Students, Alumni, and Commentators Support Fired Catholic H.S. Teacher

August 10, 2013
Student and alums protest outside the school.

Student and alums protest outside the school.

Los Angeles’ Daily News reported:

“Several hundred students, alumnae and supporters of Ken Bencomo rallied in Glendora on Thursday morning, protesting Bencomo’s firing from St. Lucy’s Priory High School after he married his longtime same-sex partner in July.”

According to Los Angeles.CBSLocal.comBrittany Littleton, an alumna who organized the protest said:

“I believe very strongly in equal rights and in justice, but aside from that, Mr. Bencomo is an amazing teacher.”

The San Gabriel Valley Tribune carried a story

about the protest, which included a comment from an alumna’s mother who jointed the demonstration:

 Melissa Magdaleno, an alumna, protest's the teacher's dismissal.

Melissa Magdaleno, an alumna, protest’s the teacher’s dismissal.

“The school has an obligation to make good choices and to stand up and be courageous, and I don’t think they’re being courageous in this decision,” Terry Monday said. “I think they’re hiding behind Catholic doctrine and not demonstrating the values that they try to teach the girls.”

Bondings 2.0 reported on the firing when news broke last week.  You can read the report here.

In addition to the protest, the firing has sparked a bit of commentary all over the country.  In a Washington Post “On Faith” essay, Sharon Groves, Director of the Human Rights Campaign’s Religion and Faith Program, put the firing in the context of Pope Francis’ recent gay-positive comments, and wonders how the school can defend their action in terms of their Catholic faith:

“To be clear, it was an act that contradicted their mission statement’s call to respond compassionately to the needs of the community. Ken’s officials hid behind their “Catholic faith” to justify their position. But there isn’t one way to be Catholic.”

Groves points out the variety of ways that Catholics strongly support LGBT people:

Sharon Groves

Sharon Groves

“Ask the faithful Catholics — who organized as Catholics — in every state where marriage equality had a possibility of passing. Ask my friend Rosa Manriquez, who proudly raised two lesbian daughters and two grandchildren according to the core tenets of Catholic social teaching — to love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. Ask the countless Catholics living with the pain of exile but holding a deep longing for the church, as the Catholic hierarchy routinely denies their humanity.”

And, she points out, this support doesn’t stop at the level of the pews:

“And while the true intent of his Pope Francis’ words this week remains unclear, we were offered a morsel of hope. We were offered the possibility of a world where claims of a singular ‘Catholic faith’ aren’t used as an excuse for judgment, shaming and injustice.

“ ‘Do not judge’ is a mantra for us all to embrace, regardless of our faiths. But especially for my Catholic friends who hold St. Francis and Pope Francis so dear, now is the time for a real commitment to these words. We must all do better.”

In The Los Angeles Times, Michael McGough, a columnist questions the church-state issues that this firing raises.  Should churches be allowed to discriminate in employment, he asks.   He explicates the issue this way:

“This would make a good case study for law students. Does the teacher’s right to be free from discrimination trump the school’s right to safeguard its theological convictions about marriage by dismissing a teacher whose life is at odds with that teaching?

“California has a law against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, which may or may not cover a situation in which an employee is dismissed because he has entered a same-sex marriage. On the other hand, the law doesn’t apply to “a religious association or corporation not organized for private profit.”

“Then there’s the 1st Amendment. Last year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a Lutheran church could fire a ‘called teacher’– one who had received a commission as a ‘minister of religion’ – without running afoul of anti-discrimination laws. But it’s not clear whether a lay teacher at a Catholic school would be in the same category.”

Ken Bencomo

Ken Bencomo

McGough concludes:

“With the spread of same-sex marriage,  courts are going to be drawing lots of lines in this area. Maybe they will say that a Catholic school can dismiss a teacher who is in a same-sex marriage because teachers are role models,  but it can’t discriminate against a bus driver or a bookkeeper. Or perhaps a Catholic college that serves adult students from a variety of religious backgrounds belongs in a different category from a parish elementary or high school.”

For Eduardo Moises Peñalver, a blogger at  Commonweal magazine, a Catholic lay journal of opinion, the legal question is not as important as the moral question in this case:

“I want to separate the question whether Catholic institutions have the right to do this sort of thing from the question whether they should, on either moral or prudential grounds.  I am not aware of divorced and remarried teachers getting fired.  The axe always seems to fall on those who are somewhat more easily marginalized:  unmarried pregnant teachers, gay teachers, etc. “

For a related post on the problem that Catholic institutions are encouraging by firing their LGBT employees, click here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


New Video Series on Catholics and LGBT People Debuts on YouTube

August 1, 2013

Pope Francis was not the only Jesuit this week who made news about positive statements on LGBT issues.  The folks at Ignatian News Network, a California-based Jesuit production company, have released a video on YouTube.com which is the first of a series on gay and lesbian people and the Catholic church entitled, “Who Are We To Judge?”

The first episode contains interviews with Jesuit Father James Martin, noted spirituality author, and Jesuit Father Matt Malone, editor-in-chief of America  magazine.    The episode also contains an interview with Arthur Fitzmaurice, a gay Catholic who is resource director of the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry.  All speak positively about the outreach efforts that many in the Catholic church are doing with LGBT people.

You can watch the video here:

I would guess that there was a wise, last-minute title change for the series, after Pope Francis’ statement about gay priests earlier this week:  “Who am I to judge?”

We look forward to the future installments in the series.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Responses to Supreme Court Decisions Continue to Pour In

June 27, 2013

The euphoria over yesterday’s Supreme Court decisions on marriage equality is continuing unabated by Catholics and LGBT advocates.

Justice Anthony Kennedy

Justice Anthony Kennedy

Perhaps the most amazingly Catholic quotation from the decisions was the phrase written by Catholic Justice Anthony Kennedy in striking down the Defense of Marriage Act:

“The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.”

Equally Blessed, a Catholic coalition that works for equality and justice for LGBT people in church and society, released the following statement yesterday:

 

Equally Blessed Logo“As members of the Catholic Church and citizens of the United States, we are elated that the U. S. Supreme Court has both struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and cleared the way for marriage equality in the state of California. We are especially pleased to see that Justice Anthony Kennedy, a Catholic, wrote the opinion striking down DOMA, and that Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who is also a Catholic, concurred in this historic decision.

“While we would have preferred the Court to find the California law prohibiting same-sex marriage to be clearly unconstitutional, in dismissing the case, the Court has cleared the way for same-sex couples to be legally married in that state.

“Catholics around the country have worked hard to pass legislation that permits same-sex couples to marry, and protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination. They have done so not in spite of their faith, but because of it, knowing that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God, and that all of God’s children must be treated with dignity, compassion and respect.

“The court today has removed two obstacles blocking the path to justice for same-sex couples, but that path must still be walked. So today we celebrate and offer prayers of thanksgiving, and tomorrow we invite our fellow Catholics to join us in working to bring marriage equality to the states in which it has not yet been written into law.”

The member organizations of Equally Blessed are Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry.

Both the National Catholic Reporter and Whispers In the Loggia reported on reactions from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and other marriage equality opponents.

Bryan Cones, on U.S. Catholic’s blog wondered if the Supreme Court decisions will persuade the bishops to tone down their campaign against marriage equality and instead engage in dialogue with LGBT people:

Bryan Cones

Bryan Cones

“I for one would hope for a kind of pause on the bishops’ approach to this question: It should be obvious now that, on the civil side of things, same-sex couples have convinced Americans that they deserve access to the civil benefits of marriage. We in the church need to be having our own conversations about the religious institution of marriage and the religious meaning of human sexuality–long a monologue from the hierarchy that has not included the voices of lay people, married, single, gay, bisexual, or straight. Our own deliberations may lead us to new conclusions, or it may lead to a reaffirmation of old ones. But the signs of the times, today’s rulings included, demand our common discernment. “

Catholics United’s blog, Our Daily Threadcarried a post by Daniel Byrne in which he challenged the USCCB’s characterization of the decisions as “tragic”:

“It further upsets me that you call these decisions “tragic.” What’s tragic is that 23% of children live in poverty. What’s tragic are the natural disasters occurring because of climate change. What’s tragic is that Guantanamo Bay is still open (thanks to Bishop Pates for hisstatement, by the way). Providing equal rights for same-sex spouses is not tragic.

“Let’s be clear, this is a civil rights issue. No longer will same-sex spouses be turned away from seeing their partner in a hospital. No longer will binational couples be separated because their marriage isn’t recognized in the US. No longer will another 1,100 rights be denied same-sex spouses.”

Jamie Manson, writing on HuffingtonPost.com, tells the story of a group of Catholic LGBT advocates from Dignity/New York, who helped bring the DOMA case to court by supporting the plaintiff, Edith Windsor:

Edith Windsor

Edith Windsor

“As millions celebrate today the Supreme Court’s striking down of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), many will be giving thanks to Edie Windsor, the 83-year-old plaintiff in the case, and her lawyer, Roberta Kaplan.

“What most people will not know, however, is the instrumental role that a few members of the New York City chapter of DignityUSA played in this historic moment.”

You can read the inspiring story here.  Or you can see a synopsis and link to an earlier version of this story from The National Catholic Reporter by clicking here.

Manson concludes her essay with some hopeful words, which reflect the mood of yesterday’s and today’s exuberance:

“To paraphrase Margaret Mead’s oft-quoted aphorism, never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed Catholics can change the world.”

–Francis DeBernardo and Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 


QUOTE TO NOTE: Proud Latino and Catholic for Marriage Equality

April 17, 2013
Representative Xavier Becerra

Representative Xavier Becerra

computer_key_Quotation_MarksU.S. Representative Xavier Becerra (D-California) was one of 67 congresspeople who in 1996 voted against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which is now being challenged in the Supreme Court.  He, along with 212 other lawmakers, signed an amicus brief asking the Court to overturn DOMA, according to Politic365.com.

At a rally at the Supreme Court on the day oral arguments were heard in the case, Becerra told the amassed demonstrators:

“It is time for us to have equality. I say this as a proud Latino and Catholic. It is proud to have equality for all and we will have it because time marches forward and so does justice.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Who Does Your Marriage Influence?

September 26, 2012

 

Kevin Fisher-Paulson

The Archdiocese of San Francisco has instituted a series of radio advertisements promoting marriage.  Part of the advertisements’ message asked married couples how many people are influenced by their marriages.

In a commentary on KQED radio, Kevin Fisher-Paulson, who is a captain with the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, felt that this is exactly the type of question that needs to be asked:

“You know what? They got this right. Lots of people are affected by my marriage.

“I’m not talking about Catholic marriage, where 40 percent end in divorce. I’m talking about my own gay marriage.”

Kevin, who married his partner, Brian, in California in 2008 during the short period of time when marriage equality existed in the state, provided an interesting answer to the question:

“Brian and I got married, without blessing of either church or law, 25 years ago this month. And in those years, we have fostered medically at risk triplets, nursed friends dying of AIDS, helped friends detox from heroin, taken in rescue dogs and adopted drug-exposed, multi-racial foster children. None of my or Brian’s brothers is still with his first wife, but Brian and I have stood together, for richer and poorer, in sickness and in health. And that has affected the way that our friends look at gay men and their ability to commit.”

Kevin, like many Catholics, hopes for the day when both state and church recognize the commitments of lesbian and gay couples.  He states:

“In the meantime, my husband and I attend Most Holy Redeemer, that gay-friendly church in the Castro, so the rest of the Church can see how many people are affected by our marriage.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


NEWS NOTES: February 21, 2012

February 21, 2012

Here are links to some items you might find of interest:

1) More evidence that lay Catholics and their bishops differ strongly on support for marriage equality comes from a new poll reported by The New York Times in an article “Support Is Found for Birth Control Coverage and Gay Unions.”  Though the poll surveyed the general electorate, they report findings for different sub-groups, such as Catholics:  “More than two-thirds of Catholic voters supported some sort of legal recognition of gay couples’ relationships: 44 percent favored marriage, and 25 percent preferred civil unions. “

2) In “Spectrum continues quest to abolish stereotypes on campus,” Loyola University Maryland’s student newspaper, The Greyhound, reports on upcoming semester plans for activities by their LGBTA organization.

3) If California’s Proposition 8 case makes it to the nation’s highest court, the “Gay marriage fight may hinge on Supreme Court’s Anthony Kennedy,” a Catholic, reports The Charlotte Observer.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


The Catholic Factor of Proposition 8

February 8, 2012

The reaction of the Catholic hierarchy to the news yesterday that a federal court has declared California’s Proposition 8 unconstitutional has been, predictably, negative.  After all, the hierarchy, aided by over a million dollars from the Knights of Columbus, worked so furiously to get Proposition 8’s constitutional ban against marriage equality passed into law.

Bishop Gerald E. Wilkerson, president of the California Catholic Conference, and auxiliary bishop from Los Angeles, issued a response yesterday which included the following:

“We are disappointed by the ruling today by a panel of the Ninth Circuit that would invalidate the action taken by the people of California affirming that marriage unites a woman and a man and any children from their union. However, given the issues involved and the nature of the legal process, it’s always been clear that this case would very likely be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Marriage between one man and one woman has been—and always will be—the most basic building block of the family and of our society.”

But a reaction from an usher at Our Lady of Angels Cathedral in Los Angeles may indicate better where Catholics in the pew stand on this issue–even those who initially voted for Proposition 8.  Ruben Garcia is quoted on the public radio website, spcr.org:

” ‘As a parishioner and a Catholic and a married man, I do believe in the sanctity of marriage,’ Garcia said, ‘and I do believe that it should be between a man and a woman, but I’m torn because I also believe in the separation of church and state.’ “

Cathy Lynn Grossman, religion editor at USA Today, posted a story on their website that contains a variety of religious reactions to yesterday’s court decision, including that of Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who called the ruling a “grave injustice.”

The possibility that this ruling will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court would put the fate of marriage equality into the hands of Catholics, who currently make up a  six-person majority on the Court (Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor).  Though many of the news reports on the decision made it seem like a U.S. Supreme Court case on the matter is likely, Adam Nagourney’s article in The New York Times  was more cautionary in outlook:

“Both sides in the case made clear that they intended to take the case before the Supreme Court in hopes of prompting it to settle once and for all an issue that has been fought out in courts, legislatures and ballot boxes since at least a 1971 case in Minnesota. That said, there is no guarantee the court will take it. The narrow parameters of the ruling’s reasoning — and the fact that it was written to apply only to California — may prompt the court to wait for a clearer dispute before weighing in.”

Though this case temporarily provides a victory for the marriage equality movement in California, there is still work of reconciliation work to be done in the Catholic Church there.  In a post two weeks ago, I mentioned that a California friend told me that the hierarchy’s heavily funded campaign to pass Proposition 8 has had a harmful effect on the pastoral life of LGBT Catholics and their allies in California.  Many have become alienated from the church and left it because of the vociferous anti-gay nature of the campaign and its rhetoric.  While the hierarchy has been focused on the political nature of the marriage debate, it’s time that they started to look at the pastoral component of it, too, and begin the much needed work of reconciliation–for the good of the entire church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 


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