Catholics Leave Over LGBT Issues, As Bishops Redouble Anti-Equality Work

July 2, 2013

Archbishop Charles Chaput denies Communion to parish activists

A new poll conducted at a Philadelphia-area parish by Villanova University’s Center for the Study of Church Management reveals that LGBT issues are rising in prominence as a reason Catholics leave the Church. Yet, at the same time, members of the hierarchy double-down on their efforts to oppose equality for sexual minorities.

The survey asked 189 non-practicing and former Catholics about their reasons for leaving, producing instructive results for Catholic bishops and clergy struggling to retain parishioners. Scandals around sexual abuse and mishandling of cases was the primary reason, at about seventeen percent of respondents, but this does not reveal current trends. NewsWorks interviewed the poll’s director, Charles Zech of Villanova University, who said:

” ‘People who are going to leave the church over the scandal and the church’s handling of it have already left. So people leaving the church today are leaving for other reasons…A growing reason we found out was the church’s attitude toward homosexuals and gay marriage. A lot of younger people object to the church’s teaching on that.’ “

Catholic support of LGBT rights, especially for equal marriage, is well-documented, but there is little hard data on what the practical implications of this split between Catholics in the pews and their anti-gay leaders. This study suggests not only are the bishops’ policies against marriage equality and LGBT rights harming the directly affected communities, but have wider implications which undermine parish communities. Most leaving do not quit organized religion, but transfer to Protestant communities.

As this new polling is released, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference is preparing anew to oppose anti-discrimination legislation that would include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. Pennsylvania is the sole northeast state without LGBT protections written into law on such things as employment and housing, and equality advocates are hoping to change this legislation. NewsWorks reports that representatives of the Conference base their objections in a fear that the Catholic Church would be forced to contradict its beliefs in social services, hospitals, and other institutions.

The Villanova parish study, which will not be made public, names both local issues as well as problems with the Vatican and US bishops as reasons for leaving the Catholic church. Polling director Zech believes local changes, like improved liturgies, could stem the losses. Many troubles are occurring in Philadelphia over parish-based issues, like closures and clustering, that even lead to protests at an immigration Mass recently–and saw Archbishop Charles Chaput deny Communion to three people.

Philadelphia Catholic leadership could withdraw their opposition to simple anti-discrimination legislation that protects the rights of LGBT people to their jobs, homes, and public services. Protecting the dignity of every person, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, is well-rooted in the Catholic tradition and it is why so many Catholics support equality. It is time to focus on creating welcoming communities and building up strong parishes, instead of opposing anti-discrimination laws and denying Communion.   The new polling data show that the bishops’ current course on LGBT issues is a losing proposition.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Jason Collins Deserves Catholic Support, Says Fr. James Martin

May 1, 2013

Jason Collins

Splashed across the cover of Sports Illustrated this week is Jason Collins, the first athlete on a male professional sports team to come out as gay. Collins has been celebrated across the sports world and the internet, but he has also faced harsh criticism. Jesuit Fr. James Martin posted the Collins’ story, and then provided lengthy remarks about why Catholics should support the athlete’s coming out without reservation. Fr. Martin writes:

“There are many times that Catholics are called to support their gay brothers and sisters wholeheartedly, unreservedly and publicly. This is one of them. All of us are created by God, and all of us have an undeniable and unassailable human dignity. And part of that dignity is accepting that you are a beloved creation of God. For many gays and lesbians, however, accepting that they are beloved creations of God is a

very difficult task, made more difficult by a variety of social pressures. ‘Coming out’ is often an important step, sometimes the most important step, to a deeper relationship with God, and to spiritual wholeness…

James Martin, SJ

James Martin, SJ

“Loving means first accepting a person, in all their complexity and beauty, as God has created him or her. This kind of love precedes questions about judging the actions of any person–straight or gay. Besides, we know how Jesus felt about our judging others. Love precedes all of that. True love means loving a person as he or she is–not as we would wish them to be, or as we think they should be, or worse, as we think God should have created him or her. But as they are.

“As the Psalmist says, ‘I praise you God, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.’ We should be grateful to Mr. Collins for reminding us that all of us are indeed ‘wonderfully made.'”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholics Participate in Prayer Service and Demonstration at Supreme Court

March 27, 2013
New Ways Ministry staff at the marriage equality demonstration outside the Supreme Court:  Sister Jeannine Gramick, Bob Shine, Francis DeBernardo.

New Ways Ministry staff at the marriage equality demonstration outside the Supreme Court: Sister Jeannine Gramick, Bob Shine, Francis DeBernardo.

Yesterday the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on two marriage equality cases.   The historic day began with an interfaith prayer service at the Church of the Reformation, a Lutheran congregation just behind the Supreme Court building.

The service, entitlted “A Prayer for Love and Justice,” featured prayers and rituals from a wide variety of faith traditions–Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, pagan, Native American–were all represented as part of the service.  Catholics were represented by Sister Jeannine Gramick of New Ways Ministry and Rev. Joseph Palacios, who ministers at Dignity/Washington.   The event was organized by the United for Marriage coalition.

Rev. Joseph Palacios

Rev. Joseph Palacios

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Following the prayer service, participants processed to the Supreme Court building and joined the demonstration of thousands of people there who support marriage equality.  Among those in the crowd were Jackie and Buzz Baetz, a Catholic couple from Monkton, Maryland, who displayed a sign showing Catholic support for marriage equality.

Jackie and Buzz Baetz proclaim their message of Catholic support for marriage equality outside the Supreme Court.

Jackie and Buzz Baetz proclaim their message of Catholic support for marriage equality outside the Supreme Court.

New Ways Ministry staff also participated in the demonstration outside the court building.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Catholics Debate Marriage Equality Bill in Illinois

January 15, 2013

Illinois, which already has a civil union law, signed by Catholic Governor Pat Quinn, will be taking up the issue of marriage equality in the legislature this year.  Catholics have already entered the debate on this topic on both sides of the question.

Cardinal Francis George

Cardinal Francis George

At the beginning of this month, Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George wrote a letter to priests asking them to urge parishioners to oppose the marriage bill.

The Chicago Sun-Times  quoted part of the letter:

“ ‘It is physically impossible for two men or two women to consummate a marriage, even when they share a deep friendship or love,’ George writes in the letter, meant for inclusion in parish bulletins to be distributed this upcoming weekend. ‘Does this mean nature is cruel or that God is unfair? No, but it does mean that marriage is what nature tells us it is and that the state cannot change natural marriage.’ ”

In this quote, we see a new trend in statements by Catholic hierarchy: they are starting to acknowledge that the relationship between two people of the same gender can be defined as a love relationship.

Rick Garcia

Rick Garcia

The cardinal’s argument did not convince Rick Garcia, a longtime Chicago advocate for LGBT issues. The Sun-Times quotes his reaction:

“ ‘How the Church — or any faith — views marriage within its own institution is one thing, but secular society treats marriage as a civil right,’ said Garcia, who described himself as a practicing Catholic. ‘No individual or church, including Cardinal George and the Catholic Church is going to be forced to perform or recognize any marriages they would not find consistent with their own beliefs. . . . What also will not change is the fact that secular society views marriage as a fundamental civil right that should be afforded to all.’ ”

A Chicago Tribune article on George’s letter notes that two prominent Illinois Catholics support the marriage bill:  Governor Pat Quinn and U.S. Senator Dick Durbin.

Chris Pett

Chris Pett

Dignity/Chicago President Chris Pett also criticized the cardinal’s statement. Pett noted that

“. . . the cardinal might have had pastoral intentions, but he missed an opportunity to call for dialogue and engage with the gay community. Instead, the cardinal made it clear that the church would fight marriage equality ‘until the bitter end.’ “

David Gibson, a long-time observer of the Catholic Church, notes in a USA Today article that George’s comments may not have the power to stop the bill from becoming law:

“It’s unclear what, if any, influence George may have. Similar attempts by influential cardinals to stop same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, New York, Washington, D.C., and Maryland have all failed.”

Cardinal George is not the only Illinois prelate who has entered the debate.  Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfiled and  Bishop David Malloy of Rockford also issued similar letters to the Catholics in their dioceses.

Robert McClory

Robert McClory

But support for the bill is also strong from Catholic lay leaders.  Chicagoan Robert McClory, an astute commentator on Catholic issues wrote a column in The National Catholic Reporter criticizing George’s stand.  After noting the shift in Catholic teaching at Vatican II, which  elevated love and companionship of the couple to an equal status with procreation as primary functions of marriage,  McClory notes that another important shift has also taken place:

“Meanwhile, we are adjusting to an evolutionary shift in society: the recognition that sexual orientation is not exclusively what one chooses but what one is. For centuries, it was assumed (certainly by the church) that all males are sexually oriented to females and all females oriented to males, no exceptions; therefore, homosexual relationships and homosexual activity were seen as contrary to nature, disordered and sinful. Now society, prompted by the research of psychologists, psychiatrists and other scientists vigorously questions those presumptions about orientation. And the questioning increases as LGBT people emerge from their closets. For the first time, straight people are seeing daughters, sons, uncles, co-workers, neighbors, teammates and others who are not only ‘out,’ but living happy lives, contributing to society, even contributing in creative ways to the multiplication of the race. That’s why so many people react angrily and resentfully in the face of unremitting negativity from church leaders.

“The question now is why these people in committed gay relationships should not be eligible for the same benefits society grants to those in committed straight relationships? And why should this relationship not be called marriage — a different kind of marriage, for sure, but a union that serves society’s needs in practical and useful ways? And why should the church be so uptight about what’s happening? Gay Catholic couples are daily fulfilling that central requirement of Christian marriage, love and fidelity. Would it kill the hierarchy to at least acknowledge these facts? George and other prelates and priests who cling to a failing theology and an outmoded anthropology are only further degrading their authority.”

Charles Martel

Charles Martel

Similarly, Charles G. Martel, writing in The Windy City Times observes that we have already had marriage equality for almost a decade in Massachusetts, and that other states have followed suit, and none of the social disasters predicted have happened:

“There were those who feared that somehow the granting of these rights to same sex couples would diminish our understanding of marriage, or that it would it reduce the specialness of such a pledge, one to another. Some worried that this was a ‘dangerous social experiment,’ that instead of seeing this as a matter of fairness to same-sex couples, it would introduce chaos into the social fabric, creating confusion. This has not happened.

“There were those who were afraid that this legal right would infringe on the rights of religious denominations to decide what constituted for them a sacramental marriage, that somehow they would be forced by the government to officiate at weddings they did not wish to bless.

“None of this has come to pass, but rather the laws in each state protect the rights of each religious denomination to determine whom they choose to marry, as has always been the case. Religious liberty has been preserved. Religious denominations that wish to bless same sex couples are free to do so, and those who choose not to, do not have to.”

Indeed, with each state that passes marriage equality, the fear-based arguments will soon begin to lose any remaining power that they may have.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


New Film Explores Life of Pioneering Gay Catholic Theologian John McNeill

June 11, 2012

Taking a Chance on God, a new documentary on the life of pioneering Catholic gay theologian, John McNeill, will have its New York debut on Saturday, June 16th, 7:00 p.m., at the School of Visual Arts Theatre, 333 West 23rd St., Manhattan, NY.

The film’s screening, sponsored by Dignity/New York, in honor of their 40th anniversary, will feature a panel of distinguished speakers that includes: McNeill himself and his lifelong partner, Charles Chiarelli, Mary Hunt,  James Bernauer SJ,  Bishop Gene Robinson, Kate Clinton, Ginny Apuzzo, Andy Humm, Fr. Dan McCarthy, Fr. Bernard Lynch, Ken Gomolka, Rev. Nancy Wilson.  McNeill is one of the founders of Dignity/New York.  Tickets for the screening are available at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/246908

Brendan Fay and John McNeill

The film’s publicity materials describe the documentary as:

“An inspiring portrait of a pioneer gay priest, Taking a Chance on God follows the extraordinary life of 86-year-old John McNeill from his Buffalo boyhood through his experiences as a POW in Nazi Germany, Vietnam peace promoter, leading gay rights advocate, and loving partner of forty-six years to Charles Chiarelli. McNeill – the author of groundbreaking works of gay spirituality, a founder of the LGBT Catholic group Dignity/New York, and a gay community leader during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s – refused to be silenced by the Vatican on LGBT issues, which resulted in his expulsion from the Jesuit priesthood. Chronicling McNeill’s love for the Catholic Church, the LGBT community, his Jesuit brothers, and his partner, Taking a Chance on God is a powerful story of faith, love and perseverance in the face of oppression and rejection.”

Taking a Chance on God was produced by Brendan Fay, who is also the producer of  The Saint of 9/11, a documentary on Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM, the gay NYC fire department chaplain who is died ministering to people in the attack on the World Trade Center.

In an interview with The Miami Herald, Mc Neill describes the film this way:

 “This film is about my partner Charlie and our 46-year love affair. . . . The message is that God loves gay lovers and approves of them. . . . I don’t want any part of the church’s homophobia. . . .I was bringing a message that God brought to me. God’s love is universal and includes both gay and straight people.”

In the same interview, Fay comments on why he made the film:

“John became a hero to me the way Harvey Milk and other pioneers of the gay liberation movement had. . . .John is often a hidden figure. An unknown pioneer. There are not many who are aware of the dramatic impact and significance he had on the movement for change in society and the church in the early ‘70s.”

McNeill is best known for his ground-breaking theological work, The Church and the Homosexual, published in 1976.  In 2008, New Ways Ministry presented him with the Bridge Building Award for his life-long contributions to scholarship and pastoral work with LGBT people. You can read his award acceptance speech, which sums up his mission and ministry, here.

Kingston, N.Y.’s Daily Freeman interviewed McNeill and Chiarelli when then documentary was screened in the Woodstock, N.Y. film festival in September 2011.  In that interview, McNeill sums up his life work this way:

“I wanted to take away the guilt and self-hatred of gay Catholics who believed the church’s position on homosexuality.”

For a full listing of upcoming screenings, visit the documentary’s website, www.takingachanceongod.com.

–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

 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,002 other followers