Mexican Bishop Calls Homophobic People “Sick”

July 17, 2014

Bishop Raul Vera

In an interview with El País newspaper, the outspoken bishop used some of his most powerful arguments yet to show how Catholic leaders need to refine some of their language in regard to LGBT people and marriage equality.  Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

“Q. Not long ago you baptized the daughter of a lesbian couple. What do you think about homosexuality?

“A. That is a topic that we have refused to address. The people who say homosexuals are sick are sick themselves. The Church needs to come to them not with condemnation, but with dialogue. We cannot cancel out a person’s richness just because of his or her sexual preference. That is sick, that is heartless, that is lacking common sense.

“Q. Is it not the same with abortion?

“A. I share the Church’s views on abortion, and see it as murder. The difference lies in how you penalize it. Abortion, just like same-sex marriage, has served us subterfuge to tell ourselves that we in the Church have our morals. It is very easy to go against a woman who has an abortion, it poses no trouble and we have support from the ultraconservative right. When there was a national campaign against abortion here, I organized rosary recitations to reflect on the defense of the lives of migrants, miners and women as well as the unborn. But we are hypocrites. It would seem that the only moral rules deal with condemning same-sex couples and abortions. You do that and you’re the perfect Christian.

The full interview, in English, can be read by clicking here.

This is not the first time that Bishop Vera has made strong statements about homophobic people.  Almost a year ago, he made headlines by calling homophobia “a mental illness in which you see gays as depraved and promiscuous. You have to be sick in the head for that.”

At the time of that earlier statement, I made the following comment on this blog, which I think is appropriate to repeat at this time:

“It is wonderful to know that this bishop is speaking out so strongly for lesbian and gay rights.  One caution:  I don’t think that he was using ‘mental illness’ as a technical or clinical term.  From the manner in which he is speaking on the video, he seems to be using it as a rhetorical flourish, more than a diagnosis.  It is interesting to see him turn the tables on homophobic people:  it is usually they who are calling lesbian and gay people ‘mentally ill.’

“And because lesbian and gay people have so often been so mislabeled with that diagnosis, I think we have to be very careful of labeling their opponents in the same way.  In my experience in working with LGBT issues, homophobia is more often a result of ignorance and misguided piety than by a clinical disturbance.”

While noting that distinction, it’s important to recognize that Bishop Vera operates out of deep courage fpr speaking out for all sorts of marginalized groups.  The El País article referred to him as

“the Mexican bishop who holds the record for death threats. He has survived more than one attempt on his life, and his work in favor of missing persons, immigrants, children and juveniles, indigenous populations, prostitutes and pariahs of all types has earned him the undying hatred of many, including the drug rings.”

In the interview, he explains how his work with exploited indigenous communities in southern Mexico taught him about the importance of courage:

“I learned that you have to risk your life if you want to stand on the side of the poor. I learned that in order to defend human life, you have to put your own life on the line. There is no other way to be a shepherd.”

In The Advocate’s report on this story, they noted:

“In 2011, when John Paul II was pope, the Vatican investigated Vera’s work with a gay group. But much has changed under Pope Francis’s leadership.”

The El País article made note of the change of atmosphere in the Church since that time:

“For a long time, Raúl Vera was the Catholic Church’s black sheep, the old-fashioned left-winger. But that was until the ideological earthquake represented by the new pope, Francis I, gave renewed relevance to his words. Now, other bishops are suddenly turning to Vera for guidance.”

Let’s hope and pray that his guidance sways many more bishops to his line of thinking.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


NEWS NOTES: July 16, 2014

July 16, 2014

News NotesHere are some items you might find of interest:

1) Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, retired archbishop of Westminster (London) criticized England’s Equality Act for forcing Catholic social service agencies to stop adoptions because they were not allowed to discriminate against same-gender couples. The cardinal would like a religious exemption to the law, which would allow church organizations to deny services to lesbian and gay people . Adoption law has become a battleground issue in England and Scotland since marriage equality became legal in those nations.

2) Fired gay teacher Ken Bencomo‘s case against St. Lucy’s Priory High School in Glendora, California is moving ahead. A judge ruled against claims by the school that Bencomo could be fired under the so-called “ministerial exemption,” and will allow the lawsuit to proceed. Bencomo was fired when news of his marriage became public last year.

3) Cardinal Nicholas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez of the Dominican Republic criticized gay US Ambassador James Brewster again after Brewster and his husband appeared in a video for June’s Pride celebrations in that Caribbean nation. The cardinal, who previously used an anti-gay slur to describe the ambassador and encouraged anti-LGBT protests, said Brewster should “take his gay pride elsewhere.” You can read more about the cardinal’s comments here.

4) Activists from the group Femen are on trial for a February 2013 protest at the Cathedral of Notre Dame where they banged on church bells in protest of the bishops’ opposition to LGBT rights. Prosecutors are seeking fines of more than $2,000 from each of the nine women on trial. Femen had made headlines  because of its members’ topless demonstrations against Catholic leaders.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Croatia Defies Catholic Bishops by Legally Recognizing Same-Gender Couples

July 16, 2014

Pro-equality demonstration in Croatia

Croatian government officials challenged the predominantly Catholic nation’s ban on marriage equality by passing a law recognizing same-gender couples, directly opposing Church leaders who have vigorously opposed any LGBT rights.

Lawmakers approved the Life Partnership Act on Tuesday, the fulfillment of Prime Minister Zoran Milonavic’s promise to rectify problems created by a same-gender marriage ban approved via referendum last December. The new law grants gay couples all the rights of marriage except adoption. Ahram Online reports further:

“Gay rights activists hailed the legislation in the largely conservative EU member state, which is strongly influenced by the powerful Roman Catholic Church.

” ‘Croatia made a historic step forward to stand along progressive countries which have already resolved the issue,’ Iva Tomecic, editor-in-chief of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) news portal CroL, told AFP.

” ‘From now on same-sex couples and families can finally legally regulate their unions… knowing that the country where they live, work and pay taxes is treating them as equal citizens,’ she said.”

Croatian voters amended the constitution last year to limit marriage to one man and one, although many questioned whether that is how people feel given turnout was only 35% and that a high level of anti-European Union sentiments may have contributed.

Moreovoer, the Catholic hierarchy was heavily involved in the campaign behind the anti-marriage equality amendment, advocating for it from the pulpits and organizing more than 750,000 signatures in a nation of just 4.4 million people. Anti-LGBT activists have already expressed their disappointment with the law, but there seems to be little room to challenge it as the Croatian Constitutional Court said last year’s referendum “cannot limit in any way the future development of legislative regulations concerning civil unions between same-sex partners.”

In light of this new law, it seems appropriate to reiterate the questions about pastoral care for LGBT people and the larger Croatian Church posed by Bondings 2.0 last December:

“Having succeeded in banning marriage rights for same-gender couples, it remains unknown how the Catholic hierarchy will now respond to LGBT people in Croatia…

“With nearly 90% of the population being Catholic, how the Church hierarchy responds in these new circumstances will have a tremendous impact. It’s worth asking whether bishops and conservative leaders will seek to heal wounds created by the divisive amendment and pursue pastoral tones. Or will they seek to suppress further rights for LGBT people and families, such as opposing civil union legislation.”

With civil unions approved for same-gender couples and few options to oppose them left, let us hope Croatia’s bishops will end their crusade against LGBT rights once and for all.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholic High Schools Extend Support as LGBT Students Come Out

July 15, 2014

Johann Go

Attending a Catholic high school and identifying openly as LGBT are often seen as mutually exclusive realities for many students, who fear bullying and discrimination from their principals, priests, and peers. Yet, two gay students’ stories reveal the changing landscape in some Catholic schools that will hopefully propel more students to merge these realities and feel comfortable in coming out.

Johann Go waited two years before coming out at St. Patrick’s College Silverstream, New Zealand, fearing the repercussions of doing so at a “conservative, Catholic all-boys’ school.” Go told The Dominion Post:

” ‘I was bracing myself to lose all my friends by coming out. I assumed the worst because I knew of people that had been kicked out of home and expelled from school because of it.’ “

Instead, he found love and support from the school’s principal and his peers. More than 30 LGBT alumni have contacted Go expressing their delight that he had the courage they had not had to come out while at St. Patrick’s. Go, who graduated last spring, used his openly gay status to advance inclusion at the school by speaking about homophobic attitudes present among the students and facilitating an LGBT peer support group.

Go’s parting gift to his alma mater was achieving approval for same-sex prom dates, which he asked rector Gerard Tully for and received “no objection” in what Go described as a “meaningful and remarkable step.” Tully said of the now alum:

” ‘Johann’s a fantastic young man who has made a positive contribution to school life, and we’re all very happy for him . . .’ “

Robert Paque

In New York state, Robert Paque spoke with the Olean Times Herald about being gay at a Catholic high school. The recent graduate thanked administrators during his commencement address for welcoming him, and specifically not expelling him, after he came out.

Paque was Olean, New York’s Archbishop Walsh Academy salutatorian this year and was lauded for his achievements during high school. During this time however, Paque was coming out to himself and feared he would be expelled if his sexual orientation became public. The Times Herald reports:

“[Paque] struggled with accepting his own sexual orientation and taking baby steps to make it public — all the while hearing news of religious schools elsewhere booting out gays — he feared his days were numbered…

“The day that haunted him never arrived. Conversely, Archbishop Walsh Academy administrators were staunchly supportive, he said.

” ‘It was just kind of like, “OK, we have a gay student in our school,”‘ Robert said. ‘Nothing changed. I’m still a student at the school. I didn’t act any different. I didn’t do my school work any different. It was just another fact, and it didn’t really change anything.’ “

He was open with his school because it was exhausting to hide, and faced only one bad incident when a schismatic priest was invited to Spanish class by the teacher and condemned Paque for being gay. That teacher was let go, and Principal Mykal Karl quickly met with the student to let him know he was supported.

The school’s board president, Beth Powers, said expelling Paque for being gay was “never a consideration” and said further:

” ‘Robert is a wonderful person. He is respected by everybody in the school, young and old, teachers, faculty and the kids…He is hard working. He is respectful. He’s honest. He’s got a really upbeat perspective on life.

” ‘From the board perspective … this issue never came up. Nobody expressed any concerns about him being in the school. We think he’s a wonderful person, and it was never a point of discussion to have him leave the school.’ “

Paque, who will be attending George Mason University, Virginia, in the fall, now says of his alma mater:

“ ‘Walsh has done nothing but support. They could easily have not, but they chose to support me…They’ve allowed me to grow as a person how I see fit for myself without trying to sway me any way. They’ve accepted me in their school community, and I’ll be forever thankful for that.’ ”

It will be a wonderful day when every LGBT student who walks across the graduation stage can speak so highly of their Catholic school. Though troubling incidents prove we’re not there yet, stories like Go’s and Paque’s are proof that in some places, students, faculty, and administrators are working hard to make Catholic education a supportive place to come out.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Transgender Woman Prepares to Enter Carmelite Convent

July 14, 2014

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

Tia Michelle Pesando

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And she notes an interesting detail about the Bible:

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

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

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

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

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

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

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

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

 

 

 

 


New Employment Contract Clauses Raise a Host of Issues

July 13, 2014

Bishop Michael Barber

Oakland, California’s Bishop Michael Barber issued a statement recently to try to clarify the new clauses added to his diocese’s employment contracts which greatly restrict support for LGBT people and issues.  The problem with his explanation, though, is that he seems to be speaking out of both sides of his mouth.

The National Catholic Reporter’s Monica Clark noted the sentences in his statement which I find most confusing:

“Responding to apprehensions about a new so-called ‘morality clause’ in the Oakland, Calif., diocese’s teacher contract, Bishop Michael Barber has said he has ‘no intention of monitoring an individual’s personal life. What one does in one’s private life is between them and God.’ But, he added, ‘what concerns me is if someone does something in their private life that becomes public and then becomes a cause of scandal or detracts from the school’s religious mission.’ “

To me the bishop seems to be saying, “I don’t care if you do something that I consider a sin, but I just don’t want it to be public.”   That does not seem like a very pastoral approach to this question at all.

If we take it one step further, another way of interpreting the bishop’s message is that he has a total disregard for an individual’s conscience.  Perhaps he is saying, “You and God may have worked things out, but that won’t fly with me.”

And though the bishop says he does not want to monitor people’s lives, some teachers are suspicious of that promise.  Clark reported:

“Some teachers felt the addition allows the diocese to intrude into their private lives and creates a climate of fear and distrust. For example, if a teacher attended the same-sex wedding of her lesbian niece and a family photo of the event was posted on Facebook, would she be seen as violating the new terms of the contract?”

Indeed, in a number of the firings which have taken place, it was a revelation on Facebook about a marital relationship or support for marriage equality which initiated the unjust action.

Commentator Jocelyn Sideco, who teaches at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland,  has also noted another passage from the new Oakland contract which makes it seem that, in fact, private lives of teachers will be monitored:

“The new contract language puts an explicitness on who teachers are, both in their personal and professional lives. ‘In both the EMPLOYEE’S personal and professional life, the EMPLOYEE is expected to model and promote behavior in conformity with the teaching of the Roman Catholic faith in matters of faith and morals, and to do nothing that tends to bring discredit to the SCHOOL or to the Diocese of Oakland’ (emphasis in original).”

Another O’Dowd H.S. teacher, Kathleen Purcell, is worried about how strictly enforced the contract will be, under this bishop and future ones. KALW Radio cited her thoughts:

“ ‘The bishop says I’m not gonna fire anybody, and I take him at his word,’ Purcell said. ‘But he’s not going to be Bishop forever, and he might change his mind. I don’t think employees should have to be operating under a contract that purports to take away their civil rights and just go on trust.’

“Purcell was let go after refusing to sign the new contract. She says she was not afraid of being targeteit is a matter of principle: before teaching U.S. history at O’Dowd, Purcell was a civil rights lawyer.

“Purcell says she understands Catholic doctrine but she says ‘being a catholic school is not a license to discriminate.’

“ ‘These are contentious issues in the church, about which faithful Catholics have very different conscientious positions. And what this contract language does is to place employees personal lives in the middle of that fight. And that’s cruel.’ ”

On the bright side, KALW Radio reports that the bishop has entered into dialogue with Catholics about the issue, and there is a possibility of a change of heart:

“The Bishop . . . met with teachers and students at two schools, including O’Dowd, at the end of the school year. Many say they were encouraged by the open dialogue. The Bishop says he is considering removing the controversial language from next years contract. For now though, it remains unchanged.”

Oakland is not the only diocese to institute new contract clauses. (For a complete list of firings and contract clause additions, check out this blog’s “Catholicism, Employment, and LGBT Issues” page.) One of the most public protests of new clauses has been in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.  Catholic parishioner Judy Hampel penned an op-ed at Cincinnati.com in which she says that it’s now time for Catholic to challenge their leaders on questions of discrimination against LGBT people:

“I’m trying to describe a not-uncommon experience that leaves many Catholics straddling a thorny pew: Should we stay, and hope and wait for a new vision for our faith community, or should we leave in protest before we find ourselves counted among those who would perpetuate such a dark legacy for the sake of tradition? Until recently, many of us never even considered a third possibility: challenging these egregious teachings openly by voicing our concerns. There is a very real danger that, whether we leave or stay, we are perpetuating a dark regime as long as we are silent. . . .

“It’s time to make up for lost time. It’s time for all Catholics and anyone else who will join us to collectively call to task all leaders and followers of any religion, sect or denomination that indulges in discriminatory doctrines and practices. Because, let’s face it, one of the most compelling forces inhibiting universal justice is intolerance toward others, which is often perpetuated by religious archaisms.”

It may very well be that time that Hampel describes.  According to a 2013 U.S. Catholic poll of 743 Catholics,  nearly 70% (or over 500 people) would not sign a loyalty oath if it was required for volunteer ministry in their parish.

With numbers like that, church leaders need to re-think not only the morality, but also the practicality, or instituting new contract clauses.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


A Few Steps Forward, and then Some Back, on Marriage Equality

July 12, 2014

Bishop Marcel Sanchez Sorondo

There’s been good news and bad news recently regarding Catholic leaders’ opinions on legal protections for same-gender couples.  The surprising thing is that the good news comes from the Vatican.

Queering The Church tipped us off to a Buzzfeed article that looks at the progress of Italy’s proposed civil unions bill, long stalemated in part

because of the Vatican’s previous opposition.  That’s right, “previous.”  The Buzzfeed article indicates that change seems to be happening:

“But there are also signs of a thaw within Vatican City. Monsignor Marcel Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academies of Science and Social Science, Vatican offices that engage with research on society, told Buzzfeed in an interview last week at an event inside the Vatican walls in which Italian politicians were participating that the church is solidly against any law that makes ‘complete [equivalence] of the normal [matrimony] and the gay,’ but if legislation clearly distinguishes between them, ‘that is another question, and this is accepted by the church.’ ”

[Editor's note:  Though Buzzfeed  refers to Sorondo as "Monsignor," he is actually an Argentine bishop.  In Argentina, as in many Latin American nations, a bishop is referred to as "Monseñor."]

Terence Weldon, at Queering The Church points out the significance of this monsignor’s statement:

“What makes Monsignor Sorondo’s observation particularly interesting right now, is his position with PASS [the Pontifical Academy of Science and Social Science]. Although Vatican documents pay lip service to the importance of paying due attention to the findings of both social and natural science, in practice, the published guidance on homosexuality and on queer families have largely ignored the scientific evidence, especially on the matter of gay adoption. That could be about to change. In the working document prepared for the bishops’ forthcoming synod on marriage and family, there is an acknowledgement that there is a need for better understanding of the science, and that some questions should be referred to the academy.

” ’117. Many responses and observations call for theological study in dialogue with the human sciences to develop a multi-faceted look at the phenomenon of homosexuality. Others recommend collaborating with specific entities, e.g., the Pontifical Academy of the Social Sciences and the Pontifical Academy for Life…..’ “

In Indiana, however, Catholic bishops issued a strong rebuke to a court decision there which overturned the state’s constitutional ban against same-gender marriage.  WTHR.com reported that the bishops said:

” ‘The Church upholds the dignity of every human person, including persons with same-sex attraction, whom we accept and love as our brothers and sisters. At the same time, the Church upholds the dignity and sanctity of marriage as a natural union established by God between one man and one woman, intended towards the establishment of a family in which children are born, raised, and nurtured.’

“The bishops explain that because God is its author, ‘it is not within the power of any institution, religious or secular to redefine marriage.’ “

Similarly, this week in Colorado, the Catholic bishops there roundly criticized a court decision to overturn the state’s constitutional ban on same-gender marriage.  Their statement, which repeats many of the same arguments of the Indiana bishops, can be read by clicking here.

In nearby, Missouri, Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis also criticized the decision by that city’s mayor to issue marriage licenses to four same-gender couples.  The Riverfront Times carried a column criticizing the archbishop for such a statement, particularly after his recent disappointing testimony on clerical sex abuse where he answered that  he “did not remember” when he learned that pedophilia was a crime.

So, we take a few steps forward, and one step back.  Little by little. That’s how all real and lasting change happens.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

The Elkhart Truth: “Catholic Bishops of Indiana respond to Indiana same-sex marriage ruling”

LGBTQNation.com:  “St. Louis Archdiocese condemns city for issuing same-sex marriage licenses”

 

 


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