London’s Archbishop Welcomes LGBT Community to a New Pastoral Home

March 7, 2013

soho MassesAt the beginning of January, Bondings 2.0 reported on London’s Soho Masses for the LGBT community being transferred to a new location and operated under a different model of pastoral ministry.  That story made headlines because the Soho Masses were a pastoral accommodation made by Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, but had also been the subject of some criticism by conservative Catholics, reaching to the Vatican.

This past Sunday, the Soho Masses community moved to their new location at the Jesuit-run Immaculate Conception parish, Farm Street, in the Mayfair section of London.  In the new model of ministry, the LGBT community will not have a separate Mass, but will attend the Sunday evening Mass of the parish with the rest of the worshiping community.  Additionally, the Soho Masses Pastoral Council will work with the parish to expand outreach and ministerial programs to the LGBT community of London.

The new model of ministry got off to a good start, with a noteworthy visit from Archbishop Nichols himself to welcome the community. The Independent newspaper reports:

“In a remarkable gesture of goodwill, the Archbishop of Westminster made a private address to the united congregation after yesterday’s service – the first time a senior figure in the Roman Catholic church has formally engaged with the LGBT community.”

Archbishop Vincent Nichols

Archbishop Vincent Nichols

When the change had been announced, there had been some suggestion that Archbishop Nichols was forced by the Vatican to try to close down the pastoral outreach.  His presence at the first Mass to welcome the community shows that he is firmly committed to making the church a welcoming place for LGBT people.  His gesture shows how pastoral leaders can help to ease any discomfort that a change may entail, and it also stands as an example to the rest of the faith community about the importance of welcoming LGBT people.

The leadership of the Soho Masses Pastoral Council are excited about the new opportunity for community and ministry, while realizing that the transition may be difficult for some.  The Independent carried the comments of one leader:

“Despite a sense of betrayal in the LGBT Catholic community, some churchgoers, including Soho Masses Pastoral Council member Mark Dowd, were hopeful about what an integrated service would mean:

” ‘I’m excited because a lot of Catholics still don’t know any gay men or lesbians… This is a chance to make our face known and become formally part of the community,’ he said yesterday. ‘In a perfect world none of us would describe or define ourselves by our sexual orientation… there wouldn’t be a need for a special designated space. But it’s not a perfect world.’ “

Dowd also commented on the significance of Nichols’ pastoral visit to the first Mass:

“There are those critics of Vincent Nichols who would say that he is not on the progressive side of the argument, but to sit down and actually acknowledge the existence of our community has to be something.”

Here in the U.S., LGBT Catholics have sought such opportunities for many years, with few opportunities to dialogue with a bishop.

Catholic blogger Terence Weldon, at QueeringTheChurch.com, attended the first Mass and described the positive atmosphere of the event, as well as his hopes for the future:

“Tonight (Sunday 3rd March) I went up to London for the first Mass of the integration of the Soho Masses Community into the Farm Street parish of the Church of the Immaculate Conception – and came home more confident than ever that this transition will work out to our advantage. There will be short-term disappointments and teething problems, but these will be dealt with in time. In the longer run, we will benefit from the improved physical space, the greater resources of the Parish and the Mount Street Jesuit Centre for growth in faith and spirituality, and for opportunities to grow as part of a wider community – simultaneously influencing and learning from them.”

Weldon’s post describes the event in full, and he also corrects some of the inaccuracies of a press report of the event.  You can read his entire comments here and here.  If you want more information on this topic, they are an excellent resource.

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde

One final note about the new parish location.  This is the same parish which rejected Oscar Wilde as a parishioner back in the 1890s after he completed his prison sentence on “gross indecency” and sodomy charges.   Reconciliation can happen on all levels, even the historical one.   In an International Businss Times  article, Dowd commented on the historical significance of the parish:

“Oscar Wilde was turned away; they didn’t want to be associated with him. Now the Jesuits are saying: ‘It’s OK, it’s fine.’ “

We pray the Soho Masses community receive every blessing as they settle into their new pastoral home.  We pray, too, that similar models of ministry here in the U.S. be accorded the pastoral support that Archbishop Nichols has demonstrated.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


ALL ARE WELCOME: At Notre Dame, Does Buying In Equal Selling Out?

January 25, 2012

The ALL ARE WELCOME series is an occasional feature  which examines how Catholic faith communities can become more inclusive of LGBT people and issues.  This is the third installment.  The first one can be accessed here; the second one can be accessed here.

Catholic colleges over the past decade have struggled with how to accommodate LGBT students and faculty.  Many have done excellent work in this regard, developing innovative and pastorally sensitive programs and policies.  Some have even gone so far as to provide partner benefits for faculty. (New Ways Ministry maintains a list of gay-friendly Catholic college campuses which can be accessed here.)

This week, the The Observer, the student newspaper at the University of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College, South Bend, Indiana, reports on a Campus Life Council discussion on there about developing a gay-straight alliance.  One of the questions they are trying to answer is: Would a gay-straight alliance fare better as an institutional structure or as a student run group?

In the article, Sister Sue Dunn, assistant vice-president for student affairs, explains that all LGBT programs are run by the Core Council for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Questioning Students, described as:

” ‘. . . a blend of students and administrative types. We have someone representing Student Affairs, the Gender Relations Center, the Counseling Center and Campus Ministry,’  she said. ‘We also have eight students, most of whom identify as GLBT and some heterosexual allies, who build a network and programs.’ “

According to the article, Sister Dunn acknowledges that “many students perceive the Core Council as directly aligned with Notre Dame’s administration,” which, she states, has at times been “a tension.”

At least one student expressed a differing opinion on whether the gay straight alliance should be institutional or independent:

“Diversity Council representative Alexa Arastoo said she would not want to see a gay-straight alliance become a part of Core Council. She said a completely student-run organization would allow more opportunities for leadership, and would allow the group to branch out more.

” ‘Having a club on the student level changes the culture. It’s where we get involved and know what’s going on,’ Arastoo said. ‘This isn’t just a tutoring or interest club, it’s part of their person.’ “

It’s an age-old question:  does becoming part of an institutional structure create more advantages or disadvantages?  Does remaining independent and grassroots-oriented mean trading access and support for honesty and integrity?

These are questions that not only Notre Dame students must resolve for their gay-straight alliance, but that many folks involved in LGBT ministry in the Catholic Church face every day.

I don’t think there are any simple answers to these questions.  It would be great to hear what blog readers think. Please share your thoughts in the “Comments” section.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


A Habit of LGBT Equality

January 24, 2012

Over the past three years, nuns’ communities in the US have been “visited” by a Vatican appointee to assess their lives and missions.  Though the Vatican said that the reason for this visitation was the welfare of the sisters, Mary Johnson, a writer for Bloomberg.com and a former nun,  has another theory:  “American nuns frighten them.”

In an article entitled “Nuns in Street Clothing Shouldn’t Frighten Vatican,”Johnson examines how and why American nuns have been in the forefront of justice issues in society and in the church.  Singled out for special mention is a nun very dear to New Ways Ministry:

Sister Jeannine Gramick

“Liberal American sisters are courageous women. Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, continues to advocate for gay rights despite official church efforts to silence her.”

It’s no secret–though it’s not well-known, either–that high on the list of Catholic supporters of LGBT equality are nuns.  Communities of women religious have consistently been supportive of education, dialogue, and justice activities for LGBT people since the late 1970s.

After Vatican II, when nuns’ communities re-evaluated their charisms and ministries, they quickly realized that the church had long neglected lesbian/gay rights and that this was an issue that cried for justice.  They responded positively and actively.

Johnson’s article  highlights the reason that nuns can be so steadfast:

“American nuns don’t want to fight the official church, but neither are they likely to sacrifice the integrity of their consciences for the sake of peace.”

At New Ways Ministry,  we are indebted to our Sisters for financial, spiritual, and practical support over our 35 year history.  More New Ways Ministry programs have been held in convents and motherhouses than in any other type of Catholic facility by far.

Their support continues. For our upcoming Seventh National Symposium, 23 women’s religious groups have publicly endorsed the program.  20 more have provided financial and practical support for the program.  The success of the Symposium is always due to the great publicity and promotion of the event that sisters’ communities do for it. For all of our programs, the largest number of participants tend to be nuns.

The Catholic LGBT community–and New Ways Ministry, in particular–is deeply indebted to the Sisters of the church.  We should repay them with our undying support and with the greatest gift with which they have blessed us:  their unceasing prayer.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


NEWS NOTES: January 18, 2012

January 18, 2012

Here are links to some articles you might find of interest:

1) If you ever get into a discussion about whether lesbian/gay couples make good parents, you probably should read “Gay Parents Better Than Straight Parents? What Research Says” by Stephanie Pappas on HuffingtonPost.com.  This information can come in handy when the topic of Catholic adoption agencies forbidding lesbian/gay couples to be parents comes up.

2) Waymon Hudson looks forward to Chicago’s Gay Pride parade, not in spite of but because of, the recent flap over Cardinal George’s insensitive comments.  Read “Gays and Catholics: It’s about leadership” on RedEyeChicago.com.

3) “Religious Leaders Debut New Tactic on Marriage” by Chuck Colbert on MetroWeekly.com examines the recent anti-equality statement signed by four Catholic bishops, and reactions to it.

4) In Canada, the debate about what to name gay-straight alliances in state-funded Catholic schools has reached part of a decision as “Board says no to ‘gay-straight alliances.’ “  Teri Pecoskie reports on the controversial decision on TheSpec.com.

5) DignityUSA’s Marianne Duddy-Burke is interviewed on a local radio show about the pope’s recent anti-marriage equality statement.  For excerpts and to listen to an audio file of the interview, visit “Gay Catholic Group Responds to Pope’s Homophobic Comments” on HuffingtonPost.com

6) Why are politically conservative evangelicals backing the overtly Catholic Rick Santorum in the Republican presidential candidates’ race?  Is it just because of his opposition to marriage equality?  Mary C. Curtis tries to tease out this puzzler in “Rick Santorum endorsement: An evangelical-Catholic truce or marriage of convenience?” on WashingtonPost.com’s blog, “She The People.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Was Cardinal George’s Apology Enough? Catholic Students Don’t Think So

January 18, 2012

When Cardinal George apologized for his insensitive comments comparing the LGBT rights movement to the Ku Klux Klan, the reaction was mostly favorable.

Students at the Catholic University of America, however, believe that the apology was not enough.  When Cardinal George visited their campus on January 12th to speak at a conference on the Second Vatican Council, a group of students who want him to do more stood and prayed outside the building where he was speaking and handed out flyers calling on the cardinal to do more than apologize.  The Tower, Catholic University’s student newspaper reprinted the students’ statement which reads in part:

“While we understand Cardinal George released an apologetic statement, we find this action passive and inadequate. Comparisons of a peaceful social movement rooted in a desire for equality under the law to the notoriously hateful KKK rooted in mob violence, bigotry, and the worst of American history are utterly inappropriate.

“The vision set forth by the Second Vatican Council, under consideration at the conference this weekend, thrust the Catholic Church into positive engagement with the world. If Catholics truly take to heart the opening words of Gaudium et Spes, then the joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters are the joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties of us, as the People of God, as followers of Christ, too.

“Our presence this evening is our witness as people of good will to call on Cardinal George and the Catholic Church at large to dialogue with pure intention and total charity with the gay and lesbian community. “

Students at Catholic University were not the only ones to respond to Cardinal George’s comments.  At St Norbert College, DePere, Wisconsin, a petition was circulated calling on the school’s administration to rescind an invitation to Cardinal George to be the commencement speaker in May.  Thomas Kunkel, the college’s president, has announced that he will not rescind the invitation, and that Cardinal George will indeed be the speaker.

New Ways Ministry has already suggested that the cardinal not only to open dialogue with LGBT Catholics but to make a public gesture of welcome and reconciliation by passing out water to parade marchers on Gay Pride Day in Chicago.  Actions speak louder than words.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Sex, Marriage, and the Church, Part 1

January 14, 2012

The headline on the front cover of Commonweal magazine’s current issue reads “Sex, Marriage, and the Church.”  The tremendous decline in marriages (both civil and sacramental) in our society, as well as the obvious fact that most Catholics do not accept the hierarchy’s teachings about sex and marriage, offer the occasion for such an examination.

The editors invited nine scholars and writers to respond to observations posed by the church historian Eamon Duffy (in Unfinished Journey: The Church 40 Years after Vatican II, Essays for John Wilkins), from which the following is a  germane excerpt:

” It is not merely Catholic marriages, for example, which are in decline, but, it would seem, the institution of marriage itself. The moral pattern imposed by the church (slowly and with enormous difficulty) on European sexual behavior and family structure from the early Middle Ages onwards seems now to be collapsing. Later than most of the rest of the churches of the West, the Catholic Church is increasingly confronted with the need to evolve a modus vivendi with these apparently inexorable social trends, which can be lived by ordinary people with integrity. Marriage is above everything else a social institution, and if the church is not to decline into being a sect for the saintly, ordinary Catholic couples cannot realistically be expected to live lives untouched by the social and sexual expectations and mores of the culture as a whole. The tragically large and growing number of Catholics in irregular unions is both an indicator of the way in which the values of society shape the lives and perceptions of Christians and also, in pastoral terms, a ticking time bomb, which by one means or another is going to have to be defused if it is not to decimate the Catholic community and, more importantly, deprive thousands of people of the sacramental support and light they need.”

In balanced journalistic fashion, the responders cover a wide range of approaches and positions on this matter.  I will try to excerpt and comment on some of the more salient points, but, in this case more than in most others, I encourage the interested reader to read the entire discussion for one’s self.  In this first posting, I will summarize and comment on the responses with which I tend to agree; in a second posting on another day, I will do the same for the points with which I disagree.

To my thinking, the most reasonable response comes from Luke Timothy Johnson, a professor of theology at Emory University.   Johnson (who, incidentally, will be a plenary speaker at New Ways Ministry’s upcoming Seventh National Symposium) takes the approach that to solve the marriage crisis, it is imperative that church leaders speak with the people who are affected (positively and negatively) by the current teaching.  He describes the current crisis of marriage and sexuality as

“. . .a case where attending to the actual experience of those participating in such ‘irregular unions,’ available through the stories they are eager to share, can help the church perceive in such stories the work of God or its denial, as a means of guiding its own faithful response.”

In listening to the faithful, Johnson posits that the following situation may occur:

“The church might . . . be called to examine how some aspects of the ‘institution of marriage’ as presently structured do not so much nurture the people as reinforce custom, and to respond creatively to the work of God as displayed in the lives of those touched by grace. In this case, change is the expression of obedient faith by the church.”

Johnson notes that there is very imperative reason for attempting this dialogue, which has to do with issues that are greater than sexuality and marriage:

“The one thing the church cannot afford to do is to refuse to pay attention to what is actually happening in people’s lives. What is at stake, after all, is not the preservation of Catholic (or European) institutions, or the survival of the community, or even the fullest possible participation in the sacraments. What is at stake is obedience to the living God, without which the church does not have much reason to exist.”

Leslie Woodcock Tentler follows a line similar to Johnson.  Taking a pragmatic assessment of her local parish, she observes:

“The relatively full pews contain some obviously gay couples, as well as couples whom I know to be in second marriages. The typical family appears to have only two children. As for the many young singles in attendance, I seriously doubt that all are living lives of perfect chastity. . . . [M]ost of us have apparently decided that the essence of the Christian message has to do with something other than sex.”

Although Tentler doesn’t frame it as a catechetical problem, she acknowledges that the current crisis is due in part to the fact that preachers and teachers are unwilling to promote the official teaching on sex and marriage–sometimes because they disagree with it and also because:

“The gulf between what the church teaches and how most Catholics actually live dictates silence on sex as a pastorally prudent strategy. At a time in history when Catholics are in desperate need of guidance on sex and marriage, the teaching church has nothing to offer beyond the occasional iteration of ill-understood prohibitions.”

Tina Beattie, who teaches theology at Roehampton University, London, UK, illuminates a painfully poignant contradiction in  the hierarchy’s approach to humanity when it comes to marriage:

“The church acknowledges that sin and failure are woven into the human condition, yet a ruthless idealism prevails when marriages break down. The denial of the sacraments to the divorced and remarried means that many Catholics are excluded from their Eucharistic communities just when they are most vulnerable. This also affects children, who risk being alienated from the church indirectly through the exclusion of their parents. “

Beattie offers an interesting alternative that is worth pondering:

“Maybe we need to rediscover a model of extended family life, one in which divorce, rather than death, weaves people into several families in the course of a lifetime. After all, throughout Christian history early death has meant that most people have been serially monogamous, and the longevity of marriages today presents a new challenge. Step-parents and half-siblings are by no means a new historical phenomenon.”

On the topic of lesbian/gay relationships, Beattie provides a good, succinct summary of  the contemporary theological approach to this issue:

“But what about those in same-sex relationships? I think the church has fetishized genitality at the expense of a deeper and richer understanding of the possibilities of sexual love. Church teaching now acknowledges that the unitive dimension of sexuality is valid even when a marriage is infertile, but this defeats any appeal to natural law to defend the church’s opposition to gay relationships. The criterion of goodness in any sexual relationship is surely not reducible to every genital act (which is a major flaw in Humanae vitae). Rather, we need to ask how these acts are expressive of wider relationships of fidelity, commitment, and respect, which remain open to the “child” in the form of the vulnerable outsider.”

On the issue of same-sex marriage, Patricia Hampl, author, recognizes that there is a larger, more important context to the discussion of marriage and sexuality than first meets the eye.  The larger context is how the church deal with new realities and with people who seem “foreign” to them:

“The challenge we face now is not simply whether the church can change to fit the historic moment where same-sex marriage is already the law of the land in certain states. We need to decide if we are committed to the apostolic mission of inclusion, the rugged path Paul walked (and did he walk!) in cultures alien to his earliest assumptions and training. He kept walking, kept connecting house church to house church. He forged our tradition by this very insistence on sacramental inclusion.”

Commonweal’s editor, Paul Baumann, closes this discussion with a reflection on his mother’s travails with pregnancy, health, and the hierarchy’s condemnation of artificial contraception.   At the end of this deeply personal reflection, Baumann offers a hope for the future, which is an appropriate note on which to conclude:

“Catholicism has altered seemingly irreformable teachings on more than a few occasions over the centuries (baptizing the uncircumcised, the perfidy of the Jews, slavery, usury, separation of church and state) yet somehow found a way forward with its identity, focus, and integrity intact; and I hope now that it will muster the will to find its way out of this particular dead end.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Another Nugget of Gold From Cardinal George’s Apology

January 7, 2012

The good news that Cardinal George’s apology for his insensitive comments comparing the LGBT rights movement to the Ku Klux Klan has produced another “nugget of gold” in terms of hope for the future.

At the end of a Chicago Tribune news story, the reporter adds this interchange with the cardinal:

” George said although church teaching does not judge same-sex relationships as morally acceptable, it does encourage the faithful to ‘respect everyone.’ “

” ‘The question is, “Does respect mean that we have to change our teaching?” That’s an ongoing discussion, of course. … I still go back to the fact that these are people we know and love and are part of our families. That’s the most important point right now.’ “

The “nugget of gold” here is the statement, “That’s an ongoing discussion, of course.”  Usually when prelates say anything about the possibility of changing church teaching, the message is “Absolutely not.  There’s no way the teaching can be changed. ”  (Of course, the “teaching” referred to is the disapproval of same-sex relationships.)

As we stated yesterday, we hope that Cardinal George’s apology is the first step toward greater reconciliation between the LGBT community and the Catholic hierarchy.  Today we add the hope that this moment will also be the first step toward greater acknowledgement and possibility that ongoing discussion can move church teaching forward.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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