Denial of Anointing of the Sick Needs More Explanation by Archdiocese

February 20, 2014

A Washington Blade story this week reported that a Catholic gay man in the District of Columbia was refused the anointing by a Catholic hospital chaplain after the patient experienced a heart attack.  This story is made more complex, though, by the fact that the priest and the Archdiocese of Washington who supervises him are refusing to make any comment on the story.

Here’s the facts of the story, according to the Washington Blade:

“D.C. resident Ronald Plishka, 63, a retired travel agent and lifelong Catholic, said he asked a nurse to arrange for a priest to see him on Feb. 7, one day after he was admitted by ambulance to the hospital emergency room for a heart attack. He said that at the time he wasn’t sure he would survive.

“A short time later, Plishka said, Father Brian Coelho, a priest assigned to the hospital’s Department of Spiritual Care, arrived at his bedside. He said Coelho offered to take his confession before proceeding with communion and last rites, which the church now calls the sacrament of anointing of the sick.

“ ‘We started talking and I told him I was so happy with this new Pope because of his comments about the gays and his accepting the gays,’ Plishka said. ‘And I mentioned that I was gay. I said it and then I asked him does that bother you? And he said, “Oh, no, that does not bother me,’” said Plishka.

“ ‘But then he would not proceed with administering the last rites or communion. He couldn’t do it.’

According to Plishka, Coelho, who brought a supply of holy water to his hospital room, never said in so many words that he was refusing to administer communion and last rites.

“Asked what Coelho told him, Plishka said, ‘Well, I mean he stopped. He would not do it. By him not doing it I assumed he would not do it because why was he getting ready to do it and all of a sudden when I say I’m gay he stops?’

“Plishka said Coelho gave no reason for not giving him the sacraments he requested but offered instead to pray with him.

“ ‘He said what he wanted to do,’ said Plishka. ‘He wanted to pray. That’s what he wanted to do. He said well I could pray with you.”

Plishka refused the offer of prayer, angry at what he felt was discrimination.  

The news story reports that both Coelho and the Archdiocese of Washington have refused to comment on the story.  This silence is very unfortunate.  If Coelho had a legitimate pastoral reason not to administer the anointing of the sick, he should state what it was.  Without such a statement, his actions can easily be interpreted as homophobic.  Their silence opens the way for great speculation.

A person with pastoral experience was quoted in the Blade story, commenting on the unusual reaction by the priest:

“Henry Huot, a retired Catholic priest who serves as chair of Dignity Washington’s Pastoral Ministry Committee, said longstanding Catholic practice calls for priests to provide the sacraments to people in situations similar to Plishka.

“ ‘Any baptized Christian ought not to be denied the sacraments at his or her request,’ Huot said. ‘And that is a cardinal rule of pastoral care. So I don’t know what was going through the mind of this hospital chaplain to deny this man the sacraments,’ he said. ‘It violates this cardinal rule.’ “

DignityUSA also commented on the strange pastoral response:

“ ‘The fact that conditions existed for a priest to make this call is upsetting,’ said Dignity USA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke. ‘There should be very clear standards. You minister to the person in need without judgment and without conditions,” she said. “It is not the role of the priest to cause the person in distress additional hardship.’

‘Duddy-Burke said it’s the responsibility of the Archdiocese to set pastoral care standards for priests under its jurisdiction.

“ ‘And I would hope that if this case is brought to the attention of Archdiocesan officials, as it should be, that they would respond appropriately and discipline this priest and make it known to every priest and every person that’s providing pastoral care in the Archdiocese that people should be treated as children of God first.’ “

The Archdiocese of Washington already has had one terrible occasion of pastoral care violation directed toward an LGBT person when in 2012, Barbara Johnson, a lesbian woman was denied communion at her mother’s funeral.  In that case, the Archdiocese apologized, the priest involved was disciplined and eventually removed from pastoral work.  The Archdiocese should move swiftly to explain this situation more fully, and if the priest involved had committed a homophobic error, some public correction should be made.

There is no reason that an LGBT person should be denied pastoral care, especially in a city with as many LGBT Catholics as Washington, DC. This whole episode illustrates why so much education of priests and pastoral staff in regards to LGBT people is still sorely needed.  And the Archdiocese needs to be swift in making some public statement either that an error was committed by the priest or that the Archdiocese is committed to fairness and equality in administering the sacraments.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article

Washington Post:  Gay patient says Catholic chaplain refused him last rites


Catholics Cited as Top LGBT Faith Voices of 2012

January 2, 2013

While we are still in the season of looking back at 2012 while we jump right into 2013, we’d like to mention proudly that New Ways Ministry’s Co-founder Sister Jeannine Gramick was named as one of the top ten pro-LGBT faith voicesof 2012 by GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation)!   Additionally, we are delighted that two other Catholics made the list: Barbara Johnson, the lesbian who was denied communion at her mother’s funeral; and Dominic Sheahan Stahl, the gay man who was disinvited as a commencement speaker from his high school alma mater.

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Sister Jeannine Gramick

In naming Sister Jeannine, GLAAD stated:

“Nuns were a big deal in 2012, and the LGBT community had a great ally in Sister Jeannine Gramick. She was one of the most visible pro-LGBT Catholic voices as Maryland adopted marriage equality and through the ballot process. She spoke about Roman Catholic hierarchy to MSNBC, and created a video series on The Daily Beast to discuss faith and life, including LGBT issues.”

Barbara Johnson

Barbara Johnson

Of Barbara Johnson, they said:

“While Barbara Johnson was grieving the loss of her mother, the presiding priest stated, “I can’t give you Communion because you live with a woman, and in the eyes of the church, that is a sin.” This blatant lack of pastoral care to an LGBT person captured the attention of the nation.GLAAD worked with Barbara to tell her story and to shine a light of the Roman Catholic hierarchy’s internal persecution of LGBT people.”

Dominic Sheahan Stahl.

Dominic Sheahan Stahl.

GLAAD praised Dominc Sheahan Stahl:

“When Dominic Sheahan Stahl was uninvited from speaking at the Sacred Heart Academy graduation for being gay, the graduating class, which included his younger brother, rallied around him. They formed #LetDominicSpeak and worked with GLAAD to express their support for the alum. They formed an inclusive graduation event, in which the entire graduating class, as well as 600 people listened to Dominic give his speech, of which, GLAAD produced a video. Dominic has gone on to establish a “Live Through Love” foundation to raise scholarship money for LGBT students.”

To view the entire list, which includes luminary leaders from other denominations and faiths, click here.

Bondings 2.0 followed the work and activity of all three of these leaders in 2012.  To search for their stories, type in their names into the “Search” box in the right-hand column, and all the relevant posts about them will come up.

We are proud of our co-founder, Sister Jeannine, and of these two lay leaders!  We are grateful for all the work that the three of them have done to make our world and our church a more welcoming place for LGBT people and their families!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


The Best of 2012 in Catholic LGBT News

December 31, 2012

Thumbs_upYesterday, we posted our list of the worst of 2012 in Catholic LGBT news.  Today, as promised, we end the year on a positive note by presenting our list of the BEST of the previous year.  Much good has happened in 2012, with Catholics at all levels of the church speaking out for justice and equality for LGBT people.

Thanks to the 286 of you who voted in our poll to determine the selection and ranking of these best news stories.  The percentage following each story is the percentage of people who chose this item as one of their top five.

The Top Ten

1. Catholic lay support aids marriage equality victories in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington State. 23.08%

2. Priests in Minnesota and Maryland publicly counter the local hierarchy’s opposition to marriage equality. 14.69%  

3. Berlin’s Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki suggests that the church should treat gay and straight couples similarly9.09%  

4 & 5.  TIE                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Bishop Richard Malone in Maine announces that the diocese will not take an active political role against the state’s marriage equality referendum. 8.39%                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Surveys show increase in support for LGBT issues among Hispanics, especially Catholics. 8.39%

6. At New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium, Australia’s Bishop Geoffrey Robinson calls for the church hierarchy to re-think its sexual ethics teachings8.04% 

7 & 8. TIE                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    The University of Notre Dame gives official recognition to a gay-straight alliance after years of student activism. 5.24%                           Austrian Cardinal overturns a pastor’s decision to bar a gay man from serving on a parish council. 5.24%

9. Catholics in Media Associates gives its top award to TV’s Modern Family, a show featuring a gay family. 3.85%  

10. Maryland priest who denied communion to a lesbian woman at her mother’s funeral is removed from pastoral ministry. 3.5%  

Editor’s Note:  One item which we neglected to add to the list for voting was that Vice President Joe Biden, a  Catholic, endorsed marriage equality, paving the way for President Barack Obama to do the same.  Biden also referred to transgender equality as “the civil rights issue of our time.”  We feel these should deserve some mention on the list of the best Catholic news of 2012.  We regret that we didn’t include them for voting.  Mea maxima culpa.

Other items

Cardinal Francis George apologizes for comparing the LGBT community to the Ku Klux Klan. 2.45%  

Ontario requires all schools, including state-supported Catholic schools, to institute gay-straight alliances. 2.1%  

Jesuit author James Martin endorses Spirit Day, a national program to end bullying of LGBT youth. 2.1% 

Pastor at Most Holy Redeemer parish in San Francisco reverses his earlier decision to ban drag queens from parish events. 1.75%

Students at Stonehill College, a Catholic campus in Massachusetts, win a new and improved non-discrimination policy. 1.4%  

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Maryland Catholics–Including the Governor–Show Their Support For Marriage Equality

September 15, 2012

Catholics in Maryland will have two opportunities to learn how to show support for marriage equality as the debate about that state’s upcoming referendum begins to heat up.

Catholics for Marriage Equality Maryland is hosting two community forums to help people learn more about the upcoming ballot initiative and to discuss ways that they can get Catholic supporters to the polls in November.  Details about both events can be read below.

Maryland passed a marriage equality bill in February, and it was signed into law on March 1st by Governor Martin O’Malley, a Catholic.  Opponents collected enough signatures to put the bill’s future up to a referendum this fall.

Photo of Governor Martin O’Malley by Michael Key, The Washington Blade

O’Malley spoke at a fundraiser for Maryland campaign for marriage equality, where he cited his Catholic heritage to support the issue.  His remarks were quoted in The Advocate:

” ‘There is a deep strain in Catholic thought since Thomas Aquinas of Catholic responsibility to contribute to the common good, and the common good is a pluralistic good,’ he said. ‘It is a combination of many, many different faiths and many different people coming together, but the bedrock belief, I believe, of all Catholics who are involved in the civic life of their community is a belief in the dignity of every individual, and so it doesn’t surprise me that Catholic public servants would discern that.’ ”

Maryland’s marriage equality supporters are being encouraged to vote FOR question #6 at the polls in November.

In an interview with WFMD radio, Francis DeBernardo, a coalition member, explained the role of Catholics in this issue:

” ‘There’s a strong majority of Catholics across the country, polls have showing,  are in favor of marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples,’ says Francis DeBernardo with the group.

“DeBernardo says these Catholics support it because of their faith, not despite it. ‘They favor it because they favor equality and fairness for people. They favor it because their Catholic social teaching has taught them to respect the dignity of every individual, and work for justice for those individuals,’ he says.”

DeBernardo answered questions concerning civil unions and religious exemptions:

“During the debate over the bill [in the springtime], opponents expressed concerns that it would lead to requirements that all churches and religious institutions, even those which oppose marriage for gays and lesbians, perform weddings for same-sex couples. But DeBernardo says that’s not correct. “‘The law that was passed in the spring, and the referendum question that’s being proposed for November, both protect the rights of religious institutions to decide who they want to marry,’ he says.”

“Instead of marriage, some states have civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. But DeBernardo says they don’t offer the same legal protections for a couple as marriage. ‘We don’t think that we should separate one group of people into  a separate category with  separate laws,’ says DeBernardo.”

Both forums will feature New Ways Ministry’s Co-Founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick.

Barbara Johnson

The first forum also features Barbara Johnson, the Catholic lesbian woman who this past winter was denied communion at her mother’s funeral Mass in Maryland.

The first event will be held:

 Saturday, September 29, 2012
10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Greenbelt Community Church
Crescent Road and Hillside Road
Greenbelt, Maryland 20770

Heather Mizeur

The second forum features Delegate Heather Mizeur, a Catholic lesbian woman who is a Maryland State Delegate.

The second event will be held:

 Saturday, October 6, 2012
10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Montgomery County Executive Office Building
101 Monroe Street
Rockville, Maryland 20850

Participants can pre-register by emailing: info@NewWaysMinistry.org   or calling: 301-277-5674.  Registrations will also be taken at the door.  Both events are free.

Suggested Reading before the events:  Marriage Equality: A Positive Catholic Approach, available as a free PDF by clicking here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Priest Who Denied a Lesbian Communion Is No Longer Welcome in Archdiocese

July 11, 2012

Father Marcel Guarnizo

The priest who denied communion to a Catholic lesbian woman at her mother’s funeral Mass is no longer in active ministry in the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, where the incident occurred.

Father Marcel Guarnizo refused to offer a host to Barbara Johnson at St. John Neumann parish, Gaithersburg, Maryland, back in February.  The incident made international headlines.  Shortly afterwards, Guarnizo was placed on leave from ministry for unspecified “intimidating behavior,” and now the Archdiocese of Washington has revealed that he will no longer be ministering within its borders.

MSNBC. com reports that Chieko Noguchi Scheve, director of media and public relations for the Archdiocese of Washington, announced on July 10th:

“Fr. Marcel Guarnizo is a priest of the Archdiocese of Moscow, Russia, who was given a temporary assignment at St. John Neumann parish. That assignment period has ended and Father Guarnizo is no longer in ministry in the Archdiocese of Washington.

“Scheve did not comment further on the matter.”

Barbara Johnson

The website also reports on Ms. Johnson’s response to this announcement:

“She told msnbc.com on Monday that she was relieved by the archdiocese’s move, although she thought it might have more to do with the alleged ‘intimidating’ behavior than how she was treated at her mother’s funeral.

“ ‘It gives me great comfort to see that the Archdiocese of Washington acted swiftly initially not only to point out that his behavior was wrong and not in accordance with their policy but then to suspend him. And this final message from them says to me that, unfortunately, this was not a person that was meant to be in the ministry in this region,’ she said. ‘Knowing that he will not be able to visit such pain on another family in the Washington archdiocese gives me and my family a lot of comfort.’

“One positive aspect of what happened to her was that ‘it showed the very human face of the issue regarding the church and the church’s teachings, and behavior towards the LGBT community within the church,’ she said. ‘I just wish that there was a more global and more positive church response to the LGBT community’ on issues such as marriage equality and communion.”

In interviews during this incident, Ms. Johnson spoke eloquently on the need for better understanding between the institutional church and its LGBT members.  In March, shortly after the funeral incident,  she addressed New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium in Baltimore, Maryland,  and thanked Catholics for the amazing outpouring of love she received and about how the church needs to focus on its mission of love:

“What matters…and all that matters…is love. The love that you, and so many others have shown me during my darkest hours, has been uplifting and healing. . . .”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Symposium Coverage Continues with Discussions on Marriage Equality and Sexual Fidelity

March 21, 2012

Seventh National Symposium coverage continues today with a pair of articles from Chuck Colbert, veteran reporter of the Catholic LGBT scene.   His main article in the Rainbow Times entitled “Catholics gather in support of LGBT equality in church and society” features two of the Symposium’s plenary speakers: Maryland Governor Martin O’ Malley and theologian Patricia Beattie Jung.

Governor O'Malley addressing the Symposium

Two weeks before the Symposium began, O’Malley signed marriage equality into law, making Maryland the eighth state (plus the District of Columbia) to legalize unions for lesbian and gay couples.

Introducing the governor, New Ways Ministry’s co-founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick thanked him for

“. . .his service to God’s people who are lesbian or gay, by his signing the marriage equality bill in Maryland. . . . I am proud of him because he is a Catholic. I am proud that the people of Maryland, and this nation, know that a Catholic practices his faith by serving the people, just as Jesus did, even when it may be unpopular or when it may engender criticism from the religious establishment. I am proud that our Governor is giving a lot to the Church through the service of God’s people.”

Colbert’s article quotes from O’Malley’s speech:

“ ‘I am not here as a Catholic, I’m here as the governor of all Maryland,’ he said.

“ ‘At the end of the day, all of us want the same thing for our kids — we want our children to grow up in caring, committed, and loving homes, protected equally under the law,’ said O’Malley, adding, success in the state legislature rested on a ‘belief in the dignity of every individual.’

“O’Malley has framed marriage equality as a balancing of protections for religious liberties and provisions for equal rights.”

Patricia Beattie Jung addressing the Symposium (Jim Brigl Photo)

Patricia Beattie Jung made a case not only for extending civil marriage to same-sex couples but also to promote the idea that sexual fidelity is an essential part of all marriages, heterosexual and homosexual:

“ ‘Sexuality is ambiguous,’ she said. ‘It can be dangerous and a grace. So we channel it in marriage. Monogamy entails promises to be steadfast and sexually exclusive.’

“ ‘I’m pretty conservative,’ explained Beattie Jung, who said her main reason for promoting sexual fidelity is its service to ‘love’ and to ‘life.’

“ ‘Great sex is wholehearted,’ she said.  ‘This is what makes it graceful and us vulnerable and vicious. These promises give us the time and focus to learn how to love.’

“ ‘Can fidelity serve same-sex lovers the same way?’ asked Beattie Jung. ‘Yes!’ ”

Jung’s talk generated a substantial discussion about sexual fidelity both during the question-and-answer period, as well as throughout the Symposium.  Colbert’s article highlights some of this discussion.

Barbara Johnson with New Ways Ministry's Sister Jeannine Gramick (Mark Clark Photo)

In another Rainbow Times article entitled “Lesbian denied communion addresses Catholic symposium,” Colbert features the Symposium appearance of Barbara Johnson.  He notes that while Ms. Johnson spoke,

“. . . any number of symposium attendees fought back tears.”

You can read excerpts from Ms. Johnson’s talk by reviewing yesterday’s Bondings 2.0 blog post.

Symposium coverage should conclude here tomorrow.  For previous posts on the Symposium, check out:

“From Water to Wine: Lesbian/Gay Catholics and Relationships” Starts Today!

Bishop, Governor, and Theologian Highlight Symposium’s Second Day

Barbara Johnson’s Symposium Appearance is Highlight of the Closing Day

Barbara Johnson:  “All That Matters Is Love”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


Barbara Johnson: “All That Matters Is Love”

March 20, 2012

“What matters…and all that matters…is love.”

Barbara Johnson arrives to the Symposium with Francis DeBernardo (All photos by Deborah Winarski)

Those words were spoken by Barbara Johnson, the Catholic lesbian woman who had been denied communion at her mother’s funeral, when she appeared  at New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium on St. Patrick’s Day last week. For many participants, Ms. Johnson’s visit was the highlight of the three-day event.

New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo introduced Ms. Johnson, pointing out how though she had been the victim of this liturgical abuse, she, because of her courage, strength, and faith, was also the main healer of many who experienced her pain vicariously.

Barbara and Ruth

After a brief talk to the assembled Symposium participants, Barbara was joined on the stage by her partner, Ruth, DeBernardo presented them with flowers and then led the Symposium participants in a blessing of the couple and of their family.

Excerpts from Barbara Johnson’s talks follow:

“The past several weeks have been extraordinary for me. One day my mother was fine and we were meeting to see the progress on the new house my partner and I are building, and the next day she was in ICU on a respirator after suffering full cardiac arrest.

“After weeks of slow improvement, my partner and I shared a beautiful evening with her and the next day…she lay dying in another ICU bed.

“It’s been difficult to wrap my mind around just these events. But then… No, I don’t want to tell you the story of the woman who was denied communion at her mother’s funeral. As my mom would say, “For heaven’s sake,” you’ve heard or read it enough!

“What I want to share with you today is the story of a daughter, a lesbian daughter, who felt her mother’s love and acceptance deeply.

“I remember when I first came out and my mom was not happy. Each year at the gay pride parade I would stand and applaud those PFLAG moms and dads for their courage and their compassion. And I would pray that one day my mom and dad would walk beside me in that contingent.

“As I got older, I stopped needing parades. And what I got was even better. I got a life where my mother and father adored my life partner. I got a life where my parents walked me down the aisle at our (not so legal) wedding. I got a life where, on our last happy time together, I thanked my mom for accepting and embracing me and for loving my partner so much…and her response was to pat Ruth on the leg as she looked her in the eye with the most beautiful smile and said, ‘I wouldn’t have it any other way…right?’ ”

Ruth, Barbara, and Francis during the communal blessing.

“It is my mother’s love, compassion, and willingness to stand up for what is right that you see standing before you today.

“You see Midge and Dick Johnson’s youngest daughter who is deeply heartbroken that her parents are no longer on this earth with her and her family.

“You see this daughter who wound up in a whirlwind of media spectacle. You see this daughter who was placed in a state of grace by none other than her beloved mother. For there is no more amazing state of grace than the one I was honored to receive as my mother allowed me to witness her passing from this life and into the dancing arms of my dad.

“Some people have said, ‘How have you done this? How have you maintained your grace and composure during all this?’

“On one level, once you’ve been present at your mother’s dying, nothing else seems to really matter.

“But on the deeper level, I was witness to one of the holiest moments in life. I was present as my mother gently left her body to become spirit. I was given a spiritual gift that night. And I was transformed by the peace I felt in her peace. There is no more fear for me. There is only transformation.

“I admit that my initial response to the ‘events’ was to say that I would never return to the Church. And that’s where each of you, and so many more Catholics and people of many faiths come in.

Cathy Burke, Dwayne Fernandes, and Cynthia Nordone participate in the blessing of Barbara and Ruth.

“I received such an amazing outpouring from so many people of so many faiths, that I couldn’t help but see the error in those thoughts. I couldn’t help but see the love all around me.

“What matters…and all that matters…is love. The love that you, and so many others have shown me during my darkest hours, has been uplifting and healing. . . .

“My mother loved the Catholic Church. I would ask that each of us dedicate some piece of our future work to her and her love of what is good and holy in the Catholic faith and all faiths. She was a mighty, mighty woman. She was a hard worker, she loved a good party, and she loved her family. . . .

“I join you in celebration of St Patrick and offer you my thanks and deep gratitude for being part of my family of the faithful.”

–Francis DeBernardo,  New Ways Ministry


Barbara Johnson’s Symposium Appearance Is Highlight of the Closing Day

March 18, 2012

New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium, From Water to Wine:  Lesbian/Gay Catholics and Relationships, ended on St. Patrick’s Day, with plenary talks by Luke Timothy Johnson and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who each received richly-deserved standing ovations from the assembled participants.

The largest ovation, however, was reserved for the appearance of Barbara Johnson, the Catholic lesbian woman who had recently been denied communion at her mother’s funeral.

Ms. Johnson thanked the participants for the outpouring of support that she received from them and from Catholics all over the country.
She told how throughout the ordeal she felt the love of her mother leading and guiding her.  She told how faith in knowing of God’s love for her and her family kept her strong when the going got rough in recent weeks–including times when she received hate-filled and threatening messages from detractors who were purportedly “defending” the church. Bondings 2.0will provide excerpts from the text of her talk and photos of the event when they become available to us.

After her remarks, Ms. Johnson was joined on the Symposium stage by her partner, and both received a blessing from the assembled participants.  The text of the blessing follows:

“For you, Barbara, your partner, and your family, we, the People of God, the Church, raise our hands in blessing.

“We believe our Life-Giver and Love-Maker God is present; may every breath we take, flow into our world full of peace, hope, compassion and courage. Amen.

“We believe that Jesus’ love can heal all our hearts and all our losses. May we be open to the gifts of new life that the Resurrected Christ wants to share with us.  Amen.

“We believe all are welcomed and invited in this space and around this table of sharing; may we all become the Church inclusive, where the outcast and the stranger bear the image of God’s face. Amen.

“Go now, in the name of Jesus, Our Christ, who said ‘follow me’ without saying where he was going, just promising transformation and relationship with the Triune God along the way. Amen.

The Washington Post today carries a front-page story, “Denying Communion: A priest and a lesbian set off a Catholic culture clash.”  The article focuses more on Fr. Guarnizo, the priest who denied Ms. Johnson communion, than it does on Ms. Johnson herself.  Most interesting is a quote from Fr. Thomas Reese, SJ, a scholar at the Woodstock Theological Center of Georgetown University:

“If I was Cardinal [Donald W.] Wuerl, I’d buy him a one-way ticket to Moscow. . . .These days, arch-conservative priests feel much more comfortable attacking their bishops than do liberals because they feel they’ll get support from conservative Catholic blogs and maybe some in the Vatican.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Faith Lessons Learned from Grace-Filled People Who’ve Suffered the Worst

March 14, 2012

I’m always inspired when people in the worst situations can not only survive the emotional trauma, but do so with grace and optimism.

In two recent stories where an ugly side of Catholic practice has harmed people–in one case, a gay couple, and in the other, a lesbian woman–both have become profound examples of this grace and optimism. In the first case, a gay man in Missouri was fired from two church music jobs (one at a school, and one at a parish) when it became known that he planned to marry his long-term partner in New York. In the other case, a lesbian woman in Maryland was denied communion at her mother’s funeral Mass. I blogged about both of these experiences in a post entitled “Is It Possible to Find Hope in This Week’s Painful News?”

This past week, there have been updates on both of these cases and they tell the stories of how these people’s grace and optimism have persevered over the ugliness that was used against them.

The update for the Missouri case came in the form of a blog post on The New York Times website, appropriately titled “When Love Conquers All, Even the Loss of Two Jobs.”  The post recounts the marriage ceremony weekend in New York that Al Fischer, the fired musician, and his now-husband, Charlie Robin, enjoyed recently. The description highlights the painful drama behind the simple exchange of vows:

“For the couple, the small ceremony, a commonplace occurrence in New York since the state legalized same-sex marriage last year, has uprooted their lives, and created a firestorm of controversy in which church doctrine, employment, love, law and the passions of school parents have all come into heated conflict.”

Yet, the story goes on to point out that both men remain committed to their Catholicism:

“Both men say they remain committed to the Catholic Church, though they plan to look for a new church to attend. ‘I’ve been Catholic all my life,’ Mr. Robin said. ‘It’s the way I know how to worship.’ ”

“Mr. Fischer said that even with his firings, he received nothing but support from the pews. Even of the people who fired him, he said: ‘These are good people in a tough situation, having to toe a particular line.’ ”

And Mr. Fischer has already

“. . .accepted a job offer from a secular private school for next fall and has received ‘solid offers’ of church work, he said, declining to name the school or the churches. He has kept his other two part-time jobs, as artistic director of a gay men’s chorus and musical director at a Reform synagogue.”

The update for the Maryland case appeared in a blog post on The Washington Post website, entitled “Barbara Johnson’s Buddhist Catholicism.”  The interview that reporter Michelle Boorstein conducts with Ms. Johnson reveals a woman of deep faith who has found guidance from Buddhist principles, while retaining her Catholic identity.  Boorstein comments:

“Johnson’s depiction of her faith mirrors that even of some clergy, including famed Trappist monk Thomas Merton who embraced and deeply studied Buddhism before his death in the 1960s. More recently, two Episcopal priests — including a bishop — described themselves as followers of Christianity and other faiths, one of Zen Buddhism and one of Islam.”

Ms. Johnson describes a faith development that has had its struggles, but that was rooted in Catholic practices, discussions with others, and, most importantly, her own life experiences:

“Barbara describes a deep if sometimes conflicted relationship with Catholicism, which she calls a basic, unchangeable part of her identity.

“In her 20s, Johnson remembers her growing doubt about Catholic institutions as she wrestled with accepting her sexuality, and later as she watched the clergy sex abuse crisis unfold. She went to services in other Christian churches: Unitarian, Baptist, Episcopalian.

” ‘During that time I found a lot of answers in Buddhist teachings and texts,’ she said.

“In the last decade Johnson returned to her alma mater, Elizabeth Seton High School, to teach art, a move she said was part of a process of coming back to Catholicism on her own terms. She describes long talks with colleagues about Buddhism and the Gospels. And of watching both her parents get sick and the power of their faith, of rituals like reciting the traditional prayer the Memorare with her dying father, of holding her mother and chanting ‘Hail Mary’ as the elder woman passed away.”

“ ‘This is so surreal because I was getting closer and closer to my faith,’ she said of those who assail her for seeking Communion with her blended faith identities. ‘I had really integrated my Catholic identity into my larger identity as someone who is very influenced by Buddhist teachings.’ ”

“Johnson says she never stopped seeing herself as a Catholic, and never stopped attended Mass or taking Communion – albeit not very regularly.”

The final part of the interview reveal that Ms. Johnson has maintained her Catholic faith and identity, despite her recent ordeal:

“ ‘The words in the Mass have been my guidepoint. It says, “Lord I am not worthy to receive you,” and these words, before Communion every Mass I’ve said those words with as much conviction in my body and soul as possible, and been guided by the feeling of what was in my body and my conscience. If I felt I wasn’t worthy, I wouldn’t go.’

“Today she says that Buddhism and Catholicism are both part of her identity. The two traditions ‘inform one another in this constant internal conversation,’ she told the Post.

“Johnson is aware of the criticism she is getting, and wonders: Does it disqualify her from her faith to challenge it?

“ ‘Wasn’t the doubting Thomas good because he was in dialogue with his faith? It’s not between me and other Catholics, it’s between me and God.’ ”

So many lessons to be learned from these three heroic people. When I read about people like Al Fischer, Charlie Robin, and Barbara Johnson, I pray in gratitude for their examples.  I also pray that I might be able to exhibit even a fraction of their grace and optimism were I to find myself in similar circumstances.  These examples of LGBT faith-heroism illustrate why the perfect symbol for our community is a rainbow.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Barbara Johnson to Address New Ways Ministry Symposium!

March 10, 2012

Barbara Johnson

New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium, From Water to Wine:  Lesbian/Gay Catholics and Relationships, will have the distinct honor of a visit from Barbara Johnson, the Catholic lesbian woman denied communion at her mother’s funeral, whose story made national headlines.

Ms. Johnson will visit the Symposium with her partner on Saturday, March 17, 2012, to address the assembled meeting participants about her recent experiences.  Immediately following her remarks, the participants will confer a blessing upon Ms. Johnson, her partner, and their entire family.

“Barbara Johnson’s faith witness has been strong throughout this whole ugly incident,” said Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director. “We are honored and humbled that she will be with us for the Symposium, and we are sure that all will benefit greatly from her presence.”

The Seventh National Symposium takes place March 15-17, 2012, at the Renaissance Baltimore Innerharbor Hotel, 202 East Pratt Street, Baltimore, Maryland.  Other major speakers are: Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley; former Maryland lieutenant governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend; Catholic Bishop Geoffrey Robinson of Australia; Richard Rodriguez, Pulitzer-nominated writer and commentator; Catholic theologians Patricia Beattie Jung and Luke Timothy Johnson.  For more information and to register, please click here.

You can refresh yourself on the details of Ms. Johnson’s story by reading Bondings 2.0‘s three reports about the event; you can access those posts, in chronological order, here, here, and here.  Ms. Johnson’s experience continues to make headlines.  Just this week, Allen Rose, president of Dignity/Washington, published an essay in DC’s Metro Weekly, a gay news magazine, which touched on this case to call on the Archdiocese of Washington to provide better pastoral care for LGBT people:

Allen Rose

“I believe that all of the national and international attention currently focused on the correct pastoral approach to LGBT Catholics in the Archdiocese of Washington might create a grace-filled, teachable moment for this area’s LGBT Catholics, their bishops and priests.”

In calling for dialogue between LGBT Catholics and the archdiocesan administration, Rose suggests a variety of important and urgent topics that could be readily discussed:

“The following could be discussed: developing strategies to prevent bullying and anti-gay violence in Catholic schools, exploring ways to strengthen and expand the HIV/AIDS ministry, and forming a ministry throughout the archdiocese to support families with LGBT members.

“These and other pastoral questions demonstrate the systemic nature of the solutions that are required regarding pastoral care for LGBT Catholics. This would not be a forum to discus politics.”

New Ways Ministry has long-supported the idea of dialogue between church officials and LGBT Catholics, and we think that Rose’s proposal at this crucial time can turn a painful event into a turning point for good.  In addition to LGBT Catholics, we think this dialogue should also include parents of LGBT people and pastoral professionals involved in this ministry.  The time for such a dialogue is way overdue, and the story of Ms. Johnson’s painful experience has illustrated to the world the harmful results that delaying such a dialogue is causing.  We repeat what we and so many others have said about Ms. Johnson’s case: “Never again.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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