Catholic Parish Quits Interfaith Service Rather Than Host Married Gay Musician

October 22, 2013

Despite Pope Francis’ encouragement for church leaders to drop their “obsession” with marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples, some persist in this respect, some times to the point of absurdity, as this story from Charlotte, North Carolina, illustrates.

Steav Bates-Congdon

Back in February 2012, Bondings 2.0 reported on the case of Steav Bates-Congdon, a music director at St. Gabriel’s, a Catholic parish in Charlotte, who was fired for legally marrying his longtime same-gender partner in New York State.  Bates-Congdon has found other employment at an Episcopal parish in the area, yet he still remains the focus of Catholic obsession, it seems.

Now, a second Catholic parish, St. Matthew’s, recently pulled out of plans for an interfaith service for the Thanksgiving holiday because Bates-Congdon was identified as the person who would be conducting the liturgical music for it, and the parish, which would be hosting the event, would not allow him to do so.

The Charlotte Observer reports:

“Mecklenburg Ministries’ 38th annual Thanksgiving Interfaith Service is still on for Nov. 26. But it’ll be held at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Dilworth, not at St. Matthew Catholic Church in Ballanytne – Charlotte’s biggest house of worship. . . .

“Monsignor John McSweeney, who pastors St. Matthew, said Sunday he declined Mecklenburg Ministries’ request that he formally invite Bates-Congdon to again help plan the service because “in no way would we give the impression that the Catholic Church approves of same-sex marital covenants.”

“That view clashed with the mission statement at Mecklenburg Ministries, which has nearly 100 member congregations of various faiths. So it moved the event.

“ ‘At the heart of our core values is honoring the dignity of all people and not excluding anyone,’ said the Rev. Christy Snow, who chairs the committee planning the interfaith service.”

The news story recounts a tortured process which began with Bates-Congdon receiving threatening messages from people claiming to represent the two Catholic parishes telling him that he should not participate in the planning of this event.  Both Catholic pastors deny parish involvement in these phone calls.  Bates-Congdon, not wanting to cause controversy, planned to bow out of the planning, but the prayer service organizers thought otherwise:

“[A]t the August meeting of that committee, chairwoman Snow asked Kathy Bartlett, music director at St. Matthew and a member of the planning panel, if she would ask McSweeney to issue a formal invitation to Bates-Congdon to clear up any misunderstanding.

“Mecklenburg Ministries also wanted a statement from St. Matthew – Charlotte’s largest church – welcoming everyone to worship.

“McSweeney said he had no problem with inviting all to worship. But he said he felt the request to formally invite Bates-Congdon was out of bounds, given Catholic teaching opposing same-sex marriage.

“ ‘I don’t think we should have to violate (those teachings). And we were the hosts, and they were the guests,’ he told the Observer. ‘Because you are welcome does not mean we have to agree to everything you may hold to.’ ”

Over the past few years, we have seen news stories where Catholic leaders have closed adoption services, de-funded immigration rights’ groups, fired teachers and pastoral ministers–all because of not wanting to appear to support committed lesbian and gay couples.   Last month, the two Catholic bishops in North Carolina even pulled out of the state’s Council of Churches because of the organization’s favorable outlook on marriage equality.

This latest incident of pulling out of a Thanksgiving prayer service because one of the musicians is a legally married gay man harms not only the church’s relationship with the LGBT community, but also its credibility as an interfaith partner.    If Catholics can pray with people who have fundamentally different views on major points of theology, surely they can pray with someone whose legal marriage is not approved by Catholic leaders.

With so many other differences that Catholicism has from these churches, one has to wonder why difference over marriage equality is the one which is the deal-breaker on praying together.

The only answer I can think of is “obsession.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


New Survey Shows Hispanic Catholic Support for Marriage Equality–With a Twist

October 2, 2013

Hispanic gay coupleA new survey report from the Public Religion Research Institute provides further evidence that Hispanics, especially Hispanic Catholics support marriage equality.   The statistics in his report, however, provide a new view of the support that Hispanics have for this issue.   While close to a majority feel that sexual relations between people of the same gender is immoral, a definite majority believe that marriage equality should be legal.

Here’s a description of the results from the report’s executive summary:

“A majority (55%) of Hispanics favor allowing gay and lesbian Americans to marry, compared to 43% who are opposed. . . .

“Hispanics appear willing to support allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally, even if they personally hold reservations about the morality of sex between two adults of the same gender. Hispanics are twice as likely to believe that sex between two adults of the same gender is morally wrong as believe it is morally acceptable (45% vs. 18%). Roughly one-third of Hispanics say either that it depends on the situation (8%) or that it is not a moral issue (26%). . . .

“Hispanics are sharply divided by religion on the issue of same-sex marriage. More than 6-in-10 (62%) Hispanic Catholics and 8-in-10 (80%) religiously unaffiliated Hispanics favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry. Hispanic mainline Protestants are divided, with 47% supporting same-sex marriage and 50% opposing it. In stark contrast, 8-in-10 (79%) evangelical Protestants oppose same-sex marriage, while just 1-in-5 (21%) support it. . . .

“A slim majority (51%) of Hispanic Catholics say it is possible to disagree with church teachings on the issue of homosexuality and remain a good Catholic, compared to 44% who say this is not possible.”

You can view the full report here.

This evidence proves the claim that many Catholics hold social justice as a more important value than sexual ethics in the discussion of LGBT issues.  If a person disagrees morally with a person’s same-gender relationship but still defends that person’s right to have such a relationship, one obvious explanation is that sexual ethics are not considered paramount in the evaluator’s eyes.

In a sense, it shows that these Hispanics are living out Pope Francis’ famous remark:  “Who am I to judge?”

Speaking of Pope Francis, Religion News Service highlighted another important piece of data from the report:

“The survey found that most Hispanics are delighted with Argentine-born Pope Francis, but they hold slightly less favorable views of the Catholic Church. While nearly 69 percent look favorably on the pope, only 54 percent see the institution in a favorable light.”

Catholic support for LGBT people in all quarters of the church is bound to continue to grow.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

Los Angeles Times:  Many Latino Catholics Back Gay Marriage, Survey Says.

Bondings 2.0: Catholic Latino Voters Support Marriage Equality, Oct. 22, 2012

Bondings 2.0: Strong Support for LGBT Issues Among Hispanics–Especially Catholics, April 18, 2012


New Survey Indicates British Catholics Support Marriage Equality

September 15, 2013

survey resultsThanks to Terence Weldon, at the blog QueeringTheChurch.com, we’ve been made aware of a new survey in the United Kingdom which shows that British Catholics are strongly in support of marriage equality–similar to U.S. Catholics on this side of the Atlantic.

The new report comes from the British Social Attitudes Survey.  The section regarding attitudes toward homosexuality are covered under the topic “Personal Relationships.  After noting a growing positive trend for marriage equality in the nation as a whole, Weldon turns to the religious analysis of the report.  He states:

“Predictably, religious groups are less tolerant of same – sex sexual relations than those who are not religious, and although disapproval is declining among people of all religions, this decline is slower than for those of no religious belief. What should be of concern to the defenders of the orthodox Catholic position, is that self- identified Catholics are more tolerant than Protestants. The published report does not present full tables for a breakdown by religion, or a full trend comparison, but this written summary makes the core message clear: barely a third of British Catholics agree with the CDF position, that all same – sex genital interactions are morally wrong/

“Not surprisingly, religious belief is closely linked to attitudes to homosexuality. Those who aren’t religious are the least likely to see it as always or mostly wrong, only 16 per cent do so. This compares to disapproval rates of over a third among Anglicans (40 per cent) and Catholics (35 per cent). “

Personal relationships, British Social Attitudes Survey

Why do surveys like this one matter?  Weldon rightly points out that while the church is not a democracy, Catholicism does operate under the principle of honoring the “sense of the faithful”–meaning what the Catholic laity actually believe–in evaluating church teaching.   He observes:

“Nevertheless, [we have] the important principle of ‘sensus fidei’ ['sense of the faithful'] to consider, by which any church doctrine which is not accepted by the church as a whole, which has not been “received” and accepted by the faithful, cannot be held to be valid and binding. In the half century since the publication of Humanae Vitae, it has become abundantly clear that it has been rejected in good conscience, or even simply been ignored, by the overwhelming majority of married Catholic couples, and there is simply no evidence that the prohibition on artificial contraception does in fact have the authority of the sensus fidei behind it. It is now becoming equally clear that the absolute prohibition on same – sex sexual acts, and those on premarital sex, sexual relationships after divorce, and masturbation, are going the same way, When something like two thirds of Catholics, in very substantial parts of the Catholic world, disagree with the total proscription by the CDF – what possible justification can there be for continuing to defend the rigidity of current CDF sexual ideology?”

I think Catholics who work for equality and justice for LGBT people can be heartened by these survey results.  It shows that support from U.S. Catholics for marriage equality is not just an anomaly.  Despite bishops mounting strong campaigns opposing marriage equality in both the U.S. and the U.K., Catholic lay people have taken a different approach to this issue.  Catholics are relying on their deep sense of justice and their deep sense of the importance of love in a relationship.  These two senses are helping them to see that marriage equality is, in fact, a very Catholic concept.

To order or download a copy of New Ways Ministry’s booklet, Marriage Equality: A Positive Catholic Approach, click here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Fired Transgender Teacher Scores Points in Court Case

September 12, 2013
Marla Krolikowski

Marla Krolikowski

2013 has been the year of the fired LGBT church worker.  We’ve been reporting on the plight of these unjustly dismissed people since the beginning of the year, when we let you know about the story of Mark Krolikowski (as he was then identified), a transgender teacher who was fired after 32 years of employment at St. Francis Preparatory H.S. in Queens, N.Y.   Krolikowski, who now identifies as Marla Krolikowski, brought a legal case against the school.

The Huffington Post reported that Krolikowski won a legal victory in court this week:

“On Monday, a judge reportedly rejected the school’s motion to have the case thrown out and strongly suggested that the opposing parties settle the lawsuit.”

Judge Duane Hart was skeptical that Krolikowski’s gender transition did not factor into her firing, and that the school fired her simply for insubordination, as they claimed:

” ‘Insubordination after 32 years of teaching? And the insubordination seems to coincide with the expression of being transgender?’ the case’s judge skeptically questioned. “

Perhaps more significantly related to other such firings, the judge also dismissed the school’s claim that they could dismiss an employee who acted in a ministerial capacity, known as the “ministerial exception in discrimination law:

“He also rejected a separate motion by St. Francis Preparatory School that claimed Krolikowski was essentially a minister, which would give the school the agency to hire and fire employees disregarding legal interference.”

While the judge’s comment denying insubordination and his ruling against ministerial exception are hopeful signs for Krolikowski’s case, the situation is not yet fully resolved.

Krolikowski’s case looks like it will be one to watch since the questions of religious exemption and ministerial exception are often very important concepts in cases such as this one.  These concepts, designed to protect religious liberty, become very complicated when the people being fired are not even members of the same church that runs the institution.  This happened with Carla Hale, a Methodist teacher fired from a Catholic high school this year, and also with Steav Bates-Congdon, an Episcopal musician fired from a Catholic parish in 2011.  Since their behavior and beliefs were not in accord with Catholic teachings in many areas, one wonders why their adherence to sexual doctrine becomes the deal breaker in employment matters.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


A Catholic Conservative Comes Out for Same-Sex Marriage

August 29, 2013

At the end of last week, Commonweal magazine published a long essay with the provocative headline:  “The Things We Share:  A Catholic’s Case for Same-Sex Marriage. ”   While accurate, the headline doesn’t tell the whole story.   The essay is not just a Catholic argument for marriage equality, it is an argument that comes from a leading Catholic conservative and he bases his stand on natural law theory–the philosophical position that bishops and other religious thinkers use to oppose marriage equality.

Joseph Bottum

Joseph Bottum

I have to admit that I’m a bit ambivalent about recommending this essay to you.  Not because I disagree with it (though there are some points with which I differ), but because it is long, complicated and extremely digressive.  At over, 9,300 words, it may be one of the longest articles Commonweal has published,  The numerous erudite digressions in the essay make it seem even longer.

But it is an important article, given the fact that the author, Joseph Bottum, was once the editor of First Things, a leading publication for religious and political conservatives.  His “defection” from the “party line” of these types of thinkers is, therefore, significant, especially since he uses their very esteemed theory of natural law to make a case against their stand.

Bottum’s case for marriage equality actually comes very close to the end of the essay.  He spends the first three-quarters of the essay dealing with a variety of tangential issues that (somewhat) lay the groundwork for his marriage argument.  The New York Times ran a story about Bottum’s Commonweal argument, and their summary of his case is actually easier to read and more understandable than the original, so I quote from it here:

“Natural law, as systematically explained by Aquinas in his treatise Summa Theologica, is the will of God as understood by people using their reason. Aquinas extrapolates many principles of natural law, including those of marriage. But Mr. Bottum contends that these rules are not the point.

“Natural law, Mr. Bottum writes, depends for its force on a sense of the mystery of creation, the enchantment of everyday objects, the sacredness of sex. In the West, that climate of belief has been upended: by science, modernism, a Protestant turn away from mysticism, and, most recently, the sexual revolution. The strictures of natural law were meant to structure an enchanted world — but if the enchantment is gone, the law becomes a pointless artifact of a defunct Christian culture.

“ ‘And if,’ Mr. Bottum writes, ‘heterosexual monogamy so lacks the old, enchanted metaphysical foundation that it can end in quick and painless divorce, then what principle allows a refusal of marriage to gays on the grounds of a metaphysical notion like the difference between men and women?’ “

Where I tend to disagree with Bottum is not on his view of natural law, but with the fact that he seems to discount all other approaches to supporting marriage equality.  He spends a good deal in the beginning of his article refuting some of the more popular ways that marriage equality has been argued for in the U.S., i.e., based on legal fairness:

“It’s not enough for a Catholic to say that legal fairness and social niceness compel us. We have a religion of intellectual coherence, too, and the moral positions we take have to comport with the whole of the moral universe. That’s the reason for trying to be serious—for demanding that the unity of truth apply, and that ethical claims cannot be separated from their metaphysical foundations.

“If there is no philosophical or theological reasoning that leads to Catholic recognition of civil same-sex marriage, then we’re simply arguing about what’s politic. What’s fair and nice. What flows along the channels marked out by the dominant culture. We’re merely suggesting that Catholics shouldn’t make trouble. And how is that supposed to convince anyone who holds intellectual consistency at more than a pennyweight?”

Where I disagree with him on this matter is that these arguments for marriage equality are not just secular and political ones, but are also often theological and faith-filled.  For example, many Catholics have used our church’s social justice tradition, not the Democratic Party’s talking points,  to support marriage equality.  Bottum seems to be unaware of the fact that Catholics have been arguing for many years for marriage equality from a faith perspective.

His unawareness of a faith-based perspective affirming marriage equality makes him fall into the trap of spending a good deal of his essay arguing what I consider an irrelevant point.  He states that there exists

“. . . a question religious believers must ask: a prior question of whether the current agitation really derives from a wish for same-sex marriage, or whether the movement is an excuse for a larger campaign to delegitimize and undermine Christianity.”

In raising this point, Bottum shows a great suspicion of secular culture which is characteristic of many conservative Catholics.  I don’t doubt that some on the left want to bring down the church, but my own personal dealings with many LGBT advocates has shown me that many are sincerely respectful of religion.

Still, the value of his argument is that it addresses conservative Catholics on their own terms of natural law theory.  Many traditionalist Catholics will not support marriage equality from a social justice perspective because they don’t think that this tradition applies to LGBT issues.  I’m not sure that many will even be convinced by Bottum’s argument from natural law theory, but it will be harder for them to refute such a position.

Ross Douthat wrote a commentary for The New York Times on Bottum’s essay in which he points out another value of Bottum’s essay.  Douthat describes the piece as

“. . . a literary Catholic’s attempt to wrench the true complexity of his faith back out of the complexity-destroying context of contemporary political debates. He’s writing as someone who loves his church, and wants everyone else to love it as he does — and I don’t blame him for imagining that perhaps, just perhaps, ceasing to offer public resistance on the specific question of gay marriage would liberate the church from some the caricatures that the culture war has imposed upon it, and enable the world to see its richness with fresh eyes.”

I cite this evaluation of the piece because I believe that Bottum’s strongest point in his essay is his awareness that the hierarchy’s strong vocal opposition to marriage equality is doing pastoral harm to Catholics. And it is doing even greater harm to the reputation of the bishops as national leaders. (I make this point about the bishops’ reputation not because of the content of their position, but because of the very angry and insensitive rhetoric they often use to make their point.) After reviewing the stunning recent victories for marriage equality in legislatures, polling booths, and courtrooms, Bottum states:

“We are now at the point where, I believe, American Catholics should accept state recognition of same-sex marriage simply because they are Americans.

“For that matter, plenty of practical concerns suggest that the bishops should cease to fight the passage of such laws. Campaigns against same-sex marriage are hurting the church, offering the opportunity to make Catholicism a byword for repression in a generation that, even among young Catholics, just doesn’t think that same-sex activity is worth fighting about.”

Bottum’s essay is complex and important.  If you are a progressive Catholic and read the essay all the way through, I think you will find yourself nodding in agreement on some points and shaking your head in disagreement at others.  I suspect that the same will be true for many conservative Catholics.   Regardless of one’s political and ecclesiastical orientation, the essay will make the reader think in new ways.  And for that reason, it is worth the effort.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

QueeringTheChurch.com:  A Conservative Catholic Evolution on Gay Marriage

The Wild Reed: A Conservative Catholic’s Contribution to the Journey to Marriage Equality

The American Conservative:  J. Bottum Flip-Flops On Gay Marriage

The Dish (by Andrew Sullivan):  The Latest Conservative Defector On Same-Sex Marriage

 

 


Two New Books Offer Insights Into Gay Spiritual Journeys

August 26, 2013

Two books offering first-person accounts of reconciling Catholic faith and gay identity have come out in the past year, and  Bondings 2.0 readers may find them helpful for personal reflection.

Hounded By God

Joseph Gentilini

Joseph Gentilini

Hounded by God: A Gay Man’s Journey to Self-Acceptance, Love , and Relationship, by Joseph Gentilini (who is a regular reader and frequent commenter on this blog), is based on years of journals that this spiritual gay man kept.  It chronicles his coming out experiences, dealings with family and friends,  his commitment to his partner, Leo Radel, and, most importantly, his relationship with God.

DigitalJournal.com reviewed the book, noting the authenticity on which it is based:

“Gentilini describes journaling as an integral part of his life, having kept a journal for more than 40 years. In fact, he writes that it is a part of his prayer life. Christian imagery fills the journal entries, illuminating the author’s deep faith in God. ‘I think that the cross in my images represents my homosexuality, which is the place of my deepest wound,’ he writes of his mother’s failure to talk about his orientation. His faith and guidance from a spiritual director who befriends his mother pays off years later when his parents invite his partner, Leo, to the family Christmas celebration. As he writes, ‘My prayer has been answered. For years, I have prayed for reconciliation with my family. It is grace, a total gift from God.’ Meeting Leo in 1981 answers another prayer for Gentilini, and his entries about Leo prove to be one more avenue to faith. ‘Leo has helped me to accept more deeply that I am lovable, that he loves me, and that God also loves me.’ ”

Deb Word, president of the board of Fortunate Families, reviewed the book on that organization’s blog, and noted that it would be helpful for family members of lesbian and gay people:

“The second chapter describes Joe’s family, and this chapter alone is worth the price of the book for parents. We see through a son’s eyes how difficult life was for a young gay man growing up. Without whining or blaming, Joe takes us through his family rejection…then tentative acceptance. I’ll leave it at that, you will want a tissue at times.”

You can find out more about the book, by visiting the author’s website.  It is available for purchase on amazon.com.

Maurice Monette

Maurice Monette

Confessions of a Gay Married PriestThe second book is Confessions of a Gay Married Priest: A Spiritual Journey by Maurice Monette, who was a member of a religious order for 30 years, and has been married to his partner for 24 years.  The book is an autobiography which chronicles the high points and low points of the spiritual road that Monette trod.  The book has been praised by several high-profile Catholic leaders.

On a back cover review of the book, Father Richard Rohr, OFM, author and retreat leader, wrote:

“This story illustrates one of the most counterintuitive messages of world religions: how our failings, heartbreaks and disappointments can be stepping stones to the spiritual joys of the second half of life.”

Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, stated:

“Through little cameos in prose and poetry, Monette’s faith journey shows the triumph of the human spirit over religious messages to suppress sexuality. This is a story of self-discovery and self-acceptance that brings about freedom for a more authentic God-relationship.”

Father Robert Nugent, author and co-founder of New Ways Ministry, noted:

“Readers of this work will each discover and even identify with something that touches them more personally: ‘the good, little Catholic boy,’ the priest who struggles with accepting his sexual identity in the face of traditional negative evaluations by both religion and society, the gay man who embraces monogamy, the believer whose object of belief moves from the more traditional to the more ordinary and basic experiences of human life where transcendence is often located. Readers will be challenged to re-think their sometimes uncriticized positions, affirmed in trusting more in their spiritual insights and at least hearing a most unusual story of one person’s search for healing and wholeness.”

James B. Nickoloff, Associate Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts observed:

“Maurice Monette tells his own unique story but at the same time gives voice to the stories of many other gay married priests. His honesty, humility, intelligence, and wit will lead even non-gay, non-married, and non-ordained readers to reexamine their own journeys with the Spirit.”

You can find out more about this book by visiting www.gaymarriedpriest. com.  This book is available through amazon.com.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Alaska Writer Takes On Bishop Over Marriage Equality

August 25, 2013

marriage equality 2An op-ed in Alaska’s Juneau Empire newspaper presents one of the best Catholic defenses of marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples that I have seen in a long time.  Jim Hale, a heterosexually married Catholic man wrote the piece, entitled “Marriage, gender, and religion,” in response to a July 7th op-ed from Bishop Edward Burns of the Diocese of Juneau, entitled “Liberty and justice for all requires the truth.”

What makes Hale’s argument so good is that he takes on the bishop’s definition of marriage as being primarily about sexual activity, and he does so from someone who is, in fact, married:

“As Bishop Burns notes, the Church defines marriage as ‘a sexual union.’ No one who has ever been married would define marriage that way. As the Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid writes of marriage, ‘All’s far from done when pleasure’s over.’ And the task of marriage isn’t just to create babies; all living things reproduce. Marriage is a mutual commitment of two people to create themselves — to forge in their love and loyalty to each other an atmosphere where each can discover all the inchoate power of his or her own soul. It’s demanding, to be sure; it asks of us a certain largeness of heart that we may not always be comfortable with or even capable of. But that’s love — and in the end that’s the only thing that makes a marriage sacred.”

Hale does not deny the role of sexual activity in marriage, but he notes that as a society we have evolved into a different understanding of sexuality, particularly in regard to its connection to procreation

“As a Catholic, I love the Church’s adamant defense of that fecundity as sacred — how could it not be? But in the history of human culture we have somehow gotten that fecundity and the desires that engender it all mixed up with stuff that is not sacred, stuff like power and prejudice, pornography and prostitution, misogyny and homophobia — stuff that desecrates the sanctity of creation by placing false limits on the growth and flourishing of the individual human spirit.”

He points out the absurdity of arguments which claim that same-sex marriage will harm or detract from heterosexual marriage:

“It is a rank false dilemma to suggest that same-sex marriage in any way compromises or detracts from the beautiful fecundity of God’s universe or that same-sex marriage ‘removes the basis’ of traditional marriage and somehow inhibits marriage between a man and a woman and the concomitant procreation. It does not. A gay man will not go cruising for a woman to marry and impregnate simply because he can’t marry the man he loves; unable to marry the woman she loves, a lesbian will not be out there hunting down a man. And it is an insult to think so. The Church’s position privileges procreation and physiology (‘complementarity’) over love.”

And as for Scriptural arguments, Hale proposes looking at the Bible in a more hoiistic manner than fundamentalists do:

“[T]he history of the Bible as a religious document, as a guide for how to live well, is the story of how readers over the ages have slowly and carefully winnowed what is timeless and universal (and hence divinely inspired) from the time-bound biases and assumptions of the ancient cultures from which the books of the Bible emerged. No one today can reasonably defend the deep misogyny or the promotion of slavery that we find fairly often in some books of the Bible. Lose the bath water, but keep the baby.”

The sheer practicality of Hale’s argument makes a larger point than just his case for supporting marriage equality.  Hale’s reasonable perspective is an important illustration of the need for lay people to be involved in the development of church teaching, particularly in matters of sexuality, gender, marriage, and intimate love.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Mexican Bishop Calls Homophobia a “Mental Illness”

August 23, 2013

A Mexican Catholic bishop who has been a strong supporter of LGBT issues has declared that homophobia is a “mental illness.”  Is that really an accurate classification?

The Billerico Project is reporting on an interview given by Bishop Jose Raul Vera Lopez to a television show, “Terra Mexico,” in which he stated:

“Why would I immediately think a gay or lesbian person is perverse or depraved the moment they approach me? That’s how people who are homophobic react. It’s a mental illness in which you see gays as depraved and promiscuous. You have to be sick in the head for that.”

Bishop Vera Lopez, who is the head of the Diocese of Saltillo, Mexico,   You can view a two and a half minute  video clip from the interview complete with English subtitles here:

Here are some other notable quotations from the interview in regard to lesbian and gay people:

“They are human beings and deserve respect.  The Holy Father knows it’s a. . . .I am certain he knows because the reality is that many in the church do not want to acknowledge the scientific reality on the issue of sexuality.  They want to keep homosexuality as a form of human perversion, an illness.  But that is no longer the case, scientifically speaking. “

Bishop Vera Lopez also commented on Scripture citations which seem to condemn gay and lesbian persons:

“We just have to read the Bible more carefully within a historical context and within a real context.  The Biblical texts we have used to bash the heads of homosexuals to say they are condemned by the Bible?  We have to read them much more carefully.”

Bishop Jose Raul Vera Lopez

Bishop Jose Raul Vera Lopez

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.

Another comment worth noting is that during the interview, Bishop Vera Lopez discusses the genesis of sexual orientation as being a result of hormonal influences in the womb.  With all due respect to the bishop, while that is one theory, it is still simply a theory, and not totally conclusive as the effective cause of one’s homosexuality.  The scientific community is still debating various theories as to the origin of sexual orientation in an individual.

Despite these cautions, I am delighted to read these statements from this courageous bishop.  Our church needs more leaders like him who are willing to approach LGBT issues from a knowledgeable and compassionate perspective.

Bishop Vera Lopez has spoken out many times before on lesbian and gay equality.  In fact, he was even summoned to the Vatican to defend his point of view, but no sanctions were administered to him.  You can read more about him in an article that appears on page three of this PDF of the newsletter version of Bondings.   You can also read more about other social issues with which this Nobel Peace Prize nominee is associated by clicking here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Jesuit: Drop “Disorder” Language from Catholic Gay and Lesbian Discussions

August 22, 2013

In my over 20 years of Catholic LGBT ministry,  there is nothing that has sparked more anger and more questions and confusion than the Vatican’s use of the terms “intrinsically disordered” or “objective disorder”  to describe, respectively, homosexual acts and homosexual orientation.   They are terms that are not easily understood, and, even when they are, they still cause much pastoral damage and misinformation.

Father Frank Brennan, SJ

Father Frank Brennan, SJ

An Australian Jesuit legal scholar is calling for church people to stop using those terms in their discourse.  In an essay on EurekaStreet.com, Fr. Frank Brennan, a professor of law at Australian Catholic University, has urged Catholic leaders:

“It’s time we dropped the unhelpful, judgmental language of intrinsic and objective disorder when respectfully trying to determine appropriate laws and policies for all people who want to support and nurture each other and their children.”

Fr. Brennan, who, in the past has supported civil unions for same-gender couples,  and has since professed support for civil marriage equality, notes a criticism of the “disorder” language from an Australian politician who is a lesbian:

“Penny Wong, a very eloquent and poised politician who is known to be lesbian, sharing with her partner the parenting of their child, addressed Monsignor John Woods saying, ‘I think it’s interesting you use words like respect at the same time as having a discussion about whether or not homosexuality is in fact natural or, by implication, you know a result of some form of disorder. I don’t think that’s particularly respectful.’ “

Instead of the “disorder” language, which is divisive, Fr. Brennan calls for a perspective that stresses the common humanity of all people, regardless of sexual orientation:

“Our theological starting point should be that we are all created in the image and likeness of God, whether we be gay or straight; that we are all called along the road to Jerusalem; and that the Lord’s purgative fire and promise of division is extended to us all in preparation for the invitation to the banquet where there is neither gay nor straight, and where each of us prays, ‘Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.’ “

And this Australian Jesuit is hopeful that his Jesuit brother who is now the pope is signaling a new direction towards discussing homosexuality that puts aside the pastorally harmful terms, and replaces them with a more positive approach:

“I called to mind the media press conference that Pope Francis gave recently on the plane on the way back from World Youth Day. He was asked about homosexuality and he said, ‘If a person is gay and seeks the Lord and has good will, well who am I to judge them?’ I think Pope Francis now gives us a better way of engaging in respectful discussion in our Church and in the community about the complex issues relating to homosexuality, including civil recognition of same sex marriage.”

The language of “disorder” is philosophical language.  It is not intended to mean medical or psychological disorder, but that is how the overwhelming majority of people hear it.  Because of that misunderstanding, it should definitely and immediately be stricken from church discourse.  It is a term that was applied to discussions of homosexuality by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI.  As pope, he used it as the basis for his discussions of any issue related to gay and lesbian people.

Pope Francis has already indicated that he will be moving the discussion of homosexuality away from the “disorder” language.   Let’s hope that his papacy will banish this term from Catholic discussions.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


U.S. Bishops on Pope Francis’ Gay-Positive Comments–Part 1

August 13, 2013
Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Many people have commented on Pope Francis’ gay-positive statements on his flight home from World Youth Day last week.  One group that has not received as much attention for their commentary, however, are the U.S. bishops themselves.  Only statements made on two morning news shows by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, made any kind of national headlines.

But in local newspapers around the country bishops and/or diocesan officials did make statements commenting on the pope’s remarks.  These comments deserve some examination because they reveal not only these bishops’ approach to gay and lesbian issues, but also how they view the magisterium of the church and perhaps even the new pope.  A variety of themes emerge from looking at the bishops’ statements.

Today’s post will examine the responses which tended to downplay the pope’s comments, and tomorrow’s post will look the responses which saw some change in the pope’s message.

(Before I start the examination of these comments, I must make a note that in many cases the local bishop was not available for comment, often because he was out of town.  In those instances, I will be relying on the responses of a diocesan official.)

Despite the fact that the pope’s comments made headlines around the world in every form of news media imaginable, one dominant theme that the bishops expressed was surprise that people were interested in what the pope had to say about gay people.  They tried to emphasize that the pope had not made any serious change in church teaching.

One good example of this theme came from Bishop Robert Vasa of the Santa Rosa Diocese, California.    The Press Democrat newspaper in his city had the following message from him:

Bishop Robert Vasa

Bishop Robert Vasa

“. . . . Bishop Vasa said these comments were anything but ‘groundbreaking’ and echoed certain paragraphs from the catechism of the Catholic Church.

” ‘I don’t know that I would see them as any more conciliatory than the church documents have always been,’ he said. . . .

“In several news reports, Pope Francis’ statements Monday were contrasted with former Pope Benedict XVI’s signing of a document in 2005 that said men with gay tendencies should not be allowed to become priests.

“Bishop Vasa said the pope made no statements contradicting his predecessor.

” ‘I don’t know that those are necessarily two different statements,’ he said. . . .

“Bishop Vasa said the candid nature of the pope’s press conference, where the pontiff was not afraid to answer questions, was a reflection of the church’s new leader.

” ‘He is his own man. He is not afraid to engage with discussion of matters in secular society that may be controversial,’ Vasa said.

” ‘But at the same time, he holds true to the clear teachings of the church. Nothing in what he said suggested acceptance of gay priests or otherwise engaging in homosexual acts.’ “

In the Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island, a diocesan official followed along the line of the “continuity” theme, but made a point of adding some comments about celibacy, in an interview with The Providence Journal:

 “ ‘In a sense, the Holy Father has said nothing new, and his comments only echo the Catholic Church’s consistent position that priests are still called to a life of celibate chastity and that homosexuals are welcome in the church,’ the Diocese of Providence’s chancellor, the Rev. Timothy Reilly said Monday night.”

Bishop Michael Jarrell

Bishop Michael Jarrell

Other bishops and dioceses that only discussed continuity with church teaching in the pope’s comments include Bishop Michael Jarrell of the Diocese of Lafayette, Louisiana; the Diocese of Portland, Maine, and the Diocese of Sacramento, California; the Archdiocese of Omaha, Nebraska.  (You can read their statements if you follow the links to the news stories which carried them.)

The spokesperson for the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Florida, argued for continuity, too, but he also chose to stress that church teaching is really about “sin” in his comments to The Tampa Tribune:

“The comment doesn’t bode any shift in Catholic policy on the topic, said John Morris, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg. He acknowledged a lot of people around the world will hear and read the statement and interpret it in different ways.

” ‘I don’t think this signals any kind of change in what the church is doing,” Morris said Monday. ‘It’s just going at it from different angle.’

“The Catholic Church traditionally has called homosexuality a sin and opposed gay marriage, and the pope’s statement Monday does not change that, Morris said.

” ‘I don’t know if this nudges (the church) in a different direction,’ he said. ‘The church always has had its stance on sins. The church accepts everyone. The sin is the issue.’ “

Cardinal Francis George

Cardinal Francis George

While many commentators viewed the pope’s comments as stressing the human dignity aspect of church teaching on homosexuality over the sexual ethics teaching, Chicago’s Cardinal George, in a National Catholic Reporter  article seems to think that the sexual ethics teaching was prominent in the papal remarks:

“Chicago Cardinal Francis George said in a statement Monday that the pope ‘reaffirmed the teaching of the Catholic faith and other religions that homosexual genital relations are morally wrong. The pope also reaffirmed the church’s teaching that every man and woman should be accepted with love, including those with same-sex orientation.’ “

The Archdiocese of St. Louis, in a statement quoted on FirstCoastNews.com, also viewed the pope’s comments primarily in terms of sexual behavior:

“The Archdiocese of St. Louis supports the remarks by Pope Francis which reiterate church teaching that homosexuals are welcome in the church but homosexual activity is forbidden. The Catholic Church teaches that all people are called to responsibility when it comes to sexuality, whether homosexual or heterosexual, priest or lay person. She believes that all sexual activity belongs within a marriage between a man and a woman.

“The Catholic Church does not condemn people for having same-sex attraction. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states quite clearly that homosexual persons ‘must be accepted with compassion, respect and sensitivity.’ The Catechism adds that ‘Every sign of unjust discrimination must be avoided.’

“While the Catholic Church objects to homosexual activity, she does not object to homosexuals.”

Archbishop Allen Vigneron

Archbishop Allen Vigneron

Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit had what was probably the harshest interpretation of the pope’s comments.  The city’s Free Press recorded his response:

“But for Archbishop Allen Vigneron, spiritual head of metro Detroit’s 1.3 million Catholics, the pope “didn’t say anything different.”

“ ‘There’s no change’ on the Catholic Church’s view on homosexuality, Vigneron told the Free Press this week. ‘He may have had his own Pope Francis way of putting it, different from maybe the way Pope Benedict would put it, but they’re saying the same things.’ ”

“While some have said Pope Francis struck a new tone with regard to gay people, Vigneron said the worldwide leader of Catholics reiterated what is already in Catholic doctrine, which opposes homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Vigneron said the pope made it clear that gays must try to ‘repent and put their lives in order.’

“ ‘The pope presented the church’s Catholic teaching … endorsed it, and then called us to live up to it, especially to live up to assisting those who have challenges to keep the commandments, and to embrace them when they repent and put their lives in order,’ Vigneron explained.

“ ‘We will do what we can to sustain the definition of marriage as traditional marriage in our Michigan life,’ Vigneron said.

I label Vigneron’s statement the “harshest” because he managed to include references to repentance and marriage law into his comments, while Pope Francis did not even allude to either of these.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post which features bishops’ comments that are a bit more positive in their outlook.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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