Fortunate Families Founders Feted for Ministry to Catholic Parents of LGBT People

May 11, 2014

Happy Mothers Day!

When the history of the Catholic LGBT movement is written, a major chapter of it must be devoted to Mary Ellen and Casey Lopata, a pair of Catholic parents of a gay son, whose journey of understanding and acceptance led them to ministry with other parents, and eventually the founding of a national network called Fortunate Families. Last weekend, Catholics from around the country gathered in the Lopatas’ hometown of Rochester, New York, for a dinner celebrating their retirement from leadership in Fortunate Families, as well as the 10th anniversary of this network of Catholic parents of LGBT people.

Casey and Mary Ellen Lopata peruse a memory album presented to them by Fortunate Families Board President Deb Word at their retirement dinner.

Casey and Mary Ellen Lopata peruse a memory album presented to them by Fortunate Families Board President Deb Word at their retirement dinner.

During the event, the history of the Lopatas’ ministry was recounted, going back to 1992 when they attended New Ways Ministry’s Third National Symposium on Lesbian/Gay Issues and Catholicism, in Chicago.  The couple attended the meeting with six other pastorally involved people from Rochester, and they returned home fired with enthusiasm to start pastoral outreach to LGBT people, and particularly, their parents.   Their efforts eventually led to the establishment of the Diocese of Rochester’s Catholic Gay and Lesbian Family Ministry.

A few years later, the Lopatas were instrumental in helping to establish the National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian/Gay Ministries (NACDLGM), and in 1998 they organized and hosted the group’s national conference in Rochester, one of the most successful meetings the organization has ever had.  (NACDGLM is now known as the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry.) Throughout the 1990s, the Lopatas were tireless in their education, support, and advocacy ministry for families.  They served as consultants on the U.S. bishops’ 1997 pastoral letter, Always Our Children.

They published several resources including a book, Fortunate Families: Catholic Families with Lesbian Daughters and Gay Sons, and a manual entitled Seeds of Hope: Compassionate Ministry with Gay and Lesbian Catholics and Their Families. In 2004, they established Fortunate Families as a nationwide resource and networking ministry to, for, and with Catholic parents of LGBT people.  In the following year, New Ways Ministry presented them with its Bridge Building Award, “for compassionate ministry, personal witness, and national leadership to promote justice for lesbian/gay Catholics, their parents, and families.”

Fortunate Families is a member of the Equally Blessed Coalition, which also includes Call To Action, DignityUSA, and New Ways Ministry.  Representatives from each of these three other coalition partners were on hand in Rochester to praise and thank the Lopatas at their retirement party.  Jim FitzGerald, executive director, represented Call To Action; Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director, represented DignityUSA; Francis DeBernardo, executive director, represented New Ways Ministry.  Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, and Father James Schexnayder, founder of NACDLGM were unable to attend in person, but they each sent video testimonials about the Lopatas’ contributions to the Catholic LGBT movement.  You can view Sr. Jeannine’s video here:

Emails and letters from parents and pastoral ministers, as well as testimonies from Fortunate Families board members, were also part of the evening’s festivities.  Fortunate Families Board President Deb Word presented the Lopatas with a memory book, and New York State Assemblyman Harry Bronson gave them a resolution from the legislature in honor of their contributions.

The Lopatas are leaving an indelible mark on our church because they have helped to affirm and empower so many parents, and LGBT people, as well. Catholic parents are among the most passionate and persuasive advocates for LGBT people in the church. Their natural love for their LGBT children motivates them to work to make sure that they are treated in the same way as their heterosexual children are treated.

For some parents, it takes some time to adjust to the new information that their children are LGBT.  Support from other parents who have gone through the same experience is often the biggest help for those who are just learning about a child’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Parents of LGBT children are a true gift  to the church. The journey of love and acceptance that Catholic parents go on is the same journey that the entire church eventually will need to go experience.  So, all in the church, particularly pastoral ministers and bishops, can learn a lot from these people that God has made so fortunate.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


U.S. Catholic Bishops Invited to New Dialogue on LGBT Issues

November 14, 2013

Equally Blessed LogoThe U.S. Catholic bishops have been invited to open a new and more positive chapter in their relationships with LGBT Catholics and and their supporters.  The invitation came in the form of a letter from the leaders of Equally Blessed, a coalition of four national Catholic organizations (Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry) that work for justice and equality for LGBT people.

The letter, addressed to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who have been meeting in Baltimore this week, invites the church’s leaders to put past events behind them and start a forward-thinking dialogue with LGBT people and supporters. The Equally Blessed leaders wrote:

“Now is the time for us all to adopt a new approach in dealing with issues of human sexuality, especially in dealing with LGBT people, as Pope Francis seems to be calling us to do. It will take time to rebuild trust between members of the Conference and those who have been damaged by its past policies. But, if Jesus came that we all might be one, then healing must begin. So we implore you to sit down with us, to listen to voices from the margins of the Church, and to speak with us candidly about your own concerns. We offer an outstretched hand of invitation.”

The letter writers suggested several areas of common-ground where the bishops can collaborate with them:

“The bishops and LGBT Catholics and their allies have many opportunities to show where our Church is united in its commitment to the dignity of the human person. The bishops have many opportunities to reach out to LGBT persons without violating Church teaching. The USCCB could issue an unambiguous statement declaring that bullying children because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity is unacceptable. Parishes and diocesan offices could be encouraged to make concerted efforts to include LGBT people in their outreach ministries and other agendas.  The Church could make an effort to create pastorally sensitive ministries that would deal with the problem of LGBT youth homelessness and suicide. Together, we are sure we can find other ways to send out positive and mercy-filled messages.”

The Equally Blessed leaders stressed that this is an opportune time for such a dialogue:

“At this pivotal moment in the life of our church, we, the leaders of the Equally Blessed coalition, invite you into a deeper relationship with LGBT Catholics, their families and their friends. We seek, first of all, simple conversation with you. Rather than speaking about LGBT people, or, worse yet, against LGBT people, we urge you to sit down and speak with LGBT people. We ask you to convene local and national conversations in which lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics, their families and their friends can tell you about their faith and their commitment to the Church.  The spirit of respect and openness that these conversations could foster would be balm on the wounds of LGBT Catholics and those who love them.”

Invoking the spirit of the new papacy, the LGBT equality leaders stressed that it’s time for a different way for the bishops to approach the topic of sexuality:

“At a time when Pope Francis is urging the church to move beyond what he calls its “obsession” with sexual issues, we, faithful Catholics committed to equality and justice within the Church we love, pray that you will hear our voices and respond with mercy.”

The letter was signed by the following organizational representatives:  Call To Action: Jim FitzGerald, Executive Director; DignityUSA: Marianne Duddy-Burke, Executive Director; Fortunate Families: Casey Lopata, Co-Founder, Deb Word, President; New Ways Ministry: Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Catholic–And Cosmopolitan–Responses to the Pope’s Gay Statement

July 31, 2013
Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Since starting this blog over 18 months ago, I have never had such a hard time keeping up with Catholic LGBT news and commentary than in the last two days as articles keep popping up about Pope Francis’ statement which was heard around the gay and Catholic world.  Not even the Supreme Court’s marriage decisions in June generated this much electronic “ink.”

Yesterday, we supplied you with the first round of comments from Catholic writers and organizations.  Today we will try to continue that sampling from some of the best that we have seen from Catholics–and one “cosmopolitan” response that you will have to read to the end to discover!

Like yesterday, you will probably notice a range of opinions, though mostly people are positive.  Let us and others know what you think by posting your thoughts in the “Comments” section of this post.

Richard Galliardetz

Richard Galliardetz

One of the common themes of the commentary I read was whether Francis’ change in tone is really significant?  Professor Richard Galliardetz of Boston College, who this year serves as President of the Catholic Theological Society of America,  answered both of those quandaries in a Religion News Service article:

‘This may be a matter of “style” in some sense, but in this case style matters,’ Gaillardetz explained in a statement that echoed the poet Robert Frost. ‘One can appeal to our doctrinal tradition in order to justify moral rigidity and exclusionary attitudes or one can appeal to our doctrinal tradition as a call to be instruments of mercy and compassion. Francis has chosen the latter course and it has made all the difference!’ ”

Mary Hunt

Mary Hunt

Catholic lesbian theologian Mary Hunt was more guarded in her praise of Pope Francis’ comments, noting particularly that the interview in which he made the statement about gay priests also contained a strong denial of the possibility of ordaining women to the Catholic priesthood.  Hunt’s conclusion in a Religion Dispatches essay:

“The proof of whether this off the cuff press conference, following a well-staged week in Brazil, signals real change will unfold in the months ahead. Will there be stirrings of democracy, a Vatican spring complete with líos [translated: "mess," referring to the pope's statement to young people to "go, make a mess" in the world] in every diocese capable of upending a kyriarchal church and letting a mature, diverse community emerge? Will women finally and definitively share power with men in a democratic church? Or, will there simply be a little tweaking of the rules to make sure that a few favored sons who happen to be gay can remain in power?”

One person who is uniquely qualified to comment on the pope’s comment is Fr. Gary Meier, a St. Louis Archdiocese priest, who came out publicly as gay earlier this spring.  In a CNN blog post, Fr. Meier expressed cautious optimism about the news:

Father Gary Meier

Father Gary Meier

“I am optimistic, that our Pope’s comments can lead to greater love and acceptance of the LGBT community. And at the same time, I am cautious – cautious that the change in tone and attitude represented by the Pope’s statement will not lead to a change in theology and doctrine which so desperately needs to change.

“My prayer for the church is that we might take this opportunity to stop causing harm, to stop being judgmental and to become more welcoming; more inviting; more loving towards all people, especially those who are marginalized and ostracized.”

Mary Ellen and Casey Lopata

Mary Ellen and Casey Lopata

Speaking from the perspective of parents of LGBT people, Casey and Mary Ellen Lopata of Fortunate Families welcomed the pope’s statement.  A WHEC.com news story noted:

“Casey Lopata said, ‘This has opened a door. It seems to signal a willingness to dialogue.’

“Casey Lopata says it is reminiscent of something that happened in Rochester 16 years ago.

“ ‘Back in 1997, here in Rochester, Bishop Clark said a mass with gay and lesbian people, family and friends at the time a lot of people weren’t very happy with it and he later wrote an article in the Catholic Courier and title of the article said, ‘Listen, leave the judgment to God’ and that’s exactly what Pope Francis said today.’”

Mary Ellen was quoted in an NBCNews.com story:

“I sense what he is saying is that we are all children of God and we need to treat each other that way regardless of our sexual orientation,” she said. “If that is indeed what he is saying, I think that is a good step forward for reconciling with gay and lesbian people around the world, and also their families.

“Much that’s been said in past years by church leaders has been very hurtful not only to gay and lesbian people but to their families as well.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke

Marianne Duddy-Burke

That same NBCNews.com story also provided the perspective of LGBT Catholics themselves through the voice of Marianne Duddy-Burke, Executive Director of DignityUSA.  Beginning with a quote from Francis’ statement, Duddy-Burke said:

“ ‘If someone loves the Lord and has goodwill’ [Francis' statement] — the reality of that describes an awful lot of LGBT people,’ she said. ‘There are a lot of LGBT people of faith who are working very hard to hold onto their faith and I think it would be important for us to bring our stories to the pope and other church leaders to move this conversation forward.’

“A key step would be bridging the gap between some church leaders who engage in anti-gay rhetoric and their parishioners, many whom support LGBT rights, Duddy-Burke said. Fifty-four percent of Catholics support same-sex marriage, according to a Pew Forum poll released earlier this year.

“ ‘If Francis can be an instrument in healing that divide, we would certainly welcome that and are happy to partner with him,” she said, while noting that only time would tell what impact his remarks would have on daily life.’ “

Sister Marian Durkin

Sister Marian Durkin

The perspective of a pastoral minister who works with lesbian and gay Catholics was offered by Sister Marian Durkin, CSA, in The Cleveland Plain Dealer:

” ‘I appreciate Pope Francis’ compassionate look at homosexuality in the church,’ said Sister Marian Durkin of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine. ‘There are gay men in the priesthood, there always have been. And they serve God’s people with great integrity and love.’

“Durkin has worked in a local outreach ministry for gay Catholics for 20 years. She holds an annual retreat for homosexual Catholics and their parents at the Jesuit Retreat House in Parma.

“ ‘I’m delighted whenever there’s good press about gays and lesbians,’ she said. ‘Francis is a breath of fresh air.’ ”

Stephen Pope

Stephen Pope

Portland, Maine’s Press Herald offered the perspective of a theologian who notes the pragmatic effect the pope’s statement can have:

“Stephen Pope, professor of theology at Boston College, said Francis’ comments were consistent with his other efforts to address declining church membership by reaching out to a more diverse audience.

“That approach stands in stark contrast to that of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, he said.

” ‘I think Pope Benedict’s philosophy was to say, “Let them go. We’ll have a smaller church but more pure,” ‘ Pope said. “Pope Francis has sort of adopted this strategy of meeting people where they are and looking for commonality.’ “

Chad Pecknold

Chad Pecknold

Chad Pecknold, a theology professor at Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, noted, in a Baltimore Sun article, that the pope’s statement was not really “off the cuff,” and was, in fact, an invitation to dialogue:

” ‘The message of mercy, I think, is one he is sounding out on every single issue that the culture has identified as one it rejects the church’s teachings on,’ Pecknold said. ‘What Francis wants to say is, “Let’s talk.” ‘

“The pope offered his thoughts in a remarkably open news conference in response to questions about rumors of a ‘lobby’ of gay priests seeking to influence the Vatican. He said he disapproved of any such lobby or influence, but distinguished influence-seekers from priests who might happen to be gay.

“Pecknold said it was important to consider that context when reading the pope’s comments, but he also said the pontiff would have been aware that his comments to international journalists about homosexuality would have been viewed in a broader context.

” ‘We’re going to hear this over and over and over again,’ Pecknold said. ‘The way in which Francis wants to initiate a conversation, the way in which he wants to invite a conversation, is through this message of mercy.’ “

James Salt

James Salt

The youth perspective was offered by James Salt of Catholics United, a political organizing group, in an Agence France-Presse article:

“. . . Catholics United, which has been very critical of Church leadership, said Francis’ comments ‘speak to what every young person knows: God loves gay people, and so should the Catholic Church.’

” ‘Pope Francis’ call for the acceptance of gay priests is a direct repudiation of the backward beliefs of many ultra-conservative ideologues in the Church,’ the group’s leader James Salt said in a statement.

” ‘This statement on gay people, while largely symbolic, is a big step in the right way.’ “

CosmopolitanAnd we close out with a decidedly non-Catholic perspective: Michelle Ruiz, a blogger at Cosmpolitan magazine:

“A lot of arguments against gay marriage and even homosexuality in general point to religion: ‘The Bible says God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,’ anti-gay groups have been known to say. But now the leader of the Catholic church himself, Pope Francis, is coming out in support of gays. Can we get a Hallelujah?

” ‘If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?’ Francis told reporters yesterday while on an overnight flight from Brazil (for his first foreign trip) back to Rome.

“Francis was responding directly to a question about gay Catholic priests, and his answer is groundbreaking because his more conservative predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, was so against gay clergy, he signed an official document in 2005 saying homosexual men should not be allowed to serve the church.

“So if Francis is cool with gay priests, perhaps gay marriage has a prayer in the church? “

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Pope’s Peace Day Statement Is Countered by Catholic Parents

January 4, 2013

olive branchAs we reported at the end of last month, Pope Benedict’s statement for the World Day of Prayer for Peace, January 1st, contained a reference that same-gender married couples are a threat to world peace.  But on January 1, 2013,  the pope’s message was countered by a pair of married heterosexual Catholic parents who have a long history of working for LGBT justice and equality.

In his statement the pope said that allowing gay and lesbian people to marry is

“. . . an offence against the truth of the human person, with serious harm to justice and peace.”

Mary Ellen and Casey Lopata

Mary Ellen and Casey Lopata

In a Washington Post “On Faith” essay, Casey and Mary Ellen Lopata,  who are the founders of Fortunate Families, a national network of Catholic parents of LGBT people, countered the pope’s rhetoric by describing the lives of  lesbian and gay friends of theirs:

“We are fortunate enough to be able to contrast the pope’s rhetoric with the reality of Bob’s life, and those of many other gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people whom we know. They don’t seem like threats to world peace or the future of humanity. They are men and women trying to earn a living, love their spouses, raise their children and contribute a little something to their churches and their communities.”
Additionally, they contrast the pope’s point of view with that of the majority of U.S. Catholics:
“The pope is losing the fight against marriage equality because Catholics weigh his abstract definitions of what it means to be human, what it means to be male and what it means to be female, against the evidence of their own experience. They understand instinctively that human beings are too complex to be captured in such arid taxonomies, that categories devised by celibate philosophers no longer make much sense in a world in which traditional gender roles were abandoned long ago. Rather, what they know, what they believe, is the evidence of their own experience. Like John the Evangelist, they testify to what they have seen and heard.”
The Lopatas are optimistic that change will eventually happen in the hierarchy:

“History gives us every reason to believe that the church will one day follow suit, but that journey will be long and tortured. The pope presents his arguments against equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as immutable truth, just as the church once asserted that it was right when it argued against women’s suffrage, supported slavery, and banned new understandings of astronomy. On each of these issues, the church finally caught up with its people, but only after decades—and in the case of Galileo, centuries—of argument, exclusion and persecution. Catholics know that their leaders will eventually change their views on human sexuality.

“In the meantime, most Catholics hear the pope’s increasingly strident rhetoric, think of our neighbor Bob and others like him, and scratch their heads. Then they go about their business of voting for marriage equality, opposing discrimination, and rejoicing at the unions of their gay and lesbian family and friends. We hope it doesn’t take several more popes and many more World Peace Day missteps before the Catholic hierarchy finally reforms its ways. Thankfully, ordinary, faithful Catholics are not waiting.”

It seems that the Lopatas’ hope is one that is filled with peace for the present and for the future.

[Editor's Note:  Fortunate Families is a member of the Equally Blessed coalition, which works for justice and equality for LGBT people and their families in church and society.  The other three members of the coalition are Call To Action, DignityUSA, and New Ways Ministry.]

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


It’s Not Catholic for the Boy Scouts to Discriminate Against Gay People

July 28, 2012

 

During the recent news coverage of the Boy Scouts’ decision to reaffirm their ban against gay people serving as scouts or leaders, it was frequently noted that the Catholicism may have played a role in this discriminatory practice.

But is banning gay people really the Catholic thing to do?  Mary Ellen and Casey Lopata, the co-founders of Fortunate Families, a national network of Catholic parents of LGBT people, point out in an essay in The National Catholic Reporter, that such discrimination is actually counter to the best tradition of Catholic thought on LGBT matters.

The Lopatas cite several official Catholic documents which highlight that discrimination against LGBT people is actually contrary to Catholic thought:

“As early as 1976, in To Live in Christ Jesus: A Pastoral Reflection on the Moral Life, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (then known as the National Conference of Catholic Bishops) wrote that, rather than being ostracized, gays and lesbians ‘should have an active role in the Christian community.’

“The church’s hierarchy is in no way more progressive now than it was then, yet the bishops returned to this theme in their 1998 pastoral message Always Our Children:

The teachings of the Church make it clear that the fundamental human rights of homosexual persons must be defended and that all of us must strive to eliminate any forms of injustice, oppression, or violence against them (cf. The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, 1986, no. 10). It is not sufficient only to avoid unjust discrimination. Homosexual persons “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2358).
“The bishops solidify this theme in their recommendation to ‘Welcome homosexual persons into the faith community.’

The authors also point out that not only is the Scouts’ ban against Catholic thought, but it is also extremely harmful and dangerous to young people:

“The Boy Scouts have chosen not to accept gay boys age 11-17 with respect, compassion and sensitivity. They have chosen instead to reject them at precisely that time when gay youth need the support of their communities most.

“Peer-reviewed research establishes that LGBT youth are at far greater risk of social isolation, parental rejection, depression, verbal harassment, physical violence and suicide than their heterosexual counterparts. The leaders of any organization dedicated to young people’s well-being are familiar with this data. They know gay boys need the sort of nurturing that organizations like the Boy Scouts provide.”

If Catholic leaders are not going to provide the direction needed to support gay youth, Catholic lay people must take up that role, the Lopatas argue:

“If the scouts accepted gay boys into their troops, the reasoning goes, these churches might react negatively, leading to a significant thinning in the ranks. We can only pray that this wasn’t the case. There is nothing in official church teaching that justifies the scouts’ discriminatory policy, and it is up to us, as Catholics, to make that clear.”

The Lopatas’ organization, Fortunate Families is a member of the Equally Blessed coalition, which includes three other national Catholic groups that work for equality and justice for LGBT people in church and society:  Call To Action, DignityUSA, and New Ways Ministry.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


PFLAG’s Executive Director Discusses His Catholic Roots

July 23, 2012

Jody Huckaby, the Executive Director of PFLAG (Parents, Family, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), is profiled in The Advocate, the national LGBT news magazine.

A native of the heavily Catholic state of Louisiana, Huckaby’s profile begins with a familiar story:

“Jody M. Huckaby grew up Catholic, went to Catholic schools and was raised by devout Catholic parents in Eunice.

“So when Huckaby, 47, told his parents while he was in college that he is gay, it was “tough” to do, he recalls.

“ ‘It’s very hard when your religion tells you something is wrong but then you are talking about your child’” Huckaby said recently.

“Still, his parents, who were both raised in Church Point, eventually accepted Huckaby for who he is.

“ ‘They started out rejecting it. Then they moved to tolerance and then went to acceptance and finally they celebrated it,’ Huckaby said.

“The personal journey Huckaby and his parents went through was one of the big reasons Huckaby took a job more than seven years ago as executive director of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays National, also known as PFLAG National.

“PFLAG is a family and straight ally organization that helps to advance equality for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender individuals through support, education and advocacy.”

Jody Huckaby

The article notes that PFLAG is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.  Begun in 1972, the organization now has over 350  chapters across the country.  Huckaby will be visiting one of the newest chapters in Baton Rouge, the capital of his native state, as this local group celebrates their first anniversary:

“Huckaby said he is excited to speak in Baton Rouge next month not only because of his family ties to Louisiana — he has a sister living in the capital city who is a Catholic nun — but because of the population growth the city has experienced since Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana in 2005.

“The Baton Rouge chapter president, Carol Frazier, said the organization has achieved steady attendance at its monthly meetings at the Unitarian Church on Goodwood Boulevard.

“ ‘We have between 25 and 35 attendees each month. I think that’s good compared to other chapters that are only a year old. We do see new people each month,’ Frazier said.

“The Baton Rouge meetings usually feature a guest speaker as well as breakout sessions enabling small groups of members to talk about “whatever comes up,” Frazier said.

“ ‘The parents meet in their own group. They don’t always feel comfortable with the younger people,’ Frazier said.

“Varied reactions, feelings and emotions frequently arise in those smaller sessions, Frazier said, ranging from tears and laughter to silence, she said.

“ ‘You can see an interesting growth in people. I remember a mom who came and she didn’t say a word. She didn’t accept her child’s news. Now she speaks freely and is very accepting,’ Frazier said.”

Huckaby offers advice based on his own family’s experience:

“ ‘You can’t preach. People will just walk away. A big message we have is you do not have to throw out your faith to be accepting and loving,’ Huckaby said.

“Although Huckaby and his parents had no experiences with PFLAG when he confided back in college that he is gay, his mother’s turning point to acceptance and understanding of her son came from another, more traditional source.

“Huckaby said his mother read the ‘Dear Abby’ column in the Eunice News religiously throughout her life.

“One day, she read a letter in the column from the mother of a lesbian who asked how she was supposed to deal with the news.

“ ‘The advice was, you still need to love your child just like you did the day before. The second piece of advice was to go find PFLAG and get more information,’ Huckaby said.”

At New Ways Ministry, which is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, we have witnessed the good work of PFLAG for most of its history.  Although not a religious organization, PFLAG’s simple example of listening, solidarity, and support is a model for the way ministry to parents of LGBT people should flourish.

Fortunate Families, a national network of Catholic parents with LGBT sons and daughters, provides just this type of ministry from a Catholic perspective, in the form of their Listening Parents network:  parents who have been through the experience of their child’s coming out who are available to listen to and be supportive of parents who are just learning such news. (The founders of Fortunate Families, Mary Ellen and Casey Lopata, have contributed two blog posts to Bondings 2.0 on family ministry.  You can access those here and here.)

New Ways Ministry salutes PFLAG on their 40th anniversary and prays in thanksgiving for all they have done to make the world a better place for LGBT people!  We wish them every success in the future!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


CALGM Board Refuses to Sign Oath

June 24, 2012

Bishop Salvatore Cordileone

The board of directors of the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry (CALGM) has chosen not to sign an “oath of personal integrity” to Catholic teaching given to them by Oakland’s Bishop Salvatore Cordileone, the Ordinary of the diocese in which they maintain their national office.

According to National Catholic Reporter article:

“Declining the oath could result in Bishop Salvatore Cordileone of Oakland, Calif., declaring the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry, or CALGM, as “not authentically Catholic,” a letter to its members from the association president warns.

Sheila Nelson with CALGM members Myrna Ohmann and the late David McCaffrey

” ‘In good faith, we have done most everything required of us to maintain a legitimate space within the boundaries of the institutional Church,’ president Sheila Nelson wrote to members April 5. ‘Yet, this has not seemed to be adequate or satisfactory to the office of the bishop. We have repeatedly, abundantly and humbly submitted that our work is pastoral in nature and not political or primarily doctrinal.’ . . .

“Cordileone’s list of concerns with the association have included the omission of specific church documents on its website and publications; its use of the terms gay and lesbian; members’ statements deemed critical of the church; and the backgrounds, affiliations and public statements of both conference speakers and board members. . . .

” “That you would require such an unprecedented and extensive manifestation of our consciences suggests to us that, irrespective of our pastoral effectiveness, you wish to force an end to these, admittedly difficult, conversations. You will not be receiving any signed oaths from the Board members,’ Nelson wrote in a March 29 letter, the first informing the bishop of their decision.”

(The NCR article is rather lengthy but filled with details; if you are interested in learning more about this story, I suggest you read the article in its entirety.)

The NCR article noted that CALGM had already made several concessions to other requests by Bishop Cordileone:

“In an eight-page follow-up letter to the January meeting, dated April 15, 2011, the board sought to clarify questions about the association and its stance on several of the bishop’s concerns, one of which was its usage of the terms ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ on its website and in its publications — a concern that ‘honestly surprised’ the board.

Arthur Fitzmaurice

“[Arthur]Fitzmaurice  [board member and resource director] said that Cordileone said during their Jan. 7 meeting that the terms weren’t in the church’s vocabulary, and were promoted by groups opposed to the church’s moral teaching.

“The board pointed out it in the letter that archdiocesan ministries in Los Angeles and Chicago use ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ in their titles. In addition, the Oakland diocese has a page titled Gay and Lesbian Ministry’ under the family life ministries section of its website.

” ‘The average Catholic who identifies as gay or lesbian is not making a statement about their sexual activity, their political party, their views on same-sex marriage, or their “lifestyle.”… these terms are actually used to shift the focus away from sexual behavior (which ‘homosexual’ clearly evokes) toward the matters of orientation and identity, which are acknowledged by the Church,” the letter stated.

“The board agreed to ‘be more conscientious of our use of language,’ and to utilize Church language — ‘persons with a homosexual inclination’ — when presenting church teaching, and ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ when communicating with those to whom they minister. . . .

“Ensuing letters detailed the association’s progress in implementing Cordileone’s requests, including:

  • modifying website content to include specific church documents;
  • adding editorial remarks to opinions criticizing or inaccurately portraying church teachings, and stating CALGM did not share in them;
  • Using church language — “persons with a homosexual inclination” — when presenting church teaching, and “gay” and “lesbian” when communicating with whom they minister;
  • providing the bishop a copy of each newsletter before distribution to members;
  • Continuing the practice of providing the names of proposed speakers to the bishop of the diocese where conferences are held.”

Nelson noted the inappropriateness of the request for an oath:

“Nelson, in a March 29 letter, informed the Oakland bishop the board would not take his oath: ‘In the course of our conversations with you over the last year, we have endeavored to engage and respond to each of the concerns that you have raised about our pastoral ministry.’

“She continued: ‘Sadly, there always seems to be something that you say “confirms [your] doubts” about us and our work. … We have tried to gain your trust … We have tried to assure you that we are faithful disciples in parishes and dioceses doing the pastoral work of the Church …’

” ‘We hope you can understand, then, our confusion at the “Oath of Personal Integrity in Belief and Practice Regarding the Teachings of the Catholic Church.” Suddenly, the terms of our long conversation have migrated from the work of the Association to the personal lives of the Board members,’ she said.

“At the end of the letter, Nelson expressed hope that CALGM would continue a ministry she called a “tremendous value to you and our Church at a time when conventional wisdom would inaccurately characterize Roman Catholicism as “against gay people,'” adding, ‘For our part, we need you and your apostolic service to hold us in deep communion with the Body of Christ. We hope and pray that we can continue to minister with you in the Church we all love.’ “

Casey Lopata

Looking toward the future, Fitzmaurice and Casey Lopata, longtime CALGM board member and co-founder of Fortunate Families, had these thoughts:

“When asked how or if CALGM would continue its ministry should Cordileone declare it not authentically Catholic, Fitzmaurice stated that ‘the need for our ministry remains, and we will continue to do our pastoral work and will respond to opportunities for dialogue with our Church leaders.’ “

“Lopata said it would be ‘a real loss for the church” if CALGM could not continue its work.

” ‘If there’s not that visible association with this positive perspective for gay and lesbian people within the  church that is recognized by the church, the church would be much impoverished because of that,’ he said.”

Indeed.  CALGM has been a great support to many church ministers over the years and has provided great work in the field of LGBT ministry.  They have worked hard to maintain a dialogue with church leaders throughout their work.  The breakdown of dialogue here says more about the hiearchy’s adamancy than it says anything about CALGM’s loyalty to the church.  They are in our prayers.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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