CAMPUS CHRONICLES: LGBTQ Resources Expand at University of Notre Dame & Elsewhere

September 14, 2013

Classes are underway at over two hundred Catholic colleges and universities in the US, and with the new academic year comes expanded awareness of and resources for LGBT students at these schools, including celebrated developments at the University of Notre Dame.

Already, leading Catholic schools like Georgetown University, DePaul University, and Loyola Marymount University host LGBT resources and programming led by full-time staff, reports USA Today. Many others allow gay-straight alliances and other supportive student-run initiatives, especially colleges rooted in the Jesuit tradition. New Ways Ministry lists more than half of the US’ Catholic colleges and universities on their Gay-Friendly listing, and Catholic campuses become better on LGBT issues every year.

Staff members point out that merely allowing a resource center or student group is not an end though, given the Catholic context they work within, and tensions remain that require greater resolution. Several staff people spoke with USA Today on this matter, saying:

“Although Georgetown’s center has the largest endowment of any LGBTQ resource center in the country, director Sivagami Subbaraman says the programming’s legitimacy in a Catholic university is constantly questioned…

“Since moving into her new position, Maureen Doyle is still determining what her role will be as Notre Dame’s first assistant director of LGBTQ concerns. She plans to improve perceived tensions between Catholic teachings and sexual orientation through campus education.

” ‘I think a lot of it comes in with a misunderstanding of what the Catholic Church’s teachings are…What we’re doing actually doesn’t counter or go against any of the Catholic Church’s teachings. ‘

“Georgetown’s center aims to meet students where they are, rather than take theological positions or attempt to change Catholic teachings, Subbaraman says.”

At Notre Dame last week, over 140 students celebrated the launch of a new student group, PrismND, that was the culminating product of two decades of campus advocacy regarding a group for LGBTQ students. This fall will be a formative time for the group, and is a first step in implementing the University’s pastoral plan released in December 2012. Students and staff spoke with the campus newspaper, The Observer, about the group’s name and launch:

“Student body president Alex Coccia [who led the 4 to 5 Movement for an LGBTQ group] said…

“The fact that [the name] reflects quite a spectrum and a range of interests and passions and identities, I think is something that people will identify with and appreciate when the group gets off the ground’…

“Sophomore Connor Hayes, who helped to launch PrismND, said the name is intended to be all-inclusive, instead of specific to people who identify as LGBTQ.

“ ‘I think relating to the Catholic identity of [Notre Dame] and backgrounds of people coming from religious environments, [some] people don’t really want to identify as gay or lesbian, so … we were just going for a name that was very inclusive…We wanted this name to be one that can last and kind of become a brand.’ “

Christine Caron Gebhardt who heads up the University’s Gender Relations Center told The Observer:

“We realize this is about who we are as a community, and [PrismND is] one facet in which students can feel welcomed and loved and supported on this campus and that we will all work together to try to create the community that Notre Dame can be and I hope will be…“We want the student organization … to emerge from the ideas and the interests and the hopes and dreams of the students in collaboration with all of us across campus.’ “

Elsewhere this summer, members of the University of San Francisco’s LGBTQ Caucus joined in San Franciso’s Pride festivities with t-shirts sponsored by several campus departments (USF is a Jesuit school). In a piece discussing Christian higher education in Pennsylvania, that state’s Catholic colleges such as Villanova University, St. Joseph’s University, and Chestnut Hill College were depicted as  LGBT-friendly Christian campuses for not specifically targeting same-gender relationships in their student handbooks. Benedictine College in Kansas welcomed an openly gay student who was a star athlete, as well.

All of these moments are signs that Catholic higher education increasingly welcomes all students for who they are as God created them. However, challenges remain within Catholic higher education for LGBT students and their allies who will spend another semester this fall meeting with administrators, organizing students, and support one another on more hostile Catholic campuses. As the new academic year begins, it is a fitting moment to offer thanksgiving for advances made, prayers for those still needed, and a renewal by every Catholic to impact Catholic higher education in LGBT-positive ways.

For more information on PrismND, you can view their website, Facebook page, and Twitter feed.

-Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


ALL ARE WELCOME: Baltimore Pastor Defends LGBT Ministry from Pulpit

July 24, 2013
Fr. Joe Muth

Fr. Joe Muth

The ALL ARE WELCOME series is an occasional feature  which examines how Catholic faith communities can become more inclusive of LGBT people and issues.

Faced with criticism of a parish LGBT outreach ministry, Fr. Joe Muth’s homily in early Julysent a message relevant for all Catholic parishes about welcome, diversity, and the Gospel. The pastor heads up St. Matthew’s Parish, Baltimore, Maryland, which recently particiapted in their city’s Pride parade.  Fr. Muth was also recently quoted in the news for his support of gay and lesbian Catholics.

Fr. Muth drew on the readings to warn against literal interpretations of Scripture, often used in discussions of sexuality, before holding up the Gospel message for that Sunday. He uses Scripture to introduce the ministry’s place in their parish:

“Rejecting  one another is rejecting God, because we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. In the gospel today the 72 returned in jubilation not because they had divided the communities where they preached, deported all the immigrants, and discriminated against people of color, but because they preached the word of God and rid the community of demons. Our internal demons are divisive, but we have to face them and rid ourselves of them…

“Two years ago when a Gay and Lesbian Outreach group, called LEAD, started in the parish, I supported this new organization. Why? Because some Gay and Lesbian people asked me if it was ok to go to church here. Can you imagine that? They had to ask. It wasn’t obvious because of my attitude or the church attitude that they were accepted. So I told them the same thing I have told other individuals and groups who wanted to join St. Matthew, “You are welcome!” Sometimes, as soon as I talk about our Gay and Lesbian outreach group, I feel some tension in the church. I hear it and I see it.”

This localized tension around the LEAD Ministry, as the LGBT outreach group is known, is why Fr. Muth felt compelled to explain his process in allowing the ministry. He continued by explaining that if gay and lesbian parishioners are asked to leave, than so will all others who are considered “against the teachings of the church.” He asked:

“So if we lump all of these people considered immoral and against the teachings of the Church and the Will of God together, and ask them to leave….then…….Who is left?????

“Isn’t it better to reach out to people, rather than to be divisive and judgmental?? We heard in the scriptures today that the harvest is plentiful….that there is work to do. If we attempt to throw everyone out, is that our work? Is our work to throw people out?”

Answering in the negative, Fr. Muth then drew from the American bishops’ 1997 document, “Always Our Children,” to affirm the Church’s call to incorporate LGBT members into communities of faith and actively oppose discrimination. In summary, the priest asked the question many seemingly asked him – what does he want with this LGBT ministry? He answers:

“I want the children growing up in this church to hear their first words referring to Gay and Lesbian people to be words of compassion, acceptance, and kindness, not words of judgment, discrimination and hate….

“My criteria, as your Pastor, is the following: If you are human, and you want to get to know Jesus, and you want to live in a church community, and you want to learn compassion, acceptance, and kindness, and you want to share your gifts——-

“I have one thing to say———

“YOU ARE WELCOME HERE IN THIS CHURCH!!! God Bless You!!”

New Ways Ministry thanks Fr. Joe Muth and St. Matthew’s Parish for being a gay-friendly Catholic community and continuing to welcome all. It would be a pleasure to hear many more priests tackle LGBT issues from the pulpit with such Gospel-rooted calls to love inclusively.

You can read the full homily text on the St. Matthew’s Facebook page. If you have heard a welcoming homily lately, please let us know in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Sr. Jeannine Gramick Speaks of Hope at Stonehill College

March 6, 2013

Sr. Jeannine speaking at Stonehill College (Credit: Daniel Gardiner)

Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, spoke with the Stonehill College community recently about her experiences in LGBT ministry and hopes for the future.  This event came at a critical juncture for colleges run by the  Holy Cross Fathers, whose campuses have seen signs of progress and regression in the last year around LGBT issues.

Over a hundred students and faculty filled the lecture hall, warmly receiving Sr. Jeannine for nearly two hours of dialogue. The event’s co-sponsors included PRIDE, the Moreau Honors Program, the Gender and Sexuality Studies Program, the Moore Center for Gender Equity, and faculty members from the Religious Studies Department. Reviews from those in attendance extolled not only the importance of discussing LGBT issues within Catholic higher education, but of doing so in the hope-filled way Sr. Jeannine demonstrated.

An article in the campus newspaper, The Summit, captured faculty reactions for those who participated in the evening, including that of Fr. George Piggford who teaches English:

“I think that Sister Jeannine Gramick’s witness and her ministry is incredibly powerful…I have a great deal of respect for her willingness to live according to her conscience, and to discern, not just on her own, but in conversation with other people, how she feels God is leading her to minister to other people.”

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Sister Jeannine Gramick

Students also responded positively over social media. Daniel Gardiner wrote a blog post titled “I am the vine; you are the branches” based on his reflections from the evening with Sr. Jeannine. He lauded the event for exposing students to new perspectives, writing about Sr. Jeannine’s lecture:

“Her message was strong and her passion was palpable…

“The bulk of her presentation was centered on ‘signs of hope’ which demonstrate what she believes to be a changing attitude in the Catholic Church toward the LGBT community. She speaks of the church in terms of the masses of people rather than the men who make up the hierarchy and cites polling that indicates a growing sense of support among Catholic people for LGBT individuals and even same-sex marriage. This was her first sign of hope.

“Her second sign of hope came through the success of the ministry which she founded. Gramick insisted that New Ways Ministry is not advocating for a triumph of new ideas over old, but rather, the simple idea that God loves all his children just the way they are. While this ministry has faced significant scrutiny since its inception during the seventies, there has also been tremendous support for the mission of New Ways and for Sister Jeannine herself.

“Another sign of hope has been the changes Gramick has seen in the institutional structures of the church…After citing scripture, ‘I am the vine; you are the branches,’ Gramick explained that we are all rooted in God’s love, there are individuals who comprise the right branches, like Pope Benedict, and individuals who comprise the left, like Sister Jeannine, but it is in our common point of origin that we can move the conversation forward.”

Stonehill’s invitation to Sr. Jeannine came in the midst of Holy Cross-run campuses across the country engaging LGBTQ issues due to growing student advocacy. The University of Notre Dame recently released a pastoral plan to address sexual orientation and gender issues in the wake of students agitating for fifteen years, while the University of Portland witnesses renewed controversy of disparaging comments by their president recently. Stonehill College itself just recently listened to student input by beginning to implement sexual orientation into College non-discrimination policies. In the midst of all this, student Gardiner blogged:

“Our institution was founded by the Congregation of the Holy Cross and our Catholic identity is something of which we are very cognizant. By bringing Sister Jeannine to our campus and welcoming her discussion among our students, faculty and staff, we are sending a very clear signal that not only are we an open minded community but a community which fosters rich discussion on the topics that may be marked as controversial but we deem as important and worthwhile. Bravo, Stonehill.”

New Ways Ministry echoes Daniel’s applause and continues to support LGBT students and their allies at Catholic universities and colleges. For a full listing of gay-friendly Catholic colleges and universities, visit newwaysministry.org/gfc. For further information on New Ways Ministry’s efforts in Catholic higher education and to get involved or seek support, contact me at youngadults@newwaysministry.org.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


ALL ARE WELCOME: Lesbian Young Adult Balances Faith and Exclusion

February 10, 2013
Kate Childs-Graham

Kate Childs Graham

The ALL ARE WELCOME series is an occasional feature  which examines how Catholic faith communities can become more inclusive of LGBT people and issues.  At the end of this posting, you can find the links to previous posts in this series.

For most Catholics, experiences of inclusion in our local parishes during liturgy or various social events are central elements tying us to the faith. A supportive, positive local community can build us up in the face of a wayward hierarchy or, alternatively, tear us down with its rejection.

Kate Childs Graham writing in National Catholic Reporter highlights the experiences of one young adult struggling to find welcome in the faith she loves. Kate narrates the story of Danielle, a college student in Texas who grew up in the same parish, St. Phillip’s, where she now mentors as a peer educator. Kate continues:

“Danielle came out of the closet at 15. The director of religious education at St. Philip’s was one of the first people to accept her.

“She told me, ‘That’s cool,’ Danielle recalled. ‘Just don’t be too gay.’

“So she continued to educate and walk with ‘her kids’ — as she calls them — in the confirmation class. But then, the parish got a new priest and a new director of religious education.

“’He said that being gay is bad,’ Danielle said. ‘I never heard any priest I knew talk like that.’”

After finding welcome, Danielle suffered rejection as a Catholic lesbian due to parish staffing changes. Motivated by fear that she would be asked to stop peer education or be unable to assume leadership of the mariachi choir her family ran since 1969, Danielle went back into the closet.

Danielle’s new personal ministry to attend Mass with LGBT young people who were thrown out of  Confirmation class for their identity, and then plays music at four separate parishes on Sundays. For now, Kate writes:

“Danielle knows the church she loves has a long way to go, but her prayer is pretty simple: ‘I just want my parish to be a bit more accepting.’”

Positive parish-level responses to LGBT individuals and families are sometimes the simplest acts with the greatest effect we can have for our communities. New Ways Ministry maintains a national Gay-Friendly Parishes and Faith Communities list in attempting to identify those communities who strive for welcome and inclusion.

Bondings 2.0 is curious about our readers’ experiences.

  • Is your Catholic parish accepting of LGBT individuals and/or families?
  • What do professional ministers and lay leaders enact that creates a better atmosphere?
  • In your experiences, what are common obstacles to changing a parish’s culture?
  • What are good strategies?

We welcome you to leave your answers to these questions and more below in the “Comments” section.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Georgetown U. Celebrates Coming Out Month

October 25, 2012

Georgetown students celebrate at a Coming Out month activity.

October is Coming Out Month at Georgetown University. In addition to the full schedule of activities, the campus also engaged in a conversation about faith and sexuality in the campus newspaper, The Hoya.

GU PRIDE, the undergraduate LGBTQA organization, and the LGBTQ Resource Center have hosted a series of social and educational events, according to Vox Populi, a campus blog. These include a panel discussion on gay undocumented workers, the inaugural question and answer forum with university President John J. DeGioia on campus LGBT matters, and a day-long outdoor event on National Coming Out Day.

Some of the activities were designed to celebrate the fifth year of Georgetown’s  LGBTQ Resource Center. Created as a response to student campaign entitled “Out for Change” that began in 2007, this office provides a safe space on campus, runs programming around relevant topics, and is beginning to aid other Catholic colleges and universities in establishing similar programs.

The Hoya, Georgetown’s student newspaper, reports that many credit the LGBTQ Resource Center with transforming the campus’ conversation on sexual orientation and identity. The newspaper reports:

“’The campus climate for the LGBTQ community was far different five years ago than it is today,’ Scott Chessare (SFS’10), former co-president of GU Pride and one of the leaders of the rally in Red Square that launched the campaign in 2007, said. ‘It was fractured, divided, not really united. We thought there was a general lack of institutional support’…

“‘In [that] dark hour, there was a seed of opportunity to respond to what happened,’ Chessare said. ‘I think that is something we saw five years ago [with] DeGioia’s courageous decision to commit to establishing the LGBTQ center, not in spite of our Catholic and Jesuit identity, but because of it.’”

Chessare’s comments add to a conversation in the opinion pages of The Hoya about Catholicism and sexuality. One column featured junior Nate Tisa writing on his experiences being Catholic and gay, and positively harmonizing these two identities. Tisa writes:

“Every Catholic outside the heterosexual binary is faced with a choice: Hide your identity and experience the sacraments in the knowledge that you do so with a divided soul or live as you were created but find yourself excised from many church ministries and the sacrament of marriage…

“…it is the status quo element in the Church hierarchy that has lost its faith in the living God, not the majority of lapsed Catholics. Traditionalists are so confident in their moral authority that they fail to acknowledge the hand of God working social change through those on the margins of society.

“This world and this university need the Church, now and a hundred years from now. Society is changing, and God is in that change — do not reject it.”

Senior Julia Maddera responded to a student columnist defending the hierarchy’s actions in The Hoya with her experiences as an LGBT Catholic driven away from the Church. She writes:

“While the Catholic bishops may claim to be aware of the alienation that LGBT Catholics suffer, they do little to stem it and often actively participate in it. Archbishop John Myers of Newark recently urged practitioners who support same-sex marriage to refrain from receiving the Eucharist…As the archbishop of my diocese, he was speaking to me.

“I will abstain from Communion, but not out of respect for Archbishop Myers’ words. I can no longer participate in a church whose actions and teachings on homosexuality introduce a moral inconsistency to the larger body of its doctrine…

“I admire my LGBT Catholic friends who continue to engage in dialogue with the Church. I live in hope that the Church will listen to them and set aside its ancient prejudices to become the truly welcoming community that Jesus envisioned…However, I cannot patiently wait for the hierarchy to rediscover its conscience.”

These student voices highlight the persistent tension found at Catholic colleges and universities between institutional religious identity and personal sexual identities. Yet, the progressive actions by Georgetown University in the last five years to positively engage prove that Catholic institutions can simultaneously be vibrantly Catholic and LGBT-affirming for the benefit of all students.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

For New Ways Ministry’s listing of gay-friendly Catholic colleges and universities, visit newwaysministry.org/gfc.

For further information on New Ways Ministry’s efforts in Catholic higher education, contact youngadults@newwaysministry.org.


ALL ARE WELCOME: What Is a ‘Gay-Friendly’ Parish?

September 21, 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.  At the end of this posting, you can find the links to previous posts in this series.

Gay-friendly Catholic parishes and communities have sprouted up across the country over the last two decades, and New Ways Ministry has maintained a list of such places both on our website and in every edition of our tabloid newsletter, Bondings.  We began the list in 1997 with 20 parishes.  Today, the list contains well over 200 communities, and new ones are added frequently.

From time to time New Ways Ministry is asked how we decide if a parish is gay-friendly or not.  It’s a good question.  We offer some specifics in our newsletter’s introduction to the list where we note criteria:  the presence of a support or spirituality group, inclusion of LGBT people in a welcome or mission statement, parish involvement in gay community events, ministry for parents and families of LGBT people, public recognition of the presence of LGBT people in the community.

Our criteria are admittedly broad.  While all parishes will have one of these markers that they are welcoming to LGBT people, probably only a handful would have ALL of these criteria.    One unifying characteristic among all the criteria is that the parish is giving some sort of public witness to their welcome of LGBT people.  We believe that being public about support is a minimum.

One type of parish that we generally don’t include on our list is a parish whose sole criterion is that it is a place where a lot of LGBT people are known to attend, but which does not make any public acknowledgement of their presence or of an explicit welcome.  This is the case, sometimes, in urban ministry settings, or parishes that are situated in gay neighborhoods.   While these parishes may, in fact, offer a passive welcome, we believe that it is important for them to acknowledge this welcome publicly in order to be on the list.   Our rationale is that people who are seeking a gay-friendly parish are people who are seeking a place where they can, if they so choose, be public about their identity.   If a parish is unwilling to be public about its affirmation of LGBT people, we are not confident that it will be place that will welcome those who may decide that they want to be public about who they are.

Our purpose in maintaining this list is two-fold.  First, we want to be able to help people find a Catholic parish where they will be accepted.  Many times people have had bad pastoral experiences at parishes due to LGBT issues, so we want to provide a resource that people can refer to in order to find a place where they can be sure such negative experiences won’t happen.

Second, we want to show that there are indeed Catholic parishes that welcome LGBT people and are concerned about their lives and issues.  Too often, people assume that all Catholic institutions are unwelcoming of LGBT people because of negative messages which emanate from hierarchical sources or some pastoral ministers.   While these negative views often capture media attention, the reality is that the majority of Catholic lay people, and a good number of parishes, are supportive of LGBT people.  This list belies the myth that Catholics are unfriendly to LGBT issues.

How do we maintain the list?  The most productive way is by word of mouth.  People call, email, tell us in person about a parish in their region that they have experienced as gay-friendly.   We always make sure that they can verify at least one public way that the parish makes their welcome known.  Once we know that, we put the parish on the list.  To make things easier for folks, we have an online form on our website where people can inform us of parishes that are not yet listed.

Word of mouth is also how we find out if a parish on our list has stopped being gay-friendly.  This phenomenon, while relatively uncommon, can happen due to some change in the parish—usually the replacement of a pastor or pastoral minister who had been the backbone of LGBT outreach.   We appreciate hearing about this change so that we can remove such communities from the list.  So, if you have had a bad experience at any place listed, please let us know, and we will try to find out what might have caused such a change.

Of course, we are aware that this list is in no way comprehensive.  Though we do hear of many of the gay-friendly parishes around the country, we are sure that there are still many others that we don’t know of.  For one thing, many parishes continue to grow in their awareness of being welcoming of LGBT people, so the number of gay-friendly communities continues to grow with each passing year.

So, please do let us know about Catholic parishes in your area that we don’t yet have on the list.  Use our online form or simply post the name and location of such a parish in the “comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

Previous posts in the ALL ARE WELCOME series:

Say the Words, December 14, 2011

All in the Family , January 2, 2012

At Notre Dame, Does Buying In Equal Selling Out? , January 25, 2012

A Priest With An Extravagant Sense of Welcome,  February 13, 2012

Going Beyond the Boundaries, April 11, 2012

St. Nicholas Parish Celebrates 10 Years of LGBT Ministry, May 24, 2012

When Homophobes Attack, June 7, 2012

An Open Door Policy for Catholic Schools, July 15, 2012

Memo to Cardinal George on How to Show Respect for LGBT People, August 4, 2012


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