Denial of Anointing of the Sick Needs More Explanation by Archdiocese

February 20, 2014

A Washington Blade story this week reported that a Catholic gay man in the District of Columbia was refused the anointing by a Catholic hospital chaplain after the patient experienced a heart attack.  This story is made more complex, though, by the fact that the priest and the Archdiocese of Washington who supervises him are refusing to make any comment on the story.

Here’s the facts of the story, according to the Washington Blade:

“D.C. resident Ronald Plishka, 63, a retired travel agent and lifelong Catholic, said he asked a nurse to arrange for a priest to see him on Feb. 7, one day after he was admitted by ambulance to the hospital emergency room for a heart attack. He said that at the time he wasn’t sure he would survive.

“A short time later, Plishka said, Father Brian Coelho, a priest assigned to the hospital’s Department of Spiritual Care, arrived at his bedside. He said Coelho offered to take his confession before proceeding with communion and last rites, which the church now calls the sacrament of anointing of the sick.

“ ‘We started talking and I told him I was so happy with this new Pope because of his comments about the gays and his accepting the gays,’ Plishka said. ‘And I mentioned that I was gay. I said it and then I asked him does that bother you? And he said, “Oh, no, that does not bother me,’” said Plishka.

“ ‘But then he would not proceed with administering the last rites or communion. He couldn’t do it.’

According to Plishka, Coelho, who brought a supply of holy water to his hospital room, never said in so many words that he was refusing to administer communion and last rites.

“Asked what Coelho told him, Plishka said, ‘Well, I mean he stopped. He would not do it. By him not doing it I assumed he would not do it because why was he getting ready to do it and all of a sudden when I say I’m gay he stops?’

“Plishka said Coelho gave no reason for not giving him the sacraments he requested but offered instead to pray with him.

“ ‘He said what he wanted to do,’ said Plishka. ‘He wanted to pray. That’s what he wanted to do. He said well I could pray with you.”

Plishka refused the offer of prayer, angry at what he felt was discrimination.  

The news story reports that both Coelho and the Archdiocese of Washington have refused to comment on the story.  This silence is very unfortunate.  If Coelho had a legitimate pastoral reason not to administer the anointing of the sick, he should state what it was.  Without such a statement, his actions can easily be interpreted as homophobic.  Their silence opens the way for great speculation.

A person with pastoral experience was quoted in the Blade story, commenting on the unusual reaction by the priest:

“Henry Huot, a retired Catholic priest who serves as chair of Dignity Washington’s Pastoral Ministry Committee, said longstanding Catholic practice calls for priests to provide the sacraments to people in situations similar to Plishka.

“ ‘Any baptized Christian ought not to be denied the sacraments at his or her request,’ Huot said. ‘And that is a cardinal rule of pastoral care. So I don’t know what was going through the mind of this hospital chaplain to deny this man the sacraments,’ he said. ‘It violates this cardinal rule.’ “

DignityUSA also commented on the strange pastoral response:

“ ‘The fact that conditions existed for a priest to make this call is upsetting,’ said Dignity USA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke. ‘There should be very clear standards. You minister to the person in need without judgment and without conditions,” she said. “It is not the role of the priest to cause the person in distress additional hardship.’

‘Duddy-Burke said it’s the responsibility of the Archdiocese to set pastoral care standards for priests under its jurisdiction.

“ ‘And I would hope that if this case is brought to the attention of Archdiocesan officials, as it should be, that they would respond appropriately and discipline this priest and make it known to every priest and every person that’s providing pastoral care in the Archdiocese that people should be treated as children of God first.’ “

The Archdiocese of Washington already has had one terrible occasion of pastoral care violation directed toward an LGBT person when in 2012, Barbara Johnson, a lesbian woman was denied communion at her mother’s funeral.  In that case, the Archdiocese apologized, the priest involved was disciplined and eventually removed from pastoral work.  The Archdiocese should move swiftly to explain this situation more fully, and if the priest involved had committed a homophobic error, some public correction should be made.

There is no reason that an LGBT person should be denied pastoral care, especially in a city with as many LGBT Catholics as Washington, DC. This whole episode illustrates why so much education of priests and pastoral staff in regards to LGBT people is still sorely needed.  And the Archdiocese needs to be swift in making some public statement either that an error was committed by the priest or that the Archdiocese is committed to fairness and equality in administering the sacraments.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article

Washington Post:  Gay patient says Catholic chaplain refused him last rites


Catholic Communities Featured Prominently in Two Pride Parades

June 22, 2013

PrideAround the globe, June is traditionally celebrated as Pride month in the LGBT community.  It is common for cities, large and small, to host parades, festivals, and other events to acknowledge the contributions of LGBT people and to let folks know about the supportive resources and organizations within the local community.

LGBT-friendly religious groups also take part in Pride celebrations, though having a Catholic presence in these events is a rare occurrence.  Sometimes the presence of a Catholic group sparks controversy, as happened last week in Portland, Oregon, when a St. Andrew Parish marched in the city’s Pride parade, even though their archbishop told them not to do so.

On the east coast of the U.S., another Catholic parish also marched in its city’s Pride parade:  St. Matthew’s in Baltimore, Maryland.  The parish’s LGBT ministry was lauded by the LGBT community for their presence and leadership.  The More Light Presbyterians website had these accolades for their Catholic friends:

When the Gay Pride parade kicked off in Baltimore on June 15, a number of faith communities were present – and Presbyterians were an important part of the event.  Faith Presbyterian – one of the organizers of the effort – and Brown Memorial Park Avenue– were proudly marching behind the banner, FAITH COMMUNITIES OF BALTIMORE with PRIDE – as was First & St. Stephens United Church of Christ.  But the largest number came

St. Matthew's contingent in  Baltimore's Pride Parade

St. Matthew’s contingent in Baltimore’s Pride Parade

from St. Matthews Roman Catholic church – the real instigator of the effort.  Long before we started actively recruiting walkers, St. Matthews had paid all the entry fees (Faith paid for the banner)!  Their goal was to have 100 walkers – I think the final number was 115!  Their enthusiasm was contagious as we planned the event.  Their LEAD ministries – their program to welcome LGBTQ’s – is an important part of the life at St. Matthews – and fits well with Faith’s participation in MORE LIGHT Presbyterians.  Faith and St. Matthews are long-time friends – both are active participants in the events of the Loch Raven (Blvd) Ministerium.  In fact the two churches are planning to do anti-bullying workshops together in the fall.  And we’re already talking about Gay Pride 2014!

Dignity/Washington's contingent in the Capital Pride Parade

Dignity/Washington’s contingent in the Capital Pride Parade

In nearby Washington, DC,  another Catholic community was also celebrated in their city’s Capital Pride Festival.    Dignity/Washington, which marked 40 years of service last year, received the Festival’s “Larry Stansbury Award for Exemplary Contributions to Pride.”   The  Capital Pride Festival’s website details Dignity/Washington’s many contributions to the local community, particularly their contributions to Pride celebrations:

“Dignity/Washington has participated in every LGBT March on Washington. Dignity/Washington was one of the earliest organizations to take part in the local Pride celebrations and has been a Capital Pride participant for over three decades.  Dignity/Washington became a Capital Pride Community Partner in 2007, even before the Capital Pride Alliance came into existence.  In 2008, Dignity/Washington was one of the organizations that supported the decision to award the Capital Pride Alliance the right to produce the celebration.  Dignity/Washington donated free space at the Dignity Center to the Capital Pride Alliance in the first few years after the Alliance came into existence. “

Heather Mizeur

Heather Mizeur

At their Pride liturgy, Dignity/Washington hosted Maryland State Delegate Heather Mizeur, a Catholic lesbian woman who is considering a run to become the state’s governor.    Mizeur was instrumental in getting Maryland’s marriage equality law passed.

Congratulations to both St. Matthew Parish and Dignity/Washington for being recognized for their wonderful and important contributions!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Dignity Chapters in Washington, DC and Boston Each Celebrate 40 Years

December 3, 2012

Two East Coast chapters of DignityUSA, Washington, DC, and Boston, have both recently celebrated their 40th anniversaries.

In addition to being among the oldest chapters in the national organization, both are among the strongest chapters, too.

The Washington chapter hosted its 40th anniversary Mass on Sunday, December 2, 2012, with Sister Jeannine Gramick, a co-founder of the Washington chapter, as well as New Ways Ministry, as the guest homilist.

A Washington Blade article recounts some of the chapter’s history:

“Dignity/Washington started with a group of about 20 at its first Mass. It moved from twice-monthly to weekly Mass in 1976. Membership and Mass attendance peaked at about 500 and 350 respectively in the late ‘80s. By late 1990, it had become the largest Dignity chapter in the U.S., a feat it maintains to this day, though membership is now about 200 with an average of 90-100 believers attending weekly Dignity Mass in D.C. “

Sister Jeannine recounted the initial meeting of the chapter which took place “in the cafeteria of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception with five others in 1971.”

Tom Bower, a co-chair for the 40th anniversary events reflected in the article on some of the chapter’s purposes:

“The official church would very much like us to disappear. We show that you can be gay and Catholic at the same time and happily so and despite the major efforts of a much bigger organization to throw us out. We’re part of a national organization and when the Pope comes out against something gay, we’re able to say, ‘No, that’s wrong.’”

Bower and Bob Miailovich, another long-time member of the chapter, also commented on the challenge of remaining in the Catholic church as gay men:

“ ‘People think, “Oh, why do you keep banging your head against the wall?’” Bower says. ‘That’s why we call it faith. It’s a belief that there is within the larger view of what it means to be Catholic, there’s something there that you just don’t have with other groups.’

“Miailovich says despite the anti-gay teachings, he still ‘find(s) more truth in the Catholic Church than I do in other religions. It’s not perfect and I don’t buy everything at the end of the day but from what I know of other religions and what they teach and believe, I find more truth on the Catholic side than elsewhere else.’ ”

Miailovich continued in this vein:

“ ‘The church really is the people of God,’ Miailovich says. ‘It’s a horizontal assembly, not some vertical thing where you have the Pope at the top and an triangle going down with everyone else. Out there in the pews, there’s a great deal of support for a more progressive agenda, for women’s ordination, for married priests, you have the nuns on the bus for social justice. Everybody in the church does not believe 100 percent of everything that may be promulgated from on high.’

“He also says there’s an ‘attitude that it’s my church and you can’t take it away from me.’

“ ‘I can’t leave what is mine and that leaves you with a sense that some day, somehow, change will be made. You’re right, there are people who’ve said, “Why spend a lifetime working with these people, let’s go start our own thing and not worry about what’s left behind.” But I’m not going to change. This is who I am. This is how I pray and how I worship and here I am. We pray for our church leaders because we feel they need enlightenment.’ ”

A blog post on Boston.com offers a bit of the origin’s of the Boston chapter:

“Dignity/Boston grew out of a short-lived group called Interfaith, started by a local diocesan Holy Cross priest, the late Father Tom Oddo, along with former Holy Cross seminarians Ray Struble and Jim Andrews, and Ralph Fuccillo, among others, according to Struble. Another priest instrumental in Dignity’s growth during the 1980’s until his death in 2005 was the Rev. Dr. Richard Rasi, a priest with the Melkite Catholic rite, who frequently presided at Mass and established a popular ministry in Provincetown.
“The local chapter first met on December 3, 1972, at the Randolph Country Club. The next year, Dignity moved to St. Clement’s Church where it remained until 1977 when the local chapter moved to Arlington Street Church. In 1988, Dignity/Boston moved to St. John the Evangelist Church, located in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood, where it remains today.”

The post also describes the distinguished history of activism and advocacy that the Boston chapter has:

“Politics and religion mixed well in the organization’s early years. ‘Dignity represented —for those of us who were Catholic — our political family, because [secular gays wanted] nothing to do with the religious crowd,’ said Struble. Keep in mind, he continued, ‘Boston was one of the most politicized gay cities in the country and one of the most Catholic.’

‘Dignity gave voice to the political piece that people of faith were trying to get into the public square,’ he explained. ‘We had push back from secularists. We were looked at as compromising.’ ”

‘But politics was only half of the Dignity equation.

“ ‘For those of us who were coming out of Vatican II and coming to terms with gayness, and what I learned in the seminary, I felt [the need] to be doing Christ’s work in the world,’  Struble said. ‘For those of us in the seminary, this was our calling.

“ ‘We took the social action of Jesus’ message to heart to be religious activists. That meant accepting everything, including women at the altar,’ he explained. ‘The sacrament [of the Eucharist] was the affirmation of us as one.’ “

But ecclesiastical and secular politics are not the full picture, as one of Boston’s younger members, Steven Young, points out:

“I don’t think I know God’s will better than anyone else. But I know what I know, and the truth I have about who I should love and whether that is sinful or not. I feel it deeply in my soul that being gay is not wrong [and] that I have to share with the rest of the Church. If people are blind to that—all the more reason for sharing that truth with others.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, a Boston member, who is also the Executive Director of DignityUSA, agrees:

“ ‘Faith, community, vision, and courage,’ said Duddy-Burke. ‘That’s what we offer to the LGBT movement and the church.’ ”

Like Dignity chapters across the country, these two communities offer vibrant opportunities for spiritual development, community, service, and support.  As Sister Jeannine Gramick said at the close of the Blade article:

“They’ve had a marvelous ministry here for 40 years ministering to local LGBT Catholics. It’s really a time to rejoice.”

And we add our own message to both chapters:  “Ad multos annos!”  (“Many more years!”)

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


LGBT Catholics Tell Youth: “It Gets Better”

April 14, 2012

Congratulations and many thanks to the good folks at Dignity/Washington who this week launched an “It Gets Better” video on YouTube.  Dignity/Washington is a community of LGBT Catholics and other Christians, their families and friends.   The “It Gets Better” project shows young LGBT people how life does indeed become better as one matures through the teen years into adulthood.  It was designed to help prevent LGBT teen depression and suicide over sexual and gender identity issues.  The Dignity/Washington video tells stoires of how Catholic LGBT adults dealt with these issues in the context of their faith, and it offers encouragement to young people who are struggling with the same topics.

Wouldn’t it be great for more Catholic communities to launch similar videos and to spread the message that “It Gets Better” to LGBT youth through other forms of witness and faith expression.

You can watch the Dignity/Washington video  here:

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


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