Obama’s Executive Order Won’t Deter Catholic Organizations That Reject Discrimination

July 29, 2014

President Obama signing the executive order

President Obama’s executive order banning LGBT discrimination by federal contractors has received generally positive reactions from Catholics, as Bondings 2.0 reported earlier this month.

Now, we offer further reactions and examine the broader question of how faith informs the question of non-discrimination laws. The National Catholic Reporter covered reactions from several Catholic organizations who contract with the federal government to provide social and educational services as part of the Church’s ministry.

Fr. Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA said:

” ‘As has always been the case, Catholic Charities USA supports the rights of all to employment and abides by the hiring requirements of all federal contracts’…

” ‘Specifically, we are pleased that the religious exemption in this executive order ensures that those positions within Catholic Charities USA that are entrusted with maintaining our Catholic identity are to be held exempt.’ “

Catholic Relief Services released a statement, saying:

“[CRS is] concerned about the serious implications of the president’s order for Catholic agencies now and in the future.’…

” ‘As an agency of the USCCB, we will work with the bishops to promote a mutually acceptable solution…We remain hopeful that compassion and goodwill will rule and that our work on behalf of the poor around the world will not be unduly affected.’ “

The Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities’ president Michael Galligan-Stierle said in a statement:

” ‘[ACCU] stands with both the president and the U.S. bishops — each of whom has affirmed the principles of human dignity and diversity as key values of our nation and our faith.’

” ‘Where differences arise is in determining how to put those principles into practice, which can be complicated. Given that, ACCU is conferring with other faith-based organizations to determine the extent to which the executive order applies to our member colleges and universities. We remain hopeful that common ground between principle and practice may be found.’ “

The National Catholic Reporter also published an editorial applauding the order and criticizing the hyperbolic reaction of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who called it “unprecedented and extreme.” The editorial’s criticism continues:

“More distressing, however, is the failure of the nation’s bishops to reflect deeply upon their own teaching. The church clearly distinguishes between homosexual persons and homosexual acts or inclinations. We have problems with that distinction on other grounds, but think it bears on the issue at hand.

“A religiously affiliated organization does not hire an inclination or an act, it hires a person, and the church has affirmed, repeatedly, that the homosexual person is to be loved and is not to be unjustly discriminated against. On what basis, then, should we decline to abide by a government regulation that we not discriminate against LGBT people in hiring? This is not just about legal or political strategy, but about being true to what the church actually teaches, instead of joining the latest culture war battle.”

NCR highlights the real threat to Catholic identity when it comes to the executive order. It is not the presence of LGBT employees at Catholic organizations, which NCR proudly stands by, but instead:

“At risk, rather, is the church’s reputation by continuing to look like the infantry in the culture wars. Surely, the words and gestures of Pope Francis suggest a different, less litigious approach to the culture than that advocated by the U.S. bishops’ conference. We hope the culture wars will end, but if not, and in this battle, NCR is happy to stand with its LGBT brothers and sisters.”

Re-examining the theological and pastoral bases to one’s position on LGBT issues has led several proponents to condemn discrimination because of, not in spite of faith. Believe Out Loud director James Roewe wrote a piece in The Advocate, stating in part:

“President Obama’s insistence on protecting all employees from discrimination, including those who work in religious institutions, is a victory for religious freedom in our country. Obama refused to cede protections to the small but vocal group of religious and civic leaders who urged him to include broad religious exemptions in his executive order…

“We reject these theologies of exclusion as we embrace the God-given diversity of sexual orientation and gender identity. We no longer have to accept the word of the small but vocal minority who believe the LGBTQ community has no place in Christianity. Nothing could be further from the truth. The same God these individuals use to justify their discrimination against LGBTQ people is the same God who created us in all of our fabulousness.”

Also commenting on the situation was Sister of Loretto Maureen Fiedler, host of the radio show Interfaith Voices. She put President Obama’s executive order in context with the firing of gay music teacher Flint Dollar from a Catholic school several months back. On her NCR blog, Fiedler writes:

“Enough already. Such marriages may be contrary to official Catholic teaching, but nothing mandates firing people who go against such teachings. (I wonder if schools ever ask female teachers if they use contraception. Probably not; there would be few teachers left if they did.) The Flint Dollar case is discrimination, plain and simple…

“Catholic institutions, unfortunately, have been in the forefront of shameful efforts to say that discrimination against LGBT people is somehow ‘religious’ or ‘Christian.’

“Not too long ago, some people claimed religion as a basis for racial discrimination, too. That was shameful. And today’s efforts to claim religion as a basis for LGBT discrimination are equally shameful.”

While the executive order is progress, it still only protects those employees working for organizations that contract with the federal government. Broader non-discrimination protections are needed, but in a post-Hobby Lobby reality the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) has lost support from LGBT organizations. Check back later this week for further analysis of where faith-based non-discrimination advocacy might go from here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Catholics React to Obama Signing LGBT Executive Order

July 22, 2014

President Obama signing the executive order on Monday

President Barack Obama signed an executive order yesterday prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity by companies and organizations which contract with the federal government.

Most notably, Obama stood up to pressure from some religious leaders and did not include expanded religious exemptions in the order, the possibility of which had caused renewed fears in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision earlier this month.

Catholic LGBT advocates generally applauded the president, while the US bishops decried the order as “unprecedented and extreme.”

Below, Bondings 2.0 offers several commentaries on the executive order. We will cover religious exemptions, and specifically the future of LGBT rights in light of such exemptions, tomorrow.

Shortly after the executive order was signed, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, and Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, chair of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth called on Catholics to oppose it, claiming that it “implements discrimination” by using the government’s economic power to enforce a “deeply flawed understanding of human sexuality.” Because the executive order omitted religious exemptions they claim the directive “is fundamentally flawed in itself, also needlessly prefers conflict and exclusion over coexistence and cooperation.”

Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter wants the US bishops to move on and set the LGBT non-discrimination issue aside altogether:

“Too many bishops are still crouched in a defensive posture, too willing to let the faith be reduced to ethics (and that, only sexual ethics), then reduced to a legal strategy, convinced that the forces of secularization are hostile, organized and winning. This worldview, I would submit, is not the approach that has permitted Pope Francis to capture the imagination of the world…there is nothing in the Church’s teaching that demands gay people be systematically discriminated against in hiring at our Catholic institutions. This is a fight we should decline.”

However, many Catholics not only accept the order but have welcomed it without broader religious exemptions. Francis DeBernardo, executive director, of New Ways Ministry wrote in The Advocate about why Catholics and people of faith do not want broad religious exemptions in a post-Hobby Lobby nation. He begins:

“It used to be that religious leaders and lawmakers could strike a comfortable balance of protecting faith groups’ rights to self-determination and LGBT people’s rights to equal opportunity. But the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision disturbed that balance…

“Because the Hobby Lobby decision broadened the scope of what kind of entities can claim religious exemptions, several national organizations working for LGBT equality now fear that such provisions in ENDA will render the proposed law’s protections meaningless…Similarly, the Supreme Court case seems to have emboldened some conservative religious leaders to lobby Obama to include strong exemption language in his upcoming executive order.”

DeBernardo points out that though Hobby Lobby referred to the debate over insurance coverage for birth control, the connections to LGBT rights is an easy leap. Corporations are now granted religious beliefs, and could conceivably be able to seek religious exemptions to discriminate against LGBT people. He writes:

“Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said, ‘If a private company can take its own religious beliefs and say you can’t have access to certain health care, it’s a hop, skip, and a jump to an interpretation that a private company could have religious beliefs that LGBT people are not equal or somehow go against their beliefs and therefore fire them.’ And Equally Blessed, the Catholic LGBT equality coalition, detailed some of the potential disasters that can spring from this case: ‘This ruling might open the door for corporations not to provide benefits to employees in same-sex marriages, or not to cover appropriate health care services for transgender employees.’ “

He closes by speaking about his own Catholic faith, and the importance of understanding a few key points: that conscience is supreme for Catholics, that religions are not homogenous, that the bishops do not speak for lay Catholics, and that LGBT justice is something Catholics and other people of faith seek because of, not in spite of, their faith. DeBernardo concludes:

“As a practicing Catholic, I see that such an expansion cheapens the position of faith in society. Faith is about developing an intimate relationship with a personal God and reflecting that relationship in my attitudes and practices toward other people. Faith is about sacrificing some privileges because of wanting to live in accord with principles. Faith is not about having access to government contracts. Faith is not about forcing people to live by an employer’s personal beliefs, no matter how sincerely those beliefs may be held. Hobby Lobby’s approach to religious exemptions diminishes the importance of persons and relationships in religion…

“My Catholic faith teaches me that all people have human dignity, that all people are equal. The Catholic social justice tradition teaches me that the right to employment is a sacred and basic human right and should be respected by individuals and institutions such as government. My respect for religion teaches me to value the diversity of religious opinions, as well as the diversity of human beings. From these perspectives, both ENDA and the expected executive order are better served without any religious exemptions included.”

You can read the full piece on The Advocate‘s website by clicking here.

The Equally Blessed coalition, which consists of four national Catholic organizations which work for justice and equality for LGBT people, applauded President Obama’s action, noting:

“As Catholics, we know firsthand why these protections are so important. On a near weekly basis, a Catholic teacher, parish employee or hospital worker is fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In the last few months, news headlines have been filled with stories about Catholic employees who lost their jobs after marrying their same-sex partners, coming out as transgender, or for simply standing in support of their LGBT children.

“The President’s executive order will be an important step toward protecting these LGBT Catholic employees who serve our church and wider society so faithfully and who have been particularly vulnerable to discrimination. We applaud President Obama’s decision to not include a broad religious exemption in his executive order, which would have left our Catholic teachers, health care workers and administrators open to continued discrimination.”

Finally, David Gibson of Religion News Service reports that even  a religious leader who had sought broad exemptions are pleased with Obama because the executive order  maintains the Bush-era policy which allows preferential hiring of co-religionists.  For example, Stephen Schneck of The Catholic University of America and former co-chair of Catholics for Obama, who had lobbied for broader religious exemptions, said he was pleased with the executive order as it was signed because it  “has left open a path that religious groups can work with.”

In the coming week, Bondings 2.0 will consider the failure of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, commonly known as ENDA, and where Catholic advocates for LGBT justice are moving next when it comes to protecting employment rights.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

New York Times: “Obama Urges Congress to Ban Job Bias Against Gays”

New York Times: “Obama to Issue Order Barring Anti-Gay Bias by Contractors


New Ambassador Teaches Catholic Values to Dominican Republic’s Church Leaders

December 12, 2013

The openly-gay new U.S. ambassador to the heavily Catholic nation of the Dominican Republic has been approved unanimously by the U. S. Senate, and he has begun his diplomatic mission to the Caribbean country, reported Advocate.com.

Ambassador James Brewster

James “Wally” Brewster becomes the 6th openly gay ambassador nominated by President Barack Obama.  But this appointment did not come easily, as Catholic and evangelical leaders in the Dominican Republic protested the appointment, as we reported earlier this summer.  A Catholic cardinal in the country even used an anti-gay slur to refer to Mr. Brewster, and Catholic leaders organized a national protest where citizens wore black armbands to express their displeasure.

Several minor Catholic officials also made controversial statements about the ambassador.  The Advocate stated:

“Catholic Vicar Pablo Cedano issued a vague threat when Brewster’s nomination was first announced, telling the Associated Press, ‘If he arrives, he’ll suffer and be forced to leave.’ “

The Guardian’s report added the following:

“Luis Rosario, a Catholic priest and director of church youth ministries, appeared unmoved and lamented President Barack Obama’s appointment.

” ‘He has not considered the particularities of our people. The United States is trying to impose on us marriage between gays and lesbians as well as adoption by these couples.’ “

It is irresponsible to insinuate the appointing a gay ambassador means that a government is imposing marriage equality or adoption rights for lesbian and gay people.  Would the appointment of a Protestant ambassador mean that the U.S. government is imposing that religion on a nation?  The irrational statements exhibited by Dominican Catholic officials could point to the fact that it is their fear of the unknown which is operating in their language.

Interestingly,  it is the ambassador, in introducing himself to the nation who mentioned strong Catholic values, the kind of thing we would hope would have come from church officials.  In The Guardian  article, Brewster, who arrived in the Dominican Republic with his husband, Bob Satawake stated:

“My parents taught me that all people deserve respect, dignity, love and opportunity. They also instilled in me a strong belief in God, and the values of love and tolerance. Bob and I bring those beliefs and values with us as we come to the Dominican Republic. We are both thrilled to be coming back to our second home.”

To that, we say “Amen!”

Let’s hope and pray that this appointment  will provide the Catholic Dominican leaders with the opportunity to broaden their views and ideas about gay and lesbian people.  Let’s pray that they will be open to this opportunity.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


In Africa, An Archbishop Promotes and a Cardinal Decries LGBT Human Rights

July 10, 2013

Over the past week or so there has been some good news and some bad news out of Africa concerning Catholic LGBT issues.

Archbishop Charles Daniel Balvo

Archbishop Charles Daniel Balvo

On the good news side, a papal envoy to Kenya recently called for the protection of lesbian and gay human rights on a visit to that nation to open a new pastoral center.  Kenya’s The Star newspaper reports:

“The pope’s representative to Kenya Charles Daniel Balvo has asked Kenyans to accord homosexuals respect, dignity and human rights and not discriminate against them.

“Speaking after commissioning a Sh400 million pastoral centre at the Embu Catholic Cathedral in Embu town, Balvo said the Catholic Church does not approve of homosexuality but it recognises the dignity of every individual.

” ‘The homosexuals should be defended against violation of their dignity and human rights, they are human beings like anyone of us,’ he said.”

The newspaper article notes that these words from a papal envoy come soon after many African religious leaders criticized U.S. President Obama’s recent trip to Africa where he spoke in favor of LGBT human rights.  A Religion News Service  article quotes Obama as saying:

“My basic view is that regardless of race, regardless of religion, regardless of gender, regardless of sexual orientation, when it comes to how the law treats you, how the state treats you … people should be treated equally. And that’s a principle that I think applies universally.”

Cardinal John Njue

Cardinal John Njue

One of those religious leaders speaking against Obama was a cardinal from Kenya.  London’s Tablet magazine reports:

“Kenyan Cardinal John Njue has issued a strongly worded riposte to US President Barack Obama’s call for the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Africa.

“At the start of his three-nation African tour in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, on 28 June, Mr Obama said gays deserved equal rights. Homosexual acts are illegal in 38 African nations.

“Speaking in Nairobi the next day, Njue, president of the Kenyan bishops’ conference, said Obama, whose father was Kenyan, should forget the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

” ‘Let him forget and forget and forget … I think we need to act according to our own traditions and our faiths,’ said Njue. ‘Those people who have already ruined their society … let them not become our teachers to tell us where to go.’ “

Obviously, Cardinal Njue is unaware that the Catholic faith’s most authoritative traditions are on the side of protecting LGBT human rights, as Archbishop Balvo stated.    The Religion News Service article also quotes Anglican, Lutheran, and Muslim religious leaders who similarly condemned Obama’s intervention.   The article also notes:

“Homosexuality is illegal in 37 African countries, according to the Washington-based Council for Global Equality, and many religious leaders here view it as contrary to scriptures and custom.”

Prominent among those nations is Zimbabwe, headed by Robert Mugabe, a Catholic, whose homophobic rants we reported on recently.  On the campaign trail for re-election, he is continuing to spew anti-gay vitriol, some of which can be read here.  For stories of the reality of gay lives under Zimbabwean terror,  I refer you to the blog 76Crimes.com.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Bishops Oppose Violence Against Women Act Because of LGBT Protections

March 8, 2013

After a lengthy political battle centered around specific LGBT, American Indian and migrant protection, President Barack Obama finally signed the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act yesterday, but not before five Catholic bishops announced their opposition to the legislation in a statement released Wednesday.

Lauren Markoe writes in The Washington Post about the bishops’ rejection of this legislation that strengthens and funds federal initiatives to further protect domestic violence and human trafficking victims. The 2013 re-authorization added explicit protections for victims regardless of their “sexual orientation” and “gender identity,” which is the source of Republican legislators, as well as the bishops’, concerns. Markoe writes:

“[The bishops] are opposing the newly authorized Violence Against Women Act for fear it will subvert traditional views of marriage and gender, and compromise the religious freedom of groups that aid victims of human trafficking…

“That language disturbs several bishops who head key committees within the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that deal with, among other issues, marriage, the laity, youth and religious liberty.”

The bishops signing the statement include Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, and Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles. Several of these bishops previously opposed marriage equality and LGBT civil rights in prominent ways, making this letter only the latest in the narrative against full equality.

In 2010, during the last re-authorization vote in the Violence Against Women Act, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops supported the legislation as an effective measure to reduce gender-based violence. At that time,  emphasis on Catholic teachings around human dignity, justice, and non-violence played a central role in the decision to support the legislation. The recent action of these five bishops re-orients episcopal judgement on the bill to sexual ethics exclusively.

Will the bishops continue to make their view on sexual ethics the only litmus test for all social policy?  Such a position would be socially disastrous.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Bishops Are Opposing Immigration Reform That Would Aid Same-Gender Couples

February 7, 2013

immigrationNews earlier this week that President Obama and many Hispanic political organizations were backing an immigration reform proposal that would grant visas to same-gender partners of American citizens offered hope that this long hoped for change would become law.

The U.S. Catholic bishops, along with Evangelical leaders, are dropping a monkey wrench into the works, however, by opposing such a measure.  The Associated Press reports:

“The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops are in a difficult position as the debate over immigration reform gets underway: The immigrant-built American church, known for advocating a broad welcome for migrants and refugees, could end up opposing reform because it would recognize same-sex partners. . . .

“. . . Catholic bishops, with the support of evangelicals and other theological conservatives, have sent a letter to Obama protesting his proposal. In a sign of the sensitivity of the issue, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops would not provide a copy of the statement, saying the signatories agreed not to make the letter public. Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the bishops, would say only that recognition of gay couples in the president’s reform proposals ‘jeopardizes passage of the bill.’ “

What is remarkable in this opposition is that the bishops seem willing to forego real immigration reform because of their opposition to supporting lesbian and gay couples in committed relationships.   Similar to many diocese’s decisions to forego all adoption services rather than use gay and lesbian couples as potential parents, the US bishops’ seem intent on following a scorched earth policy on immigration.

The Associated Press report points out what most Catholics already know:  that progressive immigration policy has long been supported by US bishops.  Key to this support has been the idea of keeping families intact.  The news story states:

“Americans church leaders have spent decades lobbying for revisions that would keep families together and fulfill what the church considers the duty of all countries, especially wealthier ones, to do as much as possible to help the poor and persecuted. The church and Catholic groups run a network of aid programs for migrants, refugees and illegal immigrants, taking positions that recognize the country’s right to protect its borders, but that still fall ‘to the left of the Democratic Party,’ [Stephen] Schneck [a political science professor at The Catholic University of America] said. . . .

“In a 2003 joint plea for immigration reform, called ‘Strangers No Longer,’ U.S. and Mexican bishops stated, ‘Regardless of their legal status, migrants, like all persons, possess inherent human dignity that should be respected.’

“The issue is of special historic importance to the American Catholic church, which was built by waves of Irish, Italians, Poles and others. The immigrant presence in the pews is now growing as American-born white Catholics drop out in significant numbers. Researchers estimate that a third of the 66 million U.S. Catholics are Latino.

” ‘This is an issue that has been a huge priority for the church for a really long time,’ said Kristin Heyer, a professor at Santa Clara University in California who studies immigration and Catholic social thought. ‘The wider Catholic community, in addition to the bishops, has mobilized in a major way.’ “

To correct the bishops’ policy direction, lay Catholics now need to mobilize to let the hierarchy know that Catholics believe ALL families should be protected by immigration law.  Contact your bishop and let him know that you believe that respecting human dignity applies to ALL immigrants, not just heterosexual ones.  Contact your federal legislators too, and let them know that your Catholic faith motivates you to support inclusive immigration reform that President Obama has proposed.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Imagining Hope

January 22, 2013
President Obama delivering his inaugural address.

President Obama delivering his inaugural address.

Inauguration times are truly times of hope and joy.   Yesterday, I was down on the National Mall in Washington, DC, to see President Barack Obama and Vice President Joseph Biden take the oaths of office once again.

The hope and joy in the crowd was palpable.  Bursts of applause broke out after every few sentences during the President’s inaugural address.   Perhaps no applause was greater (especially from me) especially when Obama uttered the following words:

“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.”

I have been working in the field of Catholic LGBT ministry for over 20 years, and it dawned on me yesterday, that 20 years ago, even in my wildest dreams, I would never have guessed or even hoped  that I would hear a reference to Stonewall in a presidential inaugural address.  But, there it was: the first time ever that LGBT people or issues were mentioned in such a speech.

But it got better.

A short time after the Stonewall reference, Obama added the following words:

“It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began … Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

Not only a second reference to LGBT equality, but a specific, supportive message of marriage equality!  I could hardly believe my ears.

All of this was on top of the well-publicized fact before the inauguration that Richard Blanco, the poet chosen to write verse for the occasion, is an openly gay man.

As I reflected last night on the day’s events,  I thought of how much hope such milestones provide.   What is most important for me is that such moments help to fill our imaginations with hope.  As Catholics who work for LGBT justice and equality, it may seem far-fetched to imagine a bishop or the pope saying such things as Obama did yesterday.  But 20 years ago, it was equally unimaginable that we would hear what we heard yesterday.  And 40 years ago, one would have probably been thought insane to imagine such a prospect.

So, let’s pray in gratitude today for the hope that Obama’s message gives us as Catholic advocates for LGBT people.  Let’s give our hope a chance to be renewed and provide our imaginations a chance to be expanded to include impossible dreams.  And let’s pray for the courage to work to make those impossible dreams come true.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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