What Makes a Catholic Advocate for LGBT Equality Tick?

July 10, 2014
Francis DeBernardo

Francis DeBernardo

As one of the co-founders of New Ways Ministry, I’ve had the pleasure of working for more than 20 years with Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry and editor of this blog. Many New Ways Ministry supporters and Bondings 2.0 readers have had the opportunity to meet him as he travels around the country doing workshops and talks on Catholic LGBT topics.

But, even if you know Frank personally, you will probably see a new side to him, as I have,  in the recent in-depth personal interview conducted by The National Catholic Reporter’s Sister Camille D’Arienzo, RSM.  The interview is this week’s installment of the popular series “Conversations with Camille” which focuses on the lived faith experiences of unique Catholics.

Of course, if you want to get the full experience, you should probably read the entire interview, which you can access by clicking here.  In this blog post, I’ll provide some excerpts that may give you some insights into what motivates and sustains him in his work for LGBT equality and justice in the Catholic Church and civil society.

In the interview, Frank speaks candidly and lovingly of his early development within his family:

“I grew up in a large Italian family in Brooklyn. I was one of eight siblings. We lived in a house with members of my mother’s extended family, and Sundays and holidays were always filled with cousins, aunts, uncles and close friends getting together. Family was always a very important part of my life. . . .

“My mother died when I was 3 years old, leaving my father with six children, two of whom were newborn twins and the other four ranging in age from 3 to 10. My father remarried the following year, and our “new” family began a lifelong journey of bonding together. My new mother had two more children in the coming years, bringing my large family to 10 members. I learned early the responsibility, benefits and power of belonging to a strong family unit. . . .

“This unique family experience taught me powerfully at a very early age that love, not biological reproduction, is what makes a family. That lesson has served me well as my work at New Ways Ministry continues to place me in the midst of marriage equality debates.”

Frank relates the strange and humorous set of circumstances that brought him to New Ways Ministry:

“New Ways Ministry was only 2 miles from my house. When I wanted to start working on LGBT justice, they were the closest place for me to be involved. I started as a volunteer, and then I joined the staff part time. I had been teaching writing part time, too, but I was getting burned out from that work, and the work at New Ways Ministry was very exciting to me. It just felt natural.

“I always tell people as a joke that I started work at New Ways Ministry for the money. At the time, I had just received my first credit card, and in a few short months, I racked up what I thought was a horrible debt. I realized that I would not be able to pay off the bill unless I took a second job. Just at that time, New Ways Ministry was looking for a part-time worker, and since I had been volunteering there, I was hired.

“The funniest thing about this story is that my whopping credit card debt was $800. I’ve since learned that the average credit card debt in the U.S. is about $10,000. Since that time, I have paid off my balance in full every month.”

He speaks gratefully about what he has witnessed in his ministry with LGBT people:

“The main thing that attracted me to work at New Ways Ministry and has kept me here for 20 years has been the people that I have met as I travel. I have had the incredible opportunity to hear so many amazing stories of courage, love and faith. I’ve met a number of real saints: Catholic LGBT people who faced immense amounts of oppression, often from their church and its leaders, and who still continue to testify to the truth about themselves and to live in love the way they know that God has created them. . . .

“When I first started working at New Ways Ministry, I was reading a book called Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed by Philip P. Hallie. It is the story of the Huguenot village of Le Chambon, France, which sheltered Jewish people during World War II in open defiance of the Nazi regime. The courage of these French Protestants, who took literally the commandment “Love one another,” had a profound effect on me. And as I met LGBT Catholics, their parents, and their pastoral ministers who were speaking out for their human rights and their rights as baptized people, I saw the same courageous spirit as the people of Le Chambon.”

He describes how the challenging work of Catholic LGBT ministry brings him joy:

“People tend to think that I spend my days arguing and fighting with homophobes, and as a result, I must get really down. It’s not true. Most of the people that I come in contact with are Catholics who are seeking creative ways to ensure LGBT justice and equality. I find so much joy in my work because I see so much good happening. It’s like almost every day I get to learn about real miracles taking place. How can I not be lighthearted? I get to witness so much joy.”

And, perhaps most intimately, he reveals the inner workings of his relationship with God, including his favorite Scripture verse:

“Psalm 27: 8-9. ‘Of You my heart has spoken, seek God’s face. It is your face O God, that I seek. Hide not your face from me.’ Whenever I feel lost, this reminds me of the true direction of my life. I’ve also found it helpful when I have to deal with difficult people. It reminds me that they, too, are the face of God. . . .

“Lately, my image of God is a bed. A big, soft, comfy bed with lots of pillows and quilts and blankets where I can just relax and be myself. In that bed, I can be at peace and learn to deal with and respect my morning grumpies, my terror-filled nightmares, my most hopeful dreams, my anxious questions and challenges that keep me awake at night, and, of course, my moments of joy-filled bliss.”

In the full interview, Frank illustrates many of the turning points of his life with details and stories that are poignant and telling.  I think you will find the interview enlightening, inspiring and fun.   As one of the commenters on The National Catholic Reporter’s  website said:

“Thank you, Sister Camille, for this is a wonderful interview, I am so inspired by it! Francis DeBernardo seems like a a man I would want for a friend; a delightful person.”

–Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, New Ways Ministry

 

 


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”


Religious and Political Leaders Ask Archbishop to Stay Away from NOM

June 15, 2014

Today, Catholics in the Archdiocese of San Francisco will be visiting several parishes to ask them to sign a petition asking that city’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone not to speak at an anti-marriage equality rally in Washington, DC, later this month.

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

The petition (organized by Faithful America) is a part of a campaign to ask Cordileone to stay away from the National Organization for Marriage’s (NOM) rally on Thursday, June 19th.  The event is being supported by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and Cordileone is the chair of the conference’s Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.  The rally is co-sponsored by the anti-gay Family Research Council.

A separate part of the campaign was a letter sent to the Cordileone signed by over 80 California politicians and national religious and community leaders, asking him to refrain from participating in the event.  The Los Angeles Times reported on some of the substance of the letter:

“If he attends as scheduled, they [the letter signers] noted, he will be ‘marching and sharing the podium’ with individuals who ‘have repeatedly denigrated lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.’ . . .

“By standing alongside those participants and organizers, ‘you appear to be endorsing their troubling words and deeds, which directly contradict the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ pastoral teaching that “God does not love someone any less simply because he or she is homosexual. God’s love is always and everywhere offered to those who are open to receiving it,” ‘  they wrote.”

Among the Catholic signers of the letter are Francis DeBernardo, executive director, New Ways Ministry; Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director, DignityUSA, Jim FitzGerald, executive director, Call To Action; Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry and coordinator for the National Coalition of American Nuns; Jody Huckaby, Executive Director, PFLAG National; Mary E. Hunt, Co-Founder/Director, Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER).

The entire text of the letter can be read here.

At the USCCB’s national meeting this week, Cordileone re-affirmed his commitment to anti-marriage equality work and to participation in the conference.  According to The National Catholic Reporter:

“Pointing to the recent string of state same-sex marriage bans struck down by federal judges, Cordileone said the country was at a ‘critical point.’

” ‘An amendment to the U.S. Constitution is the only remedy in law against judicial activism,’ he said.

“The San Francisco archbishop also announced he would be attend the second annual March for Marriage in Washington, D.C., June 19. The march is organized by the National Organization for Marriage, a group advocating for legal recognition for marriage as only between one man and one woman.”

The letter to Cordileone also appeals to the example of Pope Francis:

“While not all of us agree with official Catholic teaching on marriage and family, we appreciate the many statements from Catholic leaders defending the human dignity of all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, especially the recent words of Pope Francis: ‘If someone is gay, who searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?’

“Pope Francis words echo the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states that lesbian and gay people ‘must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.’ “

If Archbishop Cordileone does decide to speak at this event, he would do well to distance himself from the negative rhetoric of NOM by speaking up for the Catholic principles of “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” for lesbian and gay people.  While it might be best if he avoided the event, if he speaks forthrightly for the human dignity and equality of lesbian and gay people, he can turn this potentially negative event into a positive one.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles

LGBTQ Nation: “Calif. officials, community leaders urge Archbishop not to attend anti-gay rally.”

Sister Maureen Fiedler, National Catholic Reporter blog: “San Francisco archbishop under fire for plan to speak at March for Marriage”

Huffington Post: “San Francisco Archbishop Outrages Community With Plans To Join Anti-Gay Rally”

San Diego Gay and Lesbian News: “Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone petitioned to not march with anti-gay hate groups”


Catholics Support Transgender Anti-Discrimination Bill in Maryland

February 7, 2014

Catholics were among those who spoke out in favor of a Maryland Senate bill to ban discrimination based on gender identity and expression in employment, housing, public accommodation, and credit throughout the state. The bill, designated as SB212 and named the “Fairness for All Marylanders Act,” is more commonly referred to as the “transgender anti-discrimination bill.”  In addition to Catholic lawmakers, Catholic advocates from the National Coalition of American Nuns and New Ways Ministry were also at the Annapolis hearing to support the bill.

Delegate Heather Mizeur testifying in Annapolis for the transgender anti-discrimination bill. Photo by Michael Key/Washington Blade.

According to The Washington Blade, the bill was introduced by State Senator Rich Madaleno.  Maryland’s Governor Martin O’Malley, a Catholic who successfully campaigned to pass marriage equality in the state in 2012, submitted written testimony to support the bill.  Delegate Heather Mizeur, a Catholic lesbian woman who is a gubernatorial candidate, was present to testify for the bill.  The Blade reported:

“Heather Mizeur pointed out during her testimony that the Baltimore County Council passed a trans rights bill after two teenagers attacked Chrissy Lee Polis at a Rosedale McDonald’s in 2011.

“ ‘This is a protection we want to make sure gets extended statewide,’ said Mizeur. ‘Protection against discrimination shouldn’t depend on your zip code.’ ”

Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown, also a Catholic, submitted written testimony in favor of the proposed law.

The Blade also noted the presence of representatives of two national Catholic organizations:

“Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry in Mount Rainier, and Sister Jeannine Gramick, executive co-director of the National Coalition of American Nuns, also testified in support of SB 212.

“ ‘We need to incorporate the vulnerable members of our society into our laws and our customs,’ said Gramick.

The complete texts of DeBernardo’s and Gramick’s testimony can be read below.

The Maryland Catholic Conference, representing the bishops of the state, did not send a representative to testify, but submitted written testimony in opposition to the bill.  The Blade  quoted from their testimony:

“ ‘The church firmly opposes undue harassment or discrimination against any person,’ said the group. ‘That principle does not, however, warrant creating a new class of protected individuals in the state’s anti-discrimination statute, especially when the extension of the law would presumably apply to only a small number of individuals.’ “

TESTIMONY OF FRANCIS DeBERNARDO,

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NEW WAYS MINISTRY

FEBRUARY 4, 2014

New Ways Ministry Executive Director Francis DeBernardo testifying in Annapolis.  Photo by Steve Charing/BaltimoreOUTLoud

New Ways Ministry Executive Director Francis DeBernardo testifying in Annapolis. Photo by Steve Charing/BaltimoreOUTLoud

Good afternoon.  My name is Francis DeBernardo, and I serve as Executive Director of New Ways Ministry, a national Catholic ministry that attempts to build bridges of justice and reconciliation between the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community and the Catholic Church.  Our offices are in Mount Rainier, Maryland, and we represent the majority of Catholics in the U.S. who support equality for transgender people.  Therefore, I am here today to support the Fairness for All Marylanders Act, SB212.

It is important to recognize that Catholics support equality for transgender people because of their Catholic faith, not in spite of it.  Our Catholic faith compels us to promote the human dignity of all people, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity.  Our faith tells us that we must support transgender people not only because of their inherent human dignity, but because they are a vulnerable population.  They experience a shocking amount of discrimination, and violence.  This bill would send a powerful message that we in this state do not support such discrimination and do not support the denial of basic human rights.

Sometimes the transgender experience is compared to the gay and lesbian experience, and there is good reason to do so.  In Catholic thought, however, while there is much official teaching on gay and lesbian issues, there is none on transgender topics.   So while you may be aware of criticsm of lesbian and gay issues coming from church officials, please remember that no such body of statements exists for transgender people. It is not the same issue.

While in past decades, the Vatican and the pope have issued harsh statements on issues dealing with sexual and gender minorities, Pope Francis has ushered in a new openness and dialogue in regard to sexual and gender minorities. His many public statements reveal that gender and sexuality should not be the defining characteristics of a human person, and that all people need to be respected.

Though he has said nothing explicitly on gender identity issues, we do have a precedent from Pope Francis that we must pay attention to.  At the end of December 2013, a transgender woman in Rome was beaten and killed.  Her family would not claim her body for burial.  Yet Pope Francis’ Jesuit Catholic parish church in Rome did provide funeral services for this woman who was so terribly mistreated.  This action speaks volumes about the Catholic  support for non-discrimination coming from the highest level of the church.

Can the state of Maryland do any less?  Can’t we build a community where transgender people will be respected and valued as equals so that they do not experience the terrible fate that this Roman woman did?  Though Catholics support transgender equality from a faith perspective, it is a perspective which is rooted in an idea that is basic to the American way of life:  that ALL people are created equal.

I urge you to vote for the Fairness for All Marylanders Act.  Thank you.

TESTIMONY OF SISTER JEANNINE GRAMICK

EXECUTIVE COORDINATOR, NATIONAL COALITION OF AMERICAN NUNS

FEBRUARY 4, 2014

Sister Jeannine Gramick testifying in Annapolis for the transgender anti-discrimination bill.  Photo by Steve Charing/BaltimoreOUTLoud

Sister Jeannine Gramick testifying in Annapolis for the transgender anti-discrimination bill. Photo by Steve Charing/BaltimoreOUTLoud

I have been a Roman Catholic nun for more than 50 years. I reside in Prince Georges County. I taught in Baltimore in grade and high schools and at Notre Dame of Maryland University. I have worked for the poor and marginalized, and have served in a pastoral ministry of advocating for justice for LGBT persons for many decades. I serve as a National Coordinator for the board of the National Coalition of American Nuns.

I speak here today as a person of faith and on behalf of the National Coalition of American Nuns, who support the human rights of all people. 

My Church, the Catholic Church, has a large body of social justice teaching. It is based on the conviction that all persons, including transgender persons, are created by God with an intrinsic human dignity, regardless of one’s actions, appearance, or any circumstances in one’s life. Because we all share in a common humanity, all persons must be accorded equal respect and dignity.

Catholic social teaching does not single out transgender people, but it does emphasize commitment to the poor and marginalized. In his apostolic exhortation, The Gospel of Joy, Pope Francis said that we must have “concern for the vulnerable” and those who are “increasingly isolated.” Pope Francis noted the need to create “new forms of cultural synthesis” (par. 209-216). That is, we need to incorporate these vulnerable individuals into the fabric of our social laws and customs.

All persons, including transgender persons, need to feel welcome in our social institutions. There is no room for discrimination in securing a job or a place to live, merely because of one’s gender identity. And there is no room for being harassed, or treated unfairly, in other public places, merely because of one’s gender identity. In fact, an overwhelming percentage of U.S. Catholics (93%, in fact) believe that transgender people should have the same general rights and legal protections as others.*

I am here today as a Catholic nun, as a person of deep faith, to ask the state of Maryland to support SB 212, the Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2014. Thank you.

* http://publicreligion.org/research/2011/11/american-attitudes-towards-transgender-people/

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Tweet the Pope to Save LGBT People Around the World!

January 23, 2014

Pope Francis

A world of humanity is mobilizing around the #PopeSpeakOut Twitter campaign to persuade Pope Francis to speak out against the growing tide of anti-LGBT laws around the globe.  The campaign is launching today! Bondings 2.0 encourages all of its readers who use Twitter to participate.

The campaign organizers are New Ways Ministry,The Fellowship Global, and a growing number of co-sponsors. It offers a positive action that people can take to respond to the dangerous new wave of anti-LGBT laws and policies in countries such as Nigeria, Russia, Uganda, India, and Jamaica.

“By sending tweets to the pope, we want to move him to speak out against these laws, many of which have been supported by Catholic leaders and people in these nations,” said Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director of New Ways Ministry.  “We were amazed and gratified when Pope Francis said ‘Who am I to judge.’ Now we need a powerful, faith-based statement from Pope Francis to support the freedom and lives of our LGBT sisters and brothers.”

Pastor Joseph Tolton, Executive Director of The Fellowship Global said, “People of faith and hope from all traditions will tweet the Pope to urge him to make a pronouncement to the world to ‘Do no harm!’ The rising tide of draconian laws to criminalize LGBT people and their supporters allow vigilantes to rape, beat and kill people who are suspected of being LGBT with impunity. This must stop!”

It will be incumbent on all of us, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, to help spread the word about the campaign so that the pontiff hears from people from all over.  We are heartened by the fact that the papal nuncio in Uganda was pre-disposed to reject that nation’s anti-gay bill and that Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the archbishop of Mumbai who is one of the pope’s closest advisors, has spoken out strongly against India’s anti-LGBT action.  These signs indicate that there is a good chance the pope will, with the right encouragement, speak out, too.

The campaign has established a website, NoMoreTriangleNations.com, as a resource and headquarters for the campaign.  “Triangle Nations” is a reference to the pink triangle assigned to gay men in Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust.

New Ways Ministry is a 37-year old national Catholic ministry of justice and reconciliation for LGBT people and the wider church community and civil society.

The Fellowship Global is a partnership with circles of Christian clergy and LGBTI people in the African Diaspora to express a faith perspective supporing the social, legal, and moral inclusion of all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Bondings 2.0 will keep you updated on the campaign, the pope’s response, and on Catholic influence in “triangle nations” as they develop.

Here are some sample tweets that can be used:

First Russia, then Uganda, last week Nigeria, now ask @pontifex to say “No More Triangle Nations!” http://ow.ly/sSuiY #PopeSpeakOut

Ask @pontifex to call on Christians to love LGBTQ individuals, not legislate their extinction. #nomoretrianglenations

.@Pontifex Urge heads of state to respect human dignity. NO MORE TRIANGLE NATIONS! #PopeSpeakOut

In the wake of anti-gay legislative measures made in #Nigeria & #Uganda, we urge @pontifex to speak out against such unchristian prejudice

As Catholics, we are saddened by our fellow Christians who attack the global #LGBT community. We will speak out, join us and share.

.@Pontifex As a voice for the voiceless please publicly condemn anti-gay laws! #PopeSpeakOut

.@Pontifex Please condemn Uganda’s anti-gay bill as you defend human rights for all! #PopeSpeakOut

.@Pontifex Please urge Nigeria to stop arresting gay and trans people! Please save lives! #PopeSpeakOut

.@Pontifex Stop the unjust legal discrimination of gay/lesbian/trans people. Speak out against anti-gay laws around the world #PopeSpeakOut

.@Pontifex Call Christians around the world to love gay people not legislate their extinction #PopeSpeakOut

–Bob Shine , 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

 


Fired Minnesota Teacher Speaks Out on the Danger of Silence

September 13, 2013
Kristen Ostendorf

Kristen Ostendorf

“I don’t feel like telling the truth should cost me my job.”

Those are the words of Kristen Ostendorf, reacting to being fired from a Minnesota Catholic high school after she publicly revealed that she was a lesbian and involved in a relationship with another woman.

Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) reports that officials at Totino-Grace H.S., in Fridley, a suburb of the Twin Cities, have been tight-lipped about their response to the firing.  MPR states:

“The school released a statement saying the matter is a private one between employer and employee.

” ‘Like all Catholic schools and organizations, Totino-Grace follows the teachings of the church and the employment policies of the Archdiocese,’ it said in part.”

Interestingly, this is the second case this year of a Totino-Grace staff member leaving the school because of revealing involvement in a same-sex relationship.  William Hudson voluntarily stepped down as school president when he disclosed to school board members his long-term commitment to another man.  Ostendorf taught English, religion, and was a campus minister and swimming and lacrosse coach.

The silence of the school officials contrasts strikingly with Ostendorf’s claim about telling the truth. In a MinnPost interview, Ostendorf spoke eloquently about the destructive power of silence:

“I’m not a big fan of silence. I’m not a fan of leaving the unnamed elephant in the room. I think silence is a huge problem. There’s been criticism of Bill [William Hudson] for having ‘kept a secret.’ And I think, really? He was doing a job he was called to do. But let’s say he was keeping a secret, and I chose to not keep a secret. We’re both gone. And the sad story is, I’d like to be the last person to be fired for who I loved, or for the gender of the person I love. But I won’t be, probably, and the silence around it terrifies me.

“The truth is, there are 800 kids who started school two weeks ago. They have a job to do, and they have to do it well, and they will. They have to press on. Still, I’m gone, and my desk is empty, and everybody knows it, and nobody’s talking about it. That’s something I wake up at night thinking about: the silence. Silence is the undoing of lots of good things, and I would err on the side of truth. But I don’t know if that’s going to happen.”

In the same interview, Ostendorf comments about another form of silence in the church:

“As far as I can surmise, the rule I broke was saying out loud that I am in a relationship with a woman. It is OK in the church to be gay, though one would really not say that aloud.”

MPR also reported on another Totino-Grace staff person, Chad O’Leary, a youth minister, who resigned in 2010 after telling school administrators that he was gay.   They also describe these types of departures as part of a national trend:

“Firings at Catholic schools over same-sex relationships appear to be on the rise nationally, according to Francis DeBernardo, executive director of Maryland-based New Ways Ministry, a group that advocates for LGBT employees in Catholic institutions.

” ‘In 2011 there was maybe two or three cases like this. In 2012 there was probably six. And now [this year] we’ve had well over a dozen,’ he said.

“DeBernardo says that’s in part because gay marriage has become legal in more states, like Minnesota, and that has gay employees of Catholic schools speaking up about their relationships.

” ‘The arrival of public affirmation of their relationships is going to bring out more and more of these cases,’ he said.”

For a listing of the known dismissals of church workers because of LGBT issues over the past few years, click here.

Michael Bayly, a prominent Catholic LGBT  Twin Cities’ advocate, put these firings into spiritual context in his blog post at The Wild Reed:

“I’ve followed a number of cases where LGBT people have either resigned or been fired from Catholic institutions. And as difficult as the situation was initially for these folks, they’ve actually moved on to a much better place in their lives. For one thing, they’re no longer closeted. And, let’s be honest, why would we want anyone to remain in a situation where they can’t be their true and full selves? That’s a terrible way to live. I know as I lived it for many years. Oh, to be sure, we can justify it by saying something like, it’s better to be ‘on the inside’ doing what we can to help others.

“Well, let me tell you, that only lasts so long. Ultimately, the best way we can help others, say, for example, young people at a Catholic school, is to live a life of honesty and integrity. That’s what Kristen Ostendorf has chosen to do after eighteen years of being in a work environment that, as she says, required her to ‘hide and compromise and deny who I am.’

“I’m happy that Kristen is out of such an unhealthy environment. I’m sad that such environments still exist – especially within a faith community that claims inspiration from the life and message of Jesus. There’s a major disconnect there, to be sure. “

Silence is unhealthy and secrecy breeds many negative consequences.  Instead of castigating those who speak with honesty and clarity, our church should be honoring these people for helping us as a community to move closer to the truth.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles

Star-Tribune:  Gay teacher no longer employed at Totino-Grace

MinnPost:  Fired after she came out to colleagues, Totino-Grace teacher leaves dissonance and silence behind

The Wild Reed: Thoughts on the Firing of Kristen Ostendorf

Huffington Post: Kristen Ostendorf, Minnesota Catholic School Teacher, Allegedly Fired For Being Gay

Pioneer Press: Another gay educator out at Totino-Grace High School

Minnesota Public Radio: How Totino-Grace discovered, then fired gay veteran teacher


Are LGBT Catholics At Home In the Church?

May 27, 2013
David Gibson of Religion News Service

This spring, several Catholic bishops made positive comments about LGBT people within Catholicism, including remarks by Cardinal Timothy Dolan on Easter and several Vatican officials endorsing civil unions.

In light of actions contradicting the welcoming message, David Gibson of Religion News Service poses an interesting question to several Catholics in recent headlines, “Can gay Catholics find a home in the Catholic Church?” He writes of the tensions:

“It’s still not clear what the second step [after Dolan's positive remarks] in this fraught process might be, or even if there is a second step. And there are signs that things may only get more complicated…

“Moreover, as Americans — and American Catholics — grow increasingly accepting of homosexuality, and as foes of gay rights grow increasingly determined, conflict at the parish level seems inevitable. The uneasy ‘Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell’ policy that once allowed gay and lesbian Catholics to take church positions is clashing with their increasing visibility in the form of marriage licenses or wedding announcements.”

Francis DeBernardo
Francis DeBernardo

Gibson details the firings of Nicholas Coppola and Carla Hale, while Bondings 2.0 has reported on these and several other cases in recent months that are making LGBT-Catholic relations strained. Gibson quotes Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, who questions how these actions fit with other Catholic principles about justice.

“’How just is it to fire someone whose life or practices are not in accord with official church teaching?’…

“’Where do you draw the line?…Do you get fired if you have remarried without an annulment? Do you get fired if you don’t attend Mass on Sunday regularly? Do you get fired because you are a Protestant who does not recognize the Catholic hierarchical structure?’”

Yet, not only are LGBT advocates within the Catholic Church worried, priests and others in ministry recognize the increasing frequency of these conflicts at local levels:

“’The fact is that it is going to get worse,’ said the pastor of a large Midwest parish who has had to fend off complaints about a lesbian member of his staff. As critics become more insistent, and as gay and lesbian Catholics become more public, he fears the resulting controversies will take a serious toll on the church.

“’We have to come to some kind of pastoral accommodation,’ he said.

Fr. Joe Muth

New Ways Ministry hosts a listing of gay-friendly parishes, which has grown to over 200 from just 20 a decade ago that are making pastoral accommodations. One parish with extensive experience doing LGBT ministry is St. Matthew’s in Baltimore, led by Fr. Joe Muth

“Gays and lesbians ‘just move into the regular life of the church’ at St. Matthew’s, Muth said, as he believes is perfectly normal.

“But he also said they are aware of the ‘sensitivity’ of their presence, so they have made a concerted effort to reach out to other groups in the parish, and the parish has also made sure to include one of Baltimore’s bishops in meetings.

“That dialogue has been invaluable, he said, and he has received few complaints or protests.”

Fr. Muth acknowledges that the framework is troubled, and limitations on engaging marriage equality or having LGBT ministers in public relations remain due to the bishops’ pressure. Gibson continues:

“In fact, the patchwork nature of the responses is part of the problem, say gay advocates. ‘It’s not that there is a witch hunt out there,’ said DeBernardo. ‘But there are witch hunters. … For the most part I don’t think bishops go after these folks. They don’t create controversy; they only respond to controversy.’

“At the moment, there are no guidelines to help pastors and parishioners deal with these issues, and there doesn’t seem to be an effort to develop anything comprehensive’…

“’Right now it’s a step-by-step process of helping people to be church,’ said Muth, of St. Matthew’s in Baltimore. ‘That’s the way I see it.’”

This piecemeal approach to solving the increasing number of parish conflicts does not seem sufficient to some, and leaves us asking LGBT Catholics, family, friends, and allies the very same question with which Gibson titled his article: Can gay Catholics find a home in the Catholic Church?

Share your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below about if it is possible, and how you remain Catholic.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Archdiocesan Celebration Causes Split Among LGBT Catholics

May 6, 2013
Cardinal Francis George

Cardinal Francis George

Catholic LGBT advocates in Chicago are split over an invitation extended to Cardinal Francis George for the Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach’s (AGLO) 25th anniversary liturgy scheduled in June. Critics charge that the cardinal’s stance on LGBT issues should not warrant an invitation, while others hope the June liturgy will help to advance dialogue with the hierarchy.

The Windy City Times reports that Rainbow Sash Movement originally released a challenge to AGLO in an internet posting, calling the invitation a “reckless, divisive course of action.” The statement highlighted George’s continuing efforts to stop marriage equality in Illinois, his homophobic comments made in recent years about LGBT people, and AGLO’s stated position that celibacy is expected of members. Rainbow Sash Movement’s executive director, Joe Murray, explained his opposition:

“‘The Rainbow Sash Movement opposes the cardinal’s visit because over the years he has personally opposed every bit of LGBT legislation that seeks to promote the human dignity of this community. He has told lies about our love for one another and has used the pulpit in his cathedral to mount a war against gay marriage and gay adoption; in other words, he has promoted bigotry against us. As if that is not bad enough he has been silent in the face of bigotry directed against us that promotes violence,’ wrote Murray.

“‘The only metaphor that comes to mind is that of inviting Hitler to a remembrance service for holocaust victims,’ Murray added.”

Other groups, including the Gay Liberation Network, join Rainbow Sash Movement’s call to disinvite Cardinal George and promise a protest if the cardinal presides at the liturgy. However, reaction within AGLO’s membership is more mixed. The Windy City Times continues:

“Brenna Cronin, choir member and cantor, is torn. ‘For me as a music minister, I will have to make a decision. My heart says that I want to be there that day and minister for my community,’ she said. ‘At the same time I want to stand on the sidewalk with Joe Murray and hold a candle to show my protest.’

“‘How I reconcile all of my life and all I am with the church,’ she explained, ‘All I know is that I was touched at a very young age and profoundly influenced by the power of the Spirit.’…

“An AGLO member for 10 years, Steve Engles has ‘mixed feelings,’ he said. ‘Any time you have the cardinal of the archdiocese celebrate the Mass at a special function, it’s always important. I have great respect for the man, and his position within the Church, despite the fact we may share different views on practicing the Catholic faith.’…

“Added Engles, ‘My faith is very important to me and AGLO is very important. That’s why I have mixed feelings. I am glad that he is joining us and hoping it does not have a negative impact on the AGLO community, depending on what he has to say.'”

Appreciation for all that AGLO has provided the LGBT community since its inception in 1983 was expressed by many members, but personal concerns about Cardinal George’s record remain. One member was hopeful that the cardinal would spend time with the community after Mass, and plans to use such time challenging George about his opposition to civil marriage equality in Illinois.

Outside LGBT groups also express optimism at AGLO’s invitation, with Dignity/Chicago stating there’s no controversy given AGLO’s connection with the Archdiocese of Chicago and New Ways Ministry’s executive director Francis DeBernardo stating:

“‘While it is true that Cardinal George has said some damaging things about LGBT people, I don’t see that excluding him from presiding at AGLO’s 25th anniversary liturgy will be productive..I see the invitation as an opportunity for AGLO members and friends to dialogue with the cardinal, and I think that we need more opportunities in the church for the hierarchy to dialogue with LGBT Catholics. I don’t see the invitation as a reward for good behavior.’

“In the same breath, DeBernardo voiced disappointment over George’s organizing against same-sex marriage. ‘I think it is a shame that Cardinal George has decided to form an alliance with ministers from other denominations to present a united front against marriage equality…Instead of reaching out to members of other Christian churches, Cardinal George should be spending his time and energy meeting with and dialoguing with members of the Catholic Church who support marriage equality so that he could better understand the deep spiritual and faith-based reasons for their position.'”

The liturgy is scheduled for June 16 at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Chicago’s Boystown neighborhood, where AGLO celebrates Mass weekly at 7:00 pm. The weekend celebration will also include an evening at the Lyric Opera and dinner to celebrate 25 years in ministry. Bondings 2.0 will be update on the AGLO controversy if any developments arise as June approaches. 

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Vatican Shift on Civil Unions Is Result of a Prophetic Laity

May 1, 2013

Fr. Frederico Lombardi

Recent comments by a Vatican spokesperson are prompting many LGBT Catholic advocates to cautiously believe Rome is endorsing civil unions for same-gender couples, and some posit this shifting position is a result of lay pressure which could have concrete benefits.

According to Queering the Church, Jesuit Fr. Frederico Lombardi, the Vatican’s spokeperson, endorsed civil unions while speaking about the passage of marriage equality in France last week. Translations differ, as the original source for his comments is in Italian, but Terence Weldon provides this:

“[When] we then asked him for his evaluation of the final parliamentary approval by the French National Assembly of the anthropological revolution in the family sphere, Father Lombardi said ‘it is a good thing for a child to know it has a father and a mother': one has to ‘clearly show that marriage between one/a man and one/a woman is a fundamental institution in the history of mankind. This does not mean that one cannot recognise in some way other forms of union between two persons.'”

The implications of Fr. Lombardi’s comments could be wide-ranging, although Weldon and others urge caution, given how heavily qualified these remarks are. Weldon continues:

“Irrespective though, of this particular incident, it is clear that change is in the air. Fr Lombardi is of course not a bishop, but he is the official spokesman for the pope, and highly respected for the skill with which he conducts his task…His response to the question will be widely interpreted as reflecting the thinking of Pope Francis himself, and will encourage many more bishops who up to now have been supportive but unwilling to speak out publicly, to do so…

“Compared with the secular shift [towards full marriage equality], Catholic bishops’ thinking has been excruciatingly slow – but compared with its usual reluctance to adapt, this shift has been equally remarkable – and once again, is a response to changes in the real world political balance.”

Francis DeBernardo and Jeannine Gramick in Seattle.

Francis DeBernardo and Jeannine Gramick

Writing for the Equally Blessed coalition, Francis DeBernardo and Sr. Jeannine Gramick of New Ways Ministry conclude all this glacial change is a result of lay leadership moving the church forward. In a piece in The Huffington Post,they recall that only a decade ago, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger declared there could be no legal recognition of same-gender couples. DeBernardo and Gramick continue:

“Faced with mounting evidence that the hierarchy is rapidly losing influence..some leading bishops are seeking to soften the hard line that Benedict XVI drew when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger. Their argument…is that marriage, even civil marriage, must be defined as a relationship between one man and one woman, but that legal recognition of same-sex relationships is permissible or even desirable…

“Reform-minded Catholics are often told that the church is not a democracy. In the conventional political sense, that may be true. But the church ministers in democracies. And in country after country, Catholic voters have gone to the polls, ignored the often heavy-handed lobbying of their bishops, and voted in favor of marriage equality, or legislators who support marriage equality. They are changing the teachings of the church by changing the culture in which the church functions…

“The choice before our bishops now is whether to continue a divisive battle that will only diminish their own authority, or to follow where the laity has led.”

The implication of a softening approach to legal recognition of same-gender couples by the Vatican, and trickling down through the world’s bishops, could have concrete policy implications:

“If the pope adopted the position espoused by Schönborn and others, the Catholic hierarchy would have no reason to oppose including the same-sex partners of U. S. citizens among those who could be granted citizenship under the immigration bill about to come before the U. S. Senate. The hierarchy could support or remain neutral on legislation that extends to gay and lesbian couples legal protections and benefits that they are now denied in most states in this country. It could speak in less vitriolic terms about same-sex couples and their families, as the bishops of England and Wales did recently in acknowledging “that many same-sex couples raise children in loving and caring homes.”

Fr. Lombardi’s comments fit within an atmosphere of Catholic prelates endorsing civil unions, but how widespread and sustained this support will be remains an open question.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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