Is Elton John Correct? Is Pope Francis a ‘Hero’ for LGBT People?

October 31, 2014

Elton John

This week, Pope Francis received exuberant praise from openly gay British rock star, Elton John.  At an annual HIV/AIDS fundraiser, John called the pope his “hero.  The Guardian newspaper explains the context and elaboration of that remark:

“Sir Elton John has called Pope Francis his ‘hero’ for his compassionate drive to accept gay people in the Catholic church.

“At John’s annual AIDS benefit concert in New York City, the singer said Francis was pushing boundaries in the church and told the crowd: “Make this man a saint now, OK?”

“ ‘Ten years ago one of the biggest obstacles in the fight against AIDS was the Catholic church. Today we have a pope that speaks out about it,’ said John, earning cheers from the attendees at Cipriani’s on Wall Street. . . .

” ‘He is a compassionate, loving man who wants everybody to be included in the love of God,’ John said of the pope. ‘It is formidable what he is trying to do against many, many people in the church that oppose [him]. He is courageous and he is fearless, and that’s what we need in the world today.’ ”

Praise from such a prominent secular gay advocate surely shows how positively Pope Francis’ message of inclusion is received by the world beyond the Catholic Church. But it shows something else, too, I think.

Is Elton John right? Is Pope Francis a saint?

Elton John’s praise shows that probably a good portion of the world sees that Pope Francis is trying to develop a new approach to LGBT issues.  Despite the minor setback that the synod’s final report caused in the movement for greater welcome, people are picking up, instead, on the idea that Pope Francis is pushing for greater reforms.

Perception vs. reality?  Pope Francis has certainly done more for LGBT people than any other pope, by his simple and powerful gestures and statements.  Yet, we have yet to hear direct support for LGBT inclusion.  We see him nudging the Church in a direction that is more welcoming, but we don’t see him making bold statements.

Is his nudging a strategy?  For example, would making bold statements alarm too many conservatives?  On the other hand, is his simple nudging a way of simply providing new window dressing for the same old, same old?  Frankly, it’s hard to say.

I tend to be an optimistic person and one who favors pragmatic solutions over ideal ones.  So, I guess I lean toward the side that Pope Francis may be more genuine in his welcome than not.  Part of my perception is that I see the pragmatic effects of his nudging:  pastoral leaders are becoming a little more courageous.  Perhaps not much, but somewhat less fearful.

What do you think?  Is Pope Francis really as good as Elton John says he is?  Why do you think he is or isn’t?  Leave your answer in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, 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


Pope Francis Has Mixed LGBT Legacy As Archbishop in Argentina

March 15, 2013

Pope Francis

As Pope Francis settles in after initial celebrations, onlookers from all perspectives and places begin to dissect his legacy in Argentina to derive how he may lead from Rome. Bondings 2.0 will provide readers with a variety of commentary and information on Pope Francis as his papacy commences, starting today with an examination of his record on LGBT issues while archbishop.

Most notably, Cardinal Bergoglio presided over the Argentine Church in its failed attempt to stop marriage equality legislation in 2010 when equal rights for marriage were extended to all couples. The then-cardinal spoke of marriage equality in apocalyptic language. He perceived equal rights as a threat to existing families and used the term “war” when referring to the nation’s marriage equality debate.

Katie McDonough at Salon compiled some of Pope Francis’ sharpest critiques of marriage equality, which speak for themselves and include:

“‘Let’s not be naïve, we’re not talking about a simple political battle; it is a destructive pretension against the plan of God. We are not talking about a mere bill, but rather a machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God’…

“Look at San Jose, Maria, Child and ask them [to] fervently defend Argentina’s family at this time. [Be reminded] what God told his people in a time of great anguish: “This war is not yours but God’s.” May they succor, defend and join God in this war.’”

Pope Francis, as archbishop in Argentina, also spoke strongly against the adoption of children by same-gender couples, which he labeled a form of discrimination and abuse:

“‘At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts.’”

On a positive note, Pope Francis is widely revered for his commitment to the marginalized in society. National Catholic Reporter reveals that as Cardinal Bergoglio, he kissed and washed the feet of twelve AIDS patients in 2001 as a show of his “deep compassion for the victims of HIV-AIDS.”

As mixed as this record may be, not all view his record Argentina as the final word now that Cardinal Bergoglio is Pope Francis. Writing in Time, Tim Padgett is keeping his hopes up:

“I want to believe that his history as an advocate for the poor will bring him to see that today’s church is spending an inordinate amount of time, energy and ultimately moral credibility persecuting homosexuals, feminists and other “heretics” while it’s de-prioritizing, at least in the public’s eye, its core Christian (and human) mission of compassion and redemption.”

Whether Pope Francis will experience a shift as he assumes the papacy is known to God alone, but many in the LGBT community hold out for positive movement now that the former pope, Benedict XVI, has retired. Bondings 2.0 will report more thoroughly on signs of hope over the weekend, and further reactions from the Catholic LGBT community and organizations.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


NEWS NOTES: December 24, 2012

December 24, 2012

News NotesHere are some news items which may be of interest:

1) Read the inspiring Huffington Post story of Sister of Charity Margaret Farrell who works at Los Angeles’ Covenant House, a shelter and social service agency for homeless teenagers.  Of her work, Sister Margaret says:

“Some say, how can I, as a nun, surround myself with such people — gays, transsexuals, HIV-positive clients?”I usually respond: Read the Bible. Look which people Jesus surrounded himself with.”

2) According to a LGBTQNation.com story, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has called upon the Maryland Catholic Conference (MCC) to publicly denounce Michael Peroutka’s $10,000 donation to the Maryland Marriage Alliance (MMA), the coalition which organized the state campaign to overturn marriage equality.  Peroutka is a member of  the League of the South, a neo-Confederate, secessionist organization labeled an “explicitly racist” hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.The MCC was a founding organizer of the Maryland Marriage Alliance. HRC is also calling on the MMA to return the donation.

3) The Supreme Court of Mexico, a heavily Catholic nation, has issued a decision that paves the way for marriage equality to become legal in the entire nation, according to the AfterMarriage blog.   Marriage equality is already legal in Mexico City, the nation’s capital district.

4) Joseph Amodeo, a Catholic writer who blogs at HuffingtonPost.com, offers “A Catholic Reflection on HIV/AIDS and the Call to Love,” which was originally presented as a talk on December 1, 2012, World AIDS Day,  at St. Augustine Catholic Church, Brooklyn, New York.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Prayers for World AIDS Day

December 1, 2012

English: The Red ribbon is a symbol for solida...

Today is World AIDS Day.  We pause to remember the effect that this pandemic has had on our world.  We recall that in the early days of the pandemic, when gay men were disproportionately affected by the syndrome, that the stigmas of homosexuality and illness for so long hampered so many from responding effectively.  We note that today the stigmas of poverty and race also hamper appropriate and effective responses to the newer populations that AIDS affects.

In a HuffingtonPost.com essay, Constance Mudenda, a Catholic woman, heartbreakingly offers two prayers for today:

“World AIDS Day is deeply emotional for me. In Lusaka, Zambia, people gather at the Cathedral of the Child Jesus for a candlelight service to remember loved ones killed by AIDS. I go to light candles and pray for my three children who died in the nineties, when a diagnosis of HIV here was a death sentence. One after the other I lost all of my children; first my son Chabala, then my daughters, Lubona and Namuya. All of us here looked on helplessly as our children, parents and friends were killed because medicine that was saving the lives of people with HIV in the West was too expensive to get to us. When antiretroviral medication (ARVs)finally arrived through the work of organizations like the Global Fund and PEPFAR, it was too late for my family. My eldest daughter would have been 19 this year if she had been able to hold on.

Constance Mudenda

Constance Mudenda

“The only reason I’m alive now is because 10 years ago, the world decided to do something about this pandemic which has by now killed 30 million of us. For 8 years I’ve been taking 2 little pills a day which have turned my illness from a death sentence into a chronic but manageable disease. I always say I’m married to my medication — until death do us part. I’ve been more faithful to these pills than to anything else in my life. . . .

“This World AIDS Day I will have two prayers — that, by 2015 no mother ever has to pass this deadly virus on to her baby again and that Lubona [her new infant daughter] will live in an AIDS free world.”

We join our prayers with those of Constance.

Last year on this day, Bondings 2.0 reported on the announcement of a competition to design New York City’s AIDS memorial, the site of which is a park across the street from the now defunct St. Vincent’s Hospital in Greenwich Village.  A Catholic hospital, St. Vincent’s was the primary caregiver for the city’s HIV/AIDS population in the early days of the epidemic when other care givers turned people away.

This past week, the New York City the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Parks Department both unanimously approved a design for the memorial.   Approval from the  Department of City Planning, the last hurdle, is expected by the end of the month.  You can view plans the memorial’s design here.

May this time of remembrance and consciousness-raising empower us to continue to work to care for the sick and to work for eradication.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry.


A New Saint for Those Who Long for Reforming the Catholic Church

September 2, 2012

 

Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini

For those who work and hope for a Catholic Church that is more welcoming and inclusive of LGBT people, and more in line with the spirit of Vatican II, there’s a new saint in heaven to intercede.

Cardinal Carlo Maria Montini,  former archbishop of Milan and once talked of as a possible successor to John Paul II, has died at the age of 85.  In his final interview, published a day after his death on August 31st,  he declared that the church is 200 years behind the times.

CNN’s Religion Blog  reports the cardinal’s quote:

” ‘The Church has remained 200 years behind the times. Why has it not been shaken up?” Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini said in an interview published in Saturday’s Corriere dell Sera newspaper. ‘Are we scared? Fear instead of courage? However, faith is the fundamental to the church.’ “

The New York Times reported Martini’s further explanation of this quote from the same interview:

“ ‘Our culture has aged, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up; our rituals and our cassocks are pompous,’ Cardinal Martini said in the interview published in Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera.

“ ‘The church must admit its mistakes and begin a radical change, starting from the pope and the bishops,’  he said in the interview. ‘The pedophilia scandals oblige us to take a journey of transformation.’ ”

Cardinal Martini made headlines earlier this year when in a separate interview, he called for a change in the church’s opposition to civil unions.  In May, Bondings 2.0 reported his statement from a book-length interview with the cardinal, entitled Credere e  Cognoscere (Faith and Understanding): 

“I do not agree with the positions of those in the Church who takes issue with civil unions.”

QueeringTheChurch.com blog carried English translations of the interview.  Though Cardinal Martini defended traditional marriage in the interview, he saw the need for allowing for civil unions:

“. . . if the State grants some benefits to homosexuals, I would not be too concerned. The Catholic Church, for its part, promotes partnerships that are beneficial for the continuation of the human species and its stability, and yet it is not right to express any discrimination for other types of unions.”

In the same interview, he praised the possibility of recognizing same-sex relationships as good:

” . . . I am ready to admit that in some cases good faith, lived experiences, acquired habits, the unconscious and probably even a certain innate inclination can push one to choose for oneself a form of living with a partner of the same sex. In today’s world such behaviour cannot therefore be ostracised or demonized. I am also ready to admit the value of a loyal and lasting friendship between two persons of the same sex. Friendship has always been held in high honour in the ancient world, perhaps more so than today, although it was largely understood as part of that surpassing of the purely physical realm that I mentioned above, to be a union of minds and hearts.”

He also made allowance for the use of condoms as a way to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS:

“One must do everything to fight AIDS, as I have argued on many occasions and as we wrote in our previous dialogue in 2006. Certainly the use of condoms can constitute in certain situations a lesser evil. Then there is the particular situation of spouses, one of whom is infected with AIDS. One is obliged to protect the other partner who likewise should be able to protect himself or herself. But the question rather is, should it be the case that religious authorities promote such a means of defence, almost holding that other morally sustainable means, including abstinence, be sidelined, while risking the promotion of an irresponsible attitude? The principle of lesser evil is one thing, applicable in all cases provided for by ethical doctrine, another thing altogether the matter of who is to express such things publicly.

“I believe that prudence and consideration of different situations will permit everyone to contribute effectively to the fight against AIDS without fostering, in this way, irresponsible behaviour.”

Let’s pray that Cardinal Martini intercede for the church, and that Catholics will be renewed to reform the church in the way that Cardinal Martini saw as the only possible alternative:  love.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Mixed Review for New Book on Gay Life, AIDS, and Spirituality

August 12, 2012

 

The National Catholic Reporter carries a review of a new book by Richard Giannone, entitled Hidden: Reflections on Gay Life, AIDS and Spiritual Desire. 

The review, by Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry (and your humble blogger), is a mixed one, based on what he views as two books in one:

“Richard Giannone’s memoir is really two books in one. The first book, the one suggested by the title, Hidden: Reflections on Gay Life, AIDS, and Spiritual Desire, does not live up to its promise. The second book, the unanticipated story of Giannone’s care of his infirmed mother and sister, is a fine surprise.”

The reviewer explains the problem of the “first” book:

“Based on the word ‘reflections,’ I’d hoped his story would provide personal insight into the struggles of living a closeted existence during decades when “coming out” was sometimes a dangerous decision. I expected that there would be tales of courage and sacrifice about caring for friends with HIV/AIDS in a time when all of society’s institutions — including the church — ostracized these victims. I looked forward to reading reflections about connections between sexuality and spirituality from the perspective of one on the margins.

“Unfortunately, there is too little of that story in this text. . . .For example, Giannone offers the powerful and curious claim: “Being gay and seeking God are inextricably bound at the generative vortex of one’s nature.” Such a claim deserves serious unpacking of details, events, insights, but sadly he offers no further explanations. Those details would be where the true story lies. Unfortunately, there were too many such unfulfilled promises, too often summary when expansiveness is needed.”

While critical of the “first” book, the reviewer has praise for the “second” one which describes Giannone’s care of his ailing relatives:

“It is the second, far better book that is the heart of this volume. Caring for his mother’s physical needs provided the author with a wealth of opportunity for reflection on personal identity, family relationship, gender roles, ethnic and cultural barriers, and connections with the divine. The story of caring for her comes before the story of care for his sister and is the more compelling one. Understandably enough, a parent-child relationship is in many ways much more primary.

“The second book has wider appeal, of course, for it relates a common situation that many people face — caring for a sick family member, and some of the existential crises and vistas that such a task produces. Giannone’s preference for abstraction rather than detailed writing serves this section well. We are treated to some profound insights, such as his description of his sister’s return to her home after a long hospital sojourn: ‘At home on Harper Terrace, she would be solely dependent on the source of her life; she would be alone with the Alone.’ ”

The review concludes with a mixed recommendation:

“While Hidden does not deliver the title’s promise of insights into sexuality and spirituality within the gay and HIV/AIDS community, it can offer solace and companionship for those who take the difficult but rewarding journey of caring for a frail loved one.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


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