptic, language that often surrounds such condemnations. Sample interjects positive statements about lesbian and gay people beyond trotting out the line about “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” often tacked on to anti-marriage equality statements as an afterthought. He writes, in part:

“Let us be clear.  We all know people who identify themselves as gay or lesbian.  They are our friends, our neighbors, our co-workers, and members of our own families.  We love and cherish them.

“On the specific issue of same-sex marriage, we are deeply aware that this is a complex and very sensitive issue.  In no way do we wish to add to any existing discrimination against those who identify as gay or lesbian.  The Catholic Church fully teaches that all human persons, including those who are gay, are sacred, valued, have an innate dignity, and are loved by God.  We believe that all people should be treated with love, dignity and respect, regardless of what they think, how they act, or who they are.  We welcome those who are attracted to people of the same sex into our churches and into our hearts.”

Towards the end of the column, Sample admits that harmful mistakes have been made during the hierarchy’s crusade against marriage equality, and he seeks dialogue to heal some of the wounds:

“Our teachings are not meant to engender attitudes of disrespect or hostility, and perhaps we don’t always do the best job of stating them.  The Catholic Church is not interested in numbers in the pews or money in the collection basket, but only in bringing people to Jesus, serving the poor, reaching out to the lost and the broken, and in helping lead all to eternal salvation in Christ.  Where we are failing in these areas, we need to change, but we cannot change Christ’s call to be faithful to the truth of the Gospel.

“Further dialogue is needed to ensure that each individual’s civil rights are being upheld.

“As this dialogue and discussion continues, we wish to extend a full welcome to every person who wishes to be a part of our faith community, knowing some of these tensions will not be easily resolved.”

Sample’s column contrasts with a statement from the Oregon Catholic Conference, which Sample leads, that displays language more common for the bishops and calls marriage equality’s legalization a “travesty of justice.

His column also contrasts  with the archbishop’s previous actions on LGBT issues, having once called opposition to equal marriage rights a “top pastoral priority” when Catholic Oregonians for Marriage Equality began organizing. He also banned a local parish from marching in Portland’s 2013 Pride parade, though parishioners stood in solidarity with the LGBT community and marched anyway.

Could Archbishop Sample’s new style be attributed to Pope Francis who wants to open doors to LGBT people and their allies instead of causing divisions and exclusion? Perhaps the archbishop is following the pope’s lead and ‘smelling like his flock.’ He could be listening to Portland’s Catholics in their widespread support for LGBT rights. Perhaps he read Harvey Thoennes’ letter published in the Catholic Sentinel last year, which says, in part:

“The persons we need to learn the truth about are the gays and lesbians in our communities. If we reach out to them we will find out that they want and deserve the same things that we do: to live without persecution or bullying, to be in a committed relationship with the person they love and to have this relationship acknowledged by society through marriage.  If we ‘love our neighbors as ourselves’ we should support and work for the right to marry for gays and lesbians.”

Whatever the cause, let us hope more bishops in the US will follow Archbishop Sample’s and respond to the legalization of marriage equality in their area with a renewed sense of “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” — and perhaps, even more.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Rainbow Socks at Graduation: A Sign of Catholic Students’ Victory

June 6, 2014

Vanier Catholic students wearing rainbow socks during their graduation

When Liam Finnegan was 16, he challenged his Catholic high school about its use of pastorally damaging language about gay and lesbian people.  He  eventually succeeded in making changes. His message of acceptance has spread since then, and recently Finnegan’s peers donned rainbow socks for graduation to show their support for LGBT students.

Seniors at Vanier Catholic Secondary School in Canada’s Yukon province sported knee-high rainbow socks under their gowns in solidarity with the school’s gay-straight alliance which had been hotly contested. According to CBC, more than half the graduating class participated in the action, which was started by Kate Power, a friend of Finnegan’s. The socks represented a year’s worth of organizing, which resulted in the GSA’s formation and the removal of pastorally insensitive language in the Catholic school district’s written policy on homosexuality.

In April 2013, Finnegan, who is gay, successfully challenged Vanier Catholic’s use of the terms “intrinsically disordered” and “acts of grave depravity” when referring to lesbian and gay people on the school’s website. At the time, he said:

“There were a few things in the document that were not homophobic and that made me think that maybe this isn’t such a terrible thing, since it said homosexuals shouldn’t be discriminated against, and I liked that part of it. But then as I continued reading the policy it veered into the ridiculous, describing homosexuality as an ‘intrinsically moral evil’ and saying that I was a ‘sinner’ and that I needed to be ‘healed.’ ”

“Somebody had to say something.”

Due to Finnegan’s complaint, the bishop and province’s education minister met and agreed that the offending document should be removed because it violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Canada’s Catholic schools are publicly-funded and must abide by government policies.

In the fall of 2013, a new policy on homosexuality was released. The offending language was removed and language about the dignity of LGBT people and need for respecting them was added.  The policy also mandated students be allowed to form GSAs and that administrators deal with hate crimes immediately.

Of Kate Power’s rainbow sock demonstration, and the broader changes at Vanier Catholic, Finnegan said:

” ‘She wanted to make a statement saying “We’re not a homophobic school’ because a lot of people have that perception, so it was a really cool experience to see that,” ‘

” ‘I remember my dad telling me afterwards how it was an emotional experience, because it showed my class really supporting me, my cause and just being a really open group of people.’…

” ‘It’s a big difference and it’s noticeable…Even though it might have just been a few words that changed in the policy, it’s given us the chance to start a wonderful  group that’s trying to make a huge difference in our school and in our community.’ “

Mural painted as part of a Pride Week celebration at a Canadian Catholic high school.

The school’s GSA had about 30 members this year, and it will continue next year. Bondings 2.0 has written previously bout the many inroads towards LGBT inclusion that Canada’s Catholic schools are making, including the Ontario teachers’ decision to march in World Pride this month and the beautiful mural painted during one high school’s first ever Pride week. For full coverage of developments on Catholic LGBT issues in Canada, click here.

Congratulations to Liam Finnegan and the students of Vanier Catholic Secondary School on graduating, and for the LGBT-inclusive legacy they will leave behind!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

Canadian Catholic Schools Update LGBT Policy, But Not All Are Satisfied

Gay Teenager on Catholic Policy: ‘Somebody Had to Say Something’ 


News Notes: June 2, 2014

June 2, 2014

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

1) Carlos Bruce, the Peruvian legislator behind that nation’s civil unions bill, has come out nine months after Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne of Lima insinuated as much in a radio interview. Bruce is the first openly gay legislator in the highly conservative Catholic nation, and has faced criticism for seeking to advance LGBT rights.

2) Mark Zmuda, the gay vice principal whose firing from a Seattle Catholic high school last December prompted sustained nationwide protests, has been hired by the Mercer Island School District in Washington State. He will be an assistant high school principal and athletic director.  Zmuda’s lawsuit against his former employer and the Archdiocese of Seattle on wrongful termination grounds can go forward in court, a judge ruled recently.

3) America magazine recently profiled prominent theologian and priest James Alison, whose scholarship includes four books on a more positive approach to homosexuality. Alison has previously endorsed marriage equality in the United Kingdom and Bondings 2.0 covered an extensive interview with him on LGBT issues..  You can access the America article by clicking here.

4) Catholic bishops are fighting the flurry of legal advances for marriage equality. Bishop Paul Bradley of Kalamazoo, Michigan has responded to a federal judge’s ruling that the state cannot enforce the state’s ban on same-gender marriages by calling it “unfortunate and regrettable.” In Virginia, the state’s Catholic conference filed a legal brief  supporting that state’s ban against same-gender marriage.  A federal appeals court case will be considering whether or not to overturn the ban.

5) A controversial series of photographs, titled “Sí, Quiero,” (Yes, I love)  which depict gay couples kissing inside Rome’s Catholic churches will be shown in New York City. The Vatican threatened to sue artist Gonzalo Orquin last year, which forced the photographs to be covered, but now the artist is saying: ” ‘Pope Francis said he is not one to judge others, and that (at) the church are all welcome…Then what does the church seek to do? Condemn all as usual? Or embrace everyone as Jesus did?’ “

6) LGBT Catholics in Chicago celebrated the life of Jerry McEnany, founder of the Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach (AGLO) and leader of Dignity/Chicago, in May. McEnany fought for civil LGBT rights, opposing Church officials at times, but will be most remembered for his groundbreaking efforts with AGLO, an organization recognized by the Archdiocese of Chicago which offers pastoral care to this day.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Commonweal, Catholicism, and Same-Sex Marriage, Part 2

June 1, 2014

Yesterday, we introduced this two-part series on Commonweal magazine’s continued conversation about Joseph Bottum’s 2013 essay entitled“The Things We Share:A Catholic’s Case for Same-Sex Marriage.” Commonweal asked two writers with opposing points of view to respond to Bottum’s essay.  Yesterday, we examined the conservative pundit’s point of view, expressed by Ross Douthat of The New York Times.  Today, we will look at the progressive response, offered by Jamie Manson of The National Catholic Reporter.

You can read Douthat’s complete remarks here, and Manson’s complete remarks here.  Bottum’s reply to both of them can be read here.

It should come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that I have a much more favorable view of Manson’s take on Bottum’s essay than I did of Douthat’s.  Manson’s main argument is one that New Ways Ministry strongly shares.  She states:

“. . . I think American Catholics can and should accept recognition of same-sex marriage because they are Catholics. The church should revise its attitude toward same-sex relationships not simply because the culture is moving in that direction—which by itself, as Bottum says, is no reason to alter any moral teaching—but because it has become clear that that what the church teaches about homosexuality is not true.”

That argument, which is seemingly simple, is packed with history and faith. Catholics, who now overwhelmingly support marriage equality, are doing so because of their faith, not in spite of it.  Their faith journeys of the last few decades, largely ignored by the hierarchy, have led them to understand sexuality and relationships in new ways.  They have come to recognize that so many myths and stereotypes that they have had about lesbian and gay people are false.  Unfortunately, church teaching has not quite yet caught up with this new faith reality.

Jamie Manson

Jamie Manson

Manson illustrates this new reality nicely:

“Anyone with an experience of loving same-sex relationships will find unpersuasive the Catholic teaching that such relationships are sinful by their very nature because only sex acts that have the potential to create new life are licit.

“Such a strict interpretation of natural law reduces human beings to their biological functions, and fails to appreciate persons in their totality as the emotional, spiritual, and physical beings that God created us to be. Most of us have realized that the potential to procreate does not by itself lead to the flourishing of married couples.”

The insistence of so many of the church’s bishops to listen to the lived faith of gay and lesbian people, to examine new research on sexuality, to dialogue with family members of sexual and gender minorities is truly a great scandal in our church.  This resistance has caused great damage to LGBT people, but it has also caused much damage to the bishops who continue to ignore this reality.  These clerics are missing out on an amazing development of faith in the world.  Manson seems to recognize this idea when she states:

“The growing acceptance of same-sex relationships and the push for same-sex marriage is not, I would argue, a sign that reality needs re-enchanting, but a sign that our culture may be more receptive to a challenging spiritual vision of married love and commitment than Bottum suspects.”

It is in accepting, not in rejecting, same-sex couples’ commitments that the church and the world can be renewed.   Manson makes this point in her conclusion.  Having discussed witnessing a same-sex marriage ceremony in New York City, and having noted her own plans to marry her lesbian partner, Manson states:

“It may take centuries before the Catholic hierarchy recognizes that marriages like the one I witnessed in the park, or the one I hope to enter, are holy unions with the potential to bring the life of God more fully into our world. But just as most of our culture has already concluded that same-sex relationships are equally deserving of protection under the law, for many Catholics the question of whether gays and lesbians are capable of living the vocation of marriage is already settled.”

Douthat’s and Bottum’s disappointment that the Catholic hierarchy has lost the debate on same-sex marriage could easily be turned around if they would understand that though the hierarchy may have lost, the entire church has actually “won” because we have all gained so much by the fact that marriage equality is spreading rapidly.  The true loss for the hierarchy will be if they persist in their refusal to listen.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related resources:

Bondings 2.0: Civil Same-Sex Marriage: A Catholic Affirmation” by Professor Lisa Fullam

Marriage Equality:  A Positive Catholic Approach by Francis DeBernardo




Fired Employees Seek Papal Audience; Theologian Looks at Discrimination’s Root

May 29, 2014

The chorus of voices opposing the recent firings of LGBT people from Catholic institutions increased in this past week, as nine fired employees wrote to Pope Francis, seeking an audience. Additionally, theologian Lisa Fullam spoke out  against these unjust firings, and she examined the root causes of them.

The Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBT political equality organization, released a letter this week which they mailed to Pope Francis on behalf of nine people recently fired, inviting the pontiff to meet with them to discuss employment and LGBT issues in the church.  The letter reads, in part:

We have devoted years, some of us even decades, to serving our communities as teachers, leaders
and role models. We have made a conscious choice to work within the Catholic Church because we
strongly believe that a Catholic education prepares our young people to be responsible citizens, men
and women for others. For each and every one of us, our employment was far more than just a job –
it was a reflection of core Catholic values. . . .

After each termination, school and Church officials have told us we violate Catholic Church
teachings on homosexuality. Yet, such directives have not only caused great harm to our families, but
also contradict your pastoral priority for the Church to reflect the beauty of God in ways that attract
and entice rather than alienate. . . .

The letter writers appealed to Pope Francis’ well-known gestures of welcome to LGBT people:

We take hope from your messages of acceptance and see in your pastoral leadership the possibility
for the Church to correct these hurtful injustices. We ask for a Papal audience with our families, so
that you may hear our personal stories firsthand and see the impact the Church’s actions have had on
us all.

The letter was signed by nine fired employees.  Six are lesbian or gay educators: Tippi McCullough, Flint Dollar, Michael Griffin, Richard Hague, Kristen Ostendorf, Brian Panetta. One is a gay man dismissed from his parish ministry:  Nicholas Coppola. One is the mother of a gay son, who will not be re-hired at a Catholic school because she refused to sign a new, restrictive contract: Molly Shumate.

To learn more about these individual cases, and for an exhaustive list of LGBT people and allies whose service in Catholic institutions has been terminated, visit New Ways Ministry’s page of names and links.

Lisa Fullam, a professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of  Theology at Berkeley, posted an analysis on the dotCommonweal blog entitled “What Counts as ‘Unjust Discrimination’?”   After citing the Catholic Catechism’s admonition about lesbian and gay people that “Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided,”  Fullam recounts the story of Colleen Simon, who was recently fired from her job as social ministries coordinator at a Kansas City parish.

For Fullam, the root of the problem lies not with the employees but with unjust Catholic language about lesbian and gay people.   She concludes her post:

“I’d add also that listening to LGBT people might include being open to the possibility that language like ‘grave depravity,’ ‘intrinsic disorder,’ ‘objective disorder’ and the like is in need of revision and rejection. It seems to be utterly unjust to apply such harsh and hurtful language to two women who love each other deeply and share also a profound commitment to service of the poor. They set a standard for love of neighbor that all of us–gay, straight, or whatever–would do well to emulate. “

(Editor’s note:  Lisa Fullam recently published a theological article in support of civil same-sex marriage on this blog.  You can read it by clicking here.)

As always, we encourage Catholics to begin discussions of non-discrimination policies in Catholic institutions as a way to forestall future actions against LGBT and ally employees.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article

LGBTQ Nation: “Fired teachers seek audience with Pope over Catholic Church’s anti-gay stance”





Exploring the What & Why of Church Worker Firings, and Asking ‘What’s Next?’

May 27, 2014

“Pope Francis’ positive and welcoming statements about LGBT issues have captured headlines and imaginations over the past year, seeming to herald a more inclusive Catholic church. Yet…In the last year or more, the Catholic church in the US witnessed a disturbing spate of Catholic institutions terminating individuals’ employment because of issues related to their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

That paradox is how Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, begins an essay in Conscience magazine which explores the firings of LGBT people and their allies from Catholic schools, parishes, and social service agencies.  (You can read the entire article by clicking here, and turning to page 26.   The article is part of a special issue of Conscience which focuses on religious liberty issues.  Conscience is published by Catholics for Choice.)

These tragedies are increasing, from two public firings in 2011 to more than a dozen already this year. As LGBT rights,  especially marriage equality, advance in the US, this problem could grow rapidly. DeBernardo explains one reason for this increase:

“The era of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ in Catholic institutions is ending as LGBT people become known by the fact of simply living in mainstream society.”

Tied into employment disputes are questions of religious liberty and social justice, and the reality that excluding LGBT people from Church ministries is not supported by the faithful. DeBernardo notes:

“Religious liberty becomes a factor in these cases because all institutions that have fired LGBT people and supporters have used their identity as religious organizations to justify their discriminatory actions…In most cases, institutions are favored by the law…

“While most of these employers’ actions may be protected by the law, they are not supported by morality. In almost every one of these cases when someone has been fired, Catholic people have strongly protested. The fact that many of these cases happened in schools means that the younger generation, which is more progressive on LGBT issues than their forebears, has organized petitions and active protests…A movement of Catholics outraged by their leaders’ decisions and strategies has emerged…

“All these policies and actions are rooted in the Catholic social justice tradition: a tradition that values equality, human dignity, conscience and the rights of workers.”

Francis DeBernardo

Francis DeBernardo

To counter these firings, New Ways Ministry has encouraged the adoption of nondiscrimination policies by Catholic institutions which are inclusive of “marital status, gender identity, and sexual orientation.” DeBernardo says of this effort:

“At the very least, proposing such an idea in a parish or a school will generate discussion of the issue, and perhaps help to forestall future terminations. At best, a Catholic workplace may adopt policies protecting LGBT rights. As strange as a Catholic work environment that does not discriminate against LGBT individuals may sound to some, it is not such a far-fetched idea. Indeed, there is a strong Catholic tradition of such support.”

Included within this tradition, DeBernardo cites St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York which protected gay employees as early as 1973. Now, Catholic institutions for healthcare and for higher education lead the way in extending full protections and benefits to LGBT people and their families.

There are hopeful signs elsewhere that resisting these firings is possible, and DeBernardo includes actions in Seattle, Santa Rosa, Clifornia, Vienna, Austria, and elsewhere as evidence. There is also the reality that “students have been almost unanimously opposed to the firings,” causing DeBernardo to observe:

“For this generation, LGBT equality is most assuredly one of the civil rights issues of today. It’s hard for them to imagine anything as discriminatory as firing a lesbian or gay person for marrying will still occur when they become adults.”

These firings are damaging not only those immediately affected, but the larger Church, as well.  For one thing, the Church is weakened without gifted LGBT and ally employees. And the hierarchy risks further alienating youth who are overwhelmingly supportive of LGBT equality.

In addition to promoting nondiscrimination policies, New Ways Ministry has been tracking each public firing on our “Catholicism, Employment, and LGBT Issues” page.  Each person is fired has been listed there with includes links to more information for each incident. Bondings 2.0 will continue updating readers with the latest information on these employment incidents as they emerge. To stay up to date, enter your email in the “Subscribe” box in the upper right hand of this page.  You can research all of these firings and related topics by checking out the ‘Employment Issues‘ category to the right.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Brazilian Bishops Endorse Legal Equality, Promise to Accompany LGBT Community

May 24, 2014

Dom Leonardo Steiner

Brazil is the world’s largest Catholic nation, containing an estimated 123 million Catholics which is about one-tenth of the global Church overall. When its Church leaders speak, their words can have a profound impact on the life of their local Church  and increasingly in the age of Pope Francis, abroad as well.

This week, a top Brazilian bishop endorsed legal rights for same-gender couples and cited the pope in so doing. His words follow-up on the Archdiocese of  São Paulo’s positive statement to that city’s Pride Parade participants in early May that promised the Church’s solidarity to Brazil’s LGBT community who face daily violence. 

Dom (Bishop) Leonardo Steiner is general secretary of the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (CNBB) and an auxiliary bishop of Brasilia, the capital city. He was recently interviewed by GLOBO where he made the gay-positive comments, which Bondings 2.0 makes available via a translation from Iglesia Descalza.

While Steiner endorsed civil unions, saying same-gender couples “need a legal protection in society,” his focus in the interview was on how the Church can support lesbian and gay people. Referencing Pope Francis, Steiner tells the interviewer:

” ‘You could say that the Pope is echoing what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about gay people: “They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” It’s understood that accepting them with respect, compassion and sensitivity means walking and being with the homosexual person and helping them understand, deepen and guide their condition as a son or daughter of God’ …

” ‘Acceptance and walking with them are necessary to reflect on what fits or doesn’t fit the reality experienced by homosexual people and what, in fact, is rightfully theirs, for their own good and that of society.’ “

Finally, when asked about the possibility of change in the Church, the bishop said:

” ‘The Church isn’t the same through the ages. It seeks answers for the present time, using the Gospel as the illuminating force of its action…The Church is always seeking to read the signs of the times, to see what must or must not change. The truths of faith don’t change.’ “

Dom Steiner’s remarks echo tue positive statement made by the Archdiocese of São Paulo’s Justice and Peace Committee in April, released in anticipation of the city’s 18th Pride Parade, which took place on May 4th.  The statement positioned the Catholic Church as an advocate for LGBT rights. Bondings 2.0 obtained a rough translation, in which the Committee writes:

“We can not remain silent in the face of the reality experienced by this population that is the target of prejudice and victim of systematic violation of their fundamental rights, such as health, education, work , housing, culture, among others…[LGBT people] face unbearable daily verbal and physical violence, culminating in murders that are true hate crimes…

“[P]eople of good will, and in particular all Christians, reflect on this deeply unfair reality of LGBT people and to actively engage in their overcoming it, guided by the supreme principle of human dignity.”

The statement quotes the opening of Gaudium et spes, a Vatican II document, linking “the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties” of LGBT people with those of the Church. Strengthening this connection, the Committee’s director, Geraldo Magela Tardelli, told Estadao:

” ‘The committee has a mission, according to D. Paulo Evaristo Ars [the cardinal archbishop emeritus of Sao Paulo]: ‘we have to give voice to those who have no voice.’ Right now, what we are finding is that there is an increase of violence against homosexuals, so we can not overlook this violation of human rights…

” ‘We are engaged in upholding human rights and do not agree with violence, regardless of the color and the sexual orientation of people.’ “

These statements of solidarity, and the further endorsement of legal rights, are important in Brazil where more than 300 LGBT people are murdered annually in hate crimes. Let us hope such positive words from Catholic bishops, and more so their commitment to be among those who are marginalized for their sexual orientation or gender identity, will spread throughout Brazil and beyond its borders.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

What’s So Doctrinal About Gender Normative Clothing?

May 20, 2014

Jessica Urbina, left, with a friend for senior portraits

A San Francisco high school had removed a student’s yearbook photo because the young woman wore a tuxedo for her senior photos. Though the high school is now apologizing and reversing its decision, the punitive action raises the question of how strongly Catholic authorities will enforce gender norms that are no longer relevant.  This incident also shows the reconciliatory power of dialgoue.

Jessica Urbina is graduating from Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep this year and, like many seniors, had formal photos done for the yearbook. Last week, administrators announced they would not allow Urbina’s photo to be published because she did not wear a dress, as mandated by the archdiocese.

In response, students have worn bowties to class as a protest, and many have posted to social media outlets using the hashtag #JessicasTux with supportive messages and photos of themselves wearing ties. Call to Action, a Catholic justice organization, encouraged Catholics to join the students’ protests and submit their own pictures on Twitter.

Yesterday, news broke that Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep will in fact be including Urbina’s picture and is apologizing for its initial decision to exclude her. In a public letter, President John Scudder, Jr. and Principal Gary Cannon explained this recent development as the result of conversations with the Urbina family. They wrote:

 “After that meeting, it was clear that the school had not adequately communicated to Jessica or her parents the decision made several months ago regarding senior portraits. As in past school years, any senior who sat for senior portraits but did not conform to the dress code did not have a portrait included in the portrait pages of the yearbook. Given the nature of this specific case, however, we believe that decision, while conforming with our policy, was wrong. Moreover, the lack of communication with the family led to even greater anguish as it proved unexpected to the student and family as it came at the very end of the school year.”

The administrators also announced the school’s policy change about senior portraits, stating:

“We agree with our students who showed solidarity with their classmate that the current policy regarding senior portraits is not adequate to meet the needs of our families or our mission. We will involve our students, families, and Board in crafting the updated policy…

“While we cannot undo the impact of this decision, the lack of adequate communication, nor the impact of the last few days, we can move forward in a manner that we believe represents the best of our school community.”

Moving forward will mean including Urbina’s photo in her tuxedo in venues where other senior portraits are used. The school also offered to reprint the yearbooks, but the Urbina family suggested alternatives for including Jessica’s photo, so as not to delay students from receiving the yearbooks now. Most striking is the conciliatory and reflective conclusion to the letter:

“While we believe SHC to be a safe and supportive environment for all, this situation has reminded us that we still have much growth to achieve. While many gay and lesbian alumni and students have commented on the inclusive, supportive aspect of our school community, others have remarked on some prejudice that still exists. As a school, we must better learn how to support our students who are navigating issues of gender identity.

“Many people suggest that the past few days have been deeply revealing about our school community. We agree. We are an imperfect community that can and does fail. We are a community that is open to self-reflection, and to the constructive criticism and leadership of its students, as well as to the criticism from members of our broader community. We are a community that strives to grow, improve and do what is right. We are a community that sees, in all situations, an opportunity to learn. While we would have preferred to have this learning be less public than the current situation, especially for the impact it has on individuals and families, we are a community open to sharing our struggles and joys with the wider world so that we can all learn from each other, whether from successes or failures. More than 300 years ago, St. John Baptist de La Salle, one of our founders, said that our students will learn far more from us by our actions than by the words we speak. This is one of those moments…

“In our final words to our student, Jessica, and all our other LGBT students, past, present and future, we repeat the final words of the [US] Bishops [in their pastoral letter, Always Our Children]. ‘In you God’s love is revealed. You are always our children.’ “

While this story had a positive ending, we still need to address the question of why this incident, and the harm done to Jessica, occurred at all. The Archdiocese of San Francisco mandating that women wear dresses for senior photos is not based in Church teaching, nor does it emerge from wise pastoral practice. It is silly and outdated, and nothing more than a naked attempt by the hierarchy to suppress contemporary understandings of gender.

Let’s hope that Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep’s example, both in how damaging their mistake was and in their willingness to learn through the process of dialogue,will inform other Church institutions such that they will avoid future incidents.

-Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

On Persevering in Spite of Rejection: A Follow-Up Post

May 12, 2014

About a week ago, Bondings 2.0 reported that Queering The Church blogger Terence Weldon had been dismissed from a volunteer job with CAFOD, the Catholic relief and development agency run by the bishops of England and Wales, because his blog was considered to be “campaigning against church teaching.”  Weldon’s reaction to this rejection, understandably, was to question whether he should continue as a member of the Catholic Church.

After a period of discernment, Weldon has responded with a decision to persevere and remain in the church.  In a blog post this week, he explained:

“The reason for Cafod rejecting me as a schools volunteer, was my public profile as an (allegedly) campaigner against Church teaching – specifically, sexual teaching. But part of my motivation in wanting to become actively involved with Cafod in the first place, had been a sense that it was becoming time to back off the constant obsession with matters of sexuality and sexual ethics, and to become more involved, and outspoken, on the far more important elements of Church teaching with which I, and Cafod, emphatically agree – matters of social justice, the preferential option for the poor, and the like.

“Because these are indeed pf fundamental importance in Catholic teaching, and the sexual issues relatively minor, it did not take me too long to conclude once again, that there really is no place for me to be, other than in the Catholic Church. This is where I belong, and this is where I shall stay.

“But if, as I have found, I have been effectively prevented from broadening my focus away from “campaigning” on the sexual matters – the obvious lesson is that on the contrary, I must continue to do so, with redoubled effort and effectiveness.

“The Church is stuck with me, whether they like it or not. This stone which the builders rejected, will indeed become a cornerstone.”

I am glad that Weldon has made a decision, and glad that he has decided to stay. The decision to stay or go is one that every LGBT Catholic faces from time to time, sometimes when they experience personal rejection or at other times when they hear of a hurtful statement or policy issued by a church leader.  Such moments can be very painful. Different people respond in various way, and I respect all those who examine their consciences prayerfully in these matters, regardless of the what their final decision may be.

I think that one of the reasons that such moments are so painful is because many faithful LGBT Catholics see that their divergence from church teaching is not something opposed to their Catholicism, but something which actually springs from their Catholicism.  For many, the arrival at a place where they can affirm their sexuality and committed relationships comes from a deep spiritual journey filled with much soul-searching and anguish.  They see the affirmation of their ability to love as a gift from God, not as offensive to God.

Weldon reflected in this way in another blog post commenting on the CAFOD rejection:

“It has never been my intention, or my practice, to ‘campaign’ against Church teaching. That would imply I had some hope of achieving change, which I know is way beyond my capacity. Right from my opening posts, I have instead made it clear that my primary purpose is much simpler – to draw gay and lesbian Catholics (and other Christians) back into the life and sacramental practice of the church, without compromising on their personal sexual or gender integrity.

“Necessarily, that requires at times criticizing some elements of Catholic teaching or practice – but always in a wider context. Sexual matters occupy a relatively low level in the overall hierarchy of Church teaching, and while I am critical of some elements of these (not by any means all), it is always within the greater structure of broader principles of teaching – on equality and inclusion, on justice, on respect and dignity, and on freedom of conscience.

“So I find it depressing to be told, as I was recently, that I am not acceptable as a schools volunteer for Cafod, because I am allegedly ‘campaigning’ against Church teaching. In my own mind, all I am doing is attempting to draw LGBT people back into the Church – and doing so by presenting alternative elements of Church teaching, and the Gospels, that are less familiar than the well – known offensive bits.”

LGBT people have many spiritual gifts to offer the church community.  As I reflect on this incident, I realize that one of their greatest gifts is perseverance.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Documents Show Cleveland Diocesan Plan to Curtail Teachers’ Rights

May 10, 2014

Bishop Richard Lennon of Cleveland

Cleveland, Ohio, is the latest diocese to announce new teacher contracts which contain an enhanced morality clause and explicitly refer to educators as ministers. Documents made available to Bondings 2.0 offer a closer look at Bishop Richard Lennon’s thinking behind the contracts and how he plans to implement them.  Three of the documents are available for viewing at the end of this post.

In a letter to priests dated May 1, 2014, the bishop outlines how the contracts have changed. The three prominent revisions are the use of “minister” in reference to educators, the highlighting of certain moral teachings, and the inclusion a two-page statement on the “ministerial nature of the work that teachers and administrators do.” Lennon instructs pastors to include this statement and a letter drafted by the diocese when educators at Catholic elementary schools are presented with the new contracts.

This letter to teachers and administrators is intended to appear as if it was written by the parish priest. It explains why the diocese made changes in educators’ contracts, stating in part:

“It is certainly legitimate for you to ask, ‘why is this important?’, and ‘why now?’  In answer to the first question, these changes are important components to include in this type of agreement due to the very nature and purpose of a Catholic school and the role that each of you play in fulfilling that purpose…In answer to the second question, now more than ever in our lifetimes, the secular culture presents a view of life and humanity often at odds with our Catholic faith.  Certain changes to the agreement are, as such, a response to the need of the Catholic Church to articulate clearly its teachings in the face of these competing viewpoints.”

As for the contract changes themselves, a listing of prohibited actions almost exclusively related to matters of sexuality and family life has been added to the morality clause. These include:

  • “Public support of…so-called homosexual or same-sex marriage or unions”;
  • “Preparing for or engaging in a same-sex marriage or union”;
  • “Engaging in or supporting transvestitism, transgenderism, or sex reassignment”

Additionally, throughout the contract the educators are referred to as either “teacher-minister” or “administrator-minister.” The introductory letter from pastors cited above claims “minister” was added to make explicit the “role you as teachers play in passing on the Catholic faith to our students.” However, in Bishop Lennon’s instruction to priests he is far more honest and cites “circumstances, including several lawsuits, in our state and throughout the country” necessitating this ministerial role be made explicit.

Already teachers and Catholics in the diocese are speaking critically against the new contracts, which will not affect high schools or schools administered by religious orders in the diocese. The Plain Dealer quotes Rita Schwartz, head of the National Association of Catholic School Teachers which represents high school teachers in Cleveland, as calling this new batch of contracts “six pages of thou shalt not” and “amounts to a ‘witch hunt.’ ” The newspaper further reports:

“And the ‘teacher-minister” designation is a touchy legal issue for [labor] unions. There are already obstacles to organizing the elementary school teachers as a union, but agreeing to be a ‘teacher-minister’ adds more. Ministers, Schwartz and DeSantis said, can’t be unionized.”

Reading the documents, it is evident Bishop Lennon seeks to curtail criticism by framing the changes in language about the positive and powerful ministry educators in Catholic schools provide.  The contracts undermine labor rights like collective bargaining, about which the Catholic Church has been unequivocally supportive. Yet, more  troubling is when teachers are forced to deny their consciences and their Catholic faith to retain employment due to diocesan policies selectively targeting LGBT people and their allies.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

View this document on Scribd
View this document on Scribd
View this document on Scribd


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