When LGBT Church Workers Are Fired, What Are ‘The Ethics of Exit’ ?

June 13, 2014

The most troubling issue of the last few months has been the rash of people fired from Catholic institutions because of LGBT issues. The injustice of these decisions is made even more troubling by the fact that, based on what these institutions have stated publicly, these actions seem to be devoid of any ethical reflection of the complex issues involved.  Part of the reason for this exacerbation of the problem is that no ethical reflection has been done around such situations since they are very new on the church scene.

Donald Trump, on TV’s “The Apprentice” offers his famous line: “You’re fired!”

America magazine, a Jesuit publication, took a stab at beginning the process of ethical reflection on firing church employees, by publishing an essay entitled “The Ethics of Exit” by Daniel J. Daly, associate professor and chair of the theology department at St. Anselm College, Manchester, New Hampshire.  Daly’s scope in the article is not only LGBT issues, but various “infractions” that have caused people to be fired, such as becoming an unwed mother.  Yet, LGBT issues, particularly the question of what to do when a gay or lesbian teacher marries, are a main focus.

My reaction to this piece is mixed.

What I like about the essay is that it helps to enumerate some of the moral issues involved in such cases.  Daly recognizes that these are not “black and white” situations, but more gray.  For example, at the outset, he offers a re-framing of the issue:

“It does not necessarily follow that because a teacher has violated church teaching, and his or her contract, that he or she should be terminated. Many teachers violate their contracts without being fired. The question is not simply: Did the teacher violate the contract? Instead it should be: Does the violation of the contract disqualify the teacher from educating students in a Catholic context?”

Moreover, Daly sets up some good ideas for decision-making processes in such cases. For example, he recommends that administrators seek opinions and perspectives from a wide diversity of people before making a decision about employment termination, something we have not seen practiced much in the cases reported in the news.

He also recognizes that the impact a firing can have on the formation of students is an important factor that must be taken into consideration.  Similarly, he advocates for administrators to consider the practical effects that firing can have on the employee in question, and that all attempts should be made to mitigate harm.

What I don’t like about the essay is that it skirts a number of the hard questions.  For example, Daly’s discussion of the concept of “scandal” identifies questions, but doesn’t provide answers:

“Scandal is important because it has the potential to malform the conscience and character of young people. But not every immoral action or mistaken belief is scandalous. Unfortunately, it is notoriously difficult to discern what might “give scandal.” Does an unmarried pregnant teacher undermine the church’s teaching on premarital sex in the eyes of students, or does she provide a quiet witness to the value of bringing all children, even those conceived in less-than-ideal situations, into the world? Does the presence of a married gay man on the faculty undermine the church’s teaching on matters of sexual ethics, or is this outweighed by the man’s practices, for example, of love and mercy toward the suffering, the sick and the unborn?  These are some of the difficult but essential questions that administrators must ask and answer.”

In another passage, he advises that while students must be a school’s first priority, faculty and staff rights do have to be considered. Yet, he doesn’t provide enough analysis of  what that consideration should be:

“The rights of faculty and staff are limited by the rights of students to receive a high quality Catholic education. This is not to claim that the rights of faculty and staff are to be ignored but that these rights must be placed in their proper context.”

Daly never explains what the “proper context” is.  It is almost as if he assumes that all readers will know what he means.

Another problem is that Daly doesn’t want to question the bigger moral questions that have prompted these firings.  At the outset, he limits the scope of his article:.

“First, ethics is done well when it asks and answers the right questions. We begin, therefore, by setting aside a question that is often asked but that is irrelevant to this article: ‘Is the church’s official teaching correct regarding the morally illicit nature of gay marriage?’ That is an important question that should be discussed and debated in Catholic households, parishes, colleges and universities. But it is a not a question to be asked by Catholic school administrators in their role as administrators. While individuals within institutions have the right to dissent from church teaching as individuals, they do not have the right to unilaterally alter an institution’s values and conscience.”

This limitation, however, stunts the moral reflection which Daly seems to want to inspire.  If we can’t ask if the official Catholic teaching on gay marriage is right or not, then how can we evaluate whether or not a violation of that teaching is grounds for firing? How can we evaluate whether a violation of the teaching is scandalous or not?  The bigger questions have to be involved in the discussion because not all violations of church teaching are considered as grounds to fire someone.  Obviously, there is some hierarchizing of teachings involved in the decision-making, and it seems that violating sexual teachings are considered the most egregious.

Daly’s limitation of scope also works to support the influence that administrators have in defining what teachings are more important than others. For example, he defends the controversial new contract clauses that dioceses have instituted.  His defense is that the new clauses satisfy the condition of letting an employee know beforehand what restrictions might be:

“. . . [I]f certain offenses are worthy of termination they should be promulgated as such in the teacher’s contract or handbook. The Diocese of Cleveland recently released a revised teacher contract listing prohibited behaviors in detail, like procuring or supporting abortion, having sex outside of marriage and drug use. While one can debate the substance of the morality clause, schools owe teachers this level of disclosure so that they can make informed decisions regarding their employment.”

The problem with this kind of reasoning is that it ignores the many good teachers who have made significant contributions to schools and who now find that new contract clauses violate their consciences and faith lives.  The story of Molly Shumate is perhaps the most poignant example of someone caught in this new dilemma because the clauses have been changed.   Shumate is the teacher who refused to sign the new contract because she has a gay son, and she felt that the new restrictions on publicly supporting gay equality would mean disrespecting her son.   A case like this shows that it is not enough for the employer to simply disclose new obligations.   The substance of  the new obligations defined by such morality clauses also must be examined and debated.

Daly and America magazine have done a service by getting the conversation started on the ethics of these employment decisions. Unfortunately, his examination is only a starting point, Many more questions and answers need to be raised. Catholic teaching on employment and human dignity, as well as a more complex analysis of the moral conundrums that firings and new restrictive polices cause, need to included in the discussion.  Daly’s analysis is a good first word, but it is certainly not, nor should it be, the last.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related posts:

June 10, 2014:  March in Local Pride Parades to Support LGBT & Ally Church Employees

May 27, 2014:  Exploring the What & Why of Church Worker Firings, and Asking ‘What’s Next?’

Resource Page:  Catholicism, Employment, & LGBT Issues


Why Do LGBT People Feel the Catholic Church Hates Them?

May 18, 2014

Yesterday, May 17th, was the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.  In Italy, at least 11 of the prayer vigils for this day to show opposition to oppression against sexual and gender minorities were hosted by Catholic parishes, including at least one basilica.   In this most Catholic of nations, it seems, some people take seriously the church’s teaching condemning discrimination, prejudice, and violence against LGBT people.

Catholic support for this important church teaching is relatively minor among the Catholic hierarchy here in the United States.  Our leaders here tend to ignore the fact that the church teaches that lesbian and gay people must be accepted with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity.”  While they may often express that sentiment in words, they are less likely to take any action whatsoever to show that they truly accept that teaching.  Instead, they tend to focus only on the church’s sexual teachings.

Fr. James Martin, SJ

Jesuit Father James Martin, a well-known writer and lecturer, examines this dilemma in a column in America magazine this week.  His essay is well-worth reading in full, and you can do so by clicking here. In this blog post,  I will comment on some excerpts from the essay.

Martin tries to explain to his audience why so many gay and lesbian people feel that the Catholic Church hates them.  He states:

“Let me suggest a reason beyond the fact that many gays and lesbians disagree with church teaching on homosexual acts: only rarely do opponents of same-sex marriage say something positive about gays and lesbians without appending a warning against sin. The language surrounding gay and lesbian Catholics is framed primarily, sometimes exclusively, in terms of sin. For example, ‘We love our gay brothers and sisters—but they must not engage in sexual activity.’ Is any other group of Catholics addressed in this fashion? Imagine someone beginning a parish talk on married life by saying, ‘We love married Catholics—but adultery is a mortal sin.’ With no other group does the church so reflexively link the group’s identity to sin.”

I agree with him, and I would go even a little further:  no other group in the church is discussed primarily in terms of sex as gay and lesbian people are.  I would imagine that in terms of  sheer power of sexual urgency and desire, adolescents and young adults are probably the people most interested in sexual activity out of the entire human population.  Yet, church leaders do not always refer to sexual temptation when they discuss or welcome young people to the church, as they do with gay and lesbian people.  The focus of youth ministry in dioceses and parishes is not on sexual behavior, as some dioceses and parishes would like gay and lesbian outreach to be.  Young people’s concerns are not shunned or ignored because it might seem to give the indication that church leaders are approving of non-marital sexual activity, yet that is routinely done to gay and lesbian people.  Indeed, the highest office of the church offers World Youth Day to let young people know that they are welcome in the Church.  Where is World LGBT Day?

In addition to being thought of primarily as sinners, lesbian and gay people resent that they are thought of primarily as sexual, as if no other aspect of their life mattered, and as if that was the primary factor defining their lives.

Martin offers the gospel story of Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) as a model for how church leaders can approach gay and lesbian people.  He analyzes the important features of this story about Jesus welcoming a much reviled tax collector:

“Notice that Jesus shows love for Zacchaeus even before the man has promised to do anything. That is, Jesus loves him first, by offering to dine with him, a powerful sign of welcome in that time. Jesus does not say, ‘Zacchaeus, you’re a sinful person because you’re gouging people with taxes collected for the oppressive occupying power, but even though you’re a public sinner, I love you anyway.’ He simply loves him—first.

“The story of Zacchaeus illustrates an important difference between the ministry of John the Baptist and of Jesus. For John the Baptist, conversion came first, then communion. First you repent of your sins; then you are welcomed into the community. For Jesus, the opposite was more often the case; first, Jesus welcomed the person, and conversion followed. It’s not loving the sinner; it’s simply loving.

“This is the kind of welcome that LGBT people want from the church.  It is the kind of welcome that all people want from the church.  LGBT people want this kind of welcome not because they are a special category of sinners, but, because they are, like most people, average, garden-variety sinners.  Pope Francis illustrated this profound human reality last September during his groundbreaking interview with a Jesuit magazine.  When asked who Jorge Bergoglio is, the pope answered, “I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”

Martin concludes with some tips about how the church can show its love for gay and lesbian people more deeply:

“First, it would mean listening to their experiences—all their experiences, what their lives are like as a whole. Second, it would mean valuing their contributions to the church. Where would our church be without gays and lesbians—as music ministers, pastoral ministers, teachers, clergy and religious, hospital chaplains and directors of religious education? Infinitely poorer. Finally, it would mean publicly acknowledging their individual contributions: that is, saying that a particular gay Catholic has made a difference in our parish, our school, our diocese. This would help remind people that they are an important part of the body of Christ.”

While, yes, I agree with Martin here, there is also a sense of regret upon reading the passage because for the past two years we have been witnessing dismissals of LGBT people from church employment, a total devaluing of their gifts and personhood.  Yes, this type of welcome is urgently needed, not just for a positive message, but to correct the terribly negative message that firings have sent.

It’s important, too, that LGBT people’s spiritual gifts are also acknowledged and affirmed. The particular journeys that LGBT people go on to accept, affirm, and announce their identities to others often results in incredible spiritual gifts that are not as readily attained by others.  For instance, their journeys often provide them with a strong sense about telling the truth, a deep reservoir of courage to  stand up to fear and rejection, a profound sense of God’s love, and a new respect for the primacy of their consciences. Amazing gifts that they can offer to the rest of the church!

As Fr. Martin concludes, they are indeed an important part of the Body of Christ.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Jesuit Scholar Assesses Pope Francis’ Approach to LGBT Issues

March 1, 2014

John Langan, S.J.

Jesuit Professor John Langan has published an article in America magazine which examines the significance of  Pope Francis’ several positive statements about LGBT issues in 2013.  The article’s title “See the Person,” which references one of the pope’s remarks, sets out to answer the question, as the author phrases it: “So, what is the pope up to?”

Langan, who is a world-respected scholar and is the Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Professor of Catholic Social Thought at Georgetown University,  is positive about the pope’s comments, but cautions several times that while Pope Francis has made some remarkable statements, the pontiff has also noted that he is not changing church teaching and does not intend to.  Langan writes:

“Francis has declared on several occasions that he has no desire to challenge or change Catholic moral teaching on sexual matters or to innovate in church doctrine.”

Instead of changing church teaching, Langan states, Francis is changing the church’s “stance” or method of approaching the topic of homosexuality.   While Langan believes that church teaching should not change simply because social acceptance of lesbian and gay people is increasing, he does recognize that society is at a new juncture in regard to homosexuality, and the church needs to adapt to this new moment.  Instead of change, Langan calls for dialogue and reflection:

“What seems to be called for is a time of critical reflection on the tradition to clarify what strengths are to be preserved and what continuities are to be affirmed even while searching for the sources of limitations in the teaching and acknowledging the development of new questions and problems. Critical reflection also needs to be directed to public opinion and to those who would mold it in a new direction, who often harbor naïve, incoherent and immature views, even while they think of themselves as knowledgeable and progressive. Both kinds of critical reflection require time and support for research and careful dialogue that will assess what is known and what is not known, what is hoped and what is feared. There is an ongoing need to coordinate research and information across the fields of biology, medicine, social science and ethics as well as to look seriously at the development of Christian and other religious teaching on this topic down through the centuries.”

Langan sets out four guideposts for the kind of reflection that is needed on this topic that he has discerned in the pope’s new stance.  They are:

1. Humility:  “We must acknowledge what we do not know and what we do not understand about the contemporary situation of homosexuals.”

2. Respect: ” . . . we must show respect for the dignity of homosexual persons as creatures of the one God and Father of us all, as members of the community of the redeemed and as fellow citizens of the city and the world.”

3. Realism: “. . . all parties need to show realism in acknowledging the problems of perception and trust that complicate our efforts to understand and collaborate with one another.”

4. Patience: “. . . during this period of scrutiny and reassessment, we must be patient with ourselves, with each other and with the friends and allies of the contesting groups both in the public arena and in the life of the church.”

Langan concludes by looking at what might be possible if such a period of reflection took place.  He sees the greatest change not being doctrinal development, but a different approach toward pastoral care and outreach:

“Ministry would be carried on in a more tentative, inquiring spirit; it would be more intent on providing care and encouraging growth for persons, many of whom have known many sorrows, than in implementing policies within bureaucratic and legal frameworks.”

He offers the following guidance for pastoral ministers:

“They [pastoral ministers] would proceed from a genuine desire to understand the personal and spiritual aspirations of the persons in their care instead of simply repeating the equivalent of a fatal diagnosis, which is how repeated reliance on the notion of “intrinsic evil” will likely be perceived. This is not a proposal for adjudicating the numerous issues now under dispute, nor is it a theological program for resolving the problems of implementing change in this troubled area of the church’s theology and practice. But it may serve as a partial model for addressing similar problems in areas where Catholic Christians have been putting more energy into denunciation than into dialogue, where disjunctions and fractures have been growing in scale and lethality.”

Langan’s essay is worth reading in its entirety and can be accessed here.  I think his assessment of Pope Francis’ comments on homosexuality is an accurate one.  As I’ve said before, I think that the pope’s greatest contributions to LGBT issues in the church will be indirect ones, that he is paving the way for future change rather than making the innovations himself.  Langan provides a very commonsense assessment of what effects Francis’ words can realistically have in the coming months and years.

I, however, may be more optimistic than Langan about the possibility of doctrinal change.  While he suggests that the hierarchy should not change the teaching simply because public opinion on lesbian and gay people has shifted, I think he misses the point that, at least for Catholics who support LGBT issues, the shift has occurred not because, as Cardinal Dolan once suggested, that pro-gay advocates have better marketing, but because they have applied their faith to this new reality, have prayed and examined their consciences, and they have discerned that LGBT equality is consonant with how they understand the Gospel.

I fear that Langan may be too cautious about the possibility for change. In noting the pope’s new stance vis-a-vis his two most recent predecessors, Langan states: “In taking a critical view of the previous stance, one need not abandon it.”  While that may be true, I don’t think that he recognizes that a change in stance can produce some unforeseen results.  As has happened so often in church history, practice often precedes a change in teaching.

Langan’s real contribution is that he has laid out a road map for how we can get to future doctrinal development by providing those four “guideposts” mentioned above.  We’ve seen amazingly rapid change in American society and law over the past 15 years, due mainly to the fact that people started talking with LGBT people about the issues that concern their lives.  Dialogue is a powerful force, and now that Pope Francis has initiated such a period of dialogue in the church, explicated so well by Langan, who knows where the discussion and reflection will lead?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Approval of Pope Francis Soars, as Marriage Equality Support Grows

October 15, 2013

Pope Francis

Recent polling  indicating American Catholic support for LGBT right echoes previous numbers, reported on here and here by Bondings 2.0. However, Quinnipiac University Polling Institute’s latest numbers on this topic are noteworthy for two developments: reactions to Pope Francis’ major interview and shifts in views based on Mass attendance.

Religion News Service reports that the pope received high marks as 89% of US Catholics reported either favorable or very favorable views on Pope Francis. Those viewing him negatively were in the low single digits.

The poll was conducted in the last week of September, just days after the release of America Magazine‘s groundbreaking interview with the pope. Regarding his condemnation of the Church’s focus on social issues, including marriage equality, 68% of adult Catholics agreed with Pope Francis and only 23% disagreed. These results were mirrored when broken down by age groups and Mass attendance.

Religion News Service also reported that American Catholic support for marriage equality still outpaces support by the general American population:

“The survey also found that Catholic support for same-sex marriage continues to be strong, as other surveys have found, with six-in-10 Catholics approving of gay marriage and 31 percent opposed. That’s slightly above the national 56 percent approval rating.

“But the latest research also indicates that support for same-sex marriage only drops slightly among weekly churchgoers, to 53 percent, with 40 percent opposed. That finding could cause consternation among social conservatives who argue that the most devout Catholics tend to support the hierarchy’s position against gay marriage.”

As preparations begin for next year’s synod on marriage and the family, it will be important for US Catholics to make their support for LGBT people and same-gender couples known to the Vatican.  Writing to Pope Francis would be a good start.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Pope Francis’ Welcome Signals a New Dawn of Hope for LGBT People and Allies

September 19, 2013
Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Pope Francis’ interview in America magazine signals a new dawn of hope and promise for LGBT Catholics and their supporters.  Pope Francis’ words and example have opened up new opportunities for the Catholic Church to welcome and dialogue with LGBT people.  His words will give courage and hope to thousands of pastoral ministers and Catholic faithful who have been doing this work for many decades, but who have often received penalties and discouragements from church leaders who did not share this pope’s broad vision.  His message initiates a new day for a Catholic Church that is welcoming  to all.

In the interview, Francis answers one of the most vexing questions since he was elected to the Catholic church’s highest office:  Has his positive attitude toward LGBT issues and his penchant for not mentioning them controversially been intentional or circumstantial?

In the interview, released today, he has let the world know that his approach has definitely been intentional, signaling a new direction in the way the papacy addresses these topics.

His direct response to that question was answered by him:

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.

““The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things. . . . We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”

This answer reflects not only good theology, but it reflects the pastoral wisdom that countless priests, nuns, deacons, and lay people have been practicing for decades in terms of their outreach to LGBT people.  In parishes, college campuses, and faith communities, outreach to LGBT people has always been done in noting the full context of their lives, not just the sexual arena.  Pastoral ministers have realized that focusing on the sexual arena was not only demeaning, but was spiritually deadening to both LGBT people and the entire faith community.

But the pope went further in his interview, too. The pope was asked how the Church can respond pastorally to marginalized groups, including same-sex couples.  What is remarkable about his answer is that it is the first time that a pope has offered direction on pastoral care of LGBT people that did not focus solely on sexual behavior. The pope said:

“We need to proclaim the Gospel on every street corner,” the pope says, “preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing, even with our preaching, every kind of disease and wound. In Buenos Aires I used to receive letters from homosexual persons who are ‘socially wounded’ because they tell me that they feel like the church has always condemned them. But the church does not want to do this. During the return flight from Rio de Janeiro I said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge. By saying this, I said what the catechism says. Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.

“A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing.”

The pope’s interview, which should be read in its entirety, did not focus on LGBT issues.  Instead it presents a beautiful picture of a humble, pastoral leader who seems willing to learn from all members of the Church.  In a discussion on the nature of the Church, he referred to it in the way that Vatican II did, as not just the hierarchy but the entire people of God:

“The image of the church I like is that of the holy, faithful people of God. This is the definition I often use, and then there is that image from the Second Vatican Council’s ‘Dogmatic Constitution on the Church’ (No. 12). Belonging to a people has a strong theological value. In the history of salvation, God has saved a people. There is no full identity without belonging to a people. No one is saved alone, as an isolated individual, but God attracts us looking at the complex web of relationships that take place in the human community. God enters into this dynamic, this participation in the web of human relationships.

“The people itself constitutes a subject. And the church is the people of God on the journey through history, with joys and sorrows. Thinking with the church, therefore, is my way of being a part of this people. . . . When the dialogue among the people and the bishops and the pope goes down this road and is genuine, then it is assisted by the Holy Spirit. So this thinking with the church does not concern theologians only.”

And he emphasized that the church is big enough to welcome ALL kinds of people.  This is directly opposite from Pope Benedict XVI’s approach when he said that he wanted to purify the church, even if that meant having a much smaller institution.  Pope Francis said:

“This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people. We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity. And the church is Mother; the church is fruitful.”

Millions of Catholics, and many others, are eager to be part of such a church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

New York Times: Pope Bluntly Faults Church’s Focus on Gays and Abortion

New Ways Ministry Says “#FollowFrancis”


Reflections On Vatican II and LGBT Issues–Part 1: Dialogue

December 27, 2012

2012 marked the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II.  As we’ve noted before, the Second Vatican Council was instrumental in laying the groundwork that allowed a discussion of LGBT issues in the church to develop.

Earlier this year, theologian Richard Gaillardetz wrote an insightful essay in America magazine marking this important anniversary.  Gaillardetz identified three crucial dynamics at the Council that allowed it to emerge as the transformative experience it was for the church.  In three separate posts, I’d like to examine those three dynamics and reflect on how they apply to LGBT issues in the church today.  (The next two posts will appear here in the coming week.)

dialogueThe first dynamic Gaillardetz idenitifies is “the catholicity of dialogue.”  He observes:

“During the four sessions of the council, bishops were introduced to other prelates from diverse countries and continents, who looked at key pastoral and theological issues from strikingly different perspectives. One of the more felicitous decisions of the council concerned the seating of bishops in the aula (the nave of St. Peter’s Basilica where the main meetings of the council were conducted). The bishops were seated in order according to episcopal seniority rather than by region. This created the circumstances in which an Italian bishop, for example, might sit next to a bishop from Africa.

“This arrangement made possible a fruitful exchange of diverse perspectives and insights. Indeed, some of the most important work of the council was accomplished at the coffee bars (nicknamed after two Gospel characters, Bar-Jonah and Bar-Abbas) kept open behind the bleachers in the aula. Bishops, after struggling to stay awake during one mind-numbing Latin speech after another, found respite at these coffee bars and often engaged in frank conversation about a variety of topics. It was the sustained, face-to-face conversation and sharing of diverse experiences that opened episcopal eyes to new possibilities. These conversations were further facilitated by informal gatherings of bishops like the 22 bishops who met regularly at the Domus Mariae hotel and were committed to encouraging a more wide-ranging deliberation than was possible within the aula. These bishops met weekly to discuss topics being considered by the council. . . .

“It was the many opportunities for discussion and debate, both formal and informal, that allowed the bishops to discern the impulse of the Spirit.”

What a remarkable opportunity for the church!  Bishops actually had the opportunity to dialogue with one another, to share perspectives and test their ideas against what others think.

From so many hierarchical statements today on LGBT issues, one gets the idea that the bishops are not talking even with one another.  Instead, they seem to be listening to and repeating only statements that come from the Vatican.  Our church is clearly the poorer for this situation.

Bishops–and our entire church–need more opportunities like Vatican II to dialogue, particularly in the area of LGBT issues.  LGBT topics are a relatively new topic for examination and discussion in both society and the world.  It was only after the mid-point of the 20th century that even secular society began to slowly discuss these topics.  Clearly, LGBT topics are among those that needed the fresh air that Pope John XXIII discussed when he announced the Council as an opportunity to open the windows of the church.

Several bishops have told me personally that these days bishops rarely discuss ideas with one another in informal settings.  They, sadly, have few opportunities to test out ideas and theories with one another in free and open situations.  Only staleness could thrive in such a context.

For LGBT issues, and for all issues related to sexuality, bishops need to dialogue with more than one another.  Since all bishops are vowed celibates,  if they only speak with one another, they will only hear part of the necessary conversation. They need to hear the lived faith experiences of people involved in public and loving sexual relationships.

While it may take a long time to end the culture of silence and non-discussion that infects our current hierarchy,  we can foster that spirit of dialogue by starting conversations on LGBT issues on the grassroots level.  Start programs of dialogue and education on LGBT issues  in your parish or faith community if you can.  If you are unable to do that,  then raise LGBT issues whenever possible:  in social justice committee meetings, education  committee meetings, pastoral outreach meetings, evangelization meetings–wherever there is an opportunity to do so.

I know that in many quarters in the church  there is an unhealthy silence about LGBT issues.  We need to end that silence by addressing these issues whenever and wherever we can in ways that will not alienate those we are trying to engage in dialogue.    If we begin the dialogue in small ways in our home communities, then the larger dialogue that is needed in our church, and that Vatican II modeled for us, can become a reality.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Fordham Adopts ‘Queer’ Due To Student Campaign

November 4, 2012

Student organizations at Fordham University may now use the term ‘Queer’ in official programming, a decision reached after lengthy discussions with administrators in early October.

A statement announcing the decision by The Queer Campaign, a student group at Fordham,  in conjunction with the student groups Pride and Rainbow Alliance, said, in part:

“After a long period of dialogue with the Dean of Students and the Office of Student Leadership and Community Development, the word ‘queer’ may now be used on both the Lincoln Center and Rose Hill campuses of Fordham University, like any other word, by ANY club—as long as it is not derogatory. This represents a culmination of efforts enacted by the Queer Campaign…and many other communities at large.”

The Queer Campaign describes itself as “a movement for full rights to the usage of the word ‘queer’ at Fordham University at Lincoln Center.”

Tom Beaudoin, an associate professor of theology at Fordham, wrote on these recent developments in America magazine’s ‘In All Things’ blog. Beaudoin celebrates the decision as allowing a person to self-identify how they are addressed:

“Over the course of teaching college for the past dozen years, and through my own many missteps, I have come to see it as a basic rule of decency that as much as possible, people should be called whatever they prefer to be called. I have seen this rule of thumb proven helpful in many kinds of conversations across substantial differences…

“Of course, in a great many cases, letting adults specify the way they want to be addressed is not only a matter of decency, but also of dignity. This is especially the case where a part of oneself, or even something like one’s entire being, has not been acknowledged in situations where it mattered, and where people could have done differently.”

He writes that the re-appropriation of ‘queer’ from hate speech to a positive term has led to a new field of study, queer theory, and bears on religious studies and theology in smaller ways. More than this, Beaudoin identifies ‘queer’ as:

“Among many other meanings, queer means the dignity of speaking for one’s own identity and desires outside the expectations and constraints of what presents itself in many areas of life as the obligation to be (or become) ‘straight.’ This often quiet revolution is happening in uneven, but sure, ways across Catholic college and university life in the USA.”

In a follow-up post, he expands this conversation on ‘queer’ to the entire Catholic Church, where the characterization of LGBT persons is increasingly important in a milieu of negativity from some leaders.

Beaudoin’s belief that ‘queer’ is a nucleus for theological reflection is given a flesh-and-blood example  in the blog of a student writing on his experiences as a Queer Catholic. Describing the struggles of harmonizing these two identities, Nathan writes:

“This self hatred hit an all time low during my Junior year. I was in my “Christian Morality” class and my teacher told me that all “homosexuals” are “intrinsically evil”, “morally wrong”, and that “homosexuality is a mental disorder”. I went home… and I don’t think I had ever hated myself, my identity, more than I did that day. The ironic thing is that what kept me going, was my faith. I was a huge part of my youth group in my Church. My youth group was my safe-haven where I didn’t need to worry about being perceived as “gay” or “straight” , its where I truly felt loved by God and that the God we talked about in high school was not my youth group’s God.

“Your religion needs you. For me, I see so much beauty in my faith, in my Church. If you are struggling to come to terms, pray, experience, find God in the struggle. If I hadn’t struggled with my identity, my relationship with God would not be what it is today…You are needed, and that times are changing.”

The times are changing indeed and Fordham University is creating space for desperately needed honest conversation and expression about identity, sexuality, and faith.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Should Catholic Dioceses Lose Their Tax Exempt Status Because of Political Involvement?

July 24, 2012

A law professor at Duquesne University, a Catholic campus in Pittsburgh, is arguing that certain bishops have overstepped the boundaries of their tax exempt status and entered the world of politics in their zeal for opposing the Health and Human Services mandate on contraception and a marriage equality initiative.

In an essay in America magazine, Nicholas P. Cafardi explains his case:

“During a sermon in the cathedral church of St. Mary’s in Peoria, Ill., on April 14, Bishop Daniel Jenky compared what he called the “extreme secularist agenda” of President Obama with the anti-Catholic programs of, among others, Hitler and Stalin, two of the 20th century’s worst mass murderers. In the same month, Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle, Wash., launched a signature drive in every parish of his archdiocese to put Referendum 74 on the statewide ballot. The referendum would repeal Washing-ton’s new same-sex marriage law.

“What Bishop Jenky did is called ‘electioneering.’ He intervened in a political campaign in opposition to one of the candidates. What Archbishop Sartain did is called “lobbying.” He intervened in an attempt to pass legislation. Both men did so using their episcopal office. Bishop Jenky spoke from the pulpit of his cathedral during Mass. Archbishop Sartain sent his Referendum 74 letter out on archdiocesan stationery. There is no doubt that both men were acting in their official capacities on behalf of the church and not as Citizen Jenky and Citizen Sartain.

“Why does that make a difference? Quite simply because tax-exempt churches—on whose behalf Bishop Jenky and Archbishop Sartain were acting—are under serious legal restrictions when it comes to electioneering and lobbying activities. Churches cannot electioneer at all. The prohibition is absolute. They may not intervene in any way in a campaign for political office either in favor of a candidate or in opposition to one. With lobbying, an attempt to influence legislation, there is some wiggle room. There the law allows churches to lobby, but only to an ‘insubstantial’ degree.”

Cafardi goes on to explain, in lay people’s terms,  the origin of the Internal Revenue Service tax code which prohibits such activity, and then explains the difficulty of pinning such violations on bishops and dioceses:

“Churches can certainly advocate on social issues they perceive to have a moral component without violating the tax code. But once a church’s advocacy goes beyond issues and, without a legitimizing invitation from the legislature itself, addresses a pending law—urging voters directly (called grassroots lobbying) or urging legislators to act (called direct lobbying)—a line has been crossed. Advocacy for or against pending laws and referendums is lobbying, pure and simple, and tax-exempt churches may not use tax-exempt dollars to affect the legislative process, except ‘insubstantially.’

“There is the rub for Archbishop Sartain. Depending upon how many church resources he is using (staff time, church publications, advertisements and so on, backed by tax-exempt church dollars) to get Referendum 74 on the statewide ballot, what he is doing may or may not be considered ‘substantial’ lobbying. Using even one tax-exempt church dollar, though, to stir up opposition to the legally recognized civil rights of others is objectionable, no matter what the tax code says about it.”

Nicholas Cafardi

What’s more, Cafardi points out, is the difficulty in assigning a penalty to such violations:

“A practical problem with our bishops’ violating the tax code’s restrictions on political activities is that the Internal Revenue Service has only limited means to stop them. The I.R.S. can either use the nuclear option and revoke the archdiocese’s tax exemption, which is so drastic as to be unthinkable, or it can use the fly-swatter option and fine the diocese for the amount it spent on the prohibited political activity under Section 4955 of the tax code. For example, what was the cost to the Diocese of Peoria of Bishop Jenky’s political homily? The cost of opening up the cathedral that day? The utility costs? A prorated portion of the bishop’s salary? We are talking about a small amount, hardly the kind of fine that hurts. So legal penalties do not work in such cases. Most Americans might think the simple fact that this is the law would restrain politically overzealous bishops, but that has not worked either.”

But Cafardi suggests that the bishops might be applying their own penalty to themselves with their political involvement because polls continually show that most Catholics, particularly young Catholics, are increasingly alienated from the church when the bishops speak and act politically:

“In a survey conducted among 16- to 29-year-olds by the Barna Group in 2007, nine of this age cohort’s top 12 perceptions of Christianity were not good ones. They found Christianity to be judgmental (87 percent), hypocritical (85 percent) and too involved in politics (75 percent). That is some troika.

“In another 2012 survey of college-age millennials (18- to 24-year-olds) conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute and Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, it was found that 64 percent think that ‘anti-gay’ is an accurate description of Christianity today. An almost equal portion in this survey, 62 percent, also find modern Christianity to be ‘judgmental.’ Now some readers might opine that religion is supposed to be judgmental; it is supposed to distinguish right from wrong and that these surveys reveal only that young people prefer the relativism of their own generation to the church’s rules. Maybe. But perhaps we should also recall that we worship a Lord who said, ‘Do not judge, so that you may not be judged’ (Mt 7:1).

“In 2008, during the last presidential election, the Pew Research Center conducted a study on church endorsement of candidates for political office. The results are revealing. When asked if churches should endorse one candidate over another, the Pew poll found that in the total population of those polled, 29 percent said yes, but 66 percent said no. When the breakdown was by faiths, among all Catholics, 30 percent said yes and 67 percent said no. Among white, non-Hispanic Catholics, 26 percent said yes and 70 percent said no. Those are rather overwhelming numbers, indicating that bishops who intervene in politics are working against their own interests. Their people are not going to hear them.

“If the bishops’ politics are keeping people, especially young people, out of the pews, then perhaps they need to ask themselves a critical question: What is more important to them, political goals or the salvation of souls? If our bishops choose to ignore the law’s restrictions on their political activity, they should at least listen to the Lord, who talked about leaving the 99 sheep to go find the lost one (Lk 15:5). In the final analysis, our bishops will not be judged on how many presidents they helped to elect or how many laws they helped to pass, but on how many of those lost sheep they rescued.”

What is even more troubling has been that the response of many bishops to such questions about their tax-exempt status has been to grandstand that their religious liberty is being attacked.  As the statistics Cafardi notes show, it’s time that bishops worry less about religious liberty and more about the crumbling faith of the next generation.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 


‘I Was Thirsty and You Gave Me Drink’: A Suggestion for Cardinal George

December 27, 2011

Cardinal George

Since Cardinal George’s insensitive comments comparing the LGBT movement to the Ku Klux Klan occurred just days before Christmas,  it has been difficult to keep up with all the commentary occurring about this matter.   Three responses are very much worth noting.

Dignity/Chicago, the local chapter of DignityUSA in the Windy City, released a statement calling on Cardinal George to clarify and apologize for his comments.  Chapter President Chris Pett noted,

“The fact is the LGBT community is not the enemy nor have we called the Catholic Church our enemy. This is another attempt to make the church appear to be the victim when so many LGBT people and youths have been victimized by the church’s exclusion and intolerance. As LGBT Catholics, we at Dignity/Chicago have experienced both great love and acceptance in the Catholic Church, but also dishonesty and condemnation from many of our churches leaders.”

More importantly, Pett instructs the Cardinal what a true Christian response should be to any perceived animosity the prelate may feel:

“If there is hostility in the gay community toward the Church, then the remedy from the Church is love.”

At America magazine’s blog , a post by  Kevin Clarke  also noted the issue of hostility:  the potential for hostility in the future, specifically at Gay Pride in Chicago next year.  (You may recall that the controversy which was the occasion for Cardinal George’s statements is that the Gay Pride parade will be passing by Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish at the time when the parish has its scheduled Sunday liturgy;  crowds and noise from the parade are expected to hamper parishioners from getting to the church building and praying peacefully.):

“If George was worried that something worse might be in the offing at Mt. Carmel [parish] by way of expression of antipathy to the church from gay priders turned protestors, his unfortunate comparison seems likely to assure such a confrontation now.”

Fortunately, as Clarke points out, not all Chicago Catholic leaders feel the way that Cardinal George does.  In fact. Fr. Thomas Srenn, the pastor at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, posted  a statement on the parish website explaining the issue and hoping for an agreeable outcome for all.  The following are excerpts:

“Our Lady of Mt. Carmel has been part of the East Lakeview neighborhood for 125 years. From its founding as an immigrant parish until today, our parish has witnessed many demographic changes. Parishioners, indeed, are proud of their local history and particularly proud of the current diversity that exists in our church and school communities.comments seem to assure….

“The annual Pride Parade is one of the hallmarks that make Lakeview unique and we in no way wish to diminish its place in the community. The petition simply asks the City and the Chicago Pride Parade planners to consider our concern that the impact of the new route and time would have on the ability of people to participate at Sunday morning Masses

“Attempts to provide other access to our church will in no way enable our parishioners to navigate the anticipated crowds or to be able to celebrate Mass in the reflective, contemplative atmosphere that is so important to us.

“Parishioners, the residents of our diverse community, the many visitors who will enjoy our neighborhood that weekend, all want to have a safe, peaceful and enjoyable Pride Sunday.”

Chicago city officials and Pride parade organizers have worked out a compromise to start the parade later so as not to interfere with the parish’s Mass and other church services along the route.    Here’s an additional suggestion:  Wouldn’t it be great if Our Lady of Mount Carmel parishioners were outside their church building to greet parade participants and offer them cups or water?

The third response is from Cardinal George himself.   Towleroad.com carries a video from WABC-TV which shows the cardinal making the following clarification on Christmas Day:

” ‘Obviously, it’s absurd to say the gay and lesbian community are the Ku Klux Klan, but if you organize a parade that looks like parades that we’ve had in our past because it stops us from worshipping God, well then that’s the comparison, but it’s not with people and people – it’s parade-parade,’ said George.”

Unfortunately, that doesn’t sound like an apology or a clarification which ameliorates the situation.  Cardinal George will need to do better.  Here’s another suggestion:  Wouldn’t it be even greater if Cardinal George greeted parade marchers and handed out water to them, too?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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