CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Gay Students’ Elections Signal Shift in Catholic Colleges’ Inclusivity

April 2, 2013

Nate Tisa of Georgetown University

Students at leading Catholic colleges continue electing openly gay peers to lead campus governing bodies, in a widening trend of greater LGBT acceptance in Catholic higher education.

The student body elected Nate Tisa as President of the Georgetown University Student Association in early March, marking the first election of an openly gay candidate at that Washington, DC school and the second at a Jesuit-sponsored institution following University of San Francisco’s lead in 2003. The Hoya, a Georgetown student newspaper, reported on the significance of Tisa’s election :

“[Tisa] was sworn in with the book ‘Taking a Chance on God’ by JohnMcNeill, a gay (resigned] Jesuit priest. He said he chose the book because it redefines Catholicism in a way that affirms LGBTQ Catholics and other groups.

“’I thought it had special significance at Georgetown, where our Catholic and Jesuit identity is a strong and crucial part of our heritage that can promote, rather than conflict with, our values of diversity, inclusion and the dignity of all members of our community,’ Tisa said.”

Anthony Alfano of DePaul University

Other Catholic colleges have also elected openly gay student leaders in recent years. Anthony Alfano presided over student government at the US’s largest Catholic college, DePaul University, Chicago, in 2011-12 as an out gay student. Ryan Fecteau was Speaker of the Student Association at The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, last year, after co-leading CUAllies, the rejected LGBT student group. Fecteau spoke to Bondings 2.0 about his role within this broader trend of LGBT student leadership:

“There is much to be said about the call students are making to their administrators and their Chruch with my election as the first openly gay speaker at Catholic University, Anthony Alfano at DePaul, and now Nate [Tisa] at Georgetown. While there is much progress to be made, students are telling their peers that being LGBT does not prevent you from being an effective leader–even on a Catholic campus.”

At the University of Notre Dame, student newspaper The Observer reported on Alex Coccia’s election as president of the student body for this upcoming year after he was active as a straight ally in the successful 4 to 5 Movement that won greater LGBT student support from the South Bend, Indiana university in late 2012. Coccia also spoke to Bondings 2.0, saying:

Ryan Fecteau of The Catholic University of America

Ryan Fecteau of The Catholic University of America

“With the 4 to 5 Movement, we built a broad-base of support for initiatives aimed at creating a more welcoming and inclusive environment for LGBTQ students, faculty, and staff…I think we all recognize that this is an exciting time for Notre Dame.  As a University, we’ve made a commitment to become a more welcoming University through recognizing the gay-straight alliance organization.  There was a sense that Student Government has an important potential to take the lead on these larger issues that affect student well-being on campus…

“The trend of prominent LGBTQ and Ally individuals being elected to leadership positions shows an increase in passion and drive from our generation — a willingness to work together to ensure that each individual’s dignity is protected.”

Alex Coccia of the University of Notre Dame

Alex Coccia of the University of Notre Dame

While hopeful that their elections signal a groundswell of LGBT inclusion on Catholic campuses and planning to continue efforts, each of these leaders has and intends to focus on the good of students-at-large. As a member of student government, Fecteau battled the administration’s implementation of mandatory single-sex housing and worked to improve safety on campus grounds. Both upcoming presidents laid out plans that include the expansion of free-speech on campus and an attempt at gender-neutral housing by Tisa, and the implementation of Notre Dame’s LGBT pastoral plan and town halls with Student Affairs by Coccia

Clearly, these student leaders recognize the significance of their elections as openly gay students or publicly straight allies within Catholic higher education. After the elections though, they demonstrate that LGBT students on campus express similar concerns to college students nationwide about housing, safety, quality of their education, and the abundant topics filling student government meetings. New Ways Ministry applauds Anthony, Nate, Ryan, and Alex in leading their campuses and advocating for LGBT dignity within Catholicism.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


New Ways Ministry Statement on the Election of Pope Francis

March 13, 2013

Pope Francis greeting St. Peter’s Square crowds upon his election

The following is the statement of New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo on the election of Pope Francis:

New Ways Ministry greets Pope Francis, and we send him our prayers and best wishes as he takes on the awesome role as Chief Shepherd and Pastor of the Roman Catholic Church.

As he begins his papacy, we request that Pope Francis make one of his top priorities the re-evaluation of the Catholic hierarchy’s approach to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues.  As a cardinal in Argentina, the new pope spoke strongly against marriage equality and against the right for gay and lesbian people to adopt children.  We hope that in his new office, he will have the wisdom to hear all sides of these complex issues and that he will inject pastoral messages into his statements.

Over the past several decades, under the papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, our church has suffered because of the aggressively negative approach to issues of sexual orientation and gender identity that the hierarchy has taken.  As a result of these condemnatory and hurtful messages, thousands upon thousands of people—both LGBT and heterosexual–have left the Catholic Church.   Some have looked to other churches for a pastoral welcome, and some have given up on faith altogether.

Pope Francis has the opportunity to repair much of this hurt and alienation by offering sincere pastoral outreach to LGBT people and their families.  A welcoming gesture from the new pope in the first month of his papacy can go a long way to express God’s love for all humanity.  Without such a gesture, the church will continue to lose members, as well as credibility.

Pope Francis will need to go further than gestures, too. In the past few decades, Catholics in the United States and all over the globe have become increasingly welcoming of LGBT people.  Catholics have gone to ballot boxes to ensure that LGBT people do not suffer from discrimination and violence, and that they receive equal benefits in society, including civil marriage.  During that time, Catholic theologians, using modern research and evidence, have called for the Catholic Church to update its teachings and approach to sexuality, including sexual orientation, same-sex relationships, and gender identity.  The Catholic Church is ready for the full acceptance of LGBT people in the church community.  The only obstacle to recognition of the full dignity of LGBT people is the intransigence of the hierarchy.  Through example and directive, the new pope can move the church toward full acceptance.

Pope Francis has many items on his agenda, but we hope that he will place the updating of Catholic teaching on LGBT issues at the top of his list.  The Catholic Church is hurting because of the many people it has lost due to the homophobia and prejudice of its officials.  We need the new pope to be a healer and reconciler, and a true shepherd of all souls.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Let Us Know: What Qualities Do You Seek in the Next Pope?

February 21, 2013

A week from today, Pope Benedict XVI will resign. Already speculators have saturated Catholic conversations with who the next pope will be. Bondings 2.0 wants to know what qualities, visions, and backgrounds our readers desire in this person. For your reflection, we’ve excerpted from pieces by Catholic writers on their ideas about the next pope. After reading, we hope you will add your thoughts in the comments section below.

Sr. Maureen Fiedler, host of the radio program Interfaith Voices, writes at National Catholic Reporter:

“We also need someone who accepts and preaches the Gospel value of human equality for women and men, people of all races and ethnicities, and people of all sexual orientations.

“So we need a ‘gutsy’ pope: someone who would open up all roles in the church to anyone who qualifies spiritually and would not rule anyone out based on gender, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Such changes would likely mean standing up to lots of Vatican bureaucrats…

“But you know, most of all, we need someone who can relate to people so well that he is willing to host a picnic in Vatican Square, or maybe a potluck somewhere. I’d bring some great hors d’oeuvres.”

Maryland parish priest, Fr. Peter Daly, also writing at National Catholic Reporter about his desire for a pope with experience as a parish priest:

“The Benedictines have a saying about the selection of a new abbot: The abbot should be ne numis sapiens, ne nimis sanctus, et ne nimis sanus — not too healthy, not too wise and not too holy. In other words, they should select a regular guy. That’s what I hope for: a regular guy…

“I hope he has a lot of nieces and nephews who have challenged him around the dinner table and in family gatherings…Perhaps one of those nieces and nephews has come out to him as gay and he has had to love them still.

“I hope we get somebody who is in touch with his own humanity. It would be nice if he was a man who admits that he, too, is a sexual being who has struggled with human desires and impulses like everybody else.”

Lastly, E.J. Dionne writing in The Washington Post calls for a nun to be elected pope (and we at New Ways Ministry heartily echo his sentiments):

“It is time to elect a nun as the next pontiff…

“Matthew 25:40 contains what may be the most constructive words ever written: ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these my brethren, you did for me.’ More than any other group in the church, the sisters have been at the heart of its work on behalf of compassion and justice…

“The church needs a leader who has worked closely with the poor and the outcast, who understands that battling over doctrine is less important for the church’s future than modeling Christian behavior — and who sees that the proper Christian attitude toward the modern world is not fear but hope.”

What do you seek in the next pope? What qualities does that person need to lead the Catholic Church forward on LGBT issues?  Is there a particular person who models for you what a good pope should be?  Who would be your choice from the current College of Cardinals? Please leave your thoughts, idealistic ones and practical ones alike, in the ‘Comments’ section of this post.  We will try to follow-up on  our readers’ input in a future post.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Coalition Celebrates Marriage Equality Electoral Victories

November 8, 2012

Equally Blessed, the coalition of four Catholic organizations which work for justice and equality for LGBT people has issued a statement on Election Day’s four marriage equality victories and the re-election of President Barack Obama.  Here’s the statement in its entirety:

“Like millions of other faithful Catholics, we watched with mounting excitement last night as election returns poured in from the four states in which marriage equality was on the ballot. By this morning we knew that Catholic voters and politicians had helped, in the words of the great abolitionist Theodore Parker, to bend the arc of history toward justice.

“In Maine, Maryland and Washington, faithful Catholics ignored the high-pressure tactics of their bishops and helped make marriage equality a reality. In Minnesota their votes were indispensable in defeating an amendment that would have made marriage equality unconstitutional.

“We congratulate Vice President Joe Biden, a faithful Catholic whose support for marriage equality helped persuade President Barack Obama to embrace our cause. We thank Governors Martin O’Malley of Maryland and Christine Gregoire of Washington, both Catholics, for leading the movement toward marriage equality in their states. We are also grateful to the many Catholic legislators who risked their political careers and the opprobrium of their bishops to vote as their consciences dictated on this important issue.

“Mostly, however, we want to share in a moment of prayerful joy with all the Catholic lay people who considered the teachings of their church, the promptings of their hearts and the leadings of the Holy Spirit and then helped make history.

“We hope that the rising Catholic tide of support for marriage equality will one day carry along our bishops as well. Their intransigence in refusing even to speak with groups that represent gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender Catholics and their families is becoming increasingly untenable. Their penchant for threatening Catholics who follow their own consciences in the voting booth is both theologically suspect and obviously ineffective. The millions of dollars that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Knights of Columbus spent attempting to crush the hopes of LGBT Catholics and their families could have been better spent to achieve more Christian ends. And their ongoing relationship with the National Organization for Marriage, even after its deliberate attempts to divide the electorate on racial grounds, is a scandal for which they have yet to answer.

“Despite loud and frequent warnings from their bishops, Catholics voted yesterday for President Barack Obama, and their votes were critical in passing marriage equality into law. The results of the election point to a crisis of credibility. Catholics are tired of watching their church’s leaders ride into the cultural wars in the ranks of the political right. It is time the bishops begin working with the People of God to heal the wounds in the Body of Christ.”

Equally Blessed is comprised of Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, New Ways Ministry.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Midwest Bishops’ Political Letters Cite Marriage Equality as a Litmus Test Issue

October 31, 2012

Bishop David Ricken

Catholic parishioners in the Diocese of Green Bay received a letter last week from their bishop, David Ricken, warning them against voting for positions he claims are “intrinsically evil.” The letter included five non-negotiable issues, including what Ricken referred to as “homosexual ‘marriage,’” that made candidates ineligible for Catholics voters. TheNorthwestern.com reports Ricken also told those in his diocese voting for candidates who support those five issues would make them complicit and jeopardize their souls.

Bishop David Kagan

After a similar letter was released by Bishop David Kagan of the Diocese of Bismarck claiming Catholics could not vote for anyone supportive of marriage equality, North Dakotan Catholics reacted against what they saw as electioneering. National Catholic Reporter reports that Tim Mathern, a state senator from Fargo, replied to the bishop’s letter by emphasizing the primacy of conscience in Catholic morality and the by questioning the Church’s tax-exempt status if bishops engage in explicit partisanship. Mathern writes:

“To direct parishioners toward or away from one particular political party is a misuse of faith and trust. Sitting in the pews, parishioners have every reason to expect that the message will be relevant to current events and issues of conscience. However, endorsement of a political candidate, either by inference or direct statement, serves to disenfranchise, discourage, and even,to some, harm. Such an act bends religious faith toward service of a political party.”

With Catholics playing central roles in political races from presidential down to ballot questions, the bishops continued partisanship, including against marriage equality, will continue to divide Catholics nationwide.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Convention Speeches by Catholics Spark Controversy

September 8, 2012

Prominent Catholics took to the podiums at both the Republican National Convention (RNC) and the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this year, leaving other Catholics tasked with interpreting the speeches. Sr. Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby, addressed the DNC last Wednesday, while Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York gave benedictions for each party.

Dolan’s prayers are stirring up already-present Catholic controversies because of the differences in remarks aimed at Republicans and at Democrats, the latter receiving 156 additional words.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan

The Huffington Post reports on some of those added words:

“And making what seemed to be a allusion to same-sex marriage, which President Barack Obama and the DNC have endorsed, Dolan said: “Show us anew that happiness is found only in respecting the laws of nature and of nature’s God. Empower us with your grace so that we might resist the temptation to replace the moral law with idols of our own making, or to remake those institutions you have given us for the nurturing of life and community.

“Dolan mentioned morality at the RNC, but not remaking ‘institutions [God] has given us.’ At the RNC, he said, ‘May we know the truth of your creation, respecting the laws of nature and nature’s God, and not seek to replace it with idols of our own making.’”

The Advocate notes changes Dolan made for the Democratic convention, including the above potential reference to marriage equality:

“Dolan used no such language about ‘remaking institutions’ in his prayer to the RNC last week. Republicans approved a platform calling for a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and the affirmation of DOMA, positions more in line with Catholic Church teaching.”

Mainstream commenters quickly identified this discrepancy in language as condemning the Democratic Party’s adoption of marriage equality and LGBT rights as part of its platform.

In the Catholic community, however, there is debate about how much can be read into Dolan’s remarks. Chuck Colbert reports in the Windy City Times on differing opinions:

“One view is that Dolan offered a subtle theological take on gays as freaks of nature, even idolaters in advocating-same-sex marriage.

“’The reality is that gay people, too, are part of God’s nature, and therefore we are a part of the laws of nature. We need to remind Cardinal Dolan and the Church that God created gay people to be fully who we are; we are not a “mistake,”’explained [Charles] Martel [of Catholics for Marriage Equality] over the telephone and in e-mail correspondence….

“…Francis DeBernardo, executive director of the Maryland-based New Ways Ministry, a pro-gay group for LGBT Catholics, their friends, families, and the Church, viewed the prayer favorable light.

“’Cardinal Dolan does not mention anything about LGBT issues, which I think is a good thing,’ explained DeBernardo. ‘Some people may think that his mention of natural law refers to lesbian and gay people or our society’s move towards marriage equality, but I do not agree. Lesbian and gay people are well within the bounds of nature’s law and the desire to live as a committed couple is a perfectly natural thing to do.’”

However, as Colbert reports, some view Dolan’s remarks as moderate and hopeful:

“’From a LGBT Catholic perspective I see this as indication that in the cultural wars Dolan is recognizing public opinion is overwhelmingly opposed to his far right position on the cultural hot button issues, and this might be an indication that he is trying to move his position to a more moderate one. What can I say I believe in the Holy Spirit,’ [Joe] Murray [of the Rainbow Sash Movement] added.”

As for Dolan’s comments at the DNC, New Ways Ministry’s DeBernardo had this to say:

“Cardinal Dolan seems to be alluding to the institution of marriage in his reference to remaking ‘those institutions you have given us for the nurturing of life and community.’  What he fails to grasp is that marriage equality laws do not re-make the institution of marriage, but simply expand the institution to include all couples who want to commit in love to one another and carefully protect all families within our society.”

Sr. Simone Campbell

Sr. Simone Campbell addressed the Democrats in a heavily pastoral manner drawing from her time with ‘Nuns on the Bus’ earlier this year:

“In June, I joined other Catholic sisters on a 2,700-mile bus journey through nine states to tell Americans about the budget Congressman Paul Ryan wrote and Governor Romney endorsed….

“[A woman in Pennsylvania] wishes they, and the rest of the nation, would listen to one another with kindness and compassion. Listen to one another rather than yell at each other. I told her then, and I tell her now, that she is not alone.

“This is what we nuns on the bus are all about: We care for the 100 percent, and that will secure the blessings of liberty for our nation. So join us as we nuns and all of us drive for faith, family and fairness.”

Given both Dolan’s history and the benediction texts from each convention, how are his remarks to be interpreted? Are the bishops seeking a more pastoral tone like that of the sisters? What do you think of Sr. Campbell’s comments? Please post your comments below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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