In Minnesota and Montana Dismissals, Hypocrisy Abounds

September 25, 2014

Jamie Moore

The music director at St Victoria parish in Victoria, Minnesota, has resigned after marrying his husband last weekend, and the resignation was ordered by embattled Archbishop John Nienstedt. But as LGBT-related employment disputes top twenty in 2014 alone, are these firings and resignations making it more difficult for LGBT people and allies to remain Catholic in any capacity?

The church’s pastor, Fr. Bob White, wrote to parishioners explaining that upon hearing their music director, Jamie Moore, had entered into a same-gender marriage, the archbishop demanded his resignation and Moore complied. White added that Moore would “be sorely missed…we wish him every happiness.” The pastor said he would address the situation from a “pastoral perspective” during upcoming weekend Masses.

Nienstedt released his own statement, citing a document unusually titled “Justice in Employment” which allows church workers to be fired immediately for public conduct inconsistent with Catholic teaching. The archbishop added that his role was to make “painful and difficult” decisions to uphold Christian values.

However, St. Victoria parishioners do not quite see the archbishop’s actions in keeping with Christ’s message. Some compared this incident to the firing of Kristen Ostendorf, a lesbian teacher, from a Minnesota Cathoilc high school last year. Others like Chub Schmeig criticized the action outright, telling Fox 9 News:

” ‘I believe the church has more serious problems to be concerned with than whether a gay or lesbian person is in the church…It has lots of other issues to handle first.’ “

What might those problems be for Minnesota Catholics? Archbishop Nienstedt, a leading anti-LGBT bishop in the US, is facing increasing calls for his own resignation over his mishandling of clergy abuse that included moving a priest convicted of sexual abuse and offering secret payments to priests who admitted to the sexual abuse of children. As far as LGBT issues are concerned, Nienstedt has called marriage equality the “work of Satan” and spent tremendous resources mailing more than 400,000 DVDs during Minnesota’s debate on that matter. He has also been accused of making sexual advances on priests and seminarians, charges which he denied this summer.

And what to make of this situation, where an archbishop under pressure to resign personally forces a gay musician out? Two prominent gay Catholic writers, Frank Bruni and Andrew Sullivan, are tackling this question in the wake of so many LGBT-related employment disputes with church workers. Writing in his column for the New York Times, Bruni recalls the recent Communion denial and dismissal from volunteer services of two longtime gay parishioners in Montana, Tom Wojtowick and Paul Huff, who quietly were married. He continues:

“Such punishment has befallen many employees of Catholic schools or congregations since the legalization of same-sex marriage in many states allowed them civil weddings. Teachers long known to be gay are suddenly exiled for being gay and married, which is apparently too much commitment and accountability for the church to abide. Honesty equals expulsion. ‘I do’ means you’re done…

“The Catholic Church does incalculable good, providing immeasurable comfort — material as well as spiritual — to so many. But it contradicts and undercuts that mission when it fails to recognize what more and more parishioners do: that gay people deserve the same dignity as everyone else, certainly not what happened to the Montana couple. If Francis and his successors don’t get this right, all his other bits of progress and pretty words will be for naught.”

Andrew Sullivan of The Dish writes about how these incidents have shifted his thinking about being gay and Catholic, moving from a minor blemish amid much greater goodness to a “defining wound…[that] may slowly wreck the whole church.” Writing about the Montana couple, Sullivan says:

“It’s kinda hard to portray these two as some kind of subversive force…And the action against the men came not because they are gay but because they decided to celebrate their love and friendship with a civil marriage license. So they’re not really being targeted for sex; they are being targeted for their commitment and responsibility and honesty. And the only reason they have been excluded on those grounds is because they are gay.”

“If the church upholds this kind of decision, it is endorsing cruelty, discrimination and exclusion. Pope Francis’ view is that this is exactly the kind of thing that requires the church to exercise mercy not rigidity. But allowing a married gay couple to sing in the choir as an act of ‘mercy’ would merely further expose the fragility of the church’s thirteenth century views of human sexuality. It would put the lie to the otherness of gay people; to the notion that it is essential or even possible for a tiny minority to live entirely without intimacy or love or commitment. It also reveals that gay men have long been a part of the church – and tolerated, as long as they lied about their lives and gave others plausible deniability with respect to their sexual orientation. It is an endorsement of dishonesty.”

Sullivan goes on to point out that these dismissals and firings are inconsistent with Catholic moral teachings on compassion, mercy, inclusion, and fairness — and that young Catholics view this “as barbaric and inhuman.” He concludes:

“There is only so much inhumanity that a church can be seen to represent before its own members lose faith in it. I recall the feelings of my own niece and nephew who lost a huge amount of respect for the church when they heard a homily denouncing the civil marriage of their own uncle. I notice the outcry among Catholic high school students when a teacher was fired for the very same reason. When a church responds to an act of love and commitment not by celebration but by ostracism, it is not just attacking a couple’s human dignity; it is also attacking itself.”

One final note is that Sullivan captures the hypocrisy in these situations perfectly when he writes: “Yes, the church is now in favor of divorce as a condition for being a Catholic!”  (Divorce is required of the Montana couple to be allowed to return to communion.) Indeed, there is neither logic nor just cause for these dismissals.

As Pope Francis calls for greater mercy and his top US adviser, Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley, says these employment disputes “need to be rectified,” the hypocrisy inherent in denying Communion to LGBT people or forcing church workers out for their sexual orientation, marital status, or personal views only becomes more fully on display. I reiterate the prediction of former San Francisco Catholic Charities director Brian Cahill that these disputes will cause the church to become a ‘shrinking cult.’

For the sake of LGBT Catholics, their allies, and the good of the whole church, let us pray and act so this hypocrisy will end.  Please consider beginning a discussion in your parish to enact employment non-discrimination policies.  You can find out how to do that by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry



Hopes for the New (Gay?) Pope

March 11, 2013

As the Conclave to elect a new pope approaches, intensifying public speculation about the papabile is met with increasing silence from the cardinal electors themselves. The world will soon closely observe a chimney for white smoke, and while no one predicts a papacy that wildly diverges from that of Benedict XVI, many LGBT individuals and advocates in the Church remain hopeful.

Perhaps most hopeful is Don Andrea Gallo, a Catholic priest and LGBT rights advocate, who points to theresignation of Cardinal Keith O’Brienfor sexual misconduct with fellow priests and rumors from Andrew Sullivan that the former Pope Benedict XVI himself is gay, as evidence that homosexuality in the clergy is a pressing issue. Pink News reports that Gallo told Italian media:

“A homosexual pope would be a magnificent thing. The essence of the Gospel is that we are all God’s sons and daughters and we are all equal as God’s children…The homosexual priest must be free to express his identity and his sexuality…”

Others write more prgamatically of expectations for a pastoral pope, who, even if he does not change the teaching of the hierarchy, can most definitely change the tone and emphasis. The Los Angeles Times profiled notable Catholic voices about their desires for the coming papacy. Fr. Gregory Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries, writes of a papacy ruled by love:

“We need a pope to oversee not simply a modernization of the church but its total transformation…We need a pope to usher in a new era of inclusion, the end of a sinful clericalism, and a strong sense of duty to those on society’s margins. The 1 billion faithful long for a leader who is fearless and driven, not by terror but by love.”

Margaret Susan Thompson, a professor at Syracuse University, considers a humble and listening pope as what is needed:

“I dream of a pope who listens and appreciates that he still has a lot to learn, who trusts in the primacy of conscience and appreciates that the Holy Spirit empowers the whole body of believers, not just himself. I hope for someone who is collegial and consultative, not just with cardinals and clerics but with people in the pews (female and male) and with those outside the church.”

Faith in Public Life director John Gehring writes:

“Imagine a pope who held monthly dialogues with lay Catholics and overworked pastors who live out Gospel values from the barrios of East Los Angeles to rural villages in Kenya. Instead of silencing theologians and nuns, a pope could make it known that discussion and debate are signs of a vibrant faith…Gay and lesbian Catholics who love their church but often feel marginalized should be made to feel more welcome. Finally, a new pope might…take a cue from the simplicity of Jesus and St. Francis of Assisi. Neither had a princely residence or even a Popemobile, but their spirit and humility sparked a revolution that still lives today.”

The narrative of a Catholic hierarchy opposed to full LGBT equality and inclusion needs no illumination, and many wonder how Catholics hope for improvement given recent history under popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI. A former Catholic priest from Brooklyn, John Lazar, identifies the source of any hope that a new papacy would progress on LGBT issues. In a piece in the Washington Blade, he writes:

“Yet for Catholics, there is a belief that the Holy Spirit can break through all of the Vatican politics and the sinful components from which even the leadership is not immune. Many yearn for the likes of a Pope John XXIII, who surprised the world by opening the windows of the church by convening the Second Vatican Council. Many of the teaching documents from that Council formed great pastoral leaders, like Chicago’s late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who promoted the “seamless garment” model of moral behavior promoting the total good of the individual and Brooklyn’s Bishop Francis Mugavero, whose letter on sexuality was a breath of fresh air for gay Catholics. The Holy Spirit’s work is cut out…

“The hope expressed by many LGBT Catholics, for the new leader that will be chosen by the College of Cardinals, may not have the best odds in their favor this time around. But Catholics do know that the Holy Spirit can pull some surprises, and perhaps, this Papal Conclave may result in just a few.”

As the Cardinals are sealed into the Sistine Chapel to deliberate and vote, LGBT Catholics and advocates must join with the them and Catholics worldwide in praying, “Come, holy Spirit!”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Is the Retired Pope Gay?

March 5, 2013
Andrew Sullivan

Andrew Sullivan

Is Benedict XVI gay?  Gay Catholic writer Andrew Sullivan thinks so.  Last week, Sullivan blogged about his impression that the resigned pope is gay, making headlines in the LGBT press with this speculation.

Sullivan uses as his evidence the fact that Benedict’s secretary, Msgr. Georg Ganswein, will continue working for the new pope, while he lives with Benedict in the monastery on the Vatican grounds where the former pontiff plans to retire.    Sullivan writes:

So Benedict’s handsome male companion will continue to live with him, while working for the other Pope during the day. Are we supposed to think that’s, well, a normal arrangement?

Sullivan fills out his evidence with a book review written by Colm Toibin of Angela Quattrochi’s book Is the Pope Gay?:

Pope Benedict XVI and Msgr. Georg Ganswein

Pope Benedict XVI and Msgr. Georg Ganswein

“When asked if he felt nervous in the presence of the Holy Father, Gänswein replied that he sometimes did and added: ‘But it is also true that the fact of meeting each other and being together on a daily basis creates a sense of “familiarity”, which makes you feel less nervous. But obviously I know who the Holy Father is and so I know how to behave appropriately. There are always some situations, however, when the heart beats a little stronger than usual.’ “

Sullivan comments on this quotation:

“This man – clearly in some kind of love with Ratzinger (and vice-versa) will now be working for the new Pope as secretary in the day and spending the nights with the Pope Emeritus. This is not the Vatican. It’s Melrose Place.”

While the possibility that Benedict is, in fact, gay is certainly a viable one, speculation such as Sullivan’s tends to make me uneasy for several reasons.   First, there is a subtle presumption that any male-male relationship has to prove that it is not homosexual.  If the gay movement can make any contribution to the world, I think one of those is that it can help males see that they need not be afraid of being close to one other and expressing affection for one another.  Speculating that all male-male relationships are potentially homosexual creates a climate of suspicion, which is, in fact, homophobic.

Second, while it is very true that many people with strong anti-gay stances are, in fact, gay themselves, I also know that such is not always the case.  Straight people can be homophobes, too.

Third,  speculation about a famous anti-gay person’s sexuality leads nowhere.  It is Benedict’s policies, not his orientation (however repressed it may be), which make him a harmful influence to pro-LGBT initiatives.  Let’s suppose for a second that Benedict is gay.  His orientation wouldn’t make his policies any more or less harmful. Yes, there would be a certain amount of hypocrisy involved, and that would be difficult to accept,   but I don’t think it would change the pope’s policies any.

Last week, when Bondings 2.o posted about the accusations of sexual misconduct by Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien, one of our loyal blog readers, Bob Miailovich, commented:

“Self-hatred and internalized homophobia among gay folk is something we are well acquainted with. O’Brien deserves our pity as a gay man who hates himself so deeply.”

If Benedict is, in fact, gay, then he must be living with an incredible amount of cognitive dissonance in order to so publicly and vehemently denounce LGBT people.  He is causing great harm to himself, as well as to others.

Is Benedict gay?  I would hope that if he is gay that people in the Catholic LGBT movement would express attitudes toward sexual orientation and secrecy that would allow him to “come out” when he is ready to do so.   That is the approach that I suggest we do with all people, regardless of their station in life.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Sister Jeannine Gramick Featured in Nine Short Videos on “The Daily Beast”

June 20, 2012

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Andrew Sullivan’s blog, The Dish, housed at The DailyBeast.com is running a series of nine short videos with Sister Jeannine Gramick, New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, on a variety of questions concerning LGBT issues, Catholic church and U.S. politics, and the LCWR crisis and American nuns.   The videos are running every day from June 18-24, and then two more on June 30 and July1.  The video for the day is posted at 12 noon, Eastern Time.

So far, two of nine questions for Sister Jeannine have been posted there.  You can view the video by clicking on each of these two questions:

What do you consider to be the most powerful scriptural basis for LGBT equal rights?

Do you think civil marriage should be available for gay and lesbian couples?

The blog offers the following short bio of Sister Jeannine:

“Sister Jeannine Gramick is a Roman Catholic religious sister and a co-founder of the activist organization New Ways Ministry, a Catholic social justice center working for justice and reconciliation of lesbian and gay people with the institutional Catholic Church. After a review of her public activities on behalf of the Church that concluded in a finding of grave doctrinal error, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) declared in 1999 that she should no longer be engaged in pastoral work with lesbian and gay persons. In 2000, her congregation, in an attempt to thwart further conflict with the Vatican, commanded her not to speak publicly about homosexuality. She responded by saying, ‘I choose not to collaborate in my own oppression by restricting a basic human right [to speak]. To me this is a matter of conscience.’ “

As always is the case when listening to Sister Jeannine, you should find the video interviews informative, respectful, forthright, and inspiring.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


What Catholics Can Learn from Barack Obama’s “Coming Out” Story

May 15, 2012

In a Newsweek analysis article, gay Catholic commentator Andrew Sullivan has declared Barack Obama to be America’s “first gay president.”  The addition of a rainbow halo on the cover of the magazine (at right) adds a religious flavor to this title.  The article traces Mr. Obama’s notorious “evolution” on marriage equality, but the title of “first gay president” is given for a much more personal connection between the president and LGBT people.  In a long passage towards the end of the article, Sullivan poignantly points out:

“. . .[T]here is something on this subject [marriage equality] with Obama that goes deeper in my view than cold, calculating politics and a commitment to civil rights. The core gay experience throughout history has been displacement, a sense of belonging and yet not belonging. Gays are born mostly into heterosexual families and discover as they grow up that, for some reason, they will never be able to have a marriage like their parents’ or their siblings’. They know this before they can tell anyone else, even their parents. This sense of subtle alienation—of loving your own family while feeling excluded from it—is something all gay children learn. They sense something inchoate, a separateness from their peers, a subtle estrangement from their families, the first sharp pangs of shame. And then, at some point, they find out what it all means. In the past, they often would retreat and withdraw, holding a secret they couldn’t even share with their parents—living as an insider outsider.

“And this, in a different way, is Obama’s life story as well. He was a black kid brought up by white grandparents and a white single mother in Hawaii and Indonesia, where his color really made no difference. He discovered his otherness when reading an old issue of Life magazine, which had a feature on African-Americans who had undergone an irreversible bleaching treatment to make them look white—because they believed being white was the only way to be happy. . . .

“Barack Obama had to come out of a different closet. He had to discover his black identity and then reconcile it with his white family, just as gays discover their homosexual identity and then have to reconcile it with their heterosexual family. . . .

“This is the gay experience: the discovery in adulthood of a community not like your own home and the struggle to belong in both places, without displacement, without alienation. It is easier today than ever. But it is never truly without emotional scar tissue. Obama learned to be black the way gays learn to be gay. . . .

“I have always sensed that he intuitively understands gays and our predicament—because it so mirrors his own. And he knows how the love and sacrifice of marriage can heal, integrate, and rebuild a soul. The point of the gay-rights movement, after all, is not about helping people be gay. It is about creating the space for people to be themselves. This has been Obama’s life’s work. And he just enlarged the space in this world for so many others, trapped in different cages of identity, yearning to be released and returned to the families they love and the dignity they deserve.”

I find this passage not only insightful about Barack Obama’s experience but that it also is applicable to the experience of LGBT Catholics.
Among the thousands of questions I’ve been asked over the past 20 years, the most common one, by far,  is why LGBT Catholics remain in the church.  Sullivan’s point that the gay experience is “the discovery in adulthood of a community not like your own home and the struggle to belong in both places, without displacement, without alienation” is an excellent answer to that question.

The  LGBT Catholic experience is the experience of feeling different from one’s home community, but still knowing that it is home.  The challenge of such an experience is not the challenge of resolving all the tensions that such difference manifests, but in the discovery of a new community where one can also feel at home and which gives a person the strength and courage to live “without displacement, without alienation” in both settings.

Every single LGBT Catholic that I know who has remained a Catholic has done so because they have been able to find such a community.  Indeed, without such community, life would be unbearable and there would be no way to survive.  Community provides the example and support that one needs to navigate through the many demands of identity made on one’s life.  Community is the place where we learn that we can be ourselves and be part of something larger.  Community is the place where we learn to incorporate the many different aspects of our identity into an integral whole. Community is the place where we learn to be “at home” wherever we are and whoever we are.

Living out these tensions and negotiating these many demands upon the self are part of the gifts that LGBT people offer to the rest of the church.  Other Catholics stand to learn valuable lessons about identity and community if they open themselves up to the life and faith experiences of LGBT people.  As Sullivan pointed out, “The point of the gay-rights movement, after all, is not about helping people be gay. It is about creating the space for people to be themselves.”   That is a lesson that all people, gay and straight alike, can reap benefits and blessings.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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