Donors Fill the Gap When Bishops Cut Funds Because of Marriage Equality Support

October 3, 2013
Two months ago, immigrants’ rights organizations in Chicago lost funding from the US bishops over their support of marriage equality. Now, the National Catholic Reporter reveals an impressive effort underway to replace lost grants from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), a an anti-poverty program of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.The collaborative effort, called Solidarity Fund, hopes to raise $300,000 from charitable foundations this year to support almost a dozen immigration-focused organizations located in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

These organizations received grants from CCHD, and they were also affiliated with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrants and Refugees Rights, which endorsed marriage equality in May.  The coalition had stated:

“While we recognize that there are differences of opinion within immigrant and faith-based communities regarding same-sex marriages, including among our members, the majority of our members — and therefore our organization — believe that a full respect for our state’s and our nation’s diversity demands that we not discriminate based on whom we love, and that we call upon an end to such discrimination in our local, state, and federal laws.”

This statement triggered a response from the US bishops asking any organizations receiving CCHD grants to withdraw from the Illinois Coalition for Immigrants and Refugees Rights or lose their funding. The news report explains what happened in ensuing weeks:

“A month later, a group of Chicago Catholics wrote an open letter in the Chicago Tribune to Cardinal Francis George, accusing him of using immigrants ‘as pawns in a political battle,’ and urged him to reconsider rescinding the groups’ funding.

“A day later, George responded that the board of the immigrant and refugee coalition, not he, cut the funding by endorsing same-sex marriage and said the church continues to support immigrants and immigration reform through other organizations.”

One of these immigrants rights’ groups spoke of the  impossible decision to forgo funding or withdraw from the statewide immigration reform coalition:

“For the Chicago Workers’ Collaborative, [Executive Director Leone Jose] Bicchieri said the archdiocese contacted him several times in an effort to find a solution, but ultimately, he and his staff determined, given their focus, it didn’t make sense for their organization to sever ties with coalition.

“‘We felt that now was not a time to even consider splintering off from a coalition around immigration reform,’…adding that he was hopeful for future opportunities for collaboration with the Chicago archdiocese.”

The actions of Cardinal George and CCHD are harming efforts to assist migrants and achieve immigration reform. Defunding organizations over LGBT issues forces these groups to commit limited resources to respond to the bishops’ narrow concerns and leaves them less capable of enacting charity and justice for immigrants, a position the Catholic Church strongly endorses. It is an inspiration that the Solidarity Fund is acting swiftly to make up the funding through donors, but this politicking and crisis management model leaves all sides worse off.

CCHD promotes their work with the phrase, “Fight Poverty. Defend Human Dignity.” As a former intern with them, I know well the deep impact the CCHD has had in rectifying injustices in the US and building up a more just society. It is one of the American Church’s true accomplishments since Vatican II. Yet, actions like the defunding in Chicago leave me wondering why the bishops equivocate whose dignity Catholics will defend and why so many must be hurt for their crusade against civil marriage equality.

To donate to the Solidarity Fund, you can visit their website here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


(Most) Rhode Island Clergy Offer Lesson in Pastoral Priorities

August 20, 2013

Bishop Tobin at the Young Republicans meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Attacks Against Bishops’ Anti-Poverty Efforts Come at the Expense of LGBT Community

June 15, 2013

A report released by Faith in Public Life exposes a campaign by conservative Catholics to undermine the American bishops’ leading anti-poverty initiative, in part because of connections that grant recipients have with LGBT advocacy groups.

The report shows how ideologically-driven critics are influencing the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) to move away from any group connected to a pro-LGBT organization.  While attacks by ideologically-driven critics are not new, this report displays in full the deteriorating impact they are having. These critics engage in what is being labeled ‘Catholic McCarthyism’ as they seek out tangential connections to advocacy on causes the Catholic hierarchy opposes to then pin on CCHD.

David Gibson of Religion News Services reports on Faith in Public Life’s study, offering a synopsis of the conservative attacks and their effects:

“Critics also accuse the program of working with non-Catholic groups that undermine battles against abortion and gay rights that they say should dominate the bishops’ agenda.

“A number of bishops and some parishes have halted or discouraged CCHD collections in their dioceses after hearing charges – almost all of which have proven unfounded – that the CCHD funds groups that promote same-sex marriage or reproductive rights..

“[After 2011 reforms] the anti-CCHD campaign continued, and it has succeeded in having a number of grants rescinded by arguing that some recipients worked with organizations that do not always endorse or promote the church’s teaching on sexuality.”

Archbishop Fiorenza Speaking for Economic Justice at USCCB Meeting

CCHD supporters argue against limiting funding to Catholic activities and those in line with the hierarchy’s opposition to abortion and marriage equality, noting the broad range of issues the Church advocates and acts for in secular society. One defender of the program is former USCCB president Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza, whom Gibson writes about at dotCommonweal:

“As Fiorenza says in the report, the Catholic Church has always worked with groups that it may not agree with completely, but as long as the church wasn’t directly supporting or endorsing that group’s objectionable goal, there wasn’t a problem. He fears that is changing, to the detriment of the church and the country:

” ‘At a time when poverty is growing and people are hurting we should not withdraw from our commitment to helping the poor. Catholic identity is far broader than opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. Catholic identity is a commitment to living the Gospel as Jesus proclaimed it, and this must include a commitment to those in poverty.’ “

Critiquing LGBT advocacy may be a smokescreen for those who oppose CCHD’s activities which are primarily focused on anti-poverty efforts. An article at U.S. Catholic analyzes what might be underlying the obsession with sexuality:

“Reading through the arguments against CCHD, you’ll find that there isn’t just a concern about ‘anti-Catholic’ activities but a general skepticism surrounding ‘community organizing,’ which has somehow gotten a bad reputation in Catholic circles…

“The work of CCHD-funded groups…aims to empower people to change their situations…If we change the structures that are keeping people on the margins of society, that requires admitting that there’s something wrong with those structures that we have failed to address…

“The criticism of government assistance and social welfare programs for the poor is well documented. But I wonder if…they’d rather see the church stay out of social justice even if it means fewer people would actually need that government assistance to stay on their feet. Maybe all of this digging for possible connections or associations that would discredit CCHD and its grant recipients is less about a concern for keeping the church pure and more about just not helping the poor.”

David Gibson seemingly concurs with this assessment, and notes the breadth of support for Faith in Public Life’s report within church leadership. It rises above partisan back and forth as a genuine statement by Catholics defending the Church’s social teachings against those who would do away with social justice completely. Many express hope that these attacks against CCHD and the Church’s systemic anti-poverty efforts generally will weaken with Pope Francis’ new tone. Archbishop Fiorenza, Gibson writes, is:

“…hopeful that Francis’ priority on identifying the church with the poor would make an impression of some of the bishops who have bought into the criticisms of the CCHD.

“ ‘I’m confident that if Pope Francis knew about the CCHD program he would say, “God bless the American bishops!” for doing what they can to help the poor,” Fiorenza told me.

“I recommend reading the FPL report as well as Francis’ daily homilies. It seems he doesn’t go a day without preaching about social justice. Gay marriage and our favorite American topics, not so much.”

Hopefully, those criticizing the US bishops’ main anti-poverty effort will be honest about their intentions and stop using the LGBT community as hostages in this debate. Taking a cue from Pope Francis’ different tone, a little less focus on marriage and a little more focus on the poor might be a healthy step forward.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Marriage Debate In Minnesota Creates Conflicts for Catholics

November 1, 2012

In Minnesota, the debate over a proposed constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality has Catholics split on the issue, and is causing problems for individual Catholics as well as organizations which the church has supported.

St. Paul’s Pioneer Press carried an article entitled “Marriage amendment: There’s no single ‘Catholic view’ on this vote,” which surveys the wide-range of Catholic opinion on this article, ranging from strong support to strong opposition to marriage equality. The reporter notes the deep divide among the state’s Catholics and the key role they will play in the outcome:

“Whether the amendment passes or fails on Election Day will depend a lot on how Minnesota Catholics vote.”

One of the Catholics interviewed for this article is Father Thomas Garvey, a retired pastor.  Garvey is an advocate of Catholics voting their conscience on this issue:

“It might be OK for the archbishop to require unanimity on a clear topic, Garvey says — ‘Jesus Christ the son of God? OK, I’d buy in to that.’ But not an issue like same-sex marriage, where people’s life experiences lead them to different places of conscience.

“Garvey’s own conscience on the matter was formed over more than five decades in ministry.

“He saw a film years ago in which a young lesbian was sobbing over the isolation she felt in her own family. ‘Watching her mourn her treatment said to me pretty clearly we got the wrong position on this,’ he said.

“Working with gay and lesbian parishioners solidified his view that they were no different from any other church members and deserved the right to be united with someone of the same sex under law, if not as part of a Catholic sacrament.”

A Minneapolis Star-Tribune article profiles one family, the Seiverts, who are feeling increasingly alienated from the Catholic Church because of the parents’ decision to support their lesbian daughter and her right to marry legally.  As the hierarchy became more vocal against marriage equality, the Seiverts have questioned their allegiance to the institution:

“Now the Seiverts find themselves in a wrenching personal and spiritual conflict, torn between supporting their daughter and a church whose leaders are unwavering in their opposition to same-sex marriage.

” ‘I am wrestling right now with can I in good conscience still be part of this church,’ said Greg Seivert, who has attended St. Matthew’s Catholic Church in St. Paul for 34 of his 59 years. ‘It’s so much part of the fabric of my life. I am really torn. I feel really alienated from what was once my home.’ “

Their alienation progressed from the time their daughter came out to them up through the current debate about the marriage amendment.  When their local pastor began preaching strongly against marriage equality, the Seiverts began to question their loyalty:

“. . .Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt started ramping up his involvement and directed his priests to press their followers on the need to vote for the amendment.

“St. Matthew’s new pastor, the Rev. Michael Rudolph, took up the cause. As his activity intensified, so too did the Seiverts’ alienation from their church. Veronica Seivert wanted to meet with Rudolph and tell him of their decision to leave, but Greg Seivert didn’t want a confrontation. Instead, they decided to send a letter and a final stewardship check.

“Rudolph responded days later with a two-page letter, warning that those who act on same-sex attraction face ‘a spiritual dead end.’ With God’s help, he wrote, Catholics are called on to help those ‘overcome disordered patterns in our life.’ “

“The Seiverts were aghast. To this day they have not shared the letter with their daughter.

“‘ To tell us our daughter, who she is, is spiritual death,’ Veronica Seivert said. ‘I totally refuse to believe that.’

“Greg Seivert said the letter represented a brand of Catholicism far less caring and compassionate than the one he grew up with.”

In addition to the impact on individuals that the hierarchy’s stand on marriage has caused, there is also the impact on organizations that the church has traditionally supported.   The Land Steward Project (LSP), a group which opposes factory farms and supports new farmers and rural Latinos, had received $48,000 in funding from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD).  The funding was pulled this year because the LSP belongs to two groups, the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits and TakeAction Minnesota, which oppose the constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality.

Mark Schultz

According to a MinnPost.com article, LSP Associate Director Mark Schultz said that his organization has not endorsed marriage equality and that their involvement with these two organizations has no connection to the issue:

“He says LSP is a member of the non-profit council ‘for occasional seminars — training and bookkeeping — that help make us a better-run organization. We work with TakeAction on reforming health care — a huge issue for our organization, which is primarily rural and outstate. They’ve also take a position against the voter restriction amendment, which we oppose.’ ”

Schultz, a Catholic, takes a broad view of the issue of associating with the two groups:

“ ‘CCHD was founded in order to implement the social teachings of the church,’ he says. ‘Jesus talked to prostitutes, tax collectors and the rest. You have to engage. Our organization has never taken a position objecting to the marriage amendment, but we will work with organizations helping us win local democracy, save democracy through protecting the vote, or doing our books better to help stop factory farms.’ ”

“He adds: ‘You never say, “We’ll never deal with you.” That’s not the way actual change happens. This is really bad pastoral ministry.’ ”

In addition to the legal damage their opposition to marriage equality can cause, the Catholic hierarchy needs to consider the pastoral and social damage that their involvement is effecting.  Regardless of the outcome next week, a great effort toward reconciliation is going to be needed to repair the hurt the hierarchy’s campaign has caused.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Grant Money Returned Because of Warning About LGBT Rights Involvement

August 5, 2012

 

At least one Catholic official is regretting the strict message that a church granting organization is giving to its partners about not supporting marriage equality or other LGBT rights issues.

 

The motto of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

The Boston Globe reports that a local  community organizing group, the Chelsea Collaborative, has returned a $40,ooo grant from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), a fund run by the nation’s bishops, because the Chelsea organizers feared that they would be in violation of grant requirements which forbid support of LGBT issues.  The news article states:

“Gladys Vega, executive director of the Chelsea Collaborative, said she and her colleagues have long recognized that grants from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the antipoverty arm of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, come with the expectation that recipients not promote activities that contradict Catholic teachings on issues such as gay marriage and abortion. . . .

“But Vega said she and colleagues were taken aback in March when a local representative of the Catholic Campaign came for a site visit, speaking at length to the group about the need to avoid work that conflicted with Catholic teachings, including activities that might ‘support the gay lifestyle.’

“In a follow-up meeting with staff, according to Vega, the representative suggested the Chelsea group should avoid work involving the gay community.

“The episode, Vega said, upset many of the staff and community activists present.

“Two weeks earlier, Vega had received an award from Mass­Equality, the gay rights organization, for speaking out on behalf of a transgender woman badly beaten outside a Chelsea bar. She feared that sort of advocacy could be considered unacceptable by the church.”

While a spokesperson for the U.S. bishops said the Chelsea Collaborative  “took appropriate steps under the circumstances,”  a grants specialist from the CCHD had a different take on the situation, realizing that the directives to avoid gay rights issues may have been communicated too strongly:

“Randy Keesler, a grants specialist at the Catholic Campaign, told Vega in an e-mail that there had been a miscommunication and lamented that, given the groups’ longstanding relationship, she had not come to him with her concerns first. The Chelsea Collaborative provided a copy of the e-mail to the Globe.

“ ‘We have relationships and work in partnership with many organizations at the national level which differ from the Catholic church’s teaching’ on gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender issues, Keesler wrote.

“Grant recipients cannot support a gay pride march, Keesler wrote, but ‘were gay people being denied housing, simply because of their sexual orientation, or were they bullied in the schools because of their sexual orientation, organizing to stop this injustice would be supported by church teachings.’ ”

This story illustrates the dangerous implication of church officials speaking negatively about LGBT issues.  The negativity in their messages can easily be perceived broadly, and many people will be harmed in the process.   Instead of accentuating the negative, why not emphasize the positive in church teaching about LGBT people?  Elaborate on the need for protecting and defending people’s dignity and rights.  Err on the side of extravagant acceptance, not on restrictive regulations.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


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