From Standing Ovation to Twitter, Catholics Are Speaking Out

April 24, 2012

In two of the biggest Catholic LGBT news stories in the nation over the past few weeks, Catholics have been letting their voices be heard loud and clear, via both traditional and ultra-contemporary methods.

A standing ovation, a traditional method of showing support, was used by Catholics in Seattle to show their approval of their pastor’s decision not to allow their parish to be used as a location to collect signatures in a petition drive to put repeal of Washington State’s new marriage equality law on the ballot this November.  According to a Seattle Post-Intelligencer article:

“The congregation at Seattle’s Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church gave the Rev. Tim Clark a standing ovation Sunday when he announced that the parish would not gather signatures for a referendum to repeal same-sex marriage.

“The parish became the sixth in Seattle to opt out of the petition drive for Referendum 74 that has been endorsed and foisted on parishes by Archbishop J. Peter Sartain.

“ ‘I am happy to report that Our Lady of the Lake parishoners have been overwhelmingly and, thus far, unanimously supportive of the decision I made NOT to gather signatures in support of this Referendum,’ Clark wrote in response to an e-mail.

“ ‘The standing ovation experienced during one of the Masses says less about me and much more about the health of this parish.  I only wished the archbishop could have experienced the sustained applause — the “sensus fidelium” — of the people.  He needs to listen to this “voice.” That is my prayer.’ ”

Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church joins five other Seattle-area parishes who have refused the archbishop’s request. The others are St. James Cathedral, St. Joseph Church, St. Mary’s Church, St. Patrick Church, and Christ Our Hope Catholic Church.   Bondings 2.0 reported on some of these other parishes’ refusals in a post earlier this month.

Rev. Clark explained the motivation behind his decision:

“ ‘When I first read the archbishop’s letter[asking parishes to collect signatures]  I was troubled by the content and his intentions,’ Clark wrote.  ‘In conscience, I could not allow signatures to be gathered, to allow the faith to be politicized in this way.

“ ‘What troubles me is the message this whole approach sends which I find discriminatory and insensitive.  To follow through with his wishes would be hurtful, divisive and a countersign to what we are trying to foster in this Catholic community in Wedgwood.

“ ‘I deeply believe, and say this with boldness, that this approach is not in the mind of Christ.’ ”

Rev. James Martin, SJ

In the continuing story about the Vatican’s attempt to suppress the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Catholics are using a Twitter hashtag–“#WhatSistersMeanToMe“–to express their solidarity with U.S. nuns.  The hashtag was established by Fr. James Martin, SJ, the popular Catholic author on spirituality.  In a HuffingtonPost.com article about the Twitter campaign, Martin explains his reason for establishing the hashtag as a place where people can show their support for the embattled Sisters:

“Catholic sisters are my heroes. In light of the Vatican’s desire to renew and reform their main organizing body, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, I thought it would be a great time to speak a word of support for Catholic sisters, and to acknowledge the hidden ways that these women have generously served God, served the poor and served this country.”

You can read the tweets to this hashtag here.

The Sisters’ support of LGBT people and issues has been one of the reasons that the Vatican is attempting to suppress their leadership conference.  Bondings 2.0 has been reporting on this story for the past six days; you can read the background by following the posts on this blog since April 18th.

Archbishop Peter Sartain

Interestingly, and perhaps not coincidentally, Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle is involved in both these stories.  In the first one, he requested that parishes in the Seattle Archdiocese collect signatures at their churches.  In the second story, he is the person appointed by the Vatican to oversee the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

These two stories indicate that Catholics are at a point where they are eager to speak their minds, hearts, and consciences on important church issues–and that they will use all the means at their disposal, both traditional ones and modern ones, to let their voices be heard.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Seattle Parishes Refuse to Cooperate in Anti-Marriage Equality Petition Drive

April 15, 2012

Washington State's Governor Christine Gregoire, a Catholic, signs marriage equality into law in February 2012.

A small but significant movement is happening in the Archdiocese of Seattle.   Archbishop Peter Sartrain has asked parishes there to collect signatures on a petition to call a referendum to repeal the state’s new marriage equality law.   So far, three parishes, including the archdiocesan cathedral, have publicly refused to circulate the petition.

According to a news article in The Seattle Times:

“The majority of parishes in Western Washington are expected to make the petitions available — some as soon as this Sunday, following Mass, according to a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Seattle.

“But pastors of at least three prominent Catholic churches in Seattle — St. Mary’s Church, St. Joseph Parish and St. James Cathedral — have notified members that the petitions will not be made available there.”

Very Rev. Michael Ryan, pastor of St. James Cathedral, said in a statement posted on the parish’s website that collecting signatures would be “divisive” in the parish, and he appreciated that the archbishop left the decision to do so up to the discretion of  pastors.  Ryan described his decision in a news article which appeared in The National Catholic Reporter:

“I decided to take a preemptive strike by sending out my email (April 11) thinking that many of my parishioners would either boycott Mass this coming Sunday or that they would arrive in a white heat. The tone of my email was low-key and anything but inflammatory. I have received 115 responses to it — when none were required or even expected! — and fully 110 of them have been strongly supportive of my decision. And I mean strongly supportive!”

According to a Reuters news story,

“Using similar language, the pastoral life coordinator at St. Mary’s Church, Tricia Wittmann-Todd, said collecting signatures would be ‘hurtful and divisive’ to her parish.

” ‘I am particularly concerned about our youth who may be questioning their own sexual identity and need our support at this time in their lives,’ she said in a statement.”

Danny Westneat, a columnist in The Seattle Times, cites an even stronger comment from a third pastor:

“At St. Joseph’s in Seattle, the Rev. John Whitney, S.J., said that he couldn’t in good conscience allow signature gathering. In a bit of a broadside in this Sunday’s church bulletin, he writes that Catholic leadership seems deaf to the spirit of its own people, who, he implies, could teach the bishops a thing or two about acceptance of gays and lesbians.

” ‘The leadership of the church sometimes confronts the world as an enemy of the Spirit,’ he wrote. ‘The church needs greater humility and openness.’ “

Westneat also quotes the woman whose opposition to the petition drive got this movement started:

“Barbara Guzzo is the parishioner at St. Mary’s who got this little rebellion going by speaking out against the archbishop’s campaign. She said she’s often asked how she hangs in there with a church that seems afflicted with an ” ‘institutional deafness’ (as Whitney dubbed it in his Sunday bulletin).

” ‘My answer is: because it’s a human institution,’ Guzzo said. ‘I mean it took the Catholic Church 400 years to acknowledge we were wrong on Galileo! But eventually we did do it. We did say, “Oops, we were wrong.”

“She’s not saying that’s coming again anytime soon. But this is how the change often starts. From the inside out.”

While many Catholic dioceses have taken strong measures to opposed marriage equality in legislatures and referendums, none had yet taken the bold step of collecting signatures at parishes to get the question put on the ballot.  The decision to do so remains highly controversial among Catholics in Seattle.  According to the Times news report:

“Calls to the archdiocese have been running about even between those opposed to the archbishop’s stance on the issue and those who favor it, archdiocese spokesman Greg Magnoni said.”

Additionally, the same report provides background on the question of diocesan involvement in marriage questions. Links to Bondings 2.0 blog posts about the following actions can be accessed by clicking on the highlighted text:

“Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, which advocates for gays within the Catholic Church, called Sartain’s position ‘a very aggressive step — and in the wrong direction.’

“In other states, ‘there appears to be a trend of the church supporting civil unions or domestic partnerships, arrangements short of full marriage,’ he said.

“For example, he noted, the Archbishop of Westminster in England in December came out in support of civil unions. And in New Hampshire this year, the Catholic Church endorsed civil unions for same-sex couples as a compromise to a full repeal of that state’s same-sex marriage law, which has been in place since 2009.

“In 2009, the Diocese in Portland, Maine, opposed marriage equality on a referendum, but did not make petitions available in its parishes.

“Same-sex marriage supporters in Maine are trying again this year to legalize gay marriage, and last month church leaders in that state announced they would not actively campaign against the measure, but would instead educate its members on the issues.

” ‘Education is the proper role for the church; collecting signatures is not education,’ DeBernardo said.

“In Maine, he said, some parishes have reported a loss in membership as a result of the church’s position in 2009.

” ‘That’s important for Archbishop Sartain and others to consider,’ DeBernardo said. ‘This could have a devastating effect, regardless of the outcome.’ “

Letters to the editor ofThe Seattle Times express outrage at Archbishop Sartrain’s petition drive.  Joe Martin writes:

“As a practicing Catholic, married and a proud father of two sons, I was horrified to learn that Archbishop J. Peter Sartain has plans to implement what amounts to a church-sponsored gay-bashing campaign.

“Whatever Sartain and Catholic officialdom thinks of gay people, the proposed inauguration of a petition drive to actively promote the rescinding of the gay-marriage act is a most misguided and contemptuous maneuver on the part of the institutional church in this region.”

Larry Clement writes:

“I have felt St. James Cathedral (and other churches, synagogues and mosques) to be a sanctuary, not only for me, but for others as well. A sanctuary where I could be in the presence of God for a while, away from the troubles outside, including all the dirt, accusations and innuendoes of politics. I also believe that the church must be separated from politics.

“If our archbishop is now allowing signatures to be gathered in or around the church and the services therein, for or against any political matter, my sanctuary is gone. It does not matter to me if the cause is gay marriage or discrimination of any kind, it does not belong in the church. I am saddened, and I am experiencing a great loss. I don’t want to go back.”

Ann Horwitt writes:

“The archdiocese has every right to engage in a political fight against gay marriage but it does so at some peril.

“Churches currently hold tax-exempt status as religious institutions. If the archdiocese of Seattle and other religious groups sponsor political actions such as petition drives against certain laws then perhaps it is time to revisit the privilege of tax exemption.”

Let’s pray that other Catholic parishes in Seattle and around the country will follow the example of these courageous communities.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Will Minnesota Bishops Follow the Maine Example?

March 7, 2012

Catholics in Minnesota are asking the states’ bishops to follow the example of Maine’s Bishop Malone by taking a less activist approach to the state’s upcoming marriage equality referendum.  In the past week, the Maine prelate released a pastoral letter on traditional heterosexual marriage, and announced that the Diocese of Portland would not be funding or staffing the political campaign to make sure that marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples is defeated.

Catholics for Marriage Equality Minnesota has instituted a number of new initiatives to make sure that their state’s proposed constitutional amendment against marriage equality will be defeated, including asking their bishops to take a cue from Bishop Malone.  According to a news report in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

Michael Bayly

“ ‘We are encouraged by Bishop Malone’s decision to place at the center of the Church’s mission in Maine Jesus’ call to care for the poor and marginalized,’ said Michael Bayly, executive director of Catholics for Marriage Equality Minnesota. ‘We pray that the bishops here in Minnesota will not only follow the example of Maine but will also be open to the love and commitment embodied in the relationships of committed gay and lesbian couples.’ ”

According to Catholics for Marriage Equality Minnesota’s blog site, Sensus Fidelium, the group

” . . . has organized a weekly prayer vigil during the season of Lent. Over 100 people attended last Sunday’s vigil, and organizers anticipate the numbers of attendees to continue to increase. Those who gather bear public witness to the fact that they do not see anything of Jesus’ life or message in Archbishop John Nienstedt’s support of the so-called ‘marriage amendment.’

“The group has also started an online petition asking Archbishop Nienstedt to re-focus the energy and resources of the Church away from divisive and unnecessary constitutional amendments back towards the core Catholic teachings of compassion and care for others. The petition can be found at FocusOnSocialJustice.Com

You can learn more about Catholics for Marriage Equality Minnesota at their website, c4me.org.

For more information about the Maine bishop’s action, you can read yesterday’s Bondings 2.0 blog post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Archbishop Kurtz Has An Opportunity to Back His Words With Action

February 23, 2012

Photo Tom Wright, U.S. Catholic

U.S. Catholic magazine’s newest issue is running a major story on lesbian and gay Catholics, entitled “Pride and Prejudice: The uneasy relationship between gays and lesbians and their church.” 

Writer Kristen Hannum does an excellent job of analyzing many of the important issues that affect lesbian and gay Catholics, and she even-handedly allows all parts of the Catholic debate on these issues to speak. (Stay tuned:  in the coming days, we will report on two sidebar articles that accompany this comprehensive piece.)

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz

One of those quoted in the article, Louisville’s Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, has a prime opportunity to back up his words with actions.  Hannum quotes him expressing strong support for Catholic teaching on respecting human dignity:

“ ‘Every conversation should emphasize dignity,’ says Kurtz, past chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for the Defense of Marriage. The archbishop praises the USCCB’s Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination, which begins with general principles, the first of which is respecting human dignity, that (quoting from the Catechism) ‘persons with a homosexual inclination must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.’ ”

Archbishop Kurtz has a wonderful opportunity to put that quote into action right in his own backyard.   Louisville’s Courier-Journal newspaper carries a story about a protest this past Sunday at the city’s Catholic Cathedral:

“The event was organized by the Fairness Campaign, a gay-rights group. The legislation it supports would ban discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations but would not legalize gay marriage, said Fairness Campaign director Chris Hartman. . . .

“Supporters of the legislation are seeking the backing of Louisville Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, whom they met with about a year ago to discuss the issue, Hartman said.”

The bill needs greater support from city leaders, and Archbishop Kurtz now has an opportunity to stand up for the church’s teaching on human dignity.  When he was the chair of the Ad Hoc Committee for the Defense of Marriage, he spoke up a lot about the church’s teaching on sexuality as it applied to lesbian and gay people.  In the U.S. Catholic  article he says that both teachings need to be expounded:

“ ‘Both are to be emphasized, the dignity and the Catholic vision for sexuality,’ says Kurtz.”

If he needs assistance in formulating his position, he can turn to one of his priests, who presides at liturgy in the diocesan cathedral.  According to the Courier-Journal:

“The Rev. Joseph Fowler, a retired priest in the Archdiocese of Louisville, participated in the Fairness Campaign event before helping officiate at the Mass at the cathedral.

“He said he supports the anti-discrimination legislation because ‘there is a dignity to each person that we recognize.’

“Asked how he reconciles his support with Catholic teaching, Fowler said, ‘The church does not say it’s wrong to be a homosexual.’ ”

Let’s hope and pray that Archbishop Kurtz speaks up for human dignity with strong passion.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


A Civil Discussion on Civil Marriage

January 23, 2012

Catholicism plays heavily in the marriage equality debate in Minnesota. The state will have a referendum vote in November on whether or not to accept a constitutional ban against same-sex marriage. We’ve already reported on some of the ways that Catholics–both those for and those against marriage equality–have tried to sway the vote’s outcome:  mailing 400, 000 anti-marriage equality DVDs,  providing pro-marriage equality DVDs to all interested, offering prayers both for and against marriage equality, the archbishop silencing priests from supporting marriage equality, one brave priest who has ignored the archbishop’s gag order.  As the year progresses, we are sure to see more actions from both sides.

Gail Rosenblum of the Minneapolis Star Tribune tells a different story of two Catholic Minnesotans who are on opposite sides of the marriage debate, Denny Smith and Tom Struthers.  Instead or arguing, however, these two men have decided to sit down and hear each other out.

Rosenblum describes the men this way:

“They have a lot in common. Both were raised Catholic. Both are happily married; Smith for 43 years, Struthers for 23 years. Both are fathers. Struthers’ children are 19 and 16. Smith’s three kids are grown. One of them is gay. That son, Kyle, and Kyle’s partner of 17 years, Joe, can’t live together in the United States because Joe is from the Philippines. When Joe’s student visa expired, he was forced to leave the United States, which wouldn’t have happened if they could marry. “

Rosenblum’s article relates the conversation that these two men had together when she and they decided to have a conversation over a cup of coffee.  It is definitely worth reading the entire article  to learn about the real human concerns that people have in this debate.  It’s a helpful reminder, too,  about how much education is needed for people on issues of homosexuality and LGBT issues–especially for Catholics.

The article’s most amazing insight is the description of  their main area of agreement:

” ‘I don’t know all the answers,’  Smith said. ‘No matter what, compassion is the way to go.’

“Struthers nodded. ‘Compassion is trying to understand another’s point of view. If people can come together with diverse opinions and there is a change, that’s among the richest of human experiences. I either am changed or, at least, I see his side of the story. Religious faiths will be examined on this issue,’ Struthers said. “

This passage serves as a reminder that the real goal of dialogue may not be to just change minds, but to change hearts.

It was refreshing to learn that real conversation is going on, and I hope that more people–in Minnesota and everywhere–use this strategy of simple civil conversation to work through this issue.

As the year progresses, we will try to keep you informed about the marriage equality debates around the country. A good source of information on the Minnesota debate is www.theprogressivecatholicvoice.blogspot.com.

UPDATE:  Commenter Jim Smith of DignityUSA, who lives in Minnesota, has offered two additional websites for news about Catholics and marriage equality in that state: http://www.c4me.org and its accompanying blog “Sensus Fidelium” at http://www.c4me-mn.blogspot.com .

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


A Priest of Integrity

January 19, 2012

Fr. Mike Tegeder

We already reported on the news that Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul, Minnesota, is requiring the archdiocesan priests not to speak out in support of marriage equality.   A news story in this past weekend’s Minneapolis Star Tribune uses Nienstedt’s directive as its lead, but it goes a little further than that by telling the story of one courageous priest who is speaking out, despite the archbishop’s gag order:

“One vocal critic of Nienstedt is the Rev. Mike Tegeder, who spoke against the amendment at a priests’ meeting with Nienstedt in October.

“In November, Tegeder received a letter stating that if he did not end his public opposition, Nienstedt would suspend his “faculties to exercise ministry” and remove him from his “ministerial assignments.”

“Marking the first clear standoff over the church’s role in the amendment, Tegeder is not backing down.

“He said he believes the church is being too political and contends that it’s inappropriate for its leaders to campaign in support of the amendment.

” ‘That’s not the way to support marriage,’ said Tegeder, pastor at both St. Frances Cabrini and Gichitwaa Kateri churches in Minneapolis. ‘If we want to support marriage, there are wonderful things we can do as Catholic churches and ministers. We should not be focused on beating up a small number of people who have this desire to have committed relationships.’ “

You can read more about Fr. Tegeder in a National Catholic Reporter article from October 2010, when he first spoke out against the anti-marriage equality DVD campaign which Nienstedt led.

During a very critical time in the church in Minnesota, Fr. Tegeder exemplifies the best of prophetic witness.  He deserves our prayers and support.  I hope that his example will encourage other priests and church leaders to speak of their support for marriage equality.  Silencing has no place in a church whose founder and model is described as the Word of God.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Silencing Discussion Is Not the Archbishop’s Only Error

January 6, 2012

The Progressive Catholic Voice has published a letter from Archbishop John Nienstedt which orders priests and deacons of the Archdiocese of St. Paul to be silent if they disagree with the hierarchy’s opposition to marriage equality.  In November of this year, Minnesotans will be voting in a referendum on whether they should adopt a constitutional amendment banning marriage between lesbian and gay couples.

Silencing discussion is a terrible option, and church officials should remove such a recourse from their possible responses to situations.  U.S. bishops should have learned a lesson from the sex abuse crisis that silence protects nobody and ultimately fails as a method to protect the church.  New Ways Ministry has  long called for more discussion and dialogue in the church on LGBT issues, including marriage equality.  We believe that through discussion and debate truth will be found and relationships strengthened.

Silencing his priests and deacons is what will be making headlines, but it is not the archbishop’s only error in this letter.  He also wrongfully speculates on the motivations of those who support marriage equality, and he does so in an illogical manner:

“The end game of those who oppose the marriage amendment that we support is not just to secure certain benefits for a particular minority, but, I believe, to eliminate the need for marriage altogether.”

First of all, he offers no evidence for such a claim, and it is difficult to imagine what such evidence might even be.  Such a claim is unfounded.  Why would the archbishop make such a claim if he is not willing to offer any evidence to support it?

More importantly, the claim is illogical.  Does he want us to believe that the people who are working and organizing to extend marriage rights to more people are actually really trying to end the institution that they are trying to extend?

Later in the letter, he states:

“. . . we must never vilify or caricaturize those who argue [in support of marriage equality]. . . “

Yet, isn’t that what he just did by speculating, with neither evidence nor logic, on the motives of those who oppose the constitutional ban?

One of the reasons that we need discussion, and not silence, on these issues is because without the free interchange of ideas, people become so solidified in their positions that they do not realize what they are saying sometimes, and they can often work against their own best ideals.

The folks at The Progressive Catholic Voice should be applauded for making this letter available to all.  You can read their full press release here and a shorter explanation introduces the archbishop’s speech here.  In noting why they decided to publish it, they offer an image and an ideal towards which we should tirelessly work:

“. . .we at The Progressive Catholic Voice believe it is important to model a way of being church that is open, honest, transparent and participatory.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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