Missouri Lesbian Couple Denied Communion at Mother’s Funeral

February 1, 2014

Carol Parker and Josie Martin

Carol Parker and Josie Martin have been committed to one another for nearly two decades, but their love did not stop one priest from denying Parker Communion at her mother’s funeral last December.

The lesbian partners have attended St. Columban Catholic Church in Chillicothe, Missouri, for over a decade, but it was not until arrangements were being made for the funeral that Fr. Benjamin Kneib informed them they could not receive Communion. NewsPressNow reports:

” ‘It was a shock to hear him say that,’ Ms. Parker said. ‘I never expected that, especially at my mother’s funeral.’

“She added that at the funeral, most in attendance chose not to take Communion out of respect for her and Ms. Martin. Despite this show of solidarity, the women no longer feel welcome at the church and have begun visiting another an hour from their home.

” ‘That was our faith community. It really took away a lot of things for us…He (Father Kneib) would still like to see us there, but I don’t feel like I’m welcome if I can’t take part in the main focus of the Mass.’ “

Fr. Kneib wrote a letter on January 1st to Parker explaining why he denied the couple Communion, and he apologized the he did so at a moment like her mother’s funeral. For her part, Parker hopes the priest will:

” ‘…open his eyes and fully receive the LGBT community into the church.’

” ‘We’re all God’s children, and we have every right to receive Communion…Even the pope has said, “Who am I to judge?” ‘ “

This recent event is reminiscent of a 2012 incident when Barbara Johnson, a lesbian woman in Maryland, was denied Communion at her mother’s funeral. In that case, the priest was not only removed from ministry, but asked to leave the Archdiocese of Washington. Johnson, on the other hand, spoke about how the experience strengthened her faith and reminded Catholics that “All that matters is love.

Thurber_Final

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Communion denials are a very controversial issue, and though infrequent, are deeply harmful when they occur. It is helpful for all LGBT-positive Catholics to call to mind the words of a Rhode Island priest responding to inquiries after a gay couple there was denied Communion:

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

–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


Are LGBT Catholics At Home In the Church?

May 27, 2013
David Gibson of Religion News Service

This spring, several Catholic bishops made positive comments about LGBT people within Catholicism, including remarks by Cardinal Timothy Dolan on Easter and several Vatican officials endorsing civil unions.

In light of actions contradicting the welcoming message, David Gibson of Religion News Service poses an interesting question to several Catholics in recent headlines, “Can gay Catholics find a home in the Catholic Church?” He writes of the tensions:

“It’s still not clear what the second step [after Dolan's positive remarks] in this fraught process might be, or even if there is a second step. And there are signs that things may only get more complicated…

“Moreover, as Americans — and American Catholics — grow increasingly accepting of homosexuality, and as foes of gay rights grow increasingly determined, conflict at the parish level seems inevitable. The uneasy ‘Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell’ policy that once allowed gay and lesbian Catholics to take church positions is clashing with their increasing visibility in the form of marriage licenses or wedding announcements.”

Francis DeBernardo
Francis DeBernardo

Gibson details the firings of Nicholas Coppola and Carla Hale, while Bondings 2.0 has reported on these and several other cases in recent months that are making LGBT-Catholic relations strained. Gibson quotes Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, who questions how these actions fit with other Catholic principles about justice.

“’How just is it to fire someone whose life or practices are not in accord with official church teaching?’…

“’Where do you draw the line?…Do you get fired if you have remarried without an annulment? Do you get fired if you don’t attend Mass on Sunday regularly? Do you get fired because you are a Protestant who does not recognize the Catholic hierarchical structure?’”

Yet, not only are LGBT advocates within the Catholic Church worried, priests and others in ministry recognize the increasing frequency of these conflicts at local levels:

“’The fact is that it is going to get worse,’ said the pastor of a large Midwest parish who has had to fend off complaints about a lesbian member of his staff. As critics become more insistent, and as gay and lesbian Catholics become more public, he fears the resulting controversies will take a serious toll on the church.

“’We have to come to some kind of pastoral accommodation,’ he said.

Fr. Joe Muth

New Ways Ministry hosts a listing of gay-friendly parishes, which has grown to over 200 from just 20 a decade ago that are making pastoral accommodations. One parish with extensive experience doing LGBT ministry is St. Matthew’s in Baltimore, led by Fr. Joe Muth

“Gays and lesbians ‘just move into the regular life of the church’ at St. Matthew’s, Muth said, as he believes is perfectly normal.

“But he also said they are aware of the ‘sensitivity’ of their presence, so they have made a concerted effort to reach out to other groups in the parish, and the parish has also made sure to include one of Baltimore’s bishops in meetings.

“That dialogue has been invaluable, he said, and he has received few complaints or protests.”

Fr. Muth acknowledges that the framework is troubled, and limitations on engaging marriage equality or having LGBT ministers in public relations remain due to the bishops’ pressure. Gibson continues:

“In fact, the patchwork nature of the responses is part of the problem, say gay advocates. ‘It’s not that there is a witch hunt out there,’ said DeBernardo. ‘But there are witch hunters. … For the most part I don’t think bishops go after these folks. They don’t create controversy; they only respond to controversy.’

“At the moment, there are no guidelines to help pastors and parishioners deal with these issues, and there doesn’t seem to be an effort to develop anything comprehensive’…

“’Right now it’s a step-by-step process of helping people to be church,’ said Muth, of St. Matthew’s in Baltimore. ‘That’s the way I see it.’”

This piecemeal approach to solving the increasing number of parish conflicts does not seem sufficient to some, and leaves us asking LGBT Catholics, family, friends, and allies the very same question with which Gibson titled his article: Can gay Catholics find a home in the Catholic Church?

Share your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below about if it is possible, and how you remain Catholic.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


NYC Catholics Denied Entrance to Church Due To ‘Dirty Hands’

May 6, 2013
Charcoaled hands outside of St. Patrick's Cathedral

‘Dirty hands’ outside of St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Catholics in New York City held a public witness this past weekend objecting to recent comments made by Cardinal Dolan, who wrote that welcoming LGBT people into the Church is equivalent to asking someone to wash their dirty hands before dinner.

Advocates attempted to enter St. Patrick’s Cathedral for 10:15am Mass on Sunday with hands covered in charcoal, symbolically alluding to the cardinal’s statements about dirty hands.  The demonstrators were denied access by church security, and the NYC’ Police Department’s LGBT liaison informed them that only after washing their hands would they be allowed to enter.

One participant, Joseph Amodeo, wrote about his experiences in The Huffington Postand the pain the literal exclusion of those witnessing from Mass:

“Today, myself and others knocked at the door of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, but the door was not opened, rather it was slammed in our faces…until today, I have never been denied a seat at Christ’s table. In fact, today marks the first day that I have ever felt disowned, abandoned, and lost…

“In response to the Archdiocese’s threat of arrest, we opted to remain outside where we stood in silent vigil with our palms turned out facing toward the main doors of Cathedral…[that] doors closed as we stood outside seem now to capture well the chill that we felt from the Cathedral’s staff as well as the Cardinal. Our peaceful presence was responded to with a resounding ‘you are not welcome.’…

“As someone who was reared Roman Catholic from the moment of birth, I have always known the Church and its community of believers to be a place of welcome and affirmation…Today, this childhood experience of ‘church’ stands in stark contrast to the cold and heartless response of the Archdiocese of New York and Cardinal Dolan to our presence at the Cathedral earlier today.”

However, even with emotions raw and the rejection still present, Amodeo realizes that it is not those standing outside who are most challenged, but the clergy and staff inside:

“I realize now that it is not I who stands at this crossroad, but rather the Cardinal himself. He stands at point at which he can choose to see the inherent dignity present in all people or to follow a path laid with judgment and accusation.

“Today, I don’t stand at a crossroad, but rather I find myself standing at the threshold of a door. I and others are standing at the doorway to the Church knocking, seeking, and asking. By this action, I hope that the doors of the Cathedral will be opened to us not on a conditional basis, but rather with the understanding that we are all created in the image and likeness of God.”

A related action in Detroit occurred this same weekend, as parents of LGBT children witnessed outside archdiocesan offices after Archbishop Vigneron told supporters of LGBT equality to refrain from Communion. Clearly, more and more Catholics, LGBT and allies alike, are recognizing the problem is with those who would exclude, are also finding the energy to stand up and speak out. New Ways Ministry applauds both groups who witnessed this weekend.

For more photos of the event, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Bishop Gumbleton Preaches on Christ’s Radical Welcome for All

April 19, 2013
Bishop Thomas Gumbleton

Bishop Thomas Gumbleton

Responding to statements by Detroit’s Archbishop Allen Vigneron suggesting pro-marriage equality Catholics  refrain from  Communion, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton instead told Catholics last week, “Don’t stop coming to Communion.” He expanded that message of inclusivity in his weekly National Catholic Reporter column, “The Peace Pulpit,” and in an extensive interview with Democracy Now.

Writing in the National Catholic Reporter, Bishop Gumbleton reflected on last Sunday’s Gospel reading (John 21:1-19) and the implications for how we form a church after Jesus appears post-Resurrection to the disciples. He concludes that the church is a place where all, without condition or exception, are welcomed:

“As we go on in what happens on this occasion, we discover a couple of things about that mission. One is how it has to be totally inclusive. You don’t push anybody out of the community. You draw everybody in, until you have — in John’s Gospel, he often uses large numbers to make a point by exaggeration. Back when he changed water into wine, when Jesus did that, John said, ‘There were six jugs of water with thirty gallons of each,’ he’s making a point. Thirty gallons in six jugs, that’s a lot of wine, but they certainly didn’t drink it all on that occasion. John is simply making a point: there’s no limit to what God can do. So this occasion, when they’re fishing, the net is bulging with fish, bulging, but it doesn’t break. See, everybody can come in…

“It’s something we need to remember, that we’re not to push people away from the church. We’re supposed to draw them in. We want everyone to be part of this community of the disciples of Jesus.”

Bishop Gumbleton also notes the Gospel teaches us about community leadership and inclusivity:

“Again, I want to emphasize that the disciples were just learning this, how to be the community of disciples, how to be the church. There wasn’t a predetermined plan with institutional guidelines and laws developed and so on. No, none of that. They had to struggle to understand how to be the community of disciples of Jesus…

“But here, right at the beginning, it’s altogether different. It’s to be a leadership of love…

“That’s the kind of church we have to be working toward becoming part of — following that leadership of love, not a leadership of power and authority and penances and penalties and exclusions and so on, but a leadership that says love.

“Love is the only thing that really counts in this community of disciples of Jesus; love and leadership of the church throughout all the members of the church. The whole community would be a community of disciples who love one another and who proclaim that love to the world around us and who carry out the mission of Jesus by drawing all into this community of disciples.

“We establish the church by doing this promulgation of love wherever we go, not just by our words, but by our actions. When we become that kind of a church, from the Pope right through the whole community, then that’s when we’ll be a sign to the world that will draw the world to enter into the reign of God and bring fullness of God’s reign into reality — a reign of love, a reign that will be peace and justice for all.”

Bishop Gumbleton is a long-standing advocate for welcoming the LGBT community within the Catholic Church, and he spoke for nearly an hour with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now last week about many issues of justice, church reform, and his personal journey. Within that, Bishop Gumbleton noted the importance of conscience in the Church’s relationship with gay and lesbian individuals:

“No one can judge the conscience of any other person. And homosexual people have to deal with who they are, how they express intimacy and love. And I am sure, based on the teaching of the church, also that, before anything else, a person’s own individual conscience gives guidance to how that person must act, and no one can interfere with that. And that’s teaching that goes right back to the beginning of the church…That’s their conscience decision, and it’s between each person and God. And that’s church teaching. And so, how individuals deal with their homosexuality is something that we have to respect.”

In Bishop Gumbleton’s wisdom, a clear plan for clergy in reaching out to the LGBT community is available in this model of radical inclusivity. Cardinal Dolan recently remarked about the need for improved relations between the church and LGBT people. He would do well to listen his fellow bishop who preaches Christ’s radical inclusivity, the primacy of conscience, and most of all, love.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Barbara Johnson: “All That Matters Is Love”

March 20, 2012

“What matters…and all that matters…is love.”

Barbara Johnson arrives to the Symposium with Francis DeBernardo (All photos by Deborah Winarski)

Those words were spoken by Barbara Johnson, the Catholic lesbian woman who had been denied communion at her mother’s funeral, when she appeared  at New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium on St. Patrick’s Day last week. For many participants, Ms. Johnson’s visit was the highlight of the three-day event.

New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo introduced Ms. Johnson, pointing out how though she had been the victim of this liturgical abuse, she, because of her courage, strength, and faith, was also the main healer of many who experienced her pain vicariously.

Barbara and Ruth

After a brief talk to the assembled Symposium participants, Barbara was joined on the stage by her partner, Ruth, DeBernardo presented them with flowers and then led the Symposium participants in a blessing of the couple and of their family.

Excerpts from Barbara Johnson’s talks follow:

“The past several weeks have been extraordinary for me. One day my mother was fine and we were meeting to see the progress on the new house my partner and I are building, and the next day she was in ICU on a respirator after suffering full cardiac arrest.

“After weeks of slow improvement, my partner and I shared a beautiful evening with her and the next day…she lay dying in another ICU bed.

“It’s been difficult to wrap my mind around just these events. But then… No, I don’t want to tell you the story of the woman who was denied communion at her mother’s funeral. As my mom would say, “For heaven’s sake,” you’ve heard or read it enough!

“What I want to share with you today is the story of a daughter, a lesbian daughter, who felt her mother’s love and acceptance deeply.

“I remember when I first came out and my mom was not happy. Each year at the gay pride parade I would stand and applaud those PFLAG moms and dads for their courage and their compassion. And I would pray that one day my mom and dad would walk beside me in that contingent.

“As I got older, I stopped needing parades. And what I got was even better. I got a life where my mother and father adored my life partner. I got a life where my parents walked me down the aisle at our (not so legal) wedding. I got a life where, on our last happy time together, I thanked my mom for accepting and embracing me and for loving my partner so much…and her response was to pat Ruth on the leg as she looked her in the eye with the most beautiful smile and said, ‘I wouldn’t have it any other way…right?’ ”

Ruth, Barbara, and Francis during the communal blessing.

“It is my mother’s love, compassion, and willingness to stand up for what is right that you see standing before you today.

“You see Midge and Dick Johnson’s youngest daughter who is deeply heartbroken that her parents are no longer on this earth with her and her family.

“You see this daughter who wound up in a whirlwind of media spectacle. You see this daughter who was placed in a state of grace by none other than her beloved mother. For there is no more amazing state of grace than the one I was honored to receive as my mother allowed me to witness her passing from this life and into the dancing arms of my dad.

“Some people have said, ‘How have you done this? How have you maintained your grace and composure during all this?’

“On one level, once you’ve been present at your mother’s dying, nothing else seems to really matter.

“But on the deeper level, I was witness to one of the holiest moments in life. I was present as my mother gently left her body to become spirit. I was given a spiritual gift that night. And I was transformed by the peace I felt in her peace. There is no more fear for me. There is only transformation.

“I admit that my initial response to the ‘events’ was to say that I would never return to the Church. And that’s where each of you, and so many more Catholics and people of many faiths come in.

Cathy Burke, Dwayne Fernandes, and Cynthia Nordone participate in the blessing of Barbara and Ruth.

“I received such an amazing outpouring from so many people of so many faiths, that I couldn’t help but see the error in those thoughts. I couldn’t help but see the love all around me.

“What matters…and all that matters…is love. The love that you, and so many others have shown me during my darkest hours, has been uplifting and healing. . . .

“My mother loved the Catholic Church. I would ask that each of us dedicate some piece of our future work to her and her love of what is good and holy in the Catholic faith and all faiths. She was a mighty, mighty woman. She was a hard worker, she loved a good party, and she loved her family. . . .

“I join you in celebration of St Patrick and offer you my thanks and deep gratitude for being part of my family of the faithful.”

–Francis DeBernardo,  New Ways Ministry


Lesbian Denied Communion Explains How Her Faith Has Been Strengthened

March 4, 2012

Barbara Johnson

Barbara Johnson’s story about how she was denied communion at her mother’s funeral because of her lesbian relationship has struck a nerve with Catholics–and so many other people–across the country and around the globe.  She is emerging not as a victim, however, but as a woman of faith who wants to contribute to the life of the church.

In an interview with CNN, Ms Johnson spoke of the pain of the incident, of how they want the priest removed from ministry so that no other family experiences the same pain, and that the incident has actually strengthened her faith:

“My family are very appreciate of all of the outreach we’ve received. However, we believe the only reason to be talking about this still is because we would not want any other family to go through what was the worst experience on the very worst day of all of our lives…we feel that it is important that Father Marcel is removed from parish life. . . .”

“My immediate response to this whole incident was anger and upset, and my first thought was that I would never return to the church. In the days that followed, through a lot of prayer and an outpouring of support and love from many devout Catholics and the clergy themselves its actually strengthened my faith in the Church itself.”

(You can watch the interview on CNN’s website by clicking here.)

Ms. Johnson’s statements are a testimony to how the power of the church defined as the People of God can work miracles of healing for those abused by leaders.

As evidence of the international interest in this incident, QueeringTheChurch.com, a British Catholic LGBT blog, has already reported twice about it: the first post reports the incident; the second post offers analysis and reflection.

In a Windy City Times article, Chuck Colbert reports on the messages and significance that this incident has for the church. He quotes New Ways Ministry’s Francis DeBernardo:

“What it tells me is there has to be a lot better pastoral training of priests, particularly on gay and lesbian issues.”

Colbert also cites Mary Hunt, co-founder and co-director of the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER), who stated:

“The Eucharist is a sacrament, not a political football. . . .This terrible abuse of one family at a time of great pastoral need is but a snapshot of anti-LGBTQ theology in action. It is outdated, outmoded, and outrageous.”

In an op-ed, on the Washington Post’s “On Faith” blog, DignityUSA’s Marianne Duddy-Burke highlights the growing pastoral crisis that this incident might pre-figure:

“The reality is that this could happen to almost any one of us, given the escalating conflicts between pastoral care and the demand for adherence to a handful of socially conservative aspects of doctrine being played out in Catholic churches across the country. Whether we Catholics use birth control, have remarried after a divorce, believe that women are qualified for official ministry, or support lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender equality, most of us hold several views that contradict official Roman Catholic teaching. Could any of us be the next Barbara Johnson?”

LezGetReal.com has posted the response of Joe Murray of the Rainbow Sash Movement,which concludes:

“The present climate of hostility to everything LGBT in the Catholic Church I fear has only encouraged this priest to take this course of action. I fear the example set by US Catholic Bishops in their open hostility to the Gay and Lesbian Community has led this priest to believe he is just following orders.”

Bondings 2.0 has already reported on this incident twice: 1) calling for Catholics to write to the Archdiocese of Washington; and 2) asking readers if and how they find any hope from this incident.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


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