Italian Transgender Relationship Tests Church and State Definitions of Marriage

June 21, 2014

A transgender marriage case in Italy may be paving the way for that nation to legalize civil unions, despite the powerful opposition of the Catholic hierarchy there to such an action.

The second Alessandra Bernaroli

The Daily Beast reported recently that 20 years ago, Alessandro Bernaroli married his wife, Alessandra, though he knew that he had gender questions about himself.   Alessandra supported her spouse’s decision to go through gender reassignment surgery, and the couple decided to stay together after Alessandro began to identify also as Alessandra.  Despite their love, the two Alessandras ran into some legal problems, but not for wrong.  The Daily Beast  explains:

“When Bernaroli officially changed her name and gender when she renewed her identity card, the Bologna court annulled the marriage. The couple appealed the unwanted divorce and lost again, but now Italy’s high court overturned the ruling, allowing them to stay married.”

So, though civil unions are still not legal in Italy, the Bernarolis, who live in Bologna, are still legally united.   More importantly, though the debate about civil unions had not moved forward, the Italian court, in their decision about the case, asked Italian legislators to make some accommodations for same-gender couples:

“In its ruling last week, the high court said it was aiming to balance ‘the State’s interest in not changing the model of heterosexual marriage with the interest of the couple where one of the two components changes sex.’ The court also asked Italian lawmakers to explore an ‘alternative’ form of marriage to accommodate such same-sex couples.”

In Italy, the Catholic hierarchy has been one of the strongest opponents to civil unions.  However, the church has not annulled the Bernarolis’ marriage. The reason, though, is not because they recognize this as a same-gender relationship, but because they do not recognize gender re-assignment, so they still consider one of the partners to be male.

The Bernarolis are optimistic, though, because of Pope Francis’ more welcoming approach to same-gender couples:

“.  .  . [T]he Alessandras now hope that Pope Francis will use their historic case to preach acceptance and maybe one day recognize same-sex unions. ‘The Catholic Church has said that our marriage is still valid,’ Bernaroli said after the high court’s ruling. ‘We want to make an appeal to all Catholics to go out in the streets to defend the rights of the family, of our family. And also make an appeal to the pope, who seems so open and innovative, because he listens to so many people in trouble, the poor, the discriminated against. Why not call us, too?’ “

Some may find this arrangement unusual, but it is not as uncommon as one might think.  For example, for those who attended either New Ways Ministry’s 2012 National Symposium in Baltimore, or either one of our two transgender workshops this past year, they would have heard from Hilary Howes, a Catholic transgender woman, whose previously heterosexual marriage to her wife, Celestine, remained solid when Hilary transitioned.

You can read about Hilary’s journey and her relationship with Celestine in More than a Monologue: Sexual Diversity and the Catholic Churchpublished this year by Fordham University Press.

Not all marriages that involve a gender transition remain intact, but some do.  For the Bernarolis, like Hilary and Celestine, there was some initial concern and questioning, but upon reflection, both couples found that their love was as strong as ever:

“ ‘It’s obvious that some things have changed in our marriage,’ Bernaroli’s wife told the court. ‘But she is still the same person I married. We share the same ideals, and that’s what counts when you share a life together. We have survived because we have a strong love connection.’ ”

The news site Gayapolis.com had a fitting commentary on this case which serves as a good closing message:

“It’s rare that the fight for transgender rights advances ahead of the fight for marriage equality. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if this case helped bring about both?”

 

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

PinkNews.com: “Italian trans woman fights for right to remain in same-sex marriage”


Do Bishops or Politicians Know More About Catholics and LGBT Issues?

May 21, 2014

A couple in Malta celebrates new national progress on LGBT equality.

Recent news out of Malta concerning Catholics and sexuality/gender issues seems to contradict information released by the nation’s Catholic bishops about the opinions of Catholics there on marriage and family topics.

This tiny, heavily-Catholic island nation has witnessed some important progressive political developments lately in terms of LGBT issues and Catholicism, yet the bishops report seems to indicate that Catholics are satisfied with traditional church teaching in these arenas.

Last month, we reported that this country approved civil unions for lesbian and gay couples, including the right to adopt, though the Catholic bishops there strongly opposed the measure.   Furthermore, Malta also made history in the area of transgender equality by becoming the first nation in Europe to protect transgender people in a constitution.  Malta Today reported:

“Malta has become the first European state to have gender identity in its constitution following the proposed amendment that was approved yesterday evening in parliament.”

Yet, according to data released recently by the Maltese Catholic bishops, the Catholic community in this country responded in a very traditional way to the survey about marriage and family issues in anticipation of the upcoming world synod on these topics.  According to The National Catholic Reporter here are some of the results:

  • Nearly 50 percent of Maltese accept and live by the church’s teaching on birth control, and nearly 20 percent said they ignored the church’s teaching on birth control.
  • 62.5 percent agreed that marriage is the indissoluble union between a man and a woman that has children as a goal; 3.8 percent disagreed with this statement and 5.8 percent was unsure; 25.4 percent didn’t answer.
  • 43 percent said not allowing divorced and remarried couples to receive the sacraments was a cause of pain, and 14.7 percent said they have felt this pain; 17.2 percent said divorced or remarried couples should be allowed to receive Communion.

The Maltese survey statistics are one of the few sets of data that bishops around the globe have released that show that Catholics in the pews seem to support church teaching.  Almost every other set showed great dissatisfaction by the laity in the areas of teaching about marriage and family.  (For more information about other survey results, click on the “Synod 2014″ link under the “Categories” heading in the column at the right of this page.)

So what can count for this difference between political reality in this nation which is 98% Catholic and the responses given to the survey by Catholics?  Perhaps the bishops did not get a random sample of Catholics responding to their questionnaire.  Perhaps people responded in a “false positive” sort of way because they did not want to appear to be dissenting from church teaching.  Perhaps people are happy for their government to be more progressive about marriage and sexuality, but they do not want their church to be so.

So, while the news report noted that the Maltese bishops were “surprised but reassured by the findings of the survey,” perhaps they need to do some serious soul-searching.  One other possibility for the discrepancy highlights a possible serious pastoral problem.  Perhaps many of the nation’s Catholics are disaffected or alienated from the church, and did not receive the survey.   

This possibility raises an important concern for bishops not only in Malta, but worldwide. As they gather for the synod, they need to take into account not only the opinions of Catholics in the pews, but also those who have left the pews because they found church teachings on marriage and family life not consistent with what their consciences were telling them.

Malta had a powerful glimmer of hope in this regard this past week. Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna, who was the prominent spokesperson for the hierarchy’s opposition to the civil unions bill, took a more reconciliatory step by meeting with members of Drachma, the Catholic LGBT group in Malta.

Pink News reported that Scicluna took part in an event for the International Day Against Homophobia, which was celebrated world-wide on May 17th.   The bishop, who during the civil unions debate had declared such recognition as a “grave moral act” was not the only Maltese Catholic leader who showed up for the event.  Pink News reported:

“Bishop Scicluna along with a number of other priests were joined by dignitaries from Maltese political parties in support of Drachma and their work with LGBT people.”

Such a gesture of reconciliation with the LGBT community is very much in line with what Jesuit Father James Martin called for in a recent article in America magazine.   More gestures of outreach and reconciliation are needed in our church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


NEWS NOTES: April 17, 2014

April 17, 2014

NewsHere are some items that you might find of interest:

1) The Catholic island nation of Malta passed legislation approving civil unions for same-gender couples, according to Gay Star News.  Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna, a Maltese Catholic bishop, who had at one time spoke favorably about same-gender relationships, was one of the prime spokesperson’s for the local Catholic hierarchy opposing the new law.

2) Catholics in Spain are strongly in support of that nation’s marriage equality law, which was enacted in 2005, according to a new survey.  West-Info.eu  reported on the survey which also noted that in two Catholic nations where same-gender marriage is not legal, the majority of believers oppose such a policy:  in Italy, 66%;  in Poland, 78%.

Mother Teresa

3) Mother Teresa is featured on the website for the United Nations’ Free and Equal program which supports non-discrimination for LGBT people around the globe.  When one clicks on her image on the homepage, one is brought to a photo of Mother Teresa under the headline “Mother Teresa Helps Us to Remember What’s Important.”   Superimposed over her photo is a quote from the universally-revered champion of the poor:  “What can you do to promote world peace?  Go home and love your family.”  The photo with the quotation can be shared on Facebook and other social media platforms.

4) The National Catholic Reporter noted that the Vatican has appointed a bishop to investigate the sexual abuse allegations against Cardinal Keith O’Brien, formerly the primate of Scotland, who resigned last year when he acknowledged sexual liaisons with men who became priests in his diocese.  O’Brien made headlines for speaking out strongly against marriage equality in Scotland.  The bishop who will be leading the investigation is Maltese Bishop Charles Scicluna, mentioned in the first news note above.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Did Pope Francis Support Same-Sex Civil Unions?

March 6, 2014

Pope Francis

Pope Francis made headlines once again with another interview which has people around the globe hoping for possible change in the Catholic hierarchy’s position about lesbian and gay relationships.  But, did his words really offer such hope?

Corriere della Seraa major Italian daily, published the interview, which focused primarily on sex abuse, women, and contraception.  Yet the pope did mention the idea of civil unions in answer to a question by the interviewer, Ferruccio deBortoli, the news paper’s editor in chief.  Here is Zenit’s English translation of that section:

Editor:  Many countries have regulated civil unions. Is it a path that the Church can understand? But up to what point?

Holy Father: Marriage is between one man and one woman. The secular States want to justify civil unions to regulate different situations of coexistence, spurred by the need to regulate economic aspects between persons as, for instance, to ensure healthcare. Each case must be looked at and evaluated in its diversity.”

Some journalists and bloggers have reported on this statement as a ringing endorsement of civil unions.  For example, The Huffington Post reported the story:

“Pope Francis has signalled that he could see the Catholic church tolerating some forms of same-sex civil unions — though not marriage — when it comes to situations such as medical care and property for gay couples.”

And Catholic News Service stated:

“Bishops around the world have differed in their responses to civil recognition of nonmarital unions. The president of the Pontifical Council for the Family said in February 2013 that some legal arrangements are justifiable to protect the inheritance rights of nonmarried couples. But until now, no pope has indicated even tentative acceptance of civil unions.”

While true that no pope has made such a statement, further information indicates that he was not referring to same-sex civil unions.  CNN reported that the Vatican press office provided additional information which indicates that the pope was not referring to same-sex couples:

“Later on Wednesday, a Vatican spokesman sought to clarify the Pope’s remarks.

” ‘The Pope did not choose to enter into debates about the delicate matter of gay civil unions,’ said the Rev. Thomas Rosica, a consultant to the Vatican press office.

” ‘In his response to the interviewer, he emphasized the natural characteristic of marriage between one man and one woman, and on the other hand, he also spoke about the obligation of the state to fulfill its responsibilities towards its citizens.’

” ‘We should not try to read more into the Pope’s words than what has been stated in very general terms,’ Rosica added.”

Rosica also noted:

“By responding in this way, Pope Francis spoke in very general terms, and did not specifically refer to same-sex marriage as a civil union. Pope Francis simply stated the issues and did not interfere with positions held by Episcopal Conferences in various countries dealing with the question of civil unions and same sex marriage.”

While I don’t always trust “clarifications” made later by spokespeople, in this case, there was a certain amount of ambiguity in the original remarks that warrant such a follow-up. First, since the pope prefaced his comments about civil unions with a statement supporting matrimony as a heterosexual institution.  So, it can seem that his support for civil unions was a support for same-sex couples.

Second, as an email correspondent has informed me, the Italian term the pope used, “unioni civili” refers to “people who are married by the state, outside of a religious context,” not to same-sex partnerships.

While I would be delighted if the pope expressed support for same-sex civil unions (and marriage, for that matter!), I’m not sure that he has done that in this interview.  As has been noted before, he did support civil unions for same-sex couples when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires.  Many other bishops, cardinals, and Vatican officials have also expressed support for same-sex civil unions over the past year or so.

Pope Francis certainly has gone further than any previous pope in trying to be positive towards people whose relationships are outside of the traditional heterosexual, nuclear family model, and he is to be commended for that.  More importantly, even though he did not offer a ringing endorsement of same-sex relationships, at least he is not spouting condemnatory tirades against them as his two previous predecessors did.   His refreshing new attitude still offers great hope for possibility and change in the future.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

dotCommonweal:  Francis Hints About Same-Sex Civil Unions

Slate.comDoes Pope Francis Support Gay Civil Unions?

National Catholic Reporter: Francis marks anniversary with interview on sex abuse, women, contraception

QueeringTheChurch.com:  Pope Francis Has NOT “Supported” Civil Unions – but Catholic Thinking Continues to Evolve

Advocate.com: Pope Francis Says Church Must Examine Civil Unions

Sydney Morning Herald: Pope Francis hints at Catholic Church rethink on gay civil unions

 


Being Gay is a Gift the Lord Gave Us, Says Malta’s LGBT Community

January 11, 2014

Parents of LGBT children in Malta publicly criticized Bishop Charles Scicluna for the latest in a string of anti-civil unions remarks by the bishop as Maltese residents debate a law to recognize such unions in this heavily Catholic nation. Similarly, an organization of LGBT Catholics on the island released its own statement defending the civil unions bill.

Drachma Parents, an organization which assists parents who have trouble accepting their gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender children, released a statement to the Times of Malta on Monday. The parents noted their sadness that Scicluna would use harmful language about LGBT people, stating:

” ‘We are very sad. We are sad that it had to come to this. Because we believe that all persons are children of God and we feel sad because we respect the Church.’ …

” ‘He resorted to mentioning the Pope – to have the Pope shoved in your face in situations like this, is sad.’ “

The bishop warned Catholic members of parliament that voting in favor of a civil unions bill currently being debated would be a “a gravely immoral act,” and has previously said Pope Francis was “shocked” at the idea of same-gender couples adopting. Undeterred, Drachma, which supports LGBT people and is a sister group to Drachma Parents, released its own statement endorsing equal legal rights for same-gender partners. Speaking as faithful Catholics, Drachma’s statement says, in part:

” We were part of the consultative council that drafted this law and we agree with civil unions and gay adoptions”…

“We were not really astonished by Scicluna’s comments: he was reproducing the teachings of the Church. And even Pope Francis never formally went against the teachings of the Church – more than the content, he changed the tone”…

“Homosexuality, [Drachma's spokesman] said, is not a curse. ‘It’s a gift which the Lord gave us so that we can contribute to the Church in a different manner.’

“MPs should take a decision based on what is best for the country based on facts. ‘Homosexual couples are already living together and children are already living with homosexual parents, so this is not a new structure, this is regularising their position to protect the rights of children.’ “

Civil unions may soon be legal in Malta, and Bishop Scicluna would do well to listen to Drachma Parents and Drachma who simply want to be part of the Church with every member of their family’s dignity equally respected.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


NEWS NOTES: October 30, 2013

October 30, 2013

News NotesHere are some items that you might find of interest:

1)  The Tablet reported that Australian former priest Greg Reynolds, whose support for same-sex marriage was reported to have been part of the reason that the Vatican laicised and and excommunicated him, has revealed that the main reason for these actions was because of an incident where a piece of host was given to a dog as part of a liturgical service at the “Inclusive Catholics” community that Reynolds established after he resigned the priesthood in May 2011.

2) The ministry and mission of Dignity/San Antonio was profiled on MySanAntonio.com.   Members from this Texas chapter of DignityUSA, a national organization for LGBT Catholics, are reported as being cautiously hopeful about Pope Francis’ recent positive comments about lesbian and gay people.  “Personally, I felt encouraged by it. I think we’re all hopeful because it’s a significant change in tone,” said Chris, a gay man and Dignity leader. “But we’re also not naïve to think it represented substantive change.”

3)  A priest in Worcester, Massachusetts, who this past summer cut parish ties to the Worcester Art Museum because they started renting their facility for same-sex wedding ceremonies, has  admitted to embezzling almost a quarter of a million dollars from his parish and school, reported Justice For All.

4)  The Catholic hierarchy and conservative politicians in Peru, a heavily Catholic nation, are opposing a recently introduced national bill to establish civil unions for lesbian and gay couples, reported HispanicallySpeakingNews.com.  The bill will be debated by the nation’s congress in March of next year.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Malta Bishop Apologizes to Lesbian and Gay People While Opposing Civil Unions’ Bill

October 28, 2013

Bishop Charles Scicluna

A Catholic bishop from Malta made a surprising statement on a popular television talk show in that country when he apologized over the airways for the hurt that Catholic leaders have caused lesbian and gay people.

Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna appeared on “Xarabank,” hosted by Peppi Azzopardi, to discuss that nation’s civil unions bill, which the Catholics bishop there oppose, in part because it would allow lesbian and gay couples to adopt children.  The Malta Independent reported on the bishop’s words, which were in response to comments from gay couples who were guests on the show who :

“The bishop was confronted by gay couples who refuse to understand why the Church continues to make obstacles for them to have same rights as heterosexual couples.

“Scicluna did not mince his words and, while holding his ground on the teachings of the Church that marriage should be exclusive to the union between men and women, he made a historical statement by asking the gay community for forgiveness for each time those representing the Church made their (gays) life miserable and harder.”

His apology received applause from the gay guests and the studio audience.  Bishop Scicluna’s apology, while a good step, is not to be confused with strong support for lesbian and gay people.  Just last week, he published a letter opposing the civil unions bill in The Times of Malta  In the letter, he stated:

“In a nutshell marriage is for the family. It is not simply a socially recognised partnership. The proposed bill intends to put all this behind us in the name of the asserted equality of same sex (homosexual) couples to couples of different sex (heterosexual) couples.

“This asserted equality is a no-brainer when we deal with human dignity and the right to freedom from unjust discrimination. It does not stand the test of logic when it comes to the openness to the gift of parenthood.”

You can watch a video of the apology below, however the bishop and the others speak in Maltese.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TeTJzfGUdc0

This is not the first time that Bishop Scicluna has made headlines with statements critical of a doctrinaire approach to lesbian and gay people.  In February of this year, he criticized a public letter by a Catholic man who said that lesbian and gay people can only experience lust, and not love.  Scicluna refuted the letter writer, saying that was not the teaching of the church.

Bondings 2.0 recently questioned the Maltese bishops’ opposition to the civil unions bill because they did so by quoting Pope Francis’ call for a more open attitude towards lesbian and gay people, which seemed somewhat incongruous.

The question this newer story raises is: can an apology be sincere when the bishop opposes legalizing civil unions for lesbian and gay couples?   Can someone authentically hold these two positions?    Post your thoughts in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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