Religious Leaders, Including Catholics, Call on Obama to Oppose Religious Exemption in Upcoming Executive Order

July 9, 2014

President Barack Obama’s expected executive order barring federal contractors from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity has sparked a controversy because some religious leaders have asked him to include a broad religious exemption in the order.

But, yesterday, Obama heard from a different group of religious leaders, this one asking him not to inscribe discrimination into his executive order by including a religious exemption.  Over 100 diverse clergy, academic, and lay leaders wrote to the president asking him to truly protect LGBT people by not providing language that would exempt religious institutions.

At least seven Catholics were among the letter’s signers:  Francis DeBernardo, executive director, New Ways Ministry; Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director, Dignity/USA; Jim FitzGerald, executive director, Call To Action; Sister Jeannine Gramick, executive coordinator, National Coalition of American Nuns; Mary Hunt, Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual; Jon O’Brien, President, Catholics for Choice; Deb Word, President, Fortunate Families.

The letter argues the case against religious exemptions from a variety of perspectives.  First, there are practical considerations:

“Requiring all federal contractors to operate according to the same set of non-discriminatory hiring practices is more than fair; it is a critical safeguard that protects all parties. If contractors were allowed to selectively follow employment or other laws according to their religious beliefs, we would quickly create an untenable morass of legal disputes. Furthermore, if selective exemptions to the executive order were permitted, the people who would suffer most would be the people who always suffer most when discrimination is allowed: the individuals and communities that are already marginalized.”

There is also the religious perspective:

“Increasing the obstacles faced by those at the margins is precisely the opposite of what public service can and should do, and is precisely the opposite of the values we stand for as people of faith.”

The letter also argued from logic:

“An executive order that allows for religious discrimination against LGBT people contradicts the order’s fundamental purpose, as well as the belief shared by more and more Americans every day, which is that LGBT people should not be treated as second-class citizens. An exception would set a terrible precedent by denying true equality for LGBT people, while simultaneously opening a Pandora’s Box inviting other forms of discrimination.”

The letter also argued from the perspective of American cultural values:

“In a nation as diverse as the United States of America, it is critical that the federal government be trusted to follow—and indeed, to role-model—equitable employment practices. We believe that our mutual commitment to the common good is best served by policies that prohibit discrimination based on factors that have no relationship whatsoever to job performance. We are better and stronger as a nation when hiring decisions are made based on professional merit   rather than personal identity.”

You can read the entire text of the letter, with a list of all signers, here.

In addition to the letter, more than 30,000 U.S. Christians have signed a grassroots petition urging President Obama to oppose those who would use their faith to justify anti-gay discrimination. The petition, organized by Faithful America, reads, in part:

“There’s nothing Christian about firing someone just because they’re gay or lesbian. Taxpayer dollars shouldn’t fund discrimination.”

The letter from faith leaders and the Faithful America petition were in part a response by last week’s Hobby Lobby decision, which many feared would become a slippery slope to expand religious exemptions.

As a person of faith, what are your thoughts about religious exemptions?  Offer your ideas in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

National Catholic Reporter: “Obama’s faith-based advisers divided over religious exemption for anti-gay discrimination”

ThinkProgress.com: 100 Faith Leaders To Obama: Religious Liberty Shouldn’t Be Used To Discriminate Against LGBT People

New York Times: “Faith Groups Seek Exclusion From Bias Rule”


Fortunate Families Founders Feted for Ministry to Catholic Parents of LGBT People

May 11, 2014

Happy Mothers Day!

When the history of the Catholic LGBT movement is written, a major chapter of it must be devoted to Mary Ellen and Casey Lopata, a pair of Catholic parents of a gay son, whose journey of understanding and acceptance led them to ministry with other parents, and eventually the founding of a national network called Fortunate Families. Last weekend, Catholics from around the country gathered in the Lopatas’ hometown of Rochester, New York, for a dinner celebrating their retirement from leadership in Fortunate Families, as well as the 10th anniversary of this network of Catholic parents of LGBT people.

Casey and Mary Ellen Lopata peruse a memory album presented to them by Fortunate Families Board President Deb Word at their retirement dinner.

Casey and Mary Ellen Lopata peruse a memory album presented to them by Fortunate Families Board President Deb Word at their retirement dinner.

During the event, the history of the Lopatas’ ministry was recounted, going back to 1992 when they attended New Ways Ministry’s Third National Symposium on Lesbian/Gay Issues and Catholicism, in Chicago.  The couple attended the meeting with six other pastorally involved people from Rochester, and they returned home fired with enthusiasm to start pastoral outreach to LGBT people, and particularly, their parents.   Their efforts eventually led to the establishment of the Diocese of Rochester’s Catholic Gay and Lesbian Family Ministry.

A few years later, the Lopatas were instrumental in helping to establish the National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian/Gay Ministries (NACDLGM), and in 1998 they organized and hosted the group’s national conference in Rochester, one of the most successful meetings the organization has ever had.  (NACDGLM is now known as the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry.) Throughout the 1990s, the Lopatas were tireless in their education, support, and advocacy ministry for families.  They served as consultants on the U.S. bishops’ 1997 pastoral letter, Always Our Children.

They published several resources including a book, Fortunate Families: Catholic Families with Lesbian Daughters and Gay Sons, and a manual entitled Seeds of Hope: Compassionate Ministry with Gay and Lesbian Catholics and Their Families. In 2004, they established Fortunate Families as a nationwide resource and networking ministry to, for, and with Catholic parents of LGBT people.  In the following year, New Ways Ministry presented them with its Bridge Building Award, “for compassionate ministry, personal witness, and national leadership to promote justice for lesbian/gay Catholics, their parents, and families.”

Fortunate Families is a member of the Equally Blessed Coalition, which also includes Call To Action, DignityUSA, and New Ways Ministry.  Representatives from each of these three other coalition partners were on hand in Rochester to praise and thank the Lopatas at their retirement party.  Jim FitzGerald, executive director, represented Call To Action; Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director, represented DignityUSA; Francis DeBernardo, executive director, represented New Ways Ministry.  Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, and Father James Schexnayder, founder of NACDLGM were unable to attend in person, but they each sent video testimonials about the Lopatas’ contributions to the Catholic LGBT movement.  You can view Sr. Jeannine’s video here:

Emails and letters from parents and pastoral ministers, as well as testimonies from Fortunate Families board members, were also part of the evening’s festivities.  Fortunate Families Board President Deb Word presented the Lopatas with a memory book, and New York State Assemblyman Harry Bronson gave them a resolution from the legislature in honor of their contributions.

The Lopatas are leaving an indelible mark on our church because they have helped to affirm and empower so many parents, and LGBT people, as well. Catholic parents are among the most passionate and persuasive advocates for LGBT people in the church. Their natural love for their LGBT children motivates them to work to make sure that they are treated in the same way as their heterosexual children are treated.

For some parents, it takes some time to adjust to the new information that their children are LGBT.  Support from other parents who have gone through the same experience is often the biggest help for those who are just learning about a child’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Parents of LGBT children are a true gift  to the church. The journey of love and acceptance that Catholic parents go on is the same journey that the entire church eventually will need to go experience.  So, all in the church, particularly pastoral ministers and bishops, can learn a lot from these people that God has made so fortunate.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Gatherings Demonstrate Parental Love for LGBT Children

November 23, 2013

The role that Catholic parents of LGBT people play in advancing justice and equality in the church is a critical one.  Parents are often the natural “bridge-builders” between their LGBT children and the institutional structures of Catholicism.  It is parents’ natural unconditional love for their children which is the model of acceptance that the entire church needs to emulate and learn.

Fortunate Families, a national network of Catholic parents of LGBT people, has been providing support and encouragement to parents, as well as inspiring advocacy for equality, since 2004.  In the past year, the organization has been hosting a series of regional gatherings around the U.S. for parents to meet with one another and learn from one another.

A recent post on the organization’s blog gives an account of some of these meetings.  Of a gathering in the Detroit, Michigan, metropolitan area, convener Linda Karle-Nelson described how that gathering revealed how much change has happened for parents over the last decade:

“Six years ago a similar gathering drew only 14 parents; at the November 9 event there 41 folks who joined together to pray and share stories and discuss how they could advocate for equality for their LGBT daughters and sons.
“The biggest differences in the two gatherings were not just the numbers, but the nature of the stories the parents told and the forward looking outcome of the day.
“Many had gone through the personal struggles of learning about their child’s orientation and finding their path to understanding that they now knew their children in a more complete way and that this was a blessing. Others had ‘known all along’ and had waited for their child to come out to them. Still others expressed their disappointment in extended family members who were not accepting and rejected them as well as their sons and daughters.  Parents in their 30’s and early 40’s (the young’uns!) received the news of their teen-age child’s coming out much earlier in their lives (and perhaps much easier!) than those of us of an older generation.”

On the same day, a similar gathering was held in Atlanta, Georgia, for Catholic parents.  Deb Word, the current board president of Fortunate Families, reported on the diversity of people that attended, though united for a common cause:

“Our group ran the gamut from folks who were there ready to start parish outreach to those who had yet to share with family members that their children had married.
“A small table was set up in the beginning with photos of our children and simple votive candles. They were never far from our minds as we listened, shared and strategized about making our church more welcoming, ourselves more open, and our families more loving.”
These two events had been preceded this past year with events in Flagler Beach, Florida, Pleasanton, California, and Cincinnati, Ohio.  Karle-Nelson noted the importance of such meetings for parents:
“A unique result of the gathering was one that we were not ready for a few years ago, i. e., the desire of the parents to take action to share their stories in order to persuade their fellow parishioners, their pastors,  their bishop, and even Pope Francis that our LGBT children are whole and holy children of God who deserve equality in our Church.
“These parents expressed a desire to meet again and again, and each time they meet they will be building a community of people who are dedicated to bringing a new vision of LGBT people to the heart of the Church. . . .”
Plans are in the works for a 2014 gathering in Minnesota.  To keep informed about these and other events and programs for Catholic parents of LGBT people, visit the Fortunate Families website.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


U.S. Catholic Bishops Invited to New Dialogue on LGBT Issues

November 14, 2013

Equally Blessed LogoThe U.S. Catholic bishops have been invited to open a new and more positive chapter in their relationships with LGBT Catholics and and their supporters.  The invitation came in the form of a letter from the leaders of Equally Blessed, a coalition of four national Catholic organizations (Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry) that work for justice and equality for LGBT people.

The letter, addressed to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who have been meeting in Baltimore this week, invites the church’s leaders to put past events behind them and start a forward-thinking dialogue with LGBT people and supporters. The Equally Blessed leaders wrote:

“Now is the time for us all to adopt a new approach in dealing with issues of human sexuality, especially in dealing with LGBT people, as Pope Francis seems to be calling us to do. It will take time to rebuild trust between members of the Conference and those who have been damaged by its past policies. But, if Jesus came that we all might be one, then healing must begin. So we implore you to sit down with us, to listen to voices from the margins of the Church, and to speak with us candidly about your own concerns. We offer an outstretched hand of invitation.”

The letter writers suggested several areas of common-ground where the bishops can collaborate with them:

“The bishops and LGBT Catholics and their allies have many opportunities to show where our Church is united in its commitment to the dignity of the human person. The bishops have many opportunities to reach out to LGBT persons without violating Church teaching. The USCCB could issue an unambiguous statement declaring that bullying children because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity is unacceptable. Parishes and diocesan offices could be encouraged to make concerted efforts to include LGBT people in their outreach ministries and other agendas.  The Church could make an effort to create pastorally sensitive ministries that would deal with the problem of LGBT youth homelessness and suicide. Together, we are sure we can find other ways to send out positive and mercy-filled messages.”

The Equally Blessed leaders stressed that this is an opportune time for such a dialogue:

“At this pivotal moment in the life of our church, we, the leaders of the Equally Blessed coalition, invite you into a deeper relationship with LGBT Catholics, their families and their friends. We seek, first of all, simple conversation with you. Rather than speaking about LGBT people, or, worse yet, against LGBT people, we urge you to sit down and speak with LGBT people. We ask you to convene local and national conversations in which lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics, their families and their friends can tell you about their faith and their commitment to the Church.  The spirit of respect and openness that these conversations could foster would be balm on the wounds of LGBT Catholics and those who love them.”

Invoking the spirit of the new papacy, the LGBT equality leaders stressed that it’s time for a different way for the bishops to approach the topic of sexuality:

“At a time when Pope Francis is urging the church to move beyond what he calls its “obsession” with sexual issues, we, faithful Catholics committed to equality and justice within the Church we love, pray that you will hear our voices and respond with mercy.”

The letter was signed by the following organizational representatives:  Call To Action: Jim FitzGerald, Executive Director; DignityUSA: Marianne Duddy-Burke, Executive Director; Fortunate Families: Casey Lopata, Co-Founder, Deb Word, President; New Ways Ministry: Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, Sister Jeannine Gramick, Co-Founder.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


Two New Books Offer Insights Into Gay Spiritual Journeys

August 26, 2013

Two books offering first-person accounts of reconciling Catholic faith and gay identity have come out in the past year, and  Bondings 2.0 readers may find them helpful for personal reflection.

Hounded By God

Joseph Gentilini

Joseph Gentilini

Hounded by God: A Gay Man’s Journey to Self-Acceptance, Love , and Relationship, by Joseph Gentilini (who is a regular reader and frequent commenter on this blog), is based on years of journals that this spiritual gay man kept.  It chronicles his coming out experiences, dealings with family and friends,  his commitment to his partner, Leo Radel, and, most importantly, his relationship with God.

DigitalJournal.com reviewed the book, noting the authenticity on which it is based:

“Gentilini describes journaling as an integral part of his life, having kept a journal for more than 40 years. In fact, he writes that it is a part of his prayer life. Christian imagery fills the journal entries, illuminating the author’s deep faith in God. ‘I think that the cross in my images represents my homosexuality, which is the place of my deepest wound,’ he writes of his mother’s failure to talk about his orientation. His faith and guidance from a spiritual director who befriends his mother pays off years later when his parents invite his partner, Leo, to the family Christmas celebration. As he writes, ‘My prayer has been answered. For years, I have prayed for reconciliation with my family. It is grace, a total gift from God.’ Meeting Leo in 1981 answers another prayer for Gentilini, and his entries about Leo prove to be one more avenue to faith. ‘Leo has helped me to accept more deeply that I am lovable, that he loves me, and that God also loves me.’ ”

Deb Word, president of the board of Fortunate Families, reviewed the book on that organization’s blog, and noted that it would be helpful for family members of lesbian and gay people:

“The second chapter describes Joe’s family, and this chapter alone is worth the price of the book for parents. We see through a son’s eyes how difficult life was for a young gay man growing up. Without whining or blaming, Joe takes us through his family rejection…then tentative acceptance. I’ll leave it at that, you will want a tissue at times.”

You can find out more about the book, by visiting the author’s website.  It is available for purchase on amazon.com.

Maurice Monette

Maurice Monette

Confessions of a Gay Married PriestThe second book is Confessions of a Gay Married Priest: A Spiritual Journey by Maurice Monette, who was a member of a religious order for 30 years, and has been married to his partner for 24 years.  The book is an autobiography which chronicles the high points and low points of the spiritual road that Monette trod.  The book has been praised by several high-profile Catholic leaders.

On a back cover review of the book, Father Richard Rohr, OFM, author and retreat leader, wrote:

“This story illustrates one of the most counterintuitive messages of world religions: how our failings, heartbreaks and disappointments can be stepping stones to the spiritual joys of the second half of life.”

Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, stated:

“Through little cameos in prose and poetry, Monette’s faith journey shows the triumph of the human spirit over religious messages to suppress sexuality. This is a story of self-discovery and self-acceptance that brings about freedom for a more authentic God-relationship.”

Father Robert Nugent, author and co-founder of New Ways Ministry, noted:

“Readers of this work will each discover and even identify with something that touches them more personally: ‘the good, little Catholic boy,’ the priest who struggles with accepting his sexual identity in the face of traditional negative evaluations by both religion and society, the gay man who embraces monogamy, the believer whose object of belief moves from the more traditional to the more ordinary and basic experiences of human life where transcendence is often located. Readers will be challenged to re-think their sometimes uncriticized positions, affirmed in trusting more in their spiritual insights and at least hearing a most unusual story of one person’s search for healing and wholeness.”

James B. Nickoloff, Associate Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts observed:

“Maurice Monette tells his own unique story but at the same time gives voice to the stories of many other gay married priests. His honesty, humility, intelligence, and wit will lead even non-gay, non-married, and non-ordained readers to reexamine their own journeys with the Spirit.”

You can find out more about this book by visiting www.gaymarriedpriest. com.  This book is available through amazon.com.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Fortunate Families: The New Blog on the Block

April 30, 2013

fortunate_families2Bondings 2.0 welcomes a new friend to the blogosphere: the Fortunate Families Blog! This new internet resource is a new online community for the Fortunate Families (FF) network, which brings together Catholic parents of LGBT people for mutual support and advocacy for equality.

The two editors are FF board members Deb Word and Tony Garascia.  In their first post, they describe the blog’s mission and scope:

“We hope to use this blog to keep you up to date with what’s going on at Fortunate Families and to give Catholic Parents of lgbtq kids a place to interact. Share this space with your family and friends and PLEASE comment.  We want this page to be interactive, and we hope to have a new post each week!”

The blog has gotten off to a great start.  For example, one post lists the signs of hope that Catholic parents are seeing in the area of LGBT issues.  Here’s a few from their list:

  • Young people, young people, young people.  The fact that so many young adults are open and affirming of the LGBT community.
  • Change happens over time, this is hopeful.  We hold the tension of being urgent and patient at the same time.  Requires a deeper spirituality to do that.
  •  Many more Catholic parishes are now hosting groups for LGBT ministry.
  • New, younger parents of LGBT children are getting involved.
  • More people of other faiths are getting involved in LGBT issues and equality.
  • Even though many of us have been singing the same song of openness and affirmation for a long time there seems to be a lot more people singing with us.

Another post offers a profile of Joan Abele, who is one of FF’s Listening Parents Network, a group of Catholic parents who have been trained to be listeners and accompaniers of parents who may just be learning they have an LGBT child or who may be experiencing a special challenge with their faith or family.

This blog looks like it will be a great addition to the already flourishing online conversations taking place for those interested in different aspects of the Catholic LGBT world.  Check out Bondings 2.0’s blogroll, in the column to the right of this post, for a variety of Catholic websites and blogs on LGBT and other church reform issues.   To learn more about Fortunate Families as an organization, you can visit their website.

Remember, too, that blogs–whether the Fortunate Families one, Bondings 2.0, or any other one–are social media.  As such, they are not just providers of information, but opportunities for discussion.  So, you are encouraged when visiting any blog site, including this one, to make your opinions and reactions known by posting in the “Comments” section provided for each post.

Welcome to the blogosphere, Fortunate Families blog!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Fortunate Families Focus & LGBT Timeline Round Out U.S. Catholic Coverage

February 25, 2012

As mentioned on this blog the other day, the March issue of U.S. Catholic magazine has an excellent article, “Pride and Prejudice: The uneasy relationship between gays and lesbians and their church,” surveying the landscape of LGBT issues in Catholicism.

Two sidebar pieces that accompanied this article are also worthy of note.  The first, “The mamas and the papas: What it’s like for Catholic parents of GLBT children,” explains exactly what it’s title describes.  To accomplish this task, writer Kristen Hannum went to the leading national experts on this topic, Fortunate Families, a network of Catholic parents with LGBT sons and daughters.

Fortunate Families co-founder Mary Ellen Lopata talks about the need for outreach ministry to parents in an ever-increasing rigid Catholic atmosphere:

“The church has lost so much in not welcoming our gay and lesbian children. They have left the church in droves because they are not welcomed. They can stay if they’re silent, suppressing a big part of who they are. Now the church is starting to lose their parents as well.”

Fortunate Families board member Deb Word highlights the importance of being clear and unconditional in expressing the church’s welcome:

“We have to start by acknowledging that there are GLBT kids in the pews, and that God loves them. . . . ‘God loves you, but . . .’ is different from ‘God loves you.’ ”

(Fortunate Families co-founders, Mary Ellen and Casey Lopata, wrote a Bondings 2.0 blog post last month on the importance of welcoming parents of LGBT people in Catholic settings.  You can access it by clicking here.)

The main article’s other sidebar is “A history of the relationship between gay and lesbian Catholics and their church.”   The piece is a historical timeline, mapping the ups and downs of the Catholic LGBT movement from the late 1960s to the current day.  It is inspiring to see how far this movement has matured, how many struggles it has faced, and how many accomplishments it has achieved!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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