The Complex and Layered Meanings in Pope Francis’ New Document

November 27, 2013

Pope Francis

As more people begin to scrutinize Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), new details emerge which show that in regards to LGBT issues, the new document shows a complex picture.

The New York Times reports that buried in a footnote to the document is a reference to the U.S. bishops’ 2006 document, Ministry to Persons with Homosexual Inclinations:  Guidelines for Pastoral Carewhich promoted the traditional definition of a homosexual orientation as an objective disorder.  The Times reports:

“Nowhere in the document did Francis speak explicitly of homosexuality or same-sex marriage. However, he said the church should not give in to ‘moral relativism,’ and cited with approval a document written by the bishops of the United States on ministering to people with ‘homosexual inclination.’ The pope said the American bishops are right that the church must insist on ‘objective moral norms which are valid for everyone’ — even when the church is perceived by supporters of gay rights as promoting prejudice and interfering with individual freedom.”

This detail is a clearer indication that Pope Francis does not seem inclined to change the teaching on homosexuality.  That notion had been clear since he first started speaking about gay and lesbian issues back in July with his “Who am I to judge?” interview, in which he also did uphold the Catechism’s teaching on homosexuality.  I’ve noted before that it looks like Pope Francis’s road to change in the church won’t be a straight one.

But while in content Pope Francis remains traditional, many people, including myself,  perceive he is opening up a process that will eventually lead to positive developments in church teaching.  For example, Martin Pendergast, a long-time Catholic advocate for LGBT equality in the United Kingdom, offered what he saw as two important selections from the document which point to the possibility of change in the Church, which I had overlooked in yesterday’s post on this topic.

In the first selection, the pope is calling for decentralization of authority in the church:

“Countless issues involving evangelization today might be discussed here, but I have chosen not to explore these many questions which call for further reflection and study. Nor do I believe that the papal magisterium should be expected to offer a definitive or complete word on every question which affects the Church and the world. It is not advisable for the Pope to take the place of local Bishops in the discernment of every issue which arises in their territory. In this sense, I am conscious of the need to promote a sound ‘decentralization.’ ”  (Introduction, section 16)

In the second selection, the pope acknowledges that not all Church teachings hold the same weight:

“All revealed truths derive from the same divine source and are to be believed with the same faith, yet some of them are more important for giving direct expression to the heart of the Gospel. In this basic core, what shines forth is the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead. In this sense, the Second Vatican Council explained, ‘in Catholic doctrine there exists an order or a ‘hierarchy’ of truths, since they vary in their relation to the foundation of the Christian faith’.[38] This holds true as much for the dogmas of faith as for the whole corpus of the Church’s teaching, including her moral teaching.” (chapter 1, section 36)

What gives me hope from this document, despite the fact that it does not challenge the traditional teaching on homosexuality, is that there is an openness and humility that seem to get at the core of the Christian message.  Having a pope who is interested in the opinions of the laity, who stresses dialogue and the possibility of change, who stresses diversity and decentralization, who acknowledges the role of science, who seeks to update old traditions can only mean that the road ahead is filled with possibilities.  (All of the items mentioned in the previous sentence were included in yesterday’s blog post on excerpts from the papal document.)

John Allen, writing in The National Catholic Reportersummarizes what he sees as Pope Francis’ outline for reform, which includes many of the items mentioned above.  Allen writes:

  • He calls for a “conversion of the papacy,” saying he wants to promote “a sound decentralization” and candidly admitting that in recent years “we have made little progress” on that front.
  • He suggests that bishops’ conferences ought to be given “a juridical status … including genuine doctrinal authority.” In effect, that would amount to a reversal of a 1998 Vatican ruling under John Paul II that only individual bishops in concert with the pope, and not episcopal conferences, have such authority.
  • Francis says the Eucharist “is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak,” insisting that “the doors of the sacraments” must not “be closed for simply any reason.” His language could have implications not only for divorced and remarried Catholics, but also calls for refusing the Eucharist to politicians or others who do not uphold church teaching on some matters.
  • He calls for collaborative leadership, saying bishops and pastors must use “the means of participation proposed in the Code of Canon Law and other forms of pastoral dialogue, out of a desire to listen to everyone and not simply to those who would tell him what he would like to hear.”
  • Francis criticizes forces within the church who seem to lust for “veritable witch hunts,” asking rhetorically, “Whom are we going to evangelize if this is the way we act?”
  • He cautions against “ostentatious preoccupation” for liturgy and doctrine as opposed to ensuring that the Gospel has “a real impact” on people and engages “the concrete needs of the present time.”

Pope Francis may not be the radical reformer that many have hoped for.  But for those who trust that the Holy Spirit is moving among the laity of the church and who have longed for the possibility of discussion of diversity of opinions, Pope Francis’ project seems to open up a new possibility of hope.

Clearly, this is not the kind of pope that we had gotten used to over the last four decades. And clearly, this new document is complex and layered.  Bondings 2.0 will continue to provide analysis and commentary of this document, especially as it relates to LGBT issues, as we become aware of them.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


As ENDA Passes to Senate, U.S. Bishops Renew Anti-LGBT Rights Campaign

November 6, 2013

On Monday evening, the US Senate voted to move the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), a bill that would provide fair hiring protections for LGBT people.  On the same day, Catholic bishops expressed their opposition to the bill and amplified their defense of ‘just’ discrimination.

In a letter to Senators, three bishops heading up the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committees on Domestic Justice and Human Development, Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, and Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty defended their opposition to a law that bans employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The bishops who signed the letter are Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, California, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, and Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore.

America Magazine explained the bishops’ letter with a summary of the bishops’ objections to non-discrimination legislation, writing:

“[The letter] notes, for example, that the bill: (1) lacks an exception for a ‘bona fide occupational qualification’…(2) lacks a distinction between homosexual inclination and conduct, thus affirming and protecting extramarital sexual conduct; (3) supports the redefinition of marriage, as state-level laws like ENDA have been invoked in state court decisions finding marriage discriminatory or irrational; (4) rejects the biological basis of gender by defining ‘gender identity’ as something people may choose at variance with their biological sex; and (5) threatens religious liberty by punishing as discrimination the religious or moral disapproval of same-sex sexual conduct, while protecting only some religious employers.”

Such arguments range from false to offensive to absurd, especially as many Catholics endorse employment, housing, and other protections for LGBT people. Journalist Michael O’Loughlin questions what positive impact opposing non-discrimination bills and policies

“What’s that now? Are US bishops taking Pope Francis’s message of focusing on poverty rather than homosexuality to heart? Are Catholic bishops going on-the-record in support of the marginalized and oppressed? Is this a sign of a new era in US Catholicism, the one heralded by lefty Catholics who have expressed unabashed hope in the new pope?

“Nah. Keep reading.

“Catholic bishops apparently feel that discriminating against LGBT people in the workplace is not only just, but in fact, not being able to do so threatens their religious liberty.”

O’Loughlin considers what might be motivating the bishops in regard to this issue:

“Catholic bishops relied on lawyers rather than pastors in their decision to come out against the bill…

“Fear is at the root of the bishops’ opposition to LGBT advances in general and ENDA in specific. Fear that society is changing so quickly. Fear that the church is losing its influence in forming morality. Fear that the church is being pushed to the margins.

“It’s remarkable to me that some bishops here have learned so little over the past 8 months. The world is hungry for moral clarity. Look how people have responded to Pope Francis. He talks morality constantly, and the world listens and reflects…If Catholic leaders here in the US feel they find themselves on the defensive, increasingly marginalized and perhaps even deemed irrelevant, at what point do they begin to reconsider their message and priorities?”

Equally Blessed LogoEarlier this fall, the Equally Blessed coalition spoke for Catholics who want to follow Pope Francis priorities in protecting all people and focusing on the pressing issues of these times, like poverty and immigration. Their letter to the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions said, in part:

“We write to make it clear that the bishops do not speak for the majority of your Catholic constituents, many of whom believe, as we do, that the religious exemptions in the current draft of the legislation are not too narrow, as the bishops contend, but far too broad…

“Nor is it clear that the bishops’ views are in accord with the Pope’s. Responding in August to questions about gay priests, Pope Francis said: ‘If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them?’ The pope, in other words, has no plans to discriminate against the gay men who, in secular terms, might be thought of as his employees…

“Our nation’s history teaches us that sometimes the church moves a recalcitrant society toward a deeper respect for the dignity of every human being, but that sometimes those roles are reversed. Unlike our bishops, a significant majority of U.S. Catholics support legislation that guarantees LGBT people equal protection under the law.”

The Equally Blessed coalition consists of Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, and New Ways Ministry.

For background information on ENDA, check out the Human Rights Campaign’s information page on the bill.

ENDA’s future looks grim in the House, further raising questions about why US bishops felt the need to reaffirm their opposition to a bill which very possibly will fail. However, their letter highlights the urgent need for Catholics in the pews to pre-empt Congress and implement non-discrimination policies inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity in their Catholic schools, parishes, and other workplaces. For more information on how to accomplish this goal, please click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


LGBT Issues Pervade 2013 Call to Action Conference

November 4, 2013

Call To Action 2013 Plenary Session

LGBT Catholic issues pervaded Call to Action’s 2013 conference this past weekend as progressive Catholics gathered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to organize for a more justice and inclusive Church and society. Bondings 2.0 offers a round-up from the weekend to show how central acceptance, welcome, and justice for all sexual orientations and gender identities is in broader efforts for Church renewal.

On Friday, New Ways Ministry co-founder Jeannine Gramick, SL joined other prophetic voices in a daylong reflection on conscience, sponsored by the 8th Day Center for Justice. Gramick spoke about her four decades in ministry among the LGBT community and her struggles with the institutional Church that resulted from this work.

A La Familia also hosted a seminar on the same day focusing on acceptance within Latino families of LGBTQ members, which was hosted by Lisbeth Melendez Rivera and Rose Manriquez.

Jamie Manson

Jamie Manson

Saturday’s plenary session featured writer and LGBT advocate Jamie Manson, a Catholic lesbian woman whose reflections on intergenerational companionship this blog recently profiled. She joined a panel on the future of Catholic ministry, and when speaking on inclusivity, Manson said:

“It used to be prophetic to include women and LGBT people. For the new generation, it’s not prophetic. It’s just common sense.”

Manson also spoke of the many young adults who are educated in theology and ministry, but unable to answer their call to leadership in the Church because of, among other obstacles, their sexual orientations and gender identities. Roy Bourgeois, a former Maryknoll priest forced out of his community for supporting women’s ordination, echoed these sentiments, saying the Church’s many years of prayers for more vocations would be answered if only those who want to serve as priests were allowed entry.

World Youth Day participants from Equally Blessed

Saturday also featured several workshops highlighting the need for LGBT justice in Catholic and civil communities. These included:

  • “Why the Church, for its Own Salvation, Needs Our Queer Sisters and Brothers” led by Miguel De La Torre;
  • “Same-Sex Marriage and Beyond: The Catholic Imperative for LGBT Equality” led by Marianne Duddy-Burke;
  • “Sharing the Message of Equally Blessed: Stories from the Pilgrimage to World Youth Day, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil” led by members of CTA 20/30 and Dignity Young Adult Caucus;
  • “LGBT Catholics Standing Together: Intergenerational Issues” led by Jeannine Gramick, SL and Bob Shine;
  • Caucuses by Fortunate Families for parents of LGBT children and by Catholics for Marriage Equality for those in Illinois, and Equally Blessed.

Loretto Volunteers helping with marriage equality in Maryland

On Sunday morning, Call to Action’s Leadership Award was granted to the Loretto Volunteers, a program of the Loretto Community that offers a year of service for young adults in an LGBT-affirming atmosphere rooted in the Catholic tradition. New Ways Ministry is one of the host sites for the Loretto Volunteers.

Following that, Marianne Duddy-Burke of Dignity USA offered a homily during the conference’s closing liturgy. Speaking on the story of Zacchaeus, she proposed modern exclusionary labels equivalent to “taxpayer” that included gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and the parent of an LGBT child.

Marianne Duddy-Burke

Marianne Duddy-Burke

Flipping the narrative, Duddy-Burke asked attendees to place themselves in the position of Jesus, who called Zacchaeus out of the tree and into life. Jesus saw Zacchaeus as a human being with a profound need and engaged that alone, thus Catholics must do the same no matter how different or unlikable people crying out may be.  In conclusion, she envisioned a Church where the only label that makes a difference is beloved Child of God.

Given these speakers and workshops, there is not only widespread need, but also excitement around building up inclusive Catholic communities where LGBT people, their loved ones, families, friends, and allies are all welcomed. You can check out Call to Action’s website for more information on several of these programs described. For further reflections from Jeannine Gramick and Bob Shine on how diverse generations engaged around LGBT issues, check Bondings 2.0 later this week.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


New Jersey Legalizes Marriage Equality, as Catholics Rejoice

October 24, 2013

New Jersey became the 14th state to legalize marriage equality on Monday, and it appears marriages will continue unhindered by further legal challenges. The road to this victory was paved by Catholics on both sides, and could be indicative of  future Catholic influences.

Governor Chris Christie, a Catholic, ended his appeal in the state’s Supreme Court against the late September ruling by Judge Mary Jacobson, also a Catholic, that legalized same-gender marriages. According to Christie, the Court’s previous denial of his request to forestall marriage licenses until the appeal was heard was evidence enough that marriage equality would be upheld on appeal.

While the governor promised to uphold the law, he also criticized the judicial means through which the state achieved equal marriage rights. As Bondings 2.0 previously noted, Christie is a 2016 presidential hopeful and is walking the Republican tight-rope around marriage equality. He emphasized the issue should still be put to New Jersey voters.

Jacobson’s was the first state court ruling to legalize same-sex marriage after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act in June. The move extended hundreds of tax, medical and other legal benefits to same-sex couples, but only in states that provided them “lawful marriages.” As a state which had civil unions but not full marriage for same-gender couples, New Jersey was left out of reaping these benefits, the Supreme Court ruled.

New Ways Ministry‘s supporters in New Jersey have welcomed the news of marriage equality coming to the state. Melina Waldo, the mother of a gay son, stated:

Melina Waldo

“Marriage equality has triumphed in New Jersey after many years of hard work by gay and lesbian people and their supporters.  We suffered defeats and disappointments along the way and strong opposition from the Catholic hierarchy as well as a veto by governor Christie.  Although the bishops did their utmost to hold back the tide of equality, the Catholic people never wavered in their support.  In fact, the percentage of Catholic people who support marriage equality has risen steadily as the years went by.  Not an insignificant factor in heavily Catholic New Jersey.

“I am so happy for all our gay and lesbian residents of New Jersey, particularly for young people like my friend John who testified at the state senate at least twice.   His testimony ended with the lament that he felt like a second-class citizen in his own state.

“For me the journey to marriage equality began years ago when my friends Diane Marini and Marilyn Maneeley  asked me to accompany them to the Borough Hall in our town where they were going to apply for a marriage license.  They were among seven couples chosen by Lambda Legal to sue the state of New Jersey for the right to marry.  When the clerk politely refused their request, we walked out and the lawsuit began.

“So for us it is a time to rejoice but a sad time as well because Marilyn did not live to see the results of her courageous effort to reach this happy conclusion.  She would be so pleased for all those who will benefit in the future. “

Dugan McGinley

Dugan McGinley, a lecturer in Catholic Studies at Rutgers University and the author of  Acts of Faith, Acts of Love: Gay Catholic Autobiographies as Sacred Textssaid:

“I am awestruck when I think how far we have come in such a short amount of time. When we were organizing to make LGBT Catholic concerns visible during the papal visit to Denver 20 years ago, who would have thought that by 2013, fourteen states would have legalized same-sex marriage?!

“It is gratifying to be receiving congratulatory notes from friends on this occasion, but we have all played a role in this success. I am grateful to every LGBT person who has had the courage to be open with someone else about their identity. The biggest difference we all can make is being visible so that people see that laws and theology about sex and gender affect real people.”

While it is already known that large majorities of US Catholics support marriage equality, of note in New Jersey is the respectful acceptance even Catholics opposed to LGBT rights have shown.  It is clear that Catholics in government, like Judge Jacobson and Governor Christie, are acting in a spirit of authentic religious liberty by separating their personal views from those demands required of them by civil law. In addition, fellow parishioners at Judge Jacobson’s parish spoke to NJ.com with a moderated opposition:

“McKillup and several other St. Mary parishioners interviewed after Mass said they believed in the separation of church and state, and that it was understandable Jacobson might view an issue differently from the bench than from a pew…

“St. Mary’s parishioner and choir member Barbara Paige said she shared the Catholic Church’s official view that marriage is between a man and a woman. But putting herself in Jacobson’s shoes, Paige said she did not fault the judge for ruling in favor of marriage equality…

“Another parishioner at St. Mary, Ben Barsolona, said he was opposed to same-sex marriage. But Barsolona, 55, said he did not fault Jacobson for the ruling, and he sympathized with gay couples and individuals.”

With New Jersey, one-third of US states now have equal marriage rights and this number should grow soon. Personal opposition remains in many Catholics, but perhaps beliefs promoted by the bishops that marriage equality will create social ills or threaten the Church’s well-being are being discarded as they are proven false. While work remains in the Church to create broader acceptance of LGBT people and their families, could New Jersey signal an ending to Catholic political opposition against equal rights?

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Another Teacher Is Fired for Marrying; What You Can Do to Stem These Actions

October 19, 2013
Tippi McCullough

Tippi McCullough

Yet another LGBT employee has been fired from a Catholic school, this time in Arksansas. The firing at Mount St. Mary Academy in Little Rock adds yet another victim to anti-equality thinking, which punishes employees in same-gender marriages or those who support marriage equality.

Tippi McCullough, an English teacher with 15 years experience at the high school run by the Sisters of Mercy, received a phone call on her wedding day warning her against marrying long-time partner, Barb Mariani. The couple had traveled to New Mexico to wed, and less than an hour after doing so were told by principal Diane Wolfe that McCullough was terminated. The Daily Mail reports that the school was notified of the marriage by the diocese, although the school is not commenting on the incident.  The news story reports:
“When Mrs McCullough asked how her marriage had violated the clause [which allows for firings based on lifestyles that contradict Church teaching], Wolfe responded by saying she wasn’t going to have a theological debate and that there was nothing else she could do…

“No law protects McCullough from being fired as a religious institution citing church teaching would be exempt from discrimination laws.”

McCullough says the school knew of her relationship with Mariani for years  but only offered her an opportunity to resign when the marriage became known to school officials. As has been the norm with such firings, students and the wider Catholic community are rising to defend McCullough. A petition with almost 1,300 signatures appeared on Friday in support of McCullough, who is still weighing her options.

Jezebel also published email correspondence between an alumna, who is now a teacher herself, and Wolfe. In it, the principal defends the school’s decision:

“While I respect your thoughts and concerns, you really have no clue. This was not just my decision. I am only the messenger…It is not for me to decide, judge or disobey the tenets of the church. I was hired to uphold my contractual obligations as a Catholic school administrator and to carry out those functions, as unpleasant as they may be…Do you not think it took moral courage to carry out and uphold the tenets of the church..?”

Sadly, the views expressed by Wolfe indicate not moral courage, but rather a fear too prevalent in Catholic schools when it comes to LGBT issues. Bishops and administrators who are publicly challenged on firings claim it is painful, but necessary and the hierarchy asks lower administrators to enforce this legalism. The pain in Wolfe’s defensive tone is evident.

National Catholic Reporter published an article analyzing this broader trend of firing employees who either are transgender, enter into same-gender marriages, or simply support LGBT rights that notes:

“It’s not news that gay teachers and other employees of Catholic institutions lose their jobs over a same-sex relationship…What’s different in recent years is a growing acceptance of gay marriage among Catholics and gay people’s increasing ability to marry and unwillingness to hide their relationships…

“Such firings, once the private affairs of Catholic schools, whispered about in the teachers’ lounge, now air on the nightly news and circulate on Facebook.”

This discrimination continues, however, because the schools are legally protected due to religious exemptions in non-discrimination laws, even where sexual orientation or gender identity is explicitly protected. They are reminders that even as marriage equality spreads, like in New Jersey this coming Monday, LGBT rights remain unsecured and change is still needed in the Catholic Church.

However, there is hope as Francis DeBernardo, the executive director of New Ways Ministry, told NCR:

” ‘What we know, what everyone knows, Catholic and non-Catholic, is that the younger generation is much more supportive of marriage equality than older generations, which is the indicator that it is the future’…

” ‘I’m heartened by it not only because they’re young but because a lot of them have discussed their support for the teacher in terms of Catholic principles…It’s a good case of the church hierarchy undone by their highest ideals.’ “

One way to make an impact is for Catholics to get their local church institutions to adopt non-discrimination policies that protect sexual orientation, marital status, views on marriage, and gender identity.   We need to get our parishes, schools, and other Church-affiliated institutions to live up to their Catholic principles of non-discrimination and justice.  Speaking out for such policies would help spread the word that there is a Catholic tradition which supports and protects LGBT people.  For more information, you can contact New Ways Ministry at info@NewWaysMinistry.org.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


On Spirit Day, Catholics Chart New Course for LGBT Youth

October 17, 2013

SpiritDay13_Graphic_FinalToday is Spirit Day. Millions across the nation will wear purple as a sign of their of their love and support for LGBT youth and for their opposition to bullying. We join GLAAD, the main sponsoring organization, in spreading this message of inclusion and well-being.

LGBT teens and young adults suffer greatly from bullying by peers in person and, increasingly, on the internet. Homo- and trans-phobic harassment against youth leads to vastly higher rates of substance abuse, self-harm, and suicide than the general population.

Rejection from their faith community and religious-based discrimination only compound these problems. For Catholics, Spirit Day is also prime moment for reflection on our Church’s progress and where we are now headed in ministering to younger people with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.

Last October, . Jesuit Fr. James Martin’s piece on Spirit Day was considered a bold statement, when he reminded Catholics of a prevalent negativity around Catholic LGBT issues from some quarters of the church:

“Many gay and lesbian Catholics have told me (in person, in emails, in notes and letters and in Facebook messages) how alienated they have felt from the church lately.  Perhaps as a result of some of the rhetoric that has been used recently, an increasing number of gay and lesbian Catholics, and gay and lesbian youth in particular, feel marginalized from the church in which they were baptized.”

Fear, hurt, and isolation persist for many LGBT Catholics who experienced decades of damaging language and actions.  Pope Francis, though, has prompted a spirit of renewal that blows through our communities which demands that we act against anti-gay discrimination, especially when it targets youth.

One bright initiative is called Anti-Bullying Learning and Teaching Resources (ALTER), sponsored by the Diocese of Wollongong, Australia. Responding to the rapid rise in bullying through cell phones and social media, the diocese’s Catholic Education Office produced a video (which you can view below) and a resource kit for adults in leadership.

Of note is the use of the word “gay” in the video, revealing an openness to the realities of the students it hopes to help. The Office explains:

“Fix You was deliberately designed to include significant contribution from Diocesan primary and secondary students. To maintain the integrity of this concept, when asked to list words commonly used to bully and to hurt, students were adamant the word ‘gay’ be included. In explanation, it was our students’ reality that this word was often used as a weapon and that verbal bullying was an experience known to most students. Consequently, this term has been included in the sequence of words depicting how bullying brands someone and how this can leave lifelong scars.”

The Office provides an improved commentary on homosexuality that focuses on respecting people’s dignity and ending injustice. They recommend that educators use the word “gay” in their classroom discussions.

This Spirit Day, Pope Francis’ handful of olive branches to the LGBT community has changed the tone by his comment “Who am I to judge?“, his America interview, or his handwritten note to gay Catholics in Italy. Leaders in the American hierarchy have been slow to follow his lead, but the Catholic laity  continue to advance into greater inclusion.

As Catholics, we at New Ways Ministry support Spirit Day, compelled by our faith to end bullying and sustain LGBT youth as they come to know themselves, their community, and God.  We’ve changed our profile picture on Facebook to purple in honor of Spirit Day, and we invite you to do the same as a sign of support.  If you use Twitter, consider using #SpiritDay in your tweets about support for LGBT youth today.

Why not share the graphic above with your friends on Facebook? You can copy and paste it from this post or you can find it on the New Ways Ministry Facebook page.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Justice Antonin Scalia Misusing Catholic Faith to Promote Anti-Gay Bias

October 13, 2013

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

Just weeks ago, Pope Francis shook up the Catholic Church with a wide-ranging and welcome interview that included positive words about gay and lesbian people. Now, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is making waves in an interview with New York Magazine where he speaks about his Catholic faith and homosexuality.

Justice Scalia is normally an outspoken Catholic, but he offered little when asked about Pope Francis. The interviewer pressed him on the issue of homosexuality, asking (New York Magazine’s questions are in bold):

“I was wondering what kind of personal exposure you might have had to this sea change [of LGBT rights].

“I have friends that I know, or very much suspect, are homosexual. Everybody does.

“Have any of them come out to you?

“No. No. Not that I know of.”

He is asked in the interview whether his views on homosexuality have “softened” given the pope’s new welcome of gay and lesbian people, but Scalia is unable to understand how they could soften because in his mind the issue is set Catholic doctrine. The interviewer asks how these personal views affect his role on the Supreme Court, and Scalia answers:

“I still think it’s Catholic teaching that [homosexuality is] wrong. Okay? But I don’t hate the people that engage in it. In my legal opinions, all I’ve said is that I don’t think the Constitution requires the people to adopt one view or the other…

“Maybe the world is spinning toward a wider acceptance of homosexual rights, and here’s Scalia, standing athwart it. At least standing athwart it as a constitutional entitlement. But I have never been custodian of my legacy. When I’m dead and gone, I’ll either be sublimely happy or terribly unhappy.”

He pivots from here into a lengthy discussion of heaven and hell, the Devil, and atheism, all of which you can find here.

Yet, as a justice on the US’ top court and a prominent Catholic, Scalia’s record on LGBT issues is less “standing athwart” on legal grounds and more a clearly defined legacy of anti-gay bias rooted in his understanding of the Catholic faith.

Right Wing Watch offers a rundown of Scalia’s harshest moments against the LGBT community, as when he previously compared homosexuality to murder and cruelty against animals or when he wrote a scathing opinion in Lawrence v. Texas that would justify discrimination against gay people. Then there is the unusual step the justice took in reading aloud from the bench his blistering dissent when the Supreme Court struck down DOMA this past June.

It appears Pope Francis’ effect on Justice Scalia is minimal given the New York Magazine interview, and it is doubtful the justice would act like other Catholics on the court in endorsing the rights of all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. It is also clear in his language that Scalia continues to view homosexuality in terms of sexual acts, instead of as an integral part of a person’s identity. It is telling that someone as well-connected as the justice claims to know no gay people personally, and does little to show compassion, sensitivity, or respect for them as the Church asks of him.

With LGBT rights expanding in the US and Pope Francis preaching words of welcome, the moment is prime for the justice to reconsider how he speaks about and interacts with gay people. Perhaps acknowledging those he knows who are LGBT identified is a start. Perhaps he could consider aspects of his Catholic faith, like the dignity of each person and the common good pf all, when it comes to homosexuality. Perhaps he could simply start by echoing Pope Francis’ words in interviews and say, “Who am I to judge?

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Reflecting on ‘Coming Out’ to Celebrate National Coming Out Day

October 11, 2013

Today, October 11, is National Coming Out Day and though widespread acceptance of LGBT people is common, the process of coming out remains both difficult and sacred for many. Bondings 2.0 provides excerpts from several coming out accounts published recently that deal with coming out and Catholicism.

First, there is Jonah Saribay, a gay man from a traditional Filipino Catholic family, who shared his story in Honolulu Civil Beat about the coming out process, and how marriage equality could affect this. The news site reports:

“During Saribay’s sophomore year at Farrington High School in 2010, he was conflicted. He had hidden his sexual orientation for years — and then, for a while, tried to convince himself and his friends that he was bisexual.

‘I was so unhappy that I wasn’t living the life I wanted to live. I was gay, and I wanted to live my life as a gay man.’

Toward the end of that school year, he finally found the courage to tell his parents something that he had long known about himself. And when he did, he was in for a surprise: They were fine with the news and they said they loved him unconditionally.

The greatest challenge, he recalled, was ‘accepting myself. I was trying for years to get out of my own shell.’ “

Set amid a piece on Hawaii’s potential passage marriage equality, Saribay believes legalized marriage for same-gender couples would ease coming out for other LGBT youth by advancing the type of social acceptance he received even in a conservative Catholic family. Passing marriage equality could also curtail all-too-frequent bullying and harassment aimed at youth for their sexual orientation or gender identity. You can read more about how Hawaii’s educational system is working towards these goals already and the state’s push for equal rights on the Civil Beat website.

Second is the story of Derek Schell, who is the first openly gay male player in NCAA Division II basketball and who wrote an account of his coming out for OutSports this week. In the essay, Schell touches upon his Catholic schooling and Christian faith, as well as his renewed passion for the sport. After expressing the pain he underwent as young person growing up in a conservative area of the US, he writes about the decision to come out and how grateful he is to have made it, saying:

“In experiencing opposite ends of the spectrum in homophobia and in unconditional love, I have learned so many things from so many different types of people and haven’t been limited to just one way of thinking. It has been a blessing in disguise…Not only is life too short to dwell on other people’s expectations for you, but it is your decision to choose your attitude and how you react to your surroundings…

“Sometimes the darkest times in life are only doorways to the best moments of your life, the ones you were meant to experience and live to see…My challenge to you, whoever is reading this, is to be honest with yourself and how you’re feeling. God doesn’t make mistakes. Don’t keep saying you’re fine. You can be who you are and still be an athlete. You can do all the things you want to do and live a beautiful life that you’ve imagined for yourself. Find your peace of mind knowing you are giving your best self to the world. Be brave. Be love. But most of all, be you.”

Lastly, Daniel Reynolds, a staff member at The Advocate, writes about how his Catholic identity positively influenced his coming out experience. An altar server from age seven, Reynolds speaks about the belief in miracles he was imbued with when learning the faith and continues:

“As I grew older and taller, and my white robes began to cover less and less of my legs, I began to realize that I was attracted to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (in the biblical sense, indeed). At the time, it was a horrifying revelation. As I prepared for confirmation, the sacrament that asks a young person to pledge himself or herself to the church, I considered my sexuality to be an insurmountable obstacle in admission to the fold…

“It was around this time that something miraculous occurred.

The miracle was Antioch, a youth group Reynolds attended semi-annually where taboo topics were discussed over weekend retreats, leading him to come out eventually:

“For the first time in my life, I had entered a circle where I was entrusted with the secrets of others. Through Antioch and my church, I received one of the most powerful and most influential lessons of growing up — the cognizance that other people struggle with pain, and the responsibility of a community to help its members overcome it.

“Until Antioch, I had only shared the secret of my sexual orientation to one or two close friends…I began to realize that sharing my story would serve a purpose. In my heart I knew that other people in my group must be going through the same struggle, or they knew or were related to a person in the same situation. With this in mind, I decided that I would come out to my church. I believed that it was what God wanted me to do.”

Reynolds came out to his church and was warmly welcomed by the hundred people in attendance including his priest.  Now, the criticism Reynolds receives is often from the LGBT community who cannot understand his participation in the Catholic Church. While validating these criticisms, Reynolds concludes:

“But the truth is, the Catholic Church is a large part of the reason I am an openly gay man today. It has helped me to become a better person. Perhaps my experience is the exception rather than the rule, but I can’t help but believe that the love and support I received in the room that day — and that I continue to receive from my Catholic friends — outweigh the words of old strangers in Rome. I have yet to find sufficient reason to abandon the faith that has guided my parents, grandparents, ancestors, and myself toward a brighter star…

“For a gay Catholic, the words of the new pope are reason to be hopeful. Perhaps, in my lifetime, the church will recognize the sanctity of same-sex marriage. Perhaps not. In the meantime, I have to reach my own new balance of faith and love. I am gay. I am Catholic. And after all, miracles happen every day.”

Writing in the Winona Daily News, John Rupkey asks each of us, gay and straight, an important question on this day. Calling to mind both the wounds a homophobic hierarchy inflicts on the LGBT community and the wounds born by closeted gay priests, he address the laity:

“Oct. 11 is National Coming Out Day. I would like to suggest that on that day the non-gay people of God consider coming out in support of gay people. Coming out doesn’t mean shouting from a soap box. The first step in coming out is coming out to yourself.

“When asked if he approved of homosexuality, Pope Francis replied with a question: “Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?”

“On Oct. 11, how will you answer that question?”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Pope Francis’ Letter-Writing Revolution Requires Our Involvement

October 10, 2013

Pope Francis

Pope Francis makes headline after headline for personally reaching out through letters and phone calls to people who have written to him, and speaking pastorally with them. The Italian newspaper La Repubblica now reports that the pope sent a handwritten reply to a group of gay and lesbian Catholics in Italy, and the original letter may have prompted the pope’s recent warm remarks on LGBT people.

Based on a Google translation (and Bondings 2.0 will update with a more reliable translation when that becomes availabe), La Repubblica writes:

“Pen and paper. Among the many revolutions made ​​by Pope Bergoglio, in addition to phone calls home to ordinary people…there is also the ‘post effect,’ the mountain of letters delivered every day at his residence in Santa Marta, and sent directly to him…

“Some people think it may have been one of these ‘messages in a bottle’ that inspired the breakthrough of Bergoglio about gays. A letter sent in June to the Pope by various Italian gay Catholics…where gays and lesbians asked Francis to be recognized as people and not as a ‘category’ and called for openness and dialogue on the part of the Church, recalling that the closure ‘always feeds homophobia.’ “

Further information comes from America Magazine, which only weeks ago carried a groundbreaking interview with Pope Francis where his remarks on homosexuality were positive and welcoming, which reports:

“A leader of the impromptu committee said as gay Catholics they had in the past written to other members of the church leadership in Italy and had always before been rewarded with silence…

“The Kairos group said they also received a letter from the Vatican Secretariat of State, which informed them that Pope Francis ‘really enjoyed’ their letter to him and the way it was written, calling it an act of ‘spontaneous confidence.’

“One Kairos leader said Pope Francis had also assured the group of his blessing, something they could not before have imagined happening. The members of Kairos have decided to keep the rest of the message of both letters private.”

When New Ways Ministry led a pilgrimage to Italy in 2011,  the Kairos group met with our American travelers to share stories and perspectives.  Francis DeBernardo, our executive director, is contacting them currently to learn more about this papal letter.  If we receive more information from them about the correspondence, we will update you.

While the contents of the pope’s letter remain private, truly as if between a pastor and the people he serves, there are broader lessons for the LGBT and ally Catholic community in this experience.

First, the wisdom that relational encounters with people are the most effective form of advocacy is relevant even for the pope. If La Repubblica‘s conjecture is correct that the personal letter from Kairos of Florence led to Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” and other comments that have greatly shifted the Church’s tone on LGBT issues, then everyone should be writing letters to Rome. New Ways Ministry wrote a letter to Pope Francis, telling him about the goodness and holiness of Catholic LGBT people and pastoral outreach to them here in the U.S.  Would you consider writing your own thoughts to him?

Second, if reaching out to the pope is effective, perhaps it is time for Catholics to reach out to their local Church leaders, namely priests and bishops. Sharing personal stories to replace philosophical constructs with human faces and relationships might lead to further conversions.

The pen and paper revolution underway with Pope Francis offers each person an opportunity to write their own message in the model of the Kairos of Florence authors. If you do write to Pope Francis or a local church leader, please consider sharing your message in the ‘Comments’ section for this post.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


New Jersey Initiates Marriage Equality, But Battle for Permanence Begins

October 7, 2013

New Jersey Coalition to Preserve and Protect Marriage leaders at a press conference

Anti-marriage equality organizations have formed the New Jersey Coalition to Preserve and Protect Marriage as LGBT advocates seek to legalize equal marriage rights. Once again, Catholics are on center stage as the debate over marriage equality intensifies in that state from both judicial and legislative angles.

The Coalition includes a handful of conservative organizations, as well as the Knights of Columbus State Council, the New Jersey Catholic Conference, and the National Organization for Marriage which has close Catholic ties. On Top Magazine reports Coalition members are already unleashing anti-gay remarks, with a Knights leader comparing marriage equality to polygamy and incest, as others have done in the past. As for alternatives, the Coalition echoes Governor Chris Christie in calling for a state referendum on the issue.

The anti-marriage equality effort is in response to a  judge’s September 27th court order that New Jersey issue marriage licenses to same-gender couples beginning October 21. Judge Mary Jacobson claimed same-gender couples would be denied equal protection under the law if the state continued with merely civil unions, as they would be unable to receive federal benefits in the wake of the US Supreme Court’s decisions in June.

Governor Chris Christie, a Catholic, has appealed the ruling to the state’s Supreme Court. With 2016 presidential aspirations, Christie has attempted to welcome LGBT rights in a broader sense and continue opposing marriage that would appeal to both moderates and Republicans respectively.

Judge Jacobson’s court order comes as the legislative side heats up as well. NJ.com reports on reactions from pro-equality leaders who continue working on passing a marriage law, even as legal battles remain:

“Advocacy groups and Democratic state officials reacted quickly, cheering Jacobson’s decision and urging Christie to let it stand unchallenged. And vowing to fight it if Christie did appeal…

“We have been saying it for months and it stands true today: through litigation or legislation, we will win the dignity of marriage this year,” said Troy Stevenson, executive director of Garden State Equality. “We just won the first round through litigation and we will continue to fight until we guarantee marriage for all New Jersey couples.”

“Udi Ofer, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, said a coalition of groups pushing for gay marriage would also keep pressing state lawmakers for an override of Christie’s gay-marriage veto last year. The Democratic-controlled Legislature is nearly a dozen votes shy of being able to overturn the veto.”

Nearly 40% of New Jersey’s population identifies as Catholic, meaning the voice of Catholics will matter in speaking out to legislators and voting in a referendum, if one emerges. New Jersey also offers a prime moment for the Catholic hierarchy, Knights of Columbus, and those anti-equality lay people to heed Pope Francis’ new words and stop obsessing over marriage when true injustices abound.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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