(Most) Rhode Island Clergy Offer Lesson in Pastoral Priorities

August 20, 2013

Bishop Tobin at the Young Republicans meeting

At the beginning of August a newly married gay Catholic couple in Rhode Island was denied Communion by their pastor, just about the same time that Pope Francis made his “Who am I to judge?” comments returning from World Youth Day. The same priest who denied this couple communion also criticized pro-equality politicians.  Similarly, remarks by Providence’s bishop on LGBT issues further demonstrate that Catholic leaders remain unsettled months after Rhode Island passed marriage equality. This situation has left many clergy in disagreement about the best response to new realities, while other Catholics wish for more sensitivity from their priests.

Fr. Brian Sistare, the communion-denying pastor, told legislators who voted for the marriage law that he would use his clerical position to defeat them in coming elections, doing so in an email filled with inaccuracies and anti-gay language. Aside from risking the Church’s tax-exempt status with such partisanship, his endeavor seems futile given Rhode Island Catholics’ overwhelming support for LGBT rights. You can read Fr. Sistare’s full email at RIFuture.org.

Meanwhile, Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence addressed marriage and the pope in a meeting with Young Republicans, where he coincidentally announced he had transferred parties from the Democrats because of their stands on social issues. Tobin reiterated his opposition to marriage equality and his belief that Pope Francis’ remarks on gay priests revealed nothing new. The Providence Journal also reports he spoke about denying Communion:

“On the question of whether priests should deny Communion to couples they know are living together — be they as gay couples or cohabitating heterosexual couples — Bishop Tobin said that question would be best left to the individual parish priests who know the individuals and who have counseled the couples about the church’s teaching.”

For their part, priests in the diocese are not following Fr. Sistare’s example of vilifying LGBT people and their supporters. In a piece by The Providence Journal, the response of clergy to the marriage law is viewed in light of a pope who wants more mercy and less judgment:

“Some of the topical questions facing priests now: Should they deny communion to an unmarried couple who lives together? Should they tell gay couples that their lives are disordered and they should refrain from Communion or go elsewhere? Or should they welcome the couples with open and forgiving arms?

“Interviews with Catholic priests around the state suggest most have a good idea as to what to say or do, even while they may disagree among themselves about the best approach. Most, however, are inclined toward following the lead of the new pope, even when they feel they must ‘speak the truth in love.’ “

Many parish priests equate same-gender couples with mixed-gender couples who live together and may be sexually active before marriage. This means that these priests allow Catholics to act according to their consciences when it comes to Communion:

“Father Thurber says he understands that ‘everyone is in a different spot in their place with God,’ and so he tries to meet people where they are. When couples who have been living together come to see him about getting married, he says, he extends ‘an open arm of welcome’ and leaves the question as to whether they should receive communion to their consciences and to God.

“ ‘I am not in the business of denying Communion,’ he says flatly. ‘As Pope Francis said, it’s not fair to judge. I preach the Gospel, and whoever hears it, hears it.’ “

Priests with a harder line insist their emphasis on rules about Communion is for everyone, not just LGBT people or couples, although they would remind a same-gender couple of the hierarchy’s teachings. Less concerned with regulations are priests like Fr. Charles Grondin who focuses on bringing people back to Mass and not on their perceived sins. He criticizes those who investigate parishioners’ lives and those who constantly remind Catholics about the rules about Communion. In a sign of hope, of the ten or so priests interviewed, all rejected the idea of denying Communion to parishioners in same-gender relationships.

Yet, Bryan Cones at U.S. Catholic asks the most pressing question about clergy’s priorities relevant to Catholics everywhere, citing the example of Bishop Tobin and the Young Republicans. Contrasting Tobin with Bishop Thomas Lynch, who recently defended the Church’s efforts on behalf of those in poverty, Cones writes:

“Something’s wrong with the world when one bishop is trying to defend the charitable efforts of the church while another is addressing the Rhode Island Young Republicans about–you guessed it–gay marriage. As Scott Alessi notes in his blog post, Bishop Thomas Lynch of St. Petersburg [Florida] has stepped into defend Catholic Charities…Meanwhile, Bishop Tobin is up in Rhode Island licking his wounds over yet another loss in the civil same-sex marriage debate. Poor people? What poor people?”

Cones correctly notes the difference in priorities expressed here, and it seems that clergy understand that pastoral care and concern for the poor override any opposition to marriage, even if their bishop fails to do so. Cones concludes with a statement very relevant for Rhode Island, and beyond:

“Churches should be, of course, above partisan politics, calling politicians of every stripe back to the basic demands of the Bible: justice for the orphan, the widow, the stranger, the poor. One reason for the current pope’s popularity is surely his basic message that the church should be a church of the poor. It would be nice if a few more of his brother bishops in this country would take note.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


The Incredible, Shrinking Catholic Church

August 11, 2013

Were it up to some Catholics, the church would become an isolationist sect that has no possibility of communicating or interacting with the non-Catholic public.  At least that is the impression given when some Catholic organizations and bishops keep de-funding and criticizing other Catholic groups because they associate with those who support marriage equality.

Father Larry Snyder

Father Larry Snyder

The latest example is the American Life League, a Catholic pro-life group which is criticizing Catholic Charities USA.  The National Catholic Reporter states:

In a video report published July 29 on its YouTube page, the American Life League accuses Catholic Charities USA “of playing the devil’s game of compromise” because its president, Fr. Larry Snyder, sits on the board of trustees of the America’s Promise Alliance, a network formed out of a 1997 summit of U.S. presidents to promote childhood success. . . .

” ‘There’s no mistaking it — the America’s Promise Alliance is promoting homosexual activism and birth control,’ said Michael Hichborn, director of the league’s Defend the Faith project, in the report.

” ‘A Catholic priest has no business compromising Catholic principles by attaching the Catholic name of his $4.6 billion charity to an organization that celebrates birth control and homosexual activism the way the America’s Promise Alliance does,’ Hichborn said of Snyder, who has served as Catholic Charities president since 2005.”

In response to these accusations, Catholic Charities has said:

“Catholic Charities USA (CCUSA) follows the teachings and ethical practices of the Catholic Church and as we and other Church institutions have done for decades, we engage in coalitions focused on reducing poverty in our nation. We do this with a mutual understanding that we cannot and will not endorse the public policy statements of any coalition that are inconsistent with our teachings and ethical practices.”

The National Catholic Reporter highlighted some of the LGBT work done by America’s Promise Alliance through the program of designating “best communities”:

“Among those highlighted in the [American Life League] report were four-time recipient Houston/Harris County, Texas, which the league said won in 2010 for giving ‘a homosexual activist organization access to teens in two high schools,’ and six-time winner Bellevue, Wash., which in 2011 won in part because a youth counseling center ‘produced a homosexual propaganda film that won Best Local Film at the Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival.’

“In the descriptions of both communities on its website, the alliance recognized each for other achievements as well: promoting literacy and academic readiness; training mentors to help struggling students stay in school; and establishing a youth court to include their voice in the juvenile justice system.”

The news article also contained other information about the American Life League:

“Earlier this year, the American Life League targeted another social justice wing of the church, the U.S. bishops’ conference’s Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

“In a June report, Faith in Public Life identified the American Life League as the leading organization among a predominantly conservative coalition campaigning against the anti-poverty program. The groups’ criticisms of the campaign fall along lines similar to what they say about Catholic Charities: that it partners with or funds organizations that in some way support abortion and same-sex marriage.”

Whenever I hear about groups criticizing Catholic organizations for associating with those with whom they may disagree, I am reminded of the Pharisees in the Gospel who accuse Jesus of hanging out with the “wrong” kind of people.  To be like Jesus, Catholics need to associate and work with people at all points on the political spectrum in areas where they find commonality.

While I would wish that Catholic groups would strongly support LGBT equality organizations, I recognize that not all are yet ready to do so.  But at the very least, those who do want to be connected to such organizations, should have the ability to do so.  It’s a Gospel lesson.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Rep. Paul Ryan Endorses LGBT Adoption, While Newt Gingrich Digs In Against Equality

May 9, 2013
Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan

As marriage equality becomes law in state after state, related legal matters like adoption rights for LGBT individuals and same-gender couples are gaining public attention. Catholic public figures are reviewing long-standing positions by the hierarchy anew, with Republican Congressman Paul Ryan  endorsing equal adoption rights and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaking strongly against what he perceives as anti-Christian laws.

Rep. Ryan, a Catholic, spoke at a town hall in Wisconsin last week where an attendee questioned him about a poor rating with the Human Rights Campaign, specifically a 1999 vote against allowing same-gender couples in the District of Columbia to adopt. David Gibson reports on the comments at Religion News Service, quoting Rep. Ryan as saying:

“Adoption, I’d vote differently these days. That was I think a vote I took in my first term, 1999 or 2000. I do believe that if there are children who are orphans who do not have a loving person or couple, I think if a person wants to love and raise a child they ought to be able to do that. Period.”

The Wisconsin congressman’s record on LGBT rights is abysmal otherwise, having voted against the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and the Matthew Shephard Hate Crimes Protection Act and vocally opposing marriage equality. Gibson points out that in another shift, Rep. Ryan also claimed:

“…he has “always supported” civil unions. Though there is no evidence to support that, it’s a clear sign that the politics of the issue have changed and that even the most conservative Republicans need to appear more hospitable to gays and lesbians in order to expand their voting bloc.”

You can view the town hall remarks in the YouTube video below:

Last weekend, on the television program Meet the Press, Newt Gingrich, a Catholic, reinforced his opposition to LGBT rights, including adoption by same-gender couples. Gingrich expressed an increasingly common talking point by anti-gay groups who claim that LGBT rights lead to the persecution of Christianity. The Huffington Post quotes the failed presidential hopeful:

Newt Gingrich

“‘But what I’m struck with is the one-sidedness of the desire for rights…There are no rights for Catholics to have adoption services in Massachusetts; they’re outlawed. There are no rights in D.C. for Catholics to have adoption services; they’re outlawed.

“‘Does [supporting LGBT rights] mean that you actually have to affirmatively eliminate any institution which does not automatically accept [homosexuality]?'”

However, another panelist on Meet the Press challenged Gingrich’s claims about Catholic Charities in Massachusetts and D.C. being forced to end their adoption services. The Huffington Post reports:

“Panelist Joy Reid, managing editor for The Grio, countered Gingrich’s argument, saying that Catholic Charities decided on its own to discontinue adoption services, rather than comply with the state’s nondiscrimination laws and provide adoptions for both heterosexual and same-sex couples.”

Pew Forum polling last year showed 55% of Catholics supported LGBT adoption rights, and it is increasingly clear to politicians this number is climbing. Recent controversies with Catholic Charities and relations to government in Palo Alto, California and Denver reiterate that the legal struggles will continue for the foreseeable future. As for the implications on Church politics, David Gibson writes:

“…Ryan, who has touted his Catholic faith as evidence of his social as well as economic conservatism…[has a] significant break with the Catholic hierarchy, which has even shut down adoption services rather than placing children with same-sex couples.

“This could spell more trouble for the Catholic bishops in their battle on gay rights; they have already been losing their own faithful, and losing political allies like Ryan is tough.

“Then again, many would say Ryan’s economic policies were hardly in line with the bishops and Catholic teaching, so there.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Should the City of Palo Alto Fund Catholic Charities?

April 21, 2013

Palo Alto City Hall

The City of Palo Alto, California, a suburb of San Francisco, is facing a question that many other municipalities might soon be facing:  should it fund a Catholic organization that is part of a network that includes some organizations who have discriminated against gay and lesbian people?

The Palo Alto City Council Finance Committee has provisionally answered “yes” to that question, as they recently approved a $5,000 grant to the local Catholic Charities organization to provide ombudsman services to seniors who are in assisted-living facilities.   One of two of the city’s human rights commissioners who are against the funding spoke at the meeting.  (The five-member commission was split 3-2 in favor of funding the group.)  The decision to fund is now up to the full City Council.

This case is interesting because it reverses what we’ve come to expect as the usual process in such cases.  In the past, Catholic Charities groups have withdrawn services so as not to comply with LGBT equality protections.  In this case, a decision to de-fund would present a pre-emptive step on the part of the city.

PaloAltoOnline.com reports:

“The debate over religion and discrimination injected some controversy into what is usually a dry and straight-forward process to allocate more than $500,000 as part of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program. The program, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, focuses on programs that deliver housing, counseling and other social services to residents, particularly those of low and moderate income.

“As part of a staff proposal that the Finance Committee approved Tuesday night, Catholic Charities would receive $5,000, the bare minimum under the CBDG process and far less than most of the other agencies set to receive funding under the current two-year cycle. The Downtown Streets Team Inc., a nonprofit that offers jobs and training to the homeless, is set to receive $248,753, far more than any other organization, while InnVision Shelter Network, which runs the Opportunity Center, would receive $76,662.

“But the smallest grant stirred Human Relations Commissioner Claude Ezran to call for the city to stop funding Catholic Charities, citing the parent organizations’s controversial practices elsewhere in the country. He cited the decisions of the organization’s Washington, D.C., and Massachusetts chapters not to offer adoption services to same-sex couples and the 2011 lawsuit filed against Catholic Charities by the ACLU and the State of Illinois, which accused the organization of discriminating against gay couples.

“Ezran, who was one of two Human Relations Commission members to recommend cutting funding for the local chapter, said he based his recommendation of his view of the organization as one that ‘discriminates against gays, lesbians and unmarried heterosexual couples.’ “

” ‘Should you fund this local organization when it has not spoken out publicly against the discrimination policies of its parent and sibling organizations?’ Ezran asked the committee.

“He argued that the city should end its association with the nonprofit and cited Palo Alto’s recent decision to take a formal stance against Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

” ‘Hopefully, the city that proudly flies the rainbow flag would follow on this symbolic action with a substantive one — decidedly turning down a funding request from Catholic Charities,’ Ezran said.

The case is more complicated than a simple question of good guys vs. bad guys.  As the news report describes, Santa Clara County Catholic Charities has a good record concerning lesbian and gay issues:

“Councilman Greg Schmid agreed and said there is a ‘distinction between a religious organization and delivery of services in our local area.’

” ‘I think given the fact there is no evidence of discrimination in our local community, I certainly cannot discriminate against one of the organizations providing services,’ Schmid said.

“Wanda Hale, program manager of the Catholic Charity of the Santa Clara County’s ombudsman program, emphasized that her organization is committed to supporting all residents who need assistance. The organization provides ombudsman services to about 250 Palo Alto residents annually.

“Hale cited one case in which she represented a gay man with AIDS who was threatened of being evicted from his facility. In another case, Hale said, she provided training to staff members at a facility in which two lesbian residents felt they were being discriminated against.

” ‘I’ve actually gone out and advocated for gay residents who have been discriminated against in their facilities,’ Hale said.”

Staff from the Community Services Department concurred with the three HRC members who felt the organization should continue to get funding. In a report, staff cited a concern “that the manner in which the decision was made regarding Catholic Charities does not recognize the substantial merit of the program and incorrectly emphasizes the religious affiliation of the organization, which could be construed as a denial of equal access to federal funding.”

Judging the fairness of such a decision is a tough call.  While I certainly do not propose supporting an organization which has discriminatory policies, I also think it would be wrong to pre-judge such an organization based on the record of some of its sister-components.  If LGBT people’s experience teaches us anything, it is that we should judge people by their actions, not by their labels or with whom they associate.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Denver Catholic Charities Will Not Let Same-Gender Couples Adopt

January 29, 2013

Catholic Charities Archdiocese of DenverIf a civil unions bill becomes law this year in Colorado (and it looks likely that it will), the Archdiocese of Denver’s Catholic Charities has said that it will not place children available for adoption in families headed by same-sex couples.  9News.com reports the statements of two Catholic officials on the matter:

” ‘Our desire is to provide them [children] with a safe and stable environment,’ Tracy Murphy with Catholic Charities of Denver said.

“The debate begins when you examine what the Catholic church means by that.

” ‘The Catholic church understands the best foundation for a child’s life is to be in the home of a father and a mother that is going to raise them in a family environment that is a strong, healthy marriage,’ said Monsignor Tom Fryar, who serves as pastor for the Denver Cathedral.

“By dictionary definition, the church does discriminate when it comes to adoptions– not just against gays but also against single people.

“They only let married couples adopt. Even if the laws change, the church won’t.

” ‘We cannot,’ Fryar said. ‘It goes against our faith.’ “

Catholics who oppose the civil unions law are trying to get a “conscience clause,  which is explained by 9News.com’s  report:

“Last year’s bill contained the words: ‘This article shall not be interpreted to require a child placement agency to place a child for adoption with a couple that has entered into a civil union.’

“Supporters of civil unions begrudgingly included the clause last year, hoping it would help get the bill through the GOP-controlled House. Now that Democrats are in control, they are less inclined to accommodate religious organizations who opposed civil unions when the bill did have the clause.”

Putting the politics aside, it is amazing that Msgr. Fryar would say that adoption policy “goes against our faith.”  This is not a faith issue. Our faith does not say anything about what an ideal family would be for a particular child.  One need only look at Scripture, Catholic history, and the lives of the saints to know that there are many models of families and forms of childcare other than relying on a heterosexual standard.  Furthermore, the children and the parents involved may not necessarily be Catholic.

A Colorado lawmaker commented on the adoption controversy by making reference to segregation laws:

” ‘It sounds like, “we have our water fountains, and there are other water fountains for you,” ‘ Sen. Jessie Ulibarri (D-Commerce City) said.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Will Catholic Agencies in Maryland Avoid the New Marriage Equality Law?

November 15, 2012

A week after Maryland became one of the first states to enact marriage equality through a ballot initiative, some Catholic leaders in the state are starting to consider how the new law will affect the church’s social service agencies, such as adoption programs, which accept state funding.

An article in the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s Catholic Review newspaper examines how several other states which have legalized marriage equality witnessed the withdrawal of Catholic involvement with state contracts, particularly in the area of adoption, rather than agree to live by the new law:

“Catholic Charities in Washington, D.C.; Boston; and San Francisco dropped adoption and foster care services after same-sex marriage’s legalization would have required them to place children with same-sex couples in order to continue government contracts for those services. In Washington, Catholic Charities also discontinued benefits for employee’s spouses.

“Catholic Charities in Illinois dioceses also stopped providing adoption and foster care services after the state began recognizing same-sex civil unions in 2011. Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Peoria, Ill., withdrew from state-funded social services contracts altogether.”

The Maryland Catholic Conference (MCC) is expressing concern that Catholic institutions in the state will be faced with a choice about whether or not to accept state funds:

“ ‘According to the actual legislation, religious organizations that accept any sort of state or federal funds are excluded from religious liberty protections,’ the MCC said. ‘They are not exempt, and there are no protections for individuals. Marylanders should not be fooled into thinking we can redefine marriage and still protect religious liberty.’ ”

Surely, Catholic leaders do not have to withdraw ALL support for children in adoption and foster programs as a way of avoiding the new marriage equality law.  It is ironic that church leaders who so forcefully argue against marriage equality as a way of protecting children are now willing to put children at terrible risk because these same leaders refuse to find some creative way to find a workable solution.  The “all or nothing” approach damages not only children, but also Catholic leaders’ credibility who should be people in dialogue with the world around them, not avoiding it.  It would be a true scandal if children become the victims of this struggle.

The Catholic Review story included a quote from your humble blogger , calling for the bishops to make a humanitarian choice in this matter:

“Francis DeBernardo, a coordinator for same-sex marriage advocates Catholics for Marriage Equality for Maryland [and executive director of New Ways Ministry], said it would be ‘a shame’ if any Catholic services in Maryland such as adoption were withdrawn due to the law.

“ ‘I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with allowing gay and lesbian couples to adopt. I think it’s a question of equality and fairness,’ he said. ‘The hierarchy of Maryland is going to have to decide what is more important – the protection of children, or the defense of their definition of “civil marriage,” which the voters of Maryland have decided has a new definition, and whether or not they would like to continue to take (state) government funds, or fund their programs on their own. ‘ ”

If Catholic leaders are unwilling to work within the law of the land, they should not sacrifice the welfare of children to do so.  If they feel they cannot work within the law, they should find a way to fund their programs so as not to let the most vulnerable among us be harmed.

Better still would be if they could open their hearts and minds to the reality that lesbian and gay couples can parent as well as heterosexual couples.  All research points to this truth.  Instead of looking at this matter as an ideological struggle, Catholic leaders should view it, instead, as a learning opportunity to educate themselves better about the reality of lesbian and gay lives.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


In DC, Gay Catholics Protest ‘Fortnight for Freedom’ Campaign

June 27, 2012

Gay Catholics protest “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign. (Washington Blade photo by Blake Bergen)

Gay Catholics in Washington, DC, staged a protest against the two-week-long “Fortnight for Freedom” staged by the U.S. bishops to promote the idea that religious liberty is under attack in the U.S.

The Washington Blade  reports that the event was on George Washington University’s campus, where a Fortnight for Freedom event was being held:

“Members of Catholics for Equality and Dignity USA sang hymns and held a large banner that read ‘Bishops: We Need Pastors, Not Politicians, Your Antics are Hurting the Church’ outside the Charles E. Smith Center on 22nd Street, N.W. Cardinal Donald Wuerl of the Archdiocese of Washington was among those who spoke to the estimated 4,000 people who attended the gathering.”

A spokesperson for the protesters explained the reason for the demonstration:

“ ‘We’re here to provide an opposite viewpoint to the U.S. bishops’ “Fortnight for Freedom campaign,” said Joseph Palacios, director of the Catholics for Equality Foundation. He noted to the Blade that 67 percent — or $4 billion — of Catholic Charities’ annual funding comes from state and federal government sources. ‘They claim that they are being victims of religious liberty, when in fact the Catholic Church has probably more liberties than any organization in our country.’ . . .

” ‘This is all about election year politicking,’ argued Palacios. ‘This is a cover for the Catholic Church’s issues on gay rights, on women’s reproductive issues, on so-called religious infringement.’ ”

One of the protesters explained that the demonstration showed that not all Catholics support the bishops’ campaign:

” ‘Catholics are very divided in terms of their support for this conservative political agenda,’ said Arlington resident Bob Miailovich as he stood outside the GWU rally. ‘We have already met here though today some people who are into the more conservative agenda and they take offense at any public program that does not comport foursquare with what the bishops are teaching. As Catholics, it’s a big church and it has a lot of divided opinion. We’re not monolithic on these social issues.’ ”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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