Baltimore Parish Deserves Praise, Not Accusation, for Pride Month Celebration

June 24, 2014

I generally don’t like to criticize other bloggers, but when a gay-friendly Catholic parish has been wrongly accused of anti-LGBT behavior, I think it is important to set the record straight (so to speak). Such is the case with a blog post by John Becker, who writes at The Bilerico Project.  I often find Mr. Becker’s commentaries challenging and thought-provoking, but in a recent post, he oversteps the mark by making a claim that needs to be corrected.

Becker’s June 17th post is entitled “Catholic Church’s ‘Pride’ Event Smells Like False Advertising.”  In it he creates suspicion that the LGBT outreach ministry at St. Ignatius parish, Baltimore, may not be as welcoming as it makes itself out to be.

Becker became aware of an event advertisement on the Archdiocese of Baltimore website that stated:

“Embracing God’s Gifts, St. Ignatius’ Gay & Lesbian ministry, is inviting you to join us on Friday, June 13th at 7 PM in the Chapel of Grace, where we will give thanks to God for the gift of family. Through music, readings, prayer and a spirit of gratitude, we will gather to celebrate being members of God’s family. Please contact Gordon Creamer… if you are interested in participating in the planning process. All are welcome and please bring a friend! A light Reception will follow in Ignatian Hall.”

Becker noted that a link on the site led to a page which included the following description of the parish ministry:

“As members of the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church, we are called to celebrate and share the gifts of diversity of sexuality in our church today. Our organization, Embracing God’s Gifts, has been formed as an instrument for recognizing these gifts and incorporating their goodness and use into the life of our parish. Our mission is to create opportunities for the spiritual enrichment, support and inclusion of all diverse individuals, while being informed by church teaching, and to promote awareness and community building among them. We will accomplish this through a variety of endeavors that foster support, communication and social activities. We invite all to participate in this group with open-mindedness and compassion.”

These two announcements aroused Becker’s suspicion, particularly the phrase about “church teaching.”  He stated:

“Now I realize that the flyer says the group is informed by church teaching, not that it necessarily upholds it. I contacted Gordon Creamer, the aforementioned Embracing God’s Gifts organizer at St. Ignatius Parish, and left a message asking him what exactly the program tells gay and lesbian Catholics about themselves and their sexuality. I also asked whether it has any affiliation with Courage, the Catholic ‘ministry that uses a 12-step program similar to Alcoholics Anonymous to encourage LGB Catholics to suppress their sexuality and live totally celibate lives. If Creamer responds, I’ll let you know.

My skepticism, however, is further reinforced by the fact that this so-called ‘Pride’ event was advertised on the archdiocesan website. The head of the Baltimore Archdiocese is none other than William Lori, a high-profile opponent of marriage equality who has spoken at events sponsored by the Family Research Council anti-gay hate group and chairs the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. If his name looks familiar it’s because he’s the prelate who said, just last week, that the American bishops would fight same-sex marriage for generations, if necessary.”

I can understand Becker’s surprise and confusion, especially since  he wasn’t able to be in touch with Gordon Creamer, who leads St. Ignatius’ LGBT ministry.  I wish Becker would have postponed writing about the announcement until he did learn more about the ministry.  The parish has long been a welcoming and accepting home for LGBT people in Baltimore. Run by the Jesuits, they hosted a Dignity chapter there for many years, even after Dignity chapters had been expelled from Catholic property in most other dioceses.

Gordon Creamer

Gordon Creamer is an excellent minister and someone who has taken many courageous steps to reach out to LGBT people to let them know that there are segments in the Catholic Church that welcome and affirm them.

Becker’s comparison of Creamer’s ministry to Courage is totally wrong.  That is not what St. Ignatius’ parish ministry is about.  Courage views a gay or lesbian orientation as a defect. Nothing about the Courage model of ministry would include “Embracing Our Gifts,” as St. Ignatius identifies its ministry.  Moreover, I don’t know of any parish ministry that uses the Courage model as a form of outreach, unless, of course, it is a parish that explicitly advertises itself as such.  Finally, no Courage group would mask one of their events as a Pride activity, even surreptitiously.

Becker was not the only blogger who was suspicious of this announcement. Joe Jervis at “Joe. My. God.”  pondered:

“There’s no mention of celibacy or ‘ex-gay’ therapy at either of the two links above, but it’s entirely possible that either or both are part of the ministry at St. Ignatius.”

I acknowledge that Archbishop Lori has a strong record of opposing marriage equality on both the local and national levels, and so seeing an event advertised on the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s website might cause one to raise an eyebrow.   But, again, further digging would have revealed what I have learned from many Catholic LGBT advocates in Baltimore:  that Archbishop Lori seems to be open to pastoral ministry that integrates LGBT people into the parish community.

The fact that Gordon Creamer and the St. Ignatius community were able to have this event advertised on the archdiocesan website is a sign of a major step forward that needs to be celebrated, not an indication of pastoral deceit lying in wait.

I sympathize somewhat with Becker’s befuddlement.  Catholic leaders have for so long been so opposed to positive LGBT initiatives that it is difficult for  us to change our expectations when something good actually does happen.  Witness the incredulity that many people experience with the positive statements Pope Francis has made.   Unfortunately, it’s a sad commentary that so many people think that Catholic=anti-gay.  Understandable, but sad.  And it’s an image that we must work hard to correct.

Indeed, the untold story for decades now is that Catholic parishes across the U.S. have been welcoming LGBT people and benefiting from their presence in the faith community.   Few journalists and political LGBT advocates are aware of this quiet growth on the grassroots level of the church.   I often tell people that one of the greatest joys of my work at New Ways Ministry has been that I have been privileged to witness and experience the courageous work of so many Catholic pastoral ministers and communities as they affirm and advocate for LGBT people and their families.

You can see the varied communities who do this outreach by checking out New Ways Ministry’s list of gay-friendly Catholic parishes.  If you know of any other parishes that pro-actively welcome LGBT people, please let us know about them through the “Comments” section of this post.

So, let’s say a “Hallelujah!” for the sign of  progress that the archdiocesan website announcement indicates.  And let’s say a prayer of thanksgiving for people like Gordon Creamer and the St. Ignatius community who do the important and courageous day-to-day outreach to LGBT people to let them know that God, and their faith community, loves them.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


Courage Workshops Face Protests in Detroit and Santa Rosa

March 21, 2014

Catholics protest the Courage workshops at Sacred Heart Seminary, Detroit.

Catholics in Detroit braved the cold to protest Courage International’s presence at a local seminary, where the controversial ministry was offering seminars to discuss its view of homosexuality with priests, seminarians, and pastoral ministers. This protest is yet another incident where Catholics stood up for LGBT inclusion in the Church against Courage, which also drew criticism in Santa Rosa, California, recently from both conservative and progressive Catholics.

Courage was invited by the Archdiocese of Detroit to offer two seminars at the archdiocese’s Sacred Heart Seminary, according to the Detroit Free Press. About two hundred people came to hear about Courage’s 12-step style program for gay and lesbian people to live celibate lives.

Outside the seminary, Catholics witnessed against Courage’s harmful ministry and advocated for LGBT inclusion in the Church. PrideSource reports:

“When Tom Nelson and Linda Karle-Nelson learned that Sacred Heart . . . in Detroit was holding classes on how to minister to potential LGBT members of congregations by asking that they be celibate, the couple knew they had to do something. They rallied supporters through various inclusive faith-based organizations and held a prayer vigil in front of the church. The Nelsons also went inside for the class.

“Friday was for clergy and Saturday was for parents, educators and therapists,’ Karle-Nelson said. ‘We had 20-25 people each day doing a peaceful prayer out front. We had very positive signs and a very positive message “standing on the side of love.” ‘…

“[Nelson said,] ‘The reason Linda and I go to these things is because it is important. In our work with PFLAG and Fortunate Families we see the consequences first-hand. They are blind to how it affects LGBT people when they judge and discriminate.’

” ‘We see broken families. We see kids that are close to suicide and in depression. We see families that are torn apart. A large number of homosexual people do not come out of the closet.’ “

The Nelsons said that the seminar included psychologists telling participants that homosexuality was not natural, but the result of childhood trauma or bad parents. Karle-Nelson told the Detroit Free Press that Courage’s position demands lesbian and gay people deny who they really are. She believes these seminars were really an effort to build anti-marriage equality support in the Archdiocese if this issue arises in Michigan. The Nelsons were previously awarded for their advocacy as Catholic parents of LGBT children, and have helped lead protests in the past when the Archdiocese has failed the LGBT community.

Meanwhile, conservative Catholic media criticized Courage for hosting Joseph Sciambra at a program in Santa Rosa, California. Sciambra is a former gay pornography actor who no longer identifies as gay and endorses what many believe is a a form of ‘reparative therapy.’ According to The Press Democrat, he has said being gay is “tantamount to imprisonment of the soul within the disorder” and that certain gay sexual activities release “into the world these rare demonic entities.” Conservative voices criticized Courage for hosting someone formerly involved in the pornography industry. The news report on the program also contained local progressive Catholics who objected to the Courage approach.

In both Detroit and Santa Rosa, the Catholics standing for LGBT people’s dignity would likely the words of Tom Zerafa, who was part of the protests in Detroit and told The Times Herald:

“I’m out here this week on behalf of the GLBT community. Our relationships are valid. Our relationships are full, they’re life-giving, they’re affirming. Our sexuality is a gift of God and it should not be tampered with. Our sexuality is also not just a gift from God, but it’s a way that we give back our lives to God and to humanity.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Was Banning the Legion of Mary the Best Possible Response to Their Anti-Gay Message?

December 7, 2013

National University in Galway, Ireland

A state-run university in Ireland has banned a campus chapter of the Legion of Mary from the school after the group posted posters inviting students to become part of the Courage movement, a Catholic ministry to lesbian and gay people which promotes chastity and has been known in some instances to promote reparative therapy to attempt to “change” a person’s sexual orientation.

Officials from the National University in Galway said they made their decision because of the school’s “pluralist ethos” and its policy of “protecting the liberty and equality of all students and does not condone such behaviour” according to The Journal.ie.

RTE.ie reported that the poster’s message invited students with ” ‘same sex attractions’ to ‘develop an interior life of chastity … to move beyond the confines of the homosexual label to a more complete identity in Christ.’ “

The Guardian news report offered some background as to why the university came to its decision:

“The university said it had reviewed the actions of the society in the context of the college’s code of conduct and policies governing harassment. It said this led to the immediate suspension of the Legion of Mary, which is understood to have only a few members in its college society.

“The societies chairperson at the university, Patrick O’Flaherty, said he had been contacted by a number [70] of students who were upset or felt threatened by the content of the poster.

“In a statement, the university said it would not condone the production and dissemination of any material by students that discriminated against other students.”

The Legion of Mary’s response to the university’s action is curious.  On one hand, according to RTE.ie:

“Representatives of the Legion did not respond to an invitation to attend a meeting to consider the issue.”

Yet, on the other hand, the same news story reported:

“However, after the suspension was imposed, a committee member did write to the group apologising for any distress that had been caused.

“She said the content on the document had been taken directly from a website. It was not aimed at attacking any person or group of people and was not intended to hurt or offend.”

Yet, the group also had a bit of a rocky history in regard to its application to become a recognized society on campus, according to RTE.ie:

“The group had applied for status as a college society in September of this year and at one point had around 100 members.

“As part of the application to become a fully-fledged society, its committee was asked to provide information as to its aims and objectives.

“This did not happen. Concerns about the lack of clarification contributed to the decision to suspend the society.”

London’s Telegraph newspaper published an essay on this controversy by Padraig Reidy, a senior writer at the Index on Censorship. While Reidy is not sympathetic with the Legion of Mary’s views on homosexuality, he defends their right to express their views on a campus.  He wrote:

“. . . [W]e are in a curious position where a non-violent, non-intimidatory message from an orthodox Catholic position has been banned from a university campus. Without a trace of irony, the university claims that it is ‘committed to protecting the liberty and equality of all students.’

“The university Legion of Mary has said it was not their intention ‘to offend or upset any person or group of people.’ It probably wasn’t. In their own weird little way they probably genuinely think they’re offering real ‘support’ for gay people.

“But it doesn’t matter whether I, or the university authorities, agree with their idea of support or not. The issue at stake here is that they have peacefully put forward their views, without threat or abuse, and have still been punished, with even evidence of the Legion’s student society status removed from NUI Galway’s website.

“Universities are meant to be places where people learn to argue and find their way as adults. How this can happen when students are “protected” from even the slightest controversy, I really don’t know. Believers in intellectual and religious liberty should start praying for the Towers of Ivory.”

There are a lot of issues in this story which can be seen as black and white.  Was the university correct in banning the group or was this censorship, as Reidy claims?  Did the punishment fit the offense?  Was it LGBT students or Catholic students who were experiencing discrimination?

While I do not condone the message of the Legion of Mary’s posters, I wonder if perhaps there could have been a teachable moment here.  The fact that the Legion of Mary apologized shows there might be some opportunity for discussion with them. Perhaps a meeting between the Legion of Mary students and LGBT students would have helped to develop toleration and respect.  The recent example of Providence College, a Catholic school in Rhode Island, is instructive here.  When that school’s administration cancelled a public lecture by a pro-marriage equality speaker,   students on campus organized an evening of discussion and dialogue about the case, which resulted in a re-invitation to the speaker for the spring semester.

As the world mourns the death of Nelson Mandela, let us remember one of the greatest institutions he established was South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, set up for victims of apartheid to tell their stories, but also to foster healing for that wounded nation.   I think the Catholic community, and all communities that struggle with LGBT issues, such as the National University in Galway, would do well to follow Mandela’s model.

–Francis DeBernardo,

 


Group Asks Cardinal Not to Say Mass for Catholic Conference

July 25, 2013

A controversy is brewing in Chicago this week, as the annual national conference of the Courage ministry opens today.  Courage is a Catholic ministry to lesbian and gay people which stresses celibacy, and which sometimes has been accused of encouraging reparative therapy to change sexual orientation.

Cardinal Francis George

Cardinal Francis George

The controversy this week focuses on Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George, who is scheduled to preside at Mass for the gathering.  Faithful America, an organization that describes itself as “a fast-growing online community dedicated to reclaiming Christianity from the religious right and putting faith into action for social justice,” has launched a petition campaign to ask Cardinal George not to preside at Mass because of Courage’s associations with reparative therapy.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports Faithful America’s Executive Director Michael Sherrad explained that the Courage program includes  two speakers who are identified with the reparative therapy movement:

“. . . the forum includes Dr. Timothy Lock and Dr. William Consiglio, who is described on the conference website as a part-time ‘Christian Psychotherapist,’ specializing in the area of Sexual Orientation Resolution Therapy.

‘Consiglio also is the author of the book “Homosexual No More.” Lock’s presence at the conference is being highlighted on the website of the controversial organization National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality [NARTH], which identifies Lock as a member.

“The association’s website says ‘clients have the right to diminish their homosexuality and to develop their heterosexual potential. The right to seek therapy to change one’s sexual adaptation should be considered self-evident and inalienable.’ ”

Courage’s leader has denied that his group has any connection with reparative therapy:

“Executive Director Father Paul Check says the organization provides spiritual support for Catholic men and women with ‘same-sex attractions’ who desire to live chaste lives in accordance with the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality.

“The conference plans to hold a ‘Therapist Seminar’ scheduled for Friday. But Check said while the Courage community has members of the mental health profession, ‘their work for us and with us is not directed towards a change of sexual inclination or desire’ and emphasized that’s not the organization’s mission.”

Sherrad feels that Cardinal George’s appearance at the conference gives credence to reparative therapy:

“. . . priests and therapists will be trained in dangerous and debunked techniques that don’t cure homosexuality but do contribute to suicide and depression.

“By appearing at this conference and celebrating mass there, Cardinal George is implicitly endorsing practices that cost the lives of gay and lesbian youth.”

Sister Maureen Fiedler

Sister Maureen Fiedler

Faithful America is not the only entity opposing the cardinal’s appearance at the meeting.  Sister Maureen Fiedler, SL, who blogs at The National Catholic Reporter, wrote last week:

“Regardless of the Roman Catholic hierarchy’s teachings on homosexuality, Cardinal George should dissociate himself from these bogus and harmful medical techniques.

“In fact, he might tell Courage to get some real courage and cancel the speakers from NARTH.”

In response to the controversy,  Cardinal George sent an email to the Sun-Times, explaining his decision:

 “Courage is an organization of homosexually-oriented Catholics who support one another in their quest for holiness as homosexuals. I haven’t seen their program, but their literature speaks only of spirituality, not of therapy.

“When national Catholic organizations meet, the local Bishop is often asked to offer Mass for them. That’s the only reason I’ll be there. (It’s called loving your neighbor.)”

Cardinal George routinely goes to great lengths to distance himself from any group that supports marriage equality, because, he says, of his adherence to Catholic principles about sexuality.  Since reparative therapy is not endorsed by the Catholic hierarchy or the Catholic laity, he should either avoid this conference or be willing to appear at Catholic conferences whose organizations support marriage equality.  If “loving your neighbor” is what is motivating him to attend this conference, he should show the same love to those who approach LGBT issues from a more progressive perspective.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


‘Courageous Conversation’ Effort Seeks Change in Parishes

June 30, 2013

Courageous Conversations imageThe struggle for LGBT legal equality advances in the wake of the Supreme Court’s two decisions this week and yet, for Catholics, creating equality in our Church remains unachieved. Equally Blessed, a coalition that works for equality and justice for LGBT people in church and society, is asking Catholics to engage in ‘Courageous Conversations’ to create such change.

Catholics are routinely identified in polling as supportive of equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people because of a deep commitment to justice. Support comes because of Catholic faith, not in spite of it and the ‘Courageous Conversation’ effort aims at breaking the silence around issues of sexual orientation and gender identity within Catholic communities. To quote Equally Blessed:

“As Catholics, we continue to take an active role in our communities, creating the kind of parishes and schools that we feel nurtured in and called to. This involves cultivating relationships by reaching out to those around us and illustrating why our faith calls us to tell our stories and those of our loved ones.

“Opening up in your community can be intimidating. Catholic institutions are often seen as unwelcoming to people who support the rights and dignity of LGBT people, but we know that many parishes and Catholic schools of all levels are supportive of LGBT Catholics and allies.”

New Ways Ministry strongly urges participation in having a ‘Courageous Conversation’ this week to break the silence. Engage with those in the pews next to you, your pastor, parish leaders and staff, school administrators, land others. If you are unsure where to start, Equally Blessed provides a few tips and a resources page available here. Start with those you already have a relationship with, be honest and personal with them, and above all make a concerted effort to listen.

What might be the outcome of these conversations? Equally Blessed provides a few words about the impact a ‘Courageous Conversation’ can have:

“ ‘Sometimes when we share stories, we do see an “Ah Ha” moment or a change of heart, sometimes it is not a complete turnaround but just a willingness to reconsider because they see the whole person.’ –Rosa

“ ‘[When we began our ministry] two and one half years ago, we could not have held a Pride weekend at St Matthew. But over these 2 1/2 years, we have taken many small steps to get where we are today. Just this past weekend, it was PRIDE weekend at our parish. Rainbow flags welcomed you, an 11′ banner announced the Pride Parade date, we sold Pride T Shirts, and members spoke after Communion asking all St Matthew parishioners to walk with us.’ – Ryan”

You can also become involved on social media by sharing this campaign on Facebook, Twitter (use the hashtag #CourageousConversation), etc. For a graphic and link to Equally Blessed’s resources, visit the New Ways Ministry Facebook page here or the Twitter profile here.

The member organizations of Equally Blessed are Call To ActionDignityUSAFortunate Families, and New Ways Ministry.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


NEWS NOTES: May 17, 2013

May 17, 2013

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

1) Today, May 17th, is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.  GayStarNews  reports that, for the first time, Catholic churches in Italy will be hosting prayer services to commemorate the day.

2) Peace Advocacy Network, a Philadelphia non-profit, will be protesting a “sports camp” for gay man, to be held on the grounds of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s seminary, St. Charles Borromeo, on May 23rd.  The sports program is sponsored by Courage, a group which promotes celibacy for lesbian and gay people, and which sometimes promotes the discredited “reparative therapy” to change a person’s orientation.  According to Metro.usthe sports camp “claims to help gay men repair their ‘sports wound’ and become ‘manlier’ – in so many words, performing ‘conversion therapy’ to ‘reform’ their homosexuality.” 

3) The Vatican is asking San Juan, Puerto Rico’s Archbishop Roberto Octavio González Nieves, to  step down from his position, but Gonzalez Nieves is refusing to leave.  According to Latin Timesthe Vatican’s action against the archbishop is prompted by “allegations of protecting pedophile priests, abusing his power, promoting Puerto Rican independence, and supporting a law that would allow gay couples living together, hereditary rights.”

4) In Zambia,  a Catholic priest who is running for the nation’s presidency, has stated that he will not arrest gay and lesbian people, and that he supports marriage equality.  According to The Times of Zambia“Father [Frank] Bwalya said he would respect homosexuals, claiming this was in line with the Catholic Church which prescribed respect for every individual.”

5) The Vatican has confirmed that Scotland’s Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who resigned earlier this year when it was revealed that he had sexually molested several seminarians and priests,  would be leaving the British country for “spiritual renewal,” according to The Daily Mail Earlier, O’Brien had refused to leave the country though many Catholic leaders felt his presence was divisive. O’Brien had been an outspoken critic of LGBT equality and justice in the UK.

6)  QueeringTheChurch.com reports on a set of “gay mysteries” of the Rosary, developed by Stephen Lovatt.  The mysteries are:  the healing of the Centurion’s boy, the answering of the Rich Young Ruler, the raising from the dead of Lazarus, the Last Supper, and the Kiss of Judas.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Parishioners Protest Courage at Toronto Newman Center

January 5, 2013

University of TorontoThe establishment of a Courage program at the Newman Center near the University of Toronto has created something of a firestorm in the parish community, and has even prompted the university to issue an official statement distancing the campus from the program.

Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper reports that the establishment of the Courage program

” . . . has caused a rift at the Newman Centre, which at least a dozen parishioners have stopped attending because they oppose the program and its principles, while the U of T has urged the centre’s leaders to discontinue it.”

Courage is an international of network of chapters which promote chastity, and some times have encouraged reparative therapy. It was founded in 1980 by Father John Harvey, OSFS.

The program’s content is seen as potentially psychologically harmful by some, including

“. . . one outraged Newman parishioner who has helped lead opposition to the program, and who requested anonymity over fears of discipline from his employer, decried ‘the harm and the damage it does, primarily to vulnerable younger people who are struggling with their sexual identity.’ ”

Although the Newman Center is independent of the University of Toronto, the campus administration has become involved in the situation:

“. . . four parishioners launched a formal complaint with the U of T – one of several the school received and solicited in recent months, a spokesman said. The university said in a statement that its vice-president of human resources and equity, Angela Hildyard, labelled the Courage program ‘inconsistent with the university’s values’ and has urged the Newman Centre to cease offering or promoting it, and to make clear in all its publications that U of T does not endorse it.

“The Newman Centre’s website now states, ‘This program is not offered by or connected to the University of Toronto.’ ”

New Ways Ministry has critiqued the Courage program because it treats a homosexual orientation as a psychological defect.  Though we have reported the establishment of such programs in various U.S. dioceses, this is the first report we have heard of where parishioners have protested the group operating within their community.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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