African Bishops’ Meetings Reveal Underlying Assumptions About LGBT Issues

July 25, 2014

Two recent meetings of bishops’ conferences in Africa reveal some interesting insights about the way that LGBT issues are viewed by both the Vatican and by Catholic leaders on this continent.

Fr. Andrea Ciucci

In the Republic of the Congo’s capital, Brazzaville, the Association of Episcopal Conferences of Central Africa (ACERAC) met and heard from  Fr. Andrea Ciucci, a staff member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family.  In discussing, marriage and the family, Fr. Ciucci explained that one of the biggest threats to this social unit is “gender theory.”  African human rights advocate and blogger Denis Nzioka posted a news story about Ciucci’s comments which described the priest’s position:

He explained that gender identity is an ”increasing problem” for the family in Africa, and is something that is not a natural phenomenon, but rather is being learned through technology and the internet.

“(T)his way of understanding life is not an African problem, but all young African people are connected to the internet, so the younger ones are listening to this” and seeing this “way of humanity, sexuality, and the relationship between a man a woman.”

Although the theory of the internet is “just a hypothesis,” the priest explained that questions regarding gender are very common in African youth, and  Church leaders there are “trying to understand this problem and how this culture of gender is penetrating in Africa and in the different generations of Africans.”

The news story did not elaborate on what Ciucci might have meant by the gender identity problem.  Could it mean new understandings of gender roles or perhaps the more controversial areas of transgender issues or same-sex relationships ?

Cardinal Portella Mbouyou

A comment from Congo’s Cardinal Portella Mbouyou, who is the current chair of  ACERAC might elucidate Ciucci’s remarks.  In discussing marriage, he said:

‘it behooves on us to exercise our doctrinal and pastoral caution to the exogenous threats from the new world ethics which has the goal to deconstruct the moral order regarded as simple socio-cultural construction of an era without any natural basis and therefore likely to be modified at the mercy of desires and individuals, groups and generations.’

Mbouyou’s  quote seems to indicate that the conference is more concerned with the more controversial issues.

One thing that both Mbouyou’s and Ciucci’s comments reveal is an underlying assumption that ideas about sexuality are cultural imports.  Many scholars have pointed out that homosexuality was a part of African culture before Christian missionaries arrived, and that what was imported was not homosexuality, but homophobia.  The recent movements in Uganda and Nigeria to institute harsh penalties on lesbian and gay people have borne out this theory by the fact that it was American fundamentalist churches which fueled and funded the anti-gay ideology.

Bishops at the AMCEA meeting.

At the second African meeting, bishops who are members of the Association of Member Episcopal Conference in Eastern Africa (AMECEA) met in Lilongwe, Malawi, also discussed marriage and family issues, including a specific discussion of homosexuality, according to a news report on AllAfrica.com.

Fr. Andrew Kaufa, a communications officer of AMCEA, struck the note that homosexuality is an imported phenomenon to Africa:

“The church has observed that there are a number of challenges that many families from different African countries are facing which is affecting the preaching of the gospel.

“Many rich countries are imposing strange cultures in poor nations, an issue that calls for discussion and intervention,” Fr. Kaufa said.

He added: “As we try to search for solutions in regard to family matters, the Bishops will also pay attention to the issue of same sex which is at the helm.”

But the news report said that the discussion of homosexuality was “tabled,” which might mean that some bishops had disagreement about certain parts of the conversation.  Malawi, the meeting’s host nation, recently decided not to arrest gay people and to review its anti-gay laws, though homosexuality is still considered criminal in that country.  One of the other member nations of AMCEA is Uganda, which last year added draconian punishments for lesbian and gay people–measures which were implicitly supported by the country’s Catholic bishops.

Archbishop Vincent Paglia

Archbishop Vincent Paglia

Speaking at the AMCEA conference was Archbishop Vincent Paglia, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family.  (You can read the entire text of his talk here.)Paglia made headlines when he spoke favorably of legal protections for same-gender couples.

The archbishop highlighted the same theme that Ciucci mentioned at ACERAC,namely that one of the external forces impacting negatively on African families was the “ideology and theory of gender.”

Paglia also struck out at “individualism” as a threat to the family:

The question of marriage and the family is to be considered in the light of the “individualization” of contemporary society.  Over the last several centuries, we have seen the rise of subjectivity, which is in some ways a positive development because it has made possible the affirmation of the dignity of the individual, but excessive attention to the individual takes society down a dangerous path.  It seems that the “me” is everywhere prevailing over the “us,” and individual over society.

While it is interesting that nowhere in his talk did he mention same-gender relationships or homosexuality, this reference to “individualism,”  and later references to “relativism,” are sometimes used by church leaders as references to lesbian and gay perspectives.

On the other hand, in a long talk about marriage and family, there are very few references to reproduction as a feature of these relationships, which can be seen as moving away from that as a primary focus of the marital bond.

Transgender issues did not receive such a favorable treatment in Paglia’s talk.  Towards the end of his speech he again mentions “gender identity” as an evil, explaining:

“. . . there are a number of cultural and political questions that we cannot avoid, for example gender identity, that is, what does it mean today to be a man or a woman.  We need to be able to give a clear and convincing response to the elimination of sexual differentiation that is being proposed by the new “gender” culture prevailing today in all international contexts.”

Most interesting of all in my read of Paglia’s talk is that all of the positive things he says about marriage and family, all of the hopes families have, and all the challenges that families face, can easily be said about families with LGBT members in them.   When church leaders take off their heterosexist blinders, they will see that LGBT relationships and families are not threats to society, but equally valuable building blocks of our social life together.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article

PinkNews.co.uk: “Malawi: Catholic conference to discuss ‘strange culture’ of homosexuality”

 


Catholic Mother Speaks of Hope, Joy in LGBT Ministry

July 24, 2014

Erma Durkin

Parents of LGBT children are some of the most committed Catholics seeking equality in the Church and  society. Sr. Camille D’Arienzo of the National Catholic Reporter recently interviewed one parent, Erma Durkin, who has been a longtime advocate for LGBT justice and friend of New Ways Ministry.

Erma details her life to Sr. Camille, including her childhood growing up in Baltimore in a home where “anyone who dropped by was greeted warmly and offered a treat freshly baked in the big iron coal stove.” The family’s life was deeply connected with their Catholic parish, where Erma attended school and daily Mass. She still describes Mass as the most meaningful aspect of her faith and a source of joy, saying:

“To be part of a eucharistic liturgy where the community is truly inclusive and members are invited to do one of the readings then enjoy a meaningful homily afterward. Where members of the laity bring the gifts to the altar and recite the offering prayer. Where at Communion time, the priest announces that the wine is alcohol-free and the bread is gluten-free, and everyone is welcome to the table.

“And where almost everyone knows one another’s name.

“This is what gives me a special joy.”

You can read the full interview here.

When later in life,  Erma and her husband, Dick, had a gay son, she was introduced to the LGBT community and ministry. Forty years later, Erma speaks fondly of the many people and organizations, including New Ways Ministry, which have been companions on her journey:

“Because one of my sons is gay, my concern for him brought me into the enjoyable company of wonderful men and women who, as parents or friends of lesbian or gay children, were in active ministry to LGBT members of their parish…I made an effort to participate in New Ways Ministry’s many consciousness-raising events.”

Erma also singled out Fortunate Families, a national network of Catholic parents of LGBT people, for their support, guidance, and encouragement.

Most recently, Erma was involved with the successful marriage equality campaign in Maryland and you can read about her work in the ‘Related Articles’ section below. When asked what advice she would offer other parents, she told Sr. Camille:

“Parents know and love their child better than anyone else…My advice would be to get in touch with a reputable group that ministers to parents who have LGBT children. Many faith communities, including Catholic communities, have resources that are immensely helpful to parents and their adult children alike.

“It’s up to parents to make the first move to help themselves be supportive of their children. They need to be positive and never, never go negative on their children. Disowning a child, forcing change by reparative therapy, public shaming in a church never changed a person with a homosexual orientation to one with a heterosexual orientation. Only horror stories result from the mental suffering caused by those who attempt to ‘heal’ LGBT people.”

Erma’s greatest offering in the interview, and in her life, is the profound Catholic faith underlying her advocacy for LGBT people. Of her faith, she says:

“Christianity offers me the basic story of a person, Jesus, whose teachings on fidelity to the love of God and the practical love of neighbor inspired many to live unselfish lives…

“From Catholicism, I want a church that thinks globally but prepares pastors, whether bishops or priests, to be well versed in the language and culture of the people in the church they serve…

“From Catholicism, I want a more mature church, and I’m seeing it emerge here and there. Just as from the earliest days of Christianity, the church saw its conflicts give birth to saints, philosophers, mystics, and theologians who attempted to meet and defeat by their writings the errors that troubled her, so today we have the many publications of scholarly, ethical and faithful women and men to help us mature in our spiritual lives. They move us along from the imaginings and understandings of the faith stories of our childhood to a more mature understanding. I thank God for them.”

As for the state of the Church today, Erma is distressed by injustices in Catholic structures like the firing of LGBT church workers and the ban on discussing topics deemed controversial. These actions make the church “look small-minded, vindictive, and unable to dialogue.”

However, there are positive signs for Catholics. Erma says though she is encouraged by Pope Francis, what gives her most hope are:

“All the loving people I have met in my lifetime who take seriously their call to do justice while trying to create peace and harmony in their little orbits — and beyond!”

Surely, Erma Durkin is counted foremost among those loving people committed to seeking justice in the Church and beyond. For her LGBT advocacy and deep Catholic faith, New Ways Ministry is most grateful!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

Bondings 2.0: “Maryland Catholics Spread Marriage Equality Message

Bondings 2.0: Kathleen Kennedy Townsend – and Other Maryland Catholics – Speak Out for Marriage Equality

Bondings 2.0: “Catholic Mom vs. Maryland Catholic Conference


Catholic School Teacher in Italy Loses Job Because of Lesbian Rumors

July 23, 2014

The disturbing trend of firing Catholic school teachers because of LGBT issues has moved overseas, and the reason for firing has become even weaker than usual, compared to the cases here in the United States.

Students at the Institute of the Sacred Heart, Trent, Italy.

In Italy, a state-funded school, L’Istituto Sacro Cuore (The Sacred Heart Institute) in the northern city of Trent, did not renew its contract with a teacher because there were rumors that she was a lesbian, which she refused to either confirm or deny.

PinkNews.com reported that the teacher, who is known only by the pseudonym “Silvia” offered a reaction to the school’s decision:

“ ‘What happened to me is medieval.

“ ‘Maybe I’m a lesbian, maybe I’m not. But asking me about my sexual orientation as a condition for renewing my contract is unacceptable.’

“She also said that Sister Eugenia Libratore, headmistress and Mother Superior, ‘told me she was willing to turn a blind eye if I was willing to “solve the problem.” Homosexuality is a problem?’

” ‘Silvia’ said she had worked at the school for five years and lives with her partner in Trento.”

According to Gazzetta del Sudthe teacher has not provided information if her partner is male or female:

“Silvia told La Repubblica (an Italian newspaper) adding that she is aged between 30 and 40, has been teaching an ‘important and mandatory subject’ at Sacro Cuore for five years, and lives in Trento with someone she loves.”

Gay Star News reported Sister Libratore’s side of the story:

“Eugenia Libratore, the headmistress of Sacro Cuore, reportedly said she decided not to renew the ‘adequate and professional’ teacher’s contract because she ‘has the school’s environment to protect’ and ‘moral ethics’ to preserve. . . .

“Libratore told Corriere (an Italian newspaper) she had heard about the teacher’s sexuality through rumors in the staff room.

” ‘I told her I had heard these rumours and hoped they were false rumors, because I have the school environment to protect,’ she said.

” ‘When choosing teachers for a Catholic school, I also do assessments from the point of view of moral ethics…

” ‘The Catholic school has its own characteristics and set of educational guidelines that must be defended at all costs.’ “

Italy’s Education Minister Stefania Giannini

Because employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation has been illegal in Italy since 2003,  and because the school accepts government funding, Italy’s Education Minister, Stefania Giannini, has become involved in the case, after 20 Italian senators requested intervention.  In La Repubblicathe Minister stated:

“Whenever we are faced with a case related to sexual discrimination, we will act with due severity.”

As regular readers of Bondings 2.0  will recognize, most of the firings that have happened in the United States over the last few years have been due to a gay or lesbian teacher becoming legally married.  Only one action from the list of all reported ones since 2008 was due to perceived sexual orientation, that being Tim Nelson in 2013.

This Italian case highlights an attitude on the part of the school’s headmistress that may be important to understanding what motivates administrator’s to react so harshly in such cases. The Italian administrator said:

“The Catholic school has its own characteristics and set of educational guidelines that must be defended at all costs.”

Granted this rendering comes from a translation, not the original Italian in which it was spoken, but it seems curious that the headmistress sees herself as a “defender” of the faith, which seems to be under siege.  Such a sad attitude, and perhaps it is one which other church leaders share.

LGBT people are not out to destroy Catholicism or religion.  On the contrary, their experience of overcoming hatred, oppression, and fear contains many important elements which bring much life and spirit to faith.

If Church leaders would be able to stop seeing homosexuality as “a problem,” as the headmistress in this story described it, I know that it would be simply a small step for them to start recognizing the spiritual richness that LGBT offer the church community.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article

TheLocal.it: “Lesbian teacher fired ‘to protect Catholic school’”


Catholics React to Obama Signing LGBT Executive Order

July 22, 2014

President Obama signing the executive order on Monday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

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

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


Spanish Nun: Same-Gender Relationships Are a ‘Sacrament’ of God’s Love

July 21, 2014

Spain’s Sister Teresa Forcades is a well-known activist for women’s rights, political autonomy in her home country and region, and economic justice. She has been labeled “Europe’s Most Radical Nun,” and she challenges the Church as often as she challenges unjust structures in society.

This Benedictine nun is also an advocate for LGBT people, offering the following insights in an interview earlier this year. Sr. Forcades goes beyond allowing for LGBT people to express themselves sexually and have relationships to celebrate them as profound and beautiful signs of God’s love in the world:

Sr. Teresa Forcades

“The religious analysis that understands sex as something that is intended for procreation is a utilitarian view of human love and is contrary to Christian spirituality. To surrender to the mystery of an interpersonal relationship is to surrender to growing towards being an image of God, towards incarnating what God represents on earth. Upon entering, you receive a gift, that this union could engender a child, but that’s perfectly compatible with you being able to be responsible and use contraception when you please…

“So I think that homosexual love is perfectly understandable to the church, because it has what is essential: it’s not having children, but an open intimacy to an interpersonal relationship that includes respect for the integrity of the other. Two people who love one another, desire one another, and respect one another are giving testimony: this is the sacrament, a visible sign — like baptism — that’s saying, ‘This creature is accepted in this community as any other.’ Trinitarian theology says that all sacraments are an embodiment of God’s love. God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are different but they are not complementary. Love is not necessity; it’s not when I need you because I’m missing something. It can’t be utilitarian love.”

A tip of the hat to Michael Bayly who writes on on Catholic LGBT issues at The Wild Reed for drawing attention to Sr. Forcades’ powerful words. She has long been a proponent of LGBT rights, and a recent profile in The Guardian notes of Sr. Teresa:

“Before she took her vows in 1997, Forcades tested the other nuns by giving a talk on a group of gay Catholics who celebrated their sexuality as a gift from God. She was humbled by the nuns’ humane reaction and, so, joined them.”

In March, Sr. Teresa visited Baltimore and lectured on a variety of justice-related issues. She views change in the Catholic Church as many do, a bottom-up effort, saying:

“When I talk about church, we talk about how the Gospel inspired us. There are many kinds of church, and I identify with the people at the bottom, at the base. Many people have a hope that the Catholic church might change because of the pope, but if you look at history, change comes from bottom up, not from top down.”

You can read more about that visit in the National Catholic Reporter or read a profile of Sr. Teresa in The Guardian by clicking here.

From her lips to the bishops’ ears! But, in the meantime, it is those same-gender couples living out this sacrament of God’s love who are not waiting for change in the Church, but creating it from the bottom up. Gratitude that Sr. Teresa is willing to speak that truth to power, as she so often does!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Fired Food Pantry Worker Files Lawsuit, Seeks Healing

July 20, 2014

Colleen Simon at work in the food pantry

Colleen Simon was “shell-shocked” when her Catholic employer fired her for being a married lesbian woman. Now, Simon is firing back in a lawsuit against the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph filed last Thursday.

The lawsuit also includes Bishop Robert Finn, who in 2012 was the first U.S. bishop convicted of a crime relating to clergy sexual abuse of children, and it alleges civil fraud because Catholic administrators told Simon her marital status would not be a problem.

Simon coordinated the St. Francis Xavier Church food pantry in Kansas City, Missouri, before being fired for her marriage to Lutheran pastor Donna Simon. Rachel Zoll of the Associated Press details how the firing came about:

“In each step of the hiring process, she said she told administrators she had married a woman a year earlier in Iowa, where gay marriage is recognized, and diocesan and parish representatives said her marital status would not be a problem…

“When a new priest was assigned to the church, Simon said she told the new pastor she was in a same-sex marriage. Then, the Simons were mentioned in a news article about the redevelopment of their neighborhood, accompanied by a photo of Colleen Simon working at the food pantry.

“Soon after, the priest told Simon he had to fire her over the article. The dismissal letter sent last month from the diocese human resources director said she was fired because of the ‘irreconcilable conflict between the laws, discipline and teaching of the Catholic Church, and your relationship — formalized by an act of marriage in Iowa — to a person of the same sex.’ “

Brian Roewe of the National Catholic Reporter provides further details about what led up to the firing, and notes that the news article was a lengthy magazine piece featuring a dozen people alongside Simon who are involved with community development near the Jesuit-run St. Francis Xavier Parish. Roewe continues:

“Buried in the 79th paragraph, the story mentions Colleen’s and Donna’s marriage; so does a caption for a photo of Colleen Simon in the food pantry.”

Simon recalls that when she told Jesuit Fr. John Vowells about the firing of an LGBT employee from another Jesuit institution, he said “he couldn’t imagine that happening at St. Francis.” The new priest, Jesuit Fr. Rafael Garcia, also informed Simon the marriage was okay and even met her wife. Roewe explains how events turned:

“After the Star story ran, Garcia emailed Simon expressing his displeasure about the revelation of her marriage. According to the lawsuit, Garcia also contacted the reporter of the story to ask what Simon said about her marriage. He asked the reporter if she was Catholic, and when she replied she was not, he ‘stated to her that she didn’t know what she had done,’ the suit said.”

It appears Simon sought reconciliation before filing the lawsuit, but was rebuffed by the diocese. Simon’s lawyer said there had been no contact from Church officials for several weeks. Jack Smith, who is communications director for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, said he had not seen the lawsuit but “as a Church we have the right to live and operate according to our faith and Church teachings.”

Currently, Colleen Simon is searching for work pursuant with her passion for upending social injustices. She has said the firing was a mix-up and would love to return serving the St. Francis Xavier community if it could be sorted out appropriately, saying further:

” ‘We’re talking about not corporate America. We’re talking about the church of Christ. And as long as we have faith and we truly believe, then there’s always hope that broken relationships can be healed…’ “

Bondings 2.0 reported on Simon’s firing in May, which you can read here. At that time, we questioned why Catholic officials continued to fire LGBT employees when the negative impacts on the Church’s charitable efforts and pastoral work were so clear. Simon now joins the ranks of several dozen LGBT musicians, pastoral associates, teachers, and volunteers who have been forced out of their jobs since 2008 (a full listing and accompanying information is available here).

Sadly, the Church is diminished when compassionate workers like Colleen Simon are fired for whom they love, or when justice organizations like the Voz Workers’ Rights Education Project are defunded by the bishops for refusing to agree to anti-LGBT views.

Yet, Colleen Simon also provides a hopeful way forward for church workers and all struggling with unjust Catholic structures: the twin goals of justice and reconciliation. She demands accountability through the lawsuit as a mandate of justice for the wrongs committed against her, but she remains open to healing relationships and reconciling so that the Gospel work to which she feels called may proceed. May we all learn from her example as we build up a Catholic community that is just, forgiving, and inclusive!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Bishops Defund Immigrant Rights Group in Guilt-By-Association Case

July 19, 2014

The Voz Workers’ Rights Education Project in Portland, Oregon advocates for and aids migrant workers. Their Martin Luther King, Jr. Workers Center assists hundreds of Latino men each month. Their wage theft campaign is alive and well in Oregon.

One thing they do not do, however, is advocate for marriage equality. Still, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) will withhold funding to Voz  because it collaborates with a leading Latino rights organization, the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), which does support marriage equality.

Voz has received ten previous grants from CCHD, a project of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, to aid its work connecting immigrants with employment. Voz was seeking a $75,000 grant when officials from the CCHD national office requested the Portland nonprofit cut ties with NCLR, which endorsed marriage equality in 2013. The Oregonian reports on what happened next:

” ‘Our board felt like what they were asking us to do was take a position on marriage equality,’ said Ranfis Villatoro, Voz’s development director. Voz has never taken a public stance on the issue, he said, although it does offer services to gay and lesbian couples. Therefore, the board voted last month to reject the grant.

“The grant would have been a significant chunk of the nonprofit’s $310,000 annual budget.

” ‘By making this decision, we run the risk of decreasing staff size and decreasing hours,’ Villatoro said.”

It appears Voz has not been the only community organization questioned by CCHD for its ties with NCLR. Victor Merced who heads Hacienda, a Portland nonprofit which assists low-income Latino families with housing and receives CCHD grants, told The Oregonian he was questioned about ties to NCLR. He reported that “leaders from the local chapter [of CCHD] seemed embarrassed that they had to ask in the first place” and said a litmus test on LGBT rights would be “ridiculous” to implement.

CCHD director Ralph McCloud told ABC News that Voz “self-disqualified” by refusing to cut ties with NCLR, from which Voz also receives funding. He said that after a 2010 review of CCHD grant recipients, nine grantees were defunded for being in coalitions which were pro-LGBT and/or pro-choice and other grantees stopped seeking CCHD funding. He continued:

“It’s certainly difficult and painful, because Voz has done some tremendous work…But it became obvious that they were assisting in something that was contrary to the teachings of our traditions.”

Now, many social justice organizations are promising to stand with Voz and the workers its serves in filling the massive funding gap through fundraising and a petition to CCHD leadership. You can view statements from a number of labor, LGBT, and faith leaders in a video posted by Voz supporters by clicking here. The petition reads, in part:

“VOZ has told CCHD: ‘We are a worker-led organization that empowers immigrants and day laborers to gain control over their working conditions. At the root of that mission, is the pursuit of justice and equality for all immigrants and day laborers. We have always found that to do this, we need all allies, day laborers, and immigrants to stand together in unity.’

“We know that our faiths, prophets, and scriptures never put conditions on supporting the poor and caring for the most vulnerable. Just look at Jesus, who offered God’s love to the sick, the poor, corrupt tax-collectors — EVERYONE. That’s why VOZ decided to take a stand, believing that there are more people who want unity and who support its principles than those who want to see them violated.

“With the new Pope, a new era of openness and acceptance is appearing that the groups pressuring the Catholic Campaign for Human Development to corrupt its funding strategies are entirely counter to.”

An important point in all of this was made by Marco Mejia of Portland Jobs with Justice during the Voz supporters’ press conference. Mejia, who is Catholic, reminded everyone that the money granted through CCHD is supplied by American Catholics and they intend for that money to organize marginalized communities for justice. He states:

“The Catholic Church, the money that they’re giving away through the CCHD is not their money. It’s the money of the community. This is the money I give every Sunday right? They are using the money of somebody else to decide what they want to do, not what the people want them to do.”

This is not the first time the Campaign for Human Development has defunded effective and impassioned organizations working to defend those in poverty because they were simply associated with other organizations supportive of LGBT rights. (See our previous posts on past examples at the end of this post.) Each time the CCHD punishes these groups for guilt by association, many are affected and most especially those for whom Christ has called us to make a preferential option.

You can lend your support to Voz and the immigrant workers it assists by signing the petition here or making a donation to their crowdfunding effort here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related posts: 

Bondings 2.0:Immigrant Rights’ Groups Cut Budgets Because of Loss of Catholic Funds

Bondings 2.0: “Donors Fill the Gap When Bishops Cut Funds Because of Marriage Equality Support

Bondings 2.0: “On Gay and Lesbian Immigrants, Catholic Bishops Need to Do a Lot Better”

Bondings 2.0:  “Attacks Against Bishops’ Anti-Poverty Efforts Come at the Expense of LGBT Community

Bondings 2.0:  “Catholic Grant Money Returned Because of Warning About LGBT Rights Involvement

Bondings 2.0: “The Laity’s Pocketbook Expresses Solidarity with LGBT and Immigrant Rights

Bondings 2.0: “WithCharityForAll.org”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Catholic Schools To Recognize Students’ Chosen Gender Identities

July 18, 2014

Tracey Wilson, the impetus behind the Catholic schools’ transgender-inclusive policy change

In an historic policy, Catholic schools in the Canadian city of Vancouver will recognize transgender students using their preferred gender identity.

CBC News reports the policy, announced by the Archdiocese of Vancouver earlier this week, will allow trans students to use their preferred pronouns, as well as wear the uniform and use the restroom associated with their gender identity. Transgender students will be able to file for accommodations and work with a pastoral team of medical, spiritual, and educational experts to create  individualized plans for each student. However, due to official Catholic policy, the schools cannot support students who transition.

The change comes after Tracey Wilson, an 11-year-old transgender girl, filed a complaint against the Catholic Independent Schools of the Vancouver Archdiocese for not allowing her to present as a girl. The Catholic school board settled with the Wilsons by implementing this new policy and paying an undisclosed sum to the family. The Wilsons say their children will remain in public schools. Superintendent Doug Lauson, who last year said ‘God doesn’t make mistakes‘ and that Tracey would have to wear the boys’ uniform, seemed pleased with the policy, which he views as a middle ground between supporting students and adhering to Catholic tradition.  Lausen stated:

“We are people of the Catholic faith. Our schools will be as inclusive as we can while still retaining our Catholic identity.”

Because Catholic schools in Canada are funded by the government, a history of religious exemption is not present.

CBC News reports that this new policy from a Catholic school board is making history, and there is hope it will impact more religiously-based schools:

” ‘This is, as far as we know, certainly a North American first and probably a world first,’ said the Wilson family’s lawyer, barbara findlay, who spells her name without capital letters.

” ‘Not only is it important for the students in Vancouver who go to Catholic schools, but it will serve as a template for other Catholic school districts everywhere.’ “

Tracey Wilson was one of two transgender students profiled by Canadian television program 16×9 last year, and at the time her mother, Michelle, said:

“They had no intention of letting her be who she wanted to be…Everyone says, ‘Well, what did you expect?’ I expected compassion. I expected a community that talks about love and acceptance to actually show love and acceptance.”

Though not freely chosen by the Vancouver archdiocese, this new policy is a huge step towards making Catholic schools into communities where love and acceptance are hallmarks. Tracey’s courage and her family’s willingness to call Catholic officials to account for their lack of inclusion will now mean Vancouver students who are transgender can be more authentically themselves, as God created them to be.

To view a video of Tracey and her mother talking about this recent victory, visit The Vancouver Sun by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Mexican Bishop Calls Homophobic People “Sick”

July 17, 2014

Bishop Raul Vera

In an interview with El País newspaper, the outspoken bishop used some of his most powerful arguments yet to show how Catholic leaders need to refine some of their language in regard to LGBT people and marriage equality.  Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

“Q. Not long ago you baptized the daughter of a lesbian couple. What do you think about homosexuality?

“A. That is a topic that we have refused to address. The people who say homosexuals are sick are sick themselves. The Church needs to come to them not with condemnation, but with dialogue. We cannot cancel out a person’s richness just because of his or her sexual preference. That is sick, that is heartless, that is lacking common sense.

“Q. Is it not the same with abortion?

“A. I share the Church’s views on abortion, and see it as murder. The difference lies in how you penalize it. Abortion, just like same-sex marriage, has served us subterfuge to tell ourselves that we in the Church have our morals. It is very easy to go against a woman who has an abortion, it poses no trouble and we have support from the ultraconservative right. When there was a national campaign against abortion here, I organized rosary recitations to reflect on the defense of the lives of migrants, miners and women as well as the unborn. But we are hypocrites. It would seem that the only moral rules deal with condemning same-sex couples and abortions. You do that and you’re the perfect Christian.

The full interview, in English, can be read by clicking here.

This is not the first time that Bishop Vera has made strong statements about homophobic people.  Almost a year ago, he made headlines by calling homophobia “a mental illness in which you see gays as depraved and promiscuous. You have to be sick in the head for that.”

At the time of that earlier statement, I made the following comment on this blog, which I think is appropriate to repeat at this time:

“It is wonderful to know that this bishop is speaking out so strongly for lesbian and gay rights.  One caution:  I don’t think that he was using ‘mental illness’ as a technical or clinical term.  From the manner in which he is speaking on the video, he seems to be using it as a rhetorical flourish, more than a diagnosis.  It is interesting to see him turn the tables on homophobic people:  it is usually they who are calling lesbian and gay people ‘mentally ill.’

“And because lesbian and gay people have so often been so mislabeled with that diagnosis, I think we have to be very careful of labeling their opponents in the same way.  In my experience in working with LGBT issues, homophobia is more often a result of ignorance and misguided piety than by a clinical disturbance.”

While noting that distinction, it’s important to recognize that Bishop Vera operates out of deep courage fpr speaking out for all sorts of marginalized groups.  The El País article referred to him as

“the Mexican bishop who holds the record for death threats. He has survived more than one attempt on his life, and his work in favor of missing persons, immigrants, children and juveniles, indigenous populations, prostitutes and pariahs of all types has earned him the undying hatred of many, including the drug rings.”

In the interview, he explains how his work with exploited indigenous communities in southern Mexico taught him about the importance of courage:

“I learned that you have to risk your life if you want to stand on the side of the poor. I learned that in order to defend human life, you have to put your own life on the line. There is no other way to be a shepherd.”

In The Advocate’s report on this story, they noted:

“In 2011, when John Paul II was pope, the Vatican investigated Vera’s work with a gay group. But much has changed under Pope Francis’s leadership.”

The El País article made note of the change of atmosphere in the Church since that time:

“For a long time, Raúl Vera was the Catholic Church’s black sheep, the old-fashioned left-winger. But that was until the ideological earthquake represented by the new pope, Francis I, gave renewed relevance to his words. Now, other bishops are suddenly turning to Vera for guidance.”

Let’s hope and pray that his guidance sways many more bishops to his line of thinking.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Croatia Defies Catholic Bishops by Legally Recognizing Same-Gender Couples

July 16, 2014

Pro-equality demonstration in Croatia

Croatian government officials challenged the predominantly Catholic nation’s ban on marriage equality by passing a law recognizing same-gender couples, directly opposing Church leaders who have vigorously opposed any LGBT rights.

Lawmakers approved the Life Partnership Act on Tuesday, the fulfillment of Prime Minister Zoran Milonavic’s promise to rectify problems created by a same-gender marriage ban approved via referendum last December. The new law grants gay couples all the rights of marriage except adoption. Ahram Online reports further:

“Gay rights activists hailed the legislation in the largely conservative EU member state, which is strongly influenced by the powerful Roman Catholic Church.

” ‘Croatia made a historic step forward to stand along progressive countries which have already resolved the issue,’ Iva Tomecic, editor-in-chief of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) news portal CroL, told AFP.

” ‘From now on same-sex couples and families can finally legally regulate their unions… knowing that the country where they live, work and pay taxes is treating them as equal citizens,’ she said.”

Croatian voters amended the constitution last year to limit marriage to one man and one, although many questioned whether that is how people feel given turnout was only 35% and that a high level of anti-European Union sentiments may have contributed.

Moreovoer, the Catholic hierarchy was heavily involved in the campaign behind the anti-marriage equality amendment, advocating for it from the pulpits and organizing more than 750,000 signatures in a nation of just 4.4 million people. Anti-LGBT activists have already expressed their disappointment with the law, but there seems to be little room to challenge it as the Croatian Constitutional Court said last year’s referendum “cannot limit in any way the future development of legislative regulations concerning civil unions between same-sex partners.”

In light of this new law, it seems appropriate to reiterate the questions about pastoral care for LGBT people and the larger Croatian Church posed by Bondings 2.0 last December:

“Having succeeded in banning marriage rights for same-gender couples, it remains unknown how the Catholic hierarchy will now respond to LGBT people in Croatia…

“With nearly 90% of the population being Catholic, how the Church hierarchy responds in these new circumstances will have a tremendous impact. It’s worth asking whether bishops and conservative leaders will seek to heal wounds created by the divisive amendment and pursue pastoral tones. Or will they seek to suppress further rights for LGBT people and families, such as opposing civil union legislation.”

With civil unions approved for same-gender couples and few options to oppose them left, let us hope Croatia’s bishops will end their crusade against LGBT rights once and for all.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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