In Trinidad, a Catholic Priest Speaks Out Boldly for LGBT Equality

March 11, 2014

LGBT issues in the Caribbean continue to be somewhat of a roller coaster, especially when it comes to Catholic involvement with those issues.  Recently, we’ve seen a story with positive and negative sides emerging from this region, giving hope and also reminding us of how far we have to go.

Fr. Stephen Geofroy

In Trinidad, a Catholic priest has publicly come out in support of civil rights for gay and lesbian people, as the country there debates reforming their constitution.  While the draft of the constitution notes the oppression that gay and lesbian people experience, it fell short of addressing that problem by not providing them constitutional protection.  Instead, the draft calls for further national discussion and education on these issues.  You can read about the political debate by clicking here.

At a forum where citizens were able to express their opinions on the constitution draft, a Catholic priest, Fr. Stephen Geofroy, spoke out in favor of lesbian and gay rights.   The Trinidad Express reported:

“Geofroy said the matter should not be debated further and instead Government should be embracing of all its people.

“ ‘Now on the issue of sexual orientation being subject to further national discussion…discussion about what? Aren’t LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender), aren’t they not humans still, yes or no?’ said Geofroy.
‘Yes? Then they should have rights as other people have,’ he continued as he received loud applause from the packed hall.

“Geofroy said there was no debate on whether gays are people or not as they have expressed themselves clearly that they are part and parcel of this country’s culture.

“ ‘We’ve come over a long history of slavery and indentureship and now it is time to break the many things that denigrate the person,’ said Geofroy.

“’This is certainly one of the things we have to do and we have to be very decisive of it.”

” ‘Geofroy said there has been discrimination on the basis of race, colour and class in this country.

“ ‘…I don’t see the difference with sexual orientation. We are citizens of a country and people have the right to love who they want irrespective,’ said Geofroy .

“He said to continue discussing the issue at a national level without taking a decision was to go the way of other countries such as Nigeria and Uganda as part of a political agenda.

“ ‘I think we should avoid that like the plague,’ he said.”

Geofroy’s statements were met with thunderous applause. In the same article, Colin Robinson, executive director of the Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO), praised Geofroy’s words, called him a “real Catholic,” and explained that there were a handful of Catholic and Anglican clergy who were ministering to the island nation’s gay community.

Archbishop Joseph Harris, to whose diocese Geofroy belongs, attempted to correct the priest’s comments, but at the same time, spoke out for civil rights for lesbian and gay people by noting that the Church has always  “held there should be no discrimination based on sexual ori­en­ta­tion.”  A follow-up article in The Trinidad Express reported:

“Harris said: ‘It is unfortunate; he used an unfortunate turn of phrase when he said people should be free to love whom they want to love. I hope, therefore, when he was speaking about people being free to love, he was talking about love in the platonic (brotherhood). Love is platonic.’ “

Harris mentioned that he was concerned that Geofroy’s comments would be construed to support same-sex marriage.

The archbishop went on to explain his policy on gay priests, as well as his opinion of Geofroy:

“Asked about the Church’s policy on gay priests, Harris said: ‘There are priests whose sexual orientation is towards their own sex. All priests are called to celibacy. But as long as a priest is not acting out his orientation, he is okay’

“Harris said Fr Geofroy was ‘a priest in good standing.’ “

Geofroy’s decision to speak out for human rights makes him not only a priest of good standing, but a priest of courage, integrity, and compassion.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Why Weren’t Bishops More Supportive of Pope’s Gay Priests Comment?

September 4, 2013

Pope Francis’ July comments about gay priests–“Who am I to judge?”–continue to spark commentary from Catholic observers.  The amount of “ink” already spend on this topic attests to the importance and power of this seemingly simple statement.

Professor William Dohar

Professor William Dohar

The latest commentary comes from Santa Clara University Religious Studies Professor William Dohar, in a Religion Dispatches essay,  “The Pope’s Gay Priests.”

Dohar notes that many of the U.S. bishops tried to “contain” the pope’s statement, but that the power of the papal message is in the fact that a major shift has taken place between Francis and his predecessor:

“Pope Benedict XVI, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) and later as pope did see being homosexual—for priests and anyone else—as a problem. To be more precise. . . , the only sins the pope referred to when discussing gay priests were the machinations of the Vatican’s ‘gay lobby’ and not because these priests, bishops and cardinals are gay, but because they’re a lobby.  Lobbies are by nature self-promoting and factious and Francis, whose early work as pope has been to unify and evangelize, has no time for self-seeking lobbyists, gay or otherwise. “

Dohar also notes that bishops’ reactions focused on homosexuality generally, but avoided the topic of gay priests, which was the focus of Pope Francis’ comments:

“Every bishop knows he has gay priests in the ranks—pretending otherwise is surely as much of a moral issue as, say, same-sex marriage. Gay priests work in dioceses and religious orders as pastors, teachers, administrators, right-hand men, chaplains, liturgists and preachers. Many bishops are gay as well. Precise statistics are hard to come by because the vast majority of gay priests are closeted, but in light of the work done by Donald Cozzens (The Changing Face of the Priesthood, 2000) and others, estimates at around half are confident, with even higher numbers among younger clergy.

“The bishops know this and yet few are able to speak with the kind of candor the pope manages on a daily basis.”

Perhaps Dohar’s most challenging claim is that no bishop has yet echoed Francis’ comments:

“No bishop or church leader stood by Francis and in so many words said publicly, ‘You know, the pope’s right.  Who are we to judge?’ ”

“I’m not sure why so few, if any, took this opportunity. It may be that even though they hear the change in tone from Francis, it’s a tenor so different from what has sounded from Rome for decades that it’s still hard to hear, much less imitate. Judgment of gay people—and here again, I’ll even limit this to gay, celibate priests—has been categorical and negative ever since ‘homosexual’ made its way into the Vatican lexicon fifty years ago. “

While I believe that Dohar is generally accurate, there have been some bishops who were praiseworthy of the pope’s new direction.  I mentioned some of them in my blog post last month on bishops’ reactions to the pope.  Here’s a quotation from Grand Rapids, Michigan, Bishop David Walkowiak:

“The church has not said much about homosexuality and when it has it’s reiterated the teachings.That is helpful. It’s true. But the tone is usually one which is not a source of encouragement or a source of support.

”We’re hoping that the pope’s tone sets a hope and an attitude that if you come to the church you will be respected, you will be welcomed, you will receive the support of the sacraments. My hope would be that people with same-sex attraction would feel more encouraged to walk into a Catholic church.”

Dohar’s conclusion is worth re-printing in total here, because it offers such a positive outlook for gay priests and lesbian/gay Catholics:

“Until gay priests—and gay people in general—are encouraged to realize their innate goodness and see the prospects of a love-relationship with God as gay people, they will be burdened with a hard judgment from their church.

“The pope’s implicit refusal to judge the heart of a gay person who’s on a journey with the Divine is an acknowledgment that God may be up to some good in that person’s life, not by way of self-repulsion or a shameful silence but through the core reality of same-sex longing. It becomes very problematic for some theologians to associate gay with good; after all, one cannot be out-of-the-closet proud of an objective disorder.

“What Pope Francis offered in a manner which has been too facilely described as ‘off-the-cuff’—he’s obviously given this topic a lot of thought—is an openness and trust which may encourage more gay priests to step out of the dark. Bishops may well need to brace themselves or welcome with open arms a greater honesty in this matter.

“Meanwhile, for the gay priest who suffers under the church’s disparagement of his God-given sexuality and is urged to negate an essential part of who he is, the pope’s stated preference not to judge is balm in Gilead.”

In closing, I want to add to what Dohar said about Francis’ remarks not being “off the cuff,” as has been widely stated.  The week after the Pope’s statement, I attended a meeting of U.S. heads of men’s religious communities.  In chatting about the pope’s statement with a Jesuit in attendance at the meeting, he remarked about what should be obvious to all: a man doesn’t get to be pope because he speaks off the cuff.  The pope has to know that all of his words are heavily scrutinized, and so everything that he says, especially on such a known-controversial topic as gay priests, is carefully pondered before expressed.  Because of this dynamic, I believe that Francis was very aware of what he was saying and the import and value it would have.

The fact that over a month later we are still examining these words of the pope’s is further evidence that he knew exactly what he was saying, and that what he said has possibility for great change.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related posts:

Pope Francis Offers Respect for Gay Priests, Signaling a New Papal Direction

Catholic Reactions to Pope Francis’ Comments on Accepting Gay Priests

Catholic–And Cosmopolitan–Responses to the Pope’s Gay Statement

Have We Painted Pope Francis’ Gay Comments Too Optimistically?

Online Petition Thanks Pope Francis for His Gay-Positive Remarks

A Tale of Three Jesuits

U.S. Bishops on Pope Francis’ Gay-Positive Comments–Part 1

U.S. Bishops on Pope Francis’ Gay-Positive Comments–Part 2

Pope Francis’ Predicament with Conservative Catholics

Writer to Conservative Bishops: “Watch. Listen. You Might Learn Something.”

 


A Tale of Three Jesuits

August 7, 2013

It takes a Jesuit to know a Jesuit.  And when you have two Jesuits commenting on a third Jesuit, well, there has to be some thing of import and insight there, for sure.

Father James Martin SJ

Father James Martin SJ

Father Thomas Reese, SJ

Father Thomas Reese, SJ

The two Jesuits commenting are two of U.S. Catholicism’s most astute observers, Father James Martin and Father Thomas Reese.  The third Jesuit upon which they have both recently commented is none other than Pope Francis, who, as everyone knows by now, last week made some very strong gay-positive statements.

Let’s take a look at what these two Jesuits have to say.

In a Washington Post online op-ed, Fr. Martin examined the pope’s message very closely, and, in the course of the examination, answered some of the critics of the pope’s statement.  He made five important points, worth reprinting here:

“First, throughout the exchange on the plane, Pope Francis, speaking in fluent Italian, used the English word ‘gay.’ Previous popes and the majority of church leaders have been more likely to use words like ‘homosexual,’ ‘homosexually oriented’ and even ‘persons suffering from same-sex attraction.’ I cannot remember a pope ever using the term preferred by much of the world’s gay community.

Second, the pope’s response to a question concerning gay priests was not along the lines that some might have expected, especially given a Vatican document issued in 2005 that barred men with ‘deep-seated homosexual tendencies’ from the priesthood. Rather than saying, ‘There can be no gay priests,’ the pope declined to judge them. He also emphasized that it was lobbies — ‘any type of lobby, business lobbies, political lobbies, Masonic lobbies’ — that were cattivo (evil).

“Third, the pope moved rather quickly from a question about a ‘gay lobby’ in the Vatican to a comment about gay people in general. That is, he did not say, ‘If a gay priest is searching for God,’ but ‘If a gay person is searching for God.’ Then his remarkably compassionate comment: ‘Who am I to judge them?’

“Fourth, he did not use words from the Catechism that many gays and lesbian Catholics say frustrate them, like ‘intrinsically disordered.’ Nor, after saying that gays should not be ‘marginalized,’ did he warn against homosexual activity, as might be expected.

“Finally, the pope’s tone was eminently pastoral. When you watch the video of his remarks, you hear the voice of a kind pastor. Several of my gay and lesbian friends say the video moved them to tears.

You can watch a video of the remarks here:

Fr. Martin interprets all these distinctions as leading to what he considers will be the hallmark of Francis’ papacy:  mercy.     Fr. Martin states:

“So for those expecting a wholesale condemnation of gays and lesbians, Pope Francis pointed them to mercy — not changing church doctrine on homosexual activity, but highlighting church teachings on how our brothers and sisters deserve respect, compassion and sensitivity. And in a largely unnoticed comment responding to a question about divorced and remarried Catholics, another group that often feels marginalized, the pope said, ‘I believe this is a time of mercy.’ ”

Fr. Reese, in an interview with Detroit’s Free Press newspaper, made an important point about the “style/substance” dichotomy that many have expounded upon.  Some critics of the pope’s comments have said that the only thing which has changed is style, not substance.  But Fr. Reese thinks otherwise:

“The Rev. Tom Reese, a visiting scholar at Santa Clara University in California and senior analyst at the National Catholic Reporter, agreed that Pope Francis hasn’t changed Catholic doctrine.

“But, Reese added, Francis did ‘provide a different face’ from previous popes. ‘He emphasized compassion, love, respect, the fact that gays should not be demonized.’

“ ‘In the Catholic Church, style is substance,’ and so Francis’ tone in his remarks is a major difference, Reese said.”

These two Jesuits highlight important particulars about the pope’s comments that show that the papal words have a lot more potential for hopeful change in the church than one might think.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Catholic–And Cosmopolitan–Responses to the Pope’s Gay Statement

July 31, 2013
Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Since starting this blog over 18 months ago, I have never had such a hard time keeping up with Catholic LGBT news and commentary than in the last two days as articles keep popping up about Pope Francis’ statement which was heard around the gay and Catholic world.  Not even the Supreme Court’s marriage decisions in June generated this much electronic “ink.”

Yesterday, we supplied you with the first round of comments from Catholic writers and organizations.  Today we will try to continue that sampling from some of the best that we have seen from Catholics–and one “cosmopolitan” response that you will have to read to the end to discover!

Like yesterday, you will probably notice a range of opinions, though mostly people are positive.  Let us and others know what you think by posting your thoughts in the “Comments” section of this post.

Richard Galliardetz

Richard Galliardetz

One of the common themes of the commentary I read was whether Francis’ change in tone is really significant?  Professor Richard Galliardetz of Boston College, who this year serves as President of the Catholic Theological Society of America,  answered both of those quandaries in a Religion News Service article:

‘This may be a matter of “style” in some sense, but in this case style matters,’ Gaillardetz explained in a statement that echoed the poet Robert Frost. ‘One can appeal to our doctrinal tradition in order to justify moral rigidity and exclusionary attitudes or one can appeal to our doctrinal tradition as a call to be instruments of mercy and compassion. Francis has chosen the latter course and it has made all the difference!’ ”

Mary Hunt

Mary Hunt

Catholic lesbian theologian Mary Hunt was more guarded in her praise of Pope Francis’ comments, noting particularly that the interview in which he made the statement about gay priests also contained a strong denial of the possibility of ordaining women to the Catholic priesthood.  Hunt’s conclusion in a Religion Dispatches essay:

“The proof of whether this off the cuff press conference, following a well-staged week in Brazil, signals real change will unfold in the months ahead. Will there be stirrings of democracy, a Vatican spring complete with líos [translated: "mess," referring to the pope's statement to young people to "go, make a mess" in the world] in every diocese capable of upending a kyriarchal church and letting a mature, diverse community emerge? Will women finally and definitively share power with men in a democratic church? Or, will there simply be a little tweaking of the rules to make sure that a few favored sons who happen to be gay can remain in power?”

One person who is uniquely qualified to comment on the pope’s comment is Fr. Gary Meier, a St. Louis Archdiocese priest, who came out publicly as gay earlier this spring.  In a CNN blog post, Fr. Meier expressed cautious optimism about the news:

Father Gary Meier

Father Gary Meier

“I am optimistic, that our Pope’s comments can lead to greater love and acceptance of the LGBT community. And at the same time, I am cautious – cautious that the change in tone and attitude represented by the Pope’s statement will not lead to a change in theology and doctrine which so desperately needs to change.

“My prayer for the church is that we might take this opportunity to stop causing harm, to stop being judgmental and to become more welcoming; more inviting; more loving towards all people, especially those who are marginalized and ostracized.”

Mary Ellen and Casey Lopata

Mary Ellen and Casey Lopata

Speaking from the perspective of parents of LGBT people, Casey and Mary Ellen Lopata of Fortunate Families welcomed the pope’s statement.  A WHEC.com news story noted:

“Casey Lopata said, ‘This has opened a door. It seems to signal a willingness to dialogue.’

“Casey Lopata says it is reminiscent of something that happened in Rochester 16 years ago.

“ ‘Back in 1997, here in Rochester, Bishop Clark said a mass with gay and lesbian people, family and friends at the time a lot of people weren’t very happy with it and he later wrote an article in the Catholic Courier and title of the article said, ‘Listen, leave the judgment to God’ and that’s exactly what Pope Francis said today.’”

Mary Ellen was quoted in an NBCNews.com story:

“I sense what he is saying is that we are all children of God and we need to treat each other that way regardless of our sexual orientation,” she said. “If that is indeed what he is saying, I think that is a good step forward for reconciling with gay and lesbian people around the world, and also their families.

“Much that’s been said in past years by church leaders has been very hurtful not only to gay and lesbian people but to their families as well.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke

Marianne Duddy-Burke

That same NBCNews.com story also provided the perspective of LGBT Catholics themselves through the voice of Marianne Duddy-Burke, Executive Director of DignityUSA.  Beginning with a quote from Francis’ statement, Duddy-Burke said:

“ ‘If someone loves the Lord and has goodwill’ [Francis' statement] — the reality of that describes an awful lot of LGBT people,’ she said. ‘There are a lot of LGBT people of faith who are working very hard to hold onto their faith and I think it would be important for us to bring our stories to the pope and other church leaders to move this conversation forward.’

“A key step would be bridging the gap between some church leaders who engage in anti-gay rhetoric and their parishioners, many whom support LGBT rights, Duddy-Burke said. Fifty-four percent of Catholics support same-sex marriage, according to a Pew Forum poll released earlier this year.

“ ‘If Francis can be an instrument in healing that divide, we would certainly welcome that and are happy to partner with him,” she said, while noting that only time would tell what impact his remarks would have on daily life.’ “

Sister Marian Durkin

Sister Marian Durkin

The perspective of a pastoral minister who works with lesbian and gay Catholics was offered by Sister Marian Durkin, CSA, in The Cleveland Plain Dealer:

” ‘I appreciate Pope Francis’ compassionate look at homosexuality in the church,’ said Sister Marian Durkin of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine. ‘There are gay men in the priesthood, there always have been. And they serve God’s people with great integrity and love.’

“Durkin has worked in a local outreach ministry for gay Catholics for 20 years. She holds an annual retreat for homosexual Catholics and their parents at the Jesuit Retreat House in Parma.

“ ‘I’m delighted whenever there’s good press about gays and lesbians,’ she said. ‘Francis is a breath of fresh air.’ ”

Stephen Pope

Stephen Pope

Portland, Maine’s Press Herald offered the perspective of a theologian who notes the pragmatic effect the pope’s statement can have:

“Stephen Pope, professor of theology at Boston College, said Francis’ comments were consistent with his other efforts to address declining church membership by reaching out to a more diverse audience.

“That approach stands in stark contrast to that of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, he said.

” ‘I think Pope Benedict’s philosophy was to say, “Let them go. We’ll have a smaller church but more pure,” ‘ Pope said. “Pope Francis has sort of adopted this strategy of meeting people where they are and looking for commonality.’ “

Chad Pecknold

Chad Pecknold

Chad Pecknold, a theology professor at Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, noted, in a Baltimore Sun article, that the pope’s statement was not really “off the cuff,” and was, in fact, an invitation to dialogue:

” ‘The message of mercy, I think, is one he is sounding out on every single issue that the culture has identified as one it rejects the church’s teachings on,’ Pecknold said. ‘What Francis wants to say is, “Let’s talk.” ‘

“The pope offered his thoughts in a remarkably open news conference in response to questions about rumors of a ‘lobby’ of gay priests seeking to influence the Vatican. He said he disapproved of any such lobby or influence, but distinguished influence-seekers from priests who might happen to be gay.

“Pecknold said it was important to consider that context when reading the pope’s comments, but he also said the pontiff would have been aware that his comments to international journalists about homosexuality would have been viewed in a broader context.

” ‘We’re going to hear this over and over and over again,’ Pecknold said. ‘The way in which Francis wants to initiate a conversation, the way in which he wants to invite a conversation, is through this message of mercy.’ “

James Salt

James Salt

The youth perspective was offered by James Salt of Catholics United, a political organizing group, in an Agence France-Presse article:

“. . . Catholics United, which has been very critical of Church leadership, said Francis’ comments ‘speak to what every young person knows: God loves gay people, and so should the Catholic Church.’

” ‘Pope Francis’ call for the acceptance of gay priests is a direct repudiation of the backward beliefs of many ultra-conservative ideologues in the Church,’ the group’s leader James Salt said in a statement.

” ‘This statement on gay people, while largely symbolic, is a big step in the right way.’ “

CosmopolitanAnd we close out with a decidedly non-Catholic perspective: Michelle Ruiz, a blogger at Cosmpolitan magazine:

“A lot of arguments against gay marriage and even homosexuality in general point to religion: ‘The Bible says God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,’ anti-gay groups have been known to say. But now the leader of the Catholic church himself, Pope Francis, is coming out in support of gays. Can we get a Hallelujah?

” ‘If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?’ Francis told reporters yesterday while on an overnight flight from Brazil (for his first foreign trip) back to Rome.

“Francis was responding directly to a question about gay Catholic priests, and his answer is groundbreaking because his more conservative predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, was so against gay clergy, he signed an official document in 2005 saying homosexual men should not be allowed to serve the church.

“So if Francis is cool with gay priests, perhaps gay marriage has a prayer in the church? “

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Pope Francis Offers Respect for Gay Priests, Signaling a New Papal Direction

July 29, 2013

In what is probably his most gay-friendly statement to date, Pope Francis said that he will not judge gay priests, and he respects their vocation.

Pope Francis on plane

Pope Francis on plane

The New York Times quotes his response to a reporter’s question about gay priests, asked during a press conference on the plane ride back to Rome from World Youth Day celebrations in Brazil:

 “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”

This is probably the clearest break with his predecessors John Paul II and Benedict XVI.  Benedict issued an instruction to bishops not to accept gay candidates for the seminary, a policy that was being considered under John Paul’s papacy.

The Chicago Tribune expanded on the pope’s comments on this topic:

“The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this very well.  It says they should not be marginalized because of this (orientation) but that they must be integrated into society.

“”The problem is not having this orientation. We must be brothers. The problem is lobbying by this orientation, or lobbies of greedy people, political lobbies, Masonic lobbies, so many lobbies. This is the worse problem.”

The pope was answering a question about his statement last month concerning a “gay lobby” in the Vatican, so his reference to lobbies above probably refers to that context.

The Tribune also noted that Francis joked about his “gay lobby” comment:

“You see a lot written about the gay lobby. I still have not seen anyone in the Vatican with an identity card saying they are gay.”

The New York Times expanded on the gay lobby comment, and also allegations of gay trysts happening among staff at the Vatican Bank:

“Reporters on the plane said that the pope had been candid and high-spirited and didn’t dodge a single question, even thanking the person who asked about reports of a ‘gay lobby’ inside the Vatican, and about Italian press reports that one of the advisers he had appointed to look into the Vatican Bank had been accused of having gay trysts.

“Francis said he had investigated the reports and found them groundless. He added that while such a lobby would be an issue, he did not have anything against gays and that their sins should be forgiven, media reports said. He said that while homosexuals should be treated with dignity, using sexual orientation for blackmail or pressure was a different matter.”

Many people have been waiting for a clear message from Pope Francis on LGBT issues, and it seems like this one indicates he will take a decidedly different approach than his immediate predecessors had done.

Some will say that this is not enough, that he still refers to sins of homosexuals, but I think the important thing is the question of emphasis.  While his predecessors emphasized sin in relationship to LGBT people, Pope Francis looks like he will be emphasizing human dignity, respect, and social integration.  Even if he doesn’t drop the sin language, this is still a major step forward, and one that can pave the way for further advancements down the road.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Lessons Learned from Pope’s “Gay Lobby” Remark

June 12, 2013
Pope Francis

Pope Francis

A CNN news report yesterday said that Pope Francis stated that he believes there is a a “gay lobby” working inside the Vatican.  According to the report:

“ ‘In the Curia,’ Francis said, referring to Catholicism’s central bureaucracy, ‘there are holy people. But there is also a stream of corruption.’

“ ‘The “gay lobby” is mentioned, and it is true, it is there,’ Francis continued. ‘We need to see what we can do.’ ”

His remark was made during a meeting with the Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of Religious Men and Women, the head Catholic communities of men and women religious.

The announcement was all the more intriguing because at the time of Benedict XVI’s resignation, there were reports based on rumors that a “gay lobby” may have played some role in his decision to leave the papal office.

Such an announcement by the pope is both puzzling and a bit irresponsible.  As Rocco Palmo, who blogs at whispersintheloggia.blogspot.com, stated in the CNN report:

“We don’t have any explanation of what ‘gay lobby’ means.”

Because the term is so undefined and because the pope did not expand on the claim, he has left a great deal of opportunity for people to speculate and imagine all sorts of plots, intrigue, and machinations.

Of course, I certainly believe that gay men and lesbian women work in the Vatican, as they do at all levels of the church, and in all segments of society.  Are they plotting together in some way to harm the church?  I doubt it.  That sort of idea works only in Dan Brown novels.  Are there some gay men there who may not have the best motivations for church work?  Certainly, just as there are plenty of heterosexual men in the church who are similarly impaired.  We’re human.  All of us: gay and straight.

There are several lessons that can be learned from the pope’s statement:

1) Most importantly, no such rumors would have any affect if the leaders at the Vatican would have a more open view toward homosexuality.  As long as church leaders continue to deny LGBT people their equal dignity, they will continue to manufacture them as “bogey-men” who lurk in the shadows.  The fact that a 2005 Vatican document strongly discouraged gay men from being ordained guaranteed that gay men who wanted to be ordained would have to deny their sexuality, thus leading to unhealthy personalities.

2) The pope needs to learn more about homosexuality and the reality of gay and lesbian lives.  Let’s suppose for a moment that indeed there is a group of gay men in the Vatican who have formed a “lobby” together to advance an agenda.   Are there no other such “lobbies” in the Vatican?  Of course, there are.  So, then, why does Pope Francis label this “gay lobby” as “a stream of corruption?”  Such a statement reveals a homophobic attitude that is not worthy of such a world leader, let alone a religious figure.

3) While Pope Francis has endeared himself to the world by speaking frankly and off the cuff many times, an example such as this shows the downside of such a style.  The fact that he made an allusion to the existence of such a group without providing any details or evidence is a very harmful thing to do.  It allows speculation, and worse, vilification of gay people.  It portrays them as duplicitous, deceptive, conniving–all vicious stereotypes.  The power and attention that any statement of the pope receives means that he needs to be careful about promoting such harmful untruths.

4)  Finally,  this incident reminds us all how much the Catholic Church needs a full and open dialogue about LGBT people.  As long as our leaders continue to operate with blinders about LGBT issues, they will continue to harm not only LGBT people, but the entire church, by their ignorance of an important part of human reality.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


NEWS NOTES: May 31, 2013

May 31, 2013

News NotesHere are some items that you may find of interest:

1) Bishop Gabriel Malzaire, of Dominica, a Carribean island nation, has called for the decriminalization of homosexuality there, and issued a call to end all forms of violence to gay and lesbian people, reports Gay Star News.  While supporting decriminalization, the bishop also stated that homosexual activity  can lead to “adultery, fornication, orgies, calumny, deep-seated hatred” saying it can lead to “spiritual death.”

2) The heavily Catholic nation of Croatia witnessed its first same-sex marriage demonstration recently, with hundreds of people marching in the capital city of Zagreb, reports France24.com. The demonstration comes a week after a Catholic Church-backed group reported they had 500,000 signatures on a petition to have a referendum designed to outlaw same-sex marriage.

3) Eve Tushet, a Catholic lesbian woman committed to following the Church’s teaching on celibacy, has written an essay in The Atlantic as to why she remains Catholic, why she supports celibacy, and the problems that she has with the way Catholic leaders deal with homosexuality.

4) Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Illinois Catholic Conference wrote a lengthy letter to the editor of The Chicago Tribune complaining that the current marriage equality bill in that state does not offer enough religious protections.

5) Amazon.com has removed the book, Priesthood in Crisis, by Fr. Matthew Despard, a Scottish priest, which makes a number of claims about how gay clergy have bullied others in the priesthood, and also about how church leaders have covered up homosexual cliques among priests.  The UK’s The Daily Record reports that Amazon. com said the book did not meet its guidelines which prohibits ” pornography, offensive material, stolen goods and items that infringe upon a person’s privacy.”

6) Vincent Autin and Bruno Boileau became the first same-gender couple to marry under France’s new marriage equality law, reports BBC.co.uk.   The wedding comes after a week that saw a major protest against the new law, which was opposed by the Catholic hierarchy in this heavily Catholic nation.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


What’s the Real Problem When Clerics Are Revealed to Be Gay?

March 25, 2013
Brian McNaught

Brian McNaught

Back in the early 1970s, Brian McNaught was one of the early gay Catholic advocates.  Having been fired from his reporter job at the Detroit archdiocesan newspaper when it was revealed that he was gay, McNaught held a hunger strike outside the chancery office in protest of the injustice.  He went on to write several books about being a gay Catholic, and he has had a successful career as a coprorate diversity educator.

McNaught returned to the Catholic press recently with a thoughtful essay in The National Catholic Reporter, reflecting on two recent stories where clerics have had a secret gay life revealed:  Cardinal Keith O’Brien in Scotland, who has been accused of inappropriate sexual conduct by four men, and Msgr. Kevin Wallin, a Connecticut priest who was arrested for dealing crystal meth as a way to pay for his drug and sex addicted behaviors.

McNaught takes a “there but for the grace of God approach” to these stories, particularly Wallin’s, noting that the real problem was not these men’s sexuality, but the fact that they had to hide and repress it:

“Had I pursued the path to the seminary, I suspect I would have been a very popular priest. I care deeply about the well-being of others. I’m funny, love people, am young at heart, am spiritual, independent, a good speaker and a minister at the core of my being. I’d also have been a closeted gay man whose guilt and fear about sex would have made me a prime candidate for acting out inappropriately — not with children, but with other men. Because I have a compulsive personality, I’d become addicted to drugs if someone introduced me to them in the context of sex. I would have had sex and taken drugs in the attempt to leave no stone unturned in my search for self-understanding and affirmation. Without the intervention of wise, strong, loving friends, I would have ended up looking in the mirror wondering in horror and shame what had happened to the sweet young man who entered the seminary because he wanted to live a life of loving service.”

With frank and healing honesty, McNaught acknowledges temptations that have seduced him, and humbly acknowledges the courage it takes to resist them:

“I chose to come out of the closet in my 20s because I couldn’t breathe. I chose to quit drinking and smoking pot in my 40s to stop making a fool of myself and to enhance the quality of my relationship with Ray. Despite my feelings of lust for attractive, well-built men and my need for affirmation of my aging body, I choose not to pursue gratification in an air-brushed reality and instead be grateful for the intimacy I share with Ray in our everyday lives. I chose a life of awareness.

“Most other gay men I know feel as I do. They’re aware of their anxiety that their families, neighbors and co-workers will judge them by the reckless behavior of other gay men. It’s not that they haven’t thought about doing everything scandalous that they read about in the paper or hear about from friends, but they know they will have to sacrifice everything good in their lives if they head down that path of sexual obsession. There is sympathy and empathy in my house and in the homes of my gay friends for the gay men whose names appear in ‘shocking’ news reports. No one feels superior to those men who got caught or who got AIDS. The most important feelings we have are those of gratitude for the circumstances that enabled wise decision-making and compassion because we know poor choices made by others often represent our shared weaknesses.”

McNaught laments that recent sex scandals means that “the sweet, innocent church of our youth can no longer recognize itself in the mirror.”  But gay priests, even addicted ones, are not to blame for this problem.  McNaught identifies what he sees as the real cause of this tragedy:

“Much of it is due to the addiction of Benedict XVI and other popes to control, secrecy and tradition. Like the lives of gay men who also made wrong choices, the Vatican is a mess. I’m grateful my spirituality is no longer impacted by the scandalous addictions of the church, and I’m compassionate knowing I have the same weaknesses that made the pope and the cardinal archbishop of Scotland behave the way they did.”

As many of us pray that our new Pope Francis will be more open to LGBT Catholics, let’s keep in mind these other victims of the Vatican’s hard-line approach to sexuality.  Church leaders are hurting not only other people, but themselves, too, when they view sexuality narrowly as sexual acts, and ignore the deep human need for relationship and love that underpins it.  One of the pope’s title is “servant to the servants of God.”  Let us hope that Francis takes this title seriously and serves his ministers who are suffering because of their stunted and repressed sexuality.

Many thanks to Brian McNaught for highlighting this issue with such honesty and compassion!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Who’s to Blame if Gay Priests Arranged for Hitmen to Kill Them?

February 17, 2012

Rev. Rafael Reatiga and Rev. Richard Piffano

The Associated Press reported an unusual story out of Colombia, South America, as allegations arose this week that two gay priests there who were killed last year were not the victims of a robbery, but had hired the gunmen to kill the both of them.

The strange details of the case suggest that suicide may have been the motive:

“Rev. Rafael Reatiga asked his parishioners to pray for him and gave the choirmaster a list of songs for his funeral shortly before he was found shot to death together with another Roman Catholic priest, a Colombian prosecutor said Tuesday.

“Authorities initially suspected robbery when Reatiga’s body was found along with that of Rev. Richard Piffano, 37, in a car in southern Bogota on Jan. 27, 2011.

“But on Tuesday prosecutor Ana Patricia Larrota said investigators had determined that it was suicide by hitmen in the year-old case: the two priests hired gunmen to kill them after Reatiga discovered he had AIDS.

“The priests gave members of a criminal gang the equivalent of $8,500, said the chief investigator of the prosecutor’s office, Maritza Gonzalez, as two of the four alleged assassins appeared before a judge for processing.”

Reatiga also supposedly had syphilis, and witnesses say that he was often seen in gay establishments in Bogota, the capital city.

This story, whether true, false, or somewhere in between, is doubly tragic.  The deaths of the priests are one tragedy.  The second tragedy is that gay priests must continue to hide their sexual orientation due to official pressure from Catholic officials.

In 2005, when the Vatican issued an instruction to bishops around the world not to admit gay men to ordination or the seminary, many commentators, including New Ways Ministry, said that the effect of this rule would be to force gay candidates and priests further into the closet.  Instead of preventing gay men from becoming priests, this instruction would have the dangerous and damaging effect of forcing them to lie about their sexuality, prevent them from integrating their sexuality into their  spiritual and personal lives in holy and healthy ways, and result in significant personal damage to these men, the people they serve, and the entire church.

If indeed the allegations that one of these priests had sexually transmitted diseases, that the two maintained a clandestine social life, and that in desperation they ordered their own deaths, prove to be true, then church leaders who promote homophobia in the clerical life share a large portion of the responsibility for these tragedies.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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