SYNOD: Great Expectations Loom for Upcoming Marriage and Family Meeting

September 22, 2014

Over the next few weeks, Bondings 2.0 will be preparing a number of posts related to the upcoming extraordinary Synod on Marriage and the Family, to be held at the Vatican, October 5-19, 2014.  This post is the first in the series.  Future posts will be identified by the word “SYNOD” in the headline.

I sense that the general mood about the upcoming Vatican Synod on Marriage and the Family, October 5-19, 2014, in Rome, is summed up best by the title of John Wilkins’ Commonweal article about the meeting:  “Great Expectations.”

There is a strong feeling among a lot of Catholics I meet, especially those who work for LGBT equality in the Church, that this meeting could be a turning point for a welcoming and just ministry.  The expectations are understandably high:  Pope Francis, who called the meeting is certainly the most gay-friendly pope of modern times; the Vatican asked bishops to consult with the laity in their dioceses about various topics concerning marriage and the family, including pastoral outreach to families headed by same-gender couples; many bishops and church officials have already made many statements about their new openness to same-gender couples; some of these more gay-friendly bishops, in fact, have been appointed as synod participants.

I acknowledge that I often have those same great expectations, but in other moments, I remind myself that change in the Church happens slowly, and that perhaps the best thing to hope from the Synod is one more further step down the road to full equality.  And by the way,  this synod is, in fact, an extraordinary synod, which is in preparation for a proper synod on these topics to be held October 4-25, 2015, where many more bishops will be participating and where all the real decisions will be made.

Pat Perriello, in The National Catholic Reporter, offers the following suggestion about what to expect from this year’s synod:

“Although it is true that no definitive answers will come out of the October session of the synod, it is still critically important. October will set the tone of whether the bishops are inclined to move forward or to stand still. It will take a supreme effort by Pope Francis and his allies to move this lumbering giant of the church. It will also take the work of the Holy Spirit.”

Michael Sean Winters

Michael Sean Winters

Michael Sean Winters, columnist for The National Catholic Reporter, recently did a four-part series of essays on the upcoming synod, and devoted the second part to gay and lesbian issues.  In one sense, he offers his own “great expectations”:

“The Synod cannot be silent on an issue like pastoral care for gays and lesbians. But, I hope that whatever comes from the Synod does not to read like it was written by an anti-gay bigot. I hope that the thoroughly misunderstood language about “intrinsically disordered” will be dropped as counter-productive and offensive. I hope the Synod will, without qualification, affirm the innate human dignity of all God’s children, including His gay and lesbian children. I also hope that on this issue, as on others, the Synod will help reawaken a less act-centered understanding of human sinfulness, that isolates certain actions, usually violations of the sixth and ninth commandments, while neglecting all else. I hope they will abandon the idea that the Church should oppose gay rights in civil legislation – it is time to disentangle the Sacrament of Matrimony from civil marriage. And, most importantly, I hope the Synod will follow the Holy Father’s lead and ask itself how it can bring the great news of God’s mercy to those Catholics who are gay and lesbian. For any of this to happen, the Synod Fathers must be attuned to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, whose presence was vouchsafed to the Church by Jesus Christ. Then, and only then, will the Synod bear fruit, on this issue and any other. “

As he arrives at this conclusion, Winters makes some interesting points about the Church’s relationship with lesbian and gay people:

“In the history of the Church, no group of people, except the Jews, have been treated worse than gays and lesbians. And, like the Church’s treatment of the Jews, it is sometimes difficult to discern whether the Church was merely reflecting cultural biases extant at the time, or generating the animus on its own, or, more often, a mix of both. . . . [T]he dominant story of how gays and lesbians have been treated in Western culture is framed by a singular fact that turns out to be wrong. For centuries, people, including churchmen, believed that gay acts were the result of an aberrant choice, an instance of a heterosexual person engaged in a perverse act. We now know that a certain segment of the population, probably no more than three or four percent, experience homosexuality not as a choice but as a given, and for them, acting on their desire is not aberrant. That may not fit our moral categories, but there is no denying the fact that our cultural and ecclesial understanding of homosexuality has been distorted by a factual mistake for a very long time.”

And as for the U.S. bishops, Winters states:

” . . . [N]othing excuses their response to the same-sex marriage phenomenon. It has been pathetic. If you know this one discrete thing about a person – he or she is gay – then, well, I am not going to bake her wedding cake and I am not going to allow his partner to get health care benefits. The response from the bishops is all the more remarkable because they certainly were less combative when the states began enacting no-fault divorce laws in the late 60s and early 70s. The issue of homosexuality seems to have hit a nerve.”

Jamie Manson

Jamie Manson

Columnist Jamie Manson is not quite optimistic about the Synod, noting that no LGBT people are among the lay people who have been invited as observers, and that many of the others are people with strong track records defending natural family planning.  But Manson offers a corrective from moral theologian Sister Margaret Farley, RSM, about how synod participants might conduct themselves:

“Farley coined the phrase ‘the grace of self-doubt’ as a way for religious people to resist the temptations of self-righteousness and certitude. The grace of self-doubt is essential for individual and ethical discernment because it recognizes that our moral theories often prove limited when applied to real-life circumstances.

“It is grace, she writes, that ‘allows us to listen to the experience of others, take seriously reasons that are alternative to our own, rethink our own last word.’

“Farley believes that the laity, clergy, theologians and church leaders should participate in a shared search for moral insight. ‘The voice of the church is muted,’ she explains, when ‘it does not represent the wisdom of a genuine discerning church.’ “

Cardinal Walter Kasper

I consider this to be very wise counsel.  I think should be coupled with the advice of Cardinal Walter Kasper.  The German cardinal had been invited by Pope Francis to address a February 2014 consistory of cardinals in preparation for the synod.  Entitled “The Gospel of the Family,” Kasper’s talk urged the cardinals to be open to modern realities and cautioned them against retrenchment.  In his Commonweal  essay,John Wilkins cites a part of Kasper’s talk, which I hope all synod participants will take to heart:

“[Kasper] reminded them that there were ‘great expectations’ in the church—and also, he might have added, in the world. If the church did not take steps but stayed where it was, it would cause ‘terrible disappointment.’ As ‘witnesses of hope,’ they must not be led by fear of change. Let them show ‘courage’ and ‘above all biblical candor.’ He warned: ‘If we don’t want that, then we should not hold a synod on this topic, because then the situation would be worse afterwards than before.’ ”

Let us keep the synod bishops our prayers that they may be open to the possibility of change.

What are your expectations of the Synod?  What would you like to see happen?  What do you think might be possible to happen? What do you think will happen?  Post your reflections in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Archdiocesan Reaction Is Insufficient in Philadelphia Hate Crime

September 21, 2014

Surveillance footage of those accused of attacking a gay couple in Philadelphia

Alumni from a Philadelphia Catholic high school were allegedly involved in a hate crime last week, accused of attacking a gay couple on the street that left one victim with a wired jaw and broken eye socket, and the other one badly bruised.

In the aftermath, a school coach has resigned but reactions to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s statements are mixed. Ultimately, the response has been insufficient and this is a missed opportunity.

Fran McGlinn coached basketball at Archbishop Wood High School, in the Philadelphia suburb of Warminster, from which several of the assailants including McGlinn had graduated. Archdiocesan spokesperson Kenneth Gavin confirmed the assistant coach’s resignation on Wednesday, saying he was further banned from employment at archdiocesan schools. The identities of McGlinn and the others became known after social media users viewed surveillance footage which was made public to find the assailants.

In a statement reported by the Bucks County Courier Times, the Archdiocese also said:

“This afternoon, administrators communicated with the entire Archbishop Wood school community to make it emphatically clear that the school does not, under any circumstances, tolerate or condone the violent and hateful behavior displayed by those who took part in this senseless attack.

“Administration also stressed that Catholic schools are centers of learning where students are expected to treat each other in a Christ-like manner at all times and that everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. The actions of those who took part in the attack are reprehensible and entirely unacceptable.”

 Archbishop Charles Chaput also commented on the September 11th assault, saying in a statement:

“A key part of a Catholic education is forming students to respect the dignity of every human person whether we agree with them or not. What students do with that formation when they enter the adult world determines their own maturity and dignity, or their lack of it. Violence against anyone, simply because of who they are, is inexcusable and alien to what it means to be a Christian. A recent beating incident in Center City allegedly involved, in some way, a part-time coach at Archbishop Wood High School. After inquiries by school leadership, the coach was contacted regarding the matter and he resigned. Archbishop Wood’s handling of the matter was appropriate, and I support their efforts to ensure that Catholic convictions guide the behavior of their whole school community, including their staff.”

First, Archbishop Wood administrators are to be commended for quickly dealing with McGlinn’s employment when his involvement in hate crime became apparent. In twenty LGBT-related employment incidents at Catholic institutions this year, this is the first resulting from a church worker’s actual failure to uphold human dignity and the common good.

However, both Chaput and the Archdiocese’s statements fail to recognize openly the specific nature of this attack. Reports claim the assailants asked the couple if they were boyfriends and yelled homophobic remarks while beating the two men. Though Pennsylvania hate crime laws may not be LGBT-inclusive, in this incident it is essential for Catholic officials to acknowledge the homophobia seemingly at the core of the attack.

Yet, neither the word “gay” nor any variation is used in the statements which simply condemn violence. One interesting note is that the archbishop said no one should be attacked “simply for who they are,” a possible shift from the language of same-sex attractions in vogue with American bishops back to language of sexual orientation. This, however, does not directly name what happened as a hate crime specifically targeting a gay couple and is therefore insufficient.

Archbishop Chaput has a record of acting against LGBT people. He is known for expelling a child of a lesbian couple from Catholic school and denying Communion to LGBT advocates. Chaput recently aided efforts by the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference opposing a non-discrimination bill that would make sexual orientation and gender identity protected classes.

Further, this incident is a missed opportunity for Archbishop Chaput and archdiocesan officials to make an unequivocal statement in support of LGBT people who face discrimination and violence. Though Chaput was critical of Pope Francis in the past, this incident could have provided a moment for the archbishop to change his tone and implement a more pastoral approach when dealing with the LGBT community. Catholics United has called on him to do as much when it comes to Philadelphia’s transgender community. Why not use a moment of horrendous tragedy to build a bridge and reach out with love for lesbian and gay Philadelphians as well?

Thankfully, the story is still in the news and there is time for Archbishop Chaput and Archbishop Wood H.S. officials to make a more explicitly LGBT-focused condemnation of this attack. Let us pray they will finally feel the ‘Francis Effect’ now spreading in the US and do the right thing.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


There May Be Brighter Days Ahead for LGBT Issues in Chicago Archdiocese

September 20, 2014

Bishop Blaise Cupich

The Archdiocese of Chicago is expected to announce its ninth archbishop at 9:30am this morning, but sources like National Catholic Reporter and Whispers in the Loggia (WITL) are reporting a name is already confirmed: Bishop Blaise Cupich of Spokane, Washington.

Given Chicago is the third largest archdiocese in the US and this “is likely to be the most significant choice for the Stateside bench Pope Francis makes during his entire pontificate,” according to  WITL’s Rocco Palmo, it is important to ask: where does Cupich stand when on LGBT issues?

His record seems fairly positive, as this blog noted when we evaluated potential USCCB presidents last autumn.

In 2012, amid Washington State’s referendum debate on marriage equality, Cupich provided a voice that was surprisingly compassionate and moderated.  Though he opposed marriage equality, he acknowledged the goodness of Catholics who supported LGBT equality. His pastoral letter on the referndum included one short section on the hierarchy’s teaching about same-gender couples, while spending extensive time respectfully laying out both sides’ views in an unsually objective way.

Earlier that year, Jesuit-run Gonzaga University in Spokane faced criticism for honoring South African’s Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu as the commencement speaker because Tutu had supported the ordination of gay clergy. Bishop Cupich stood by the University‘s decision to honor Tutu.

Regarding this October’s upcoming Synod of Bishops on marriage and family, the National Catholic Reporter quoted Cupich as saying the church “must allow the Holy Spirit to move us” and that clergy must “take seriously the ‘joys, sorrows, heartaches, and challenges of laypeople.’ “

In regards to the US bishops’ campaign against LGBT non-discrimination and healthcare laws framed as religious liberty issues, Cupich affirmed the need for bishops to be in relationship with the government “so that we’re not banging our heads between our beliefs and laws.” He has also called the apocalyptic tone of Catholic officials threatening to shut down ministries over alleged religious liberty issues “scare tactics and worst-case scenario predictions” that are “uncalled for and only unnecessarily disturb the hardworking and dedicated people who are employed by the Church.”

To read a full analysis of Bishop Cupich from Dennis Coday, editor of the National Catholic Reporter, click here.

Cupich’s style is all quite a reversal from the bombastic actions of Chicago’s outgoing prelate, Cardinal Francis George, who just a week ago compared LGBT advocates to anti-Catholic groups from US history like the Know-Nothings and Ku Klux Klan.

It appears Pope Francis might be using a major episcopal appointment to shift the American episcopacy in major ways. The following, from a speech Cupich delivered in June during a conference on economics at The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, may indicate what the pope is attempting:

“[Pope Francis uses] as his starting point real life experience rather than competing ideas. In other words the Pope offers a different epistemology, a different approach to how we know and learn or better how we are informed…But, I think those who easily dismiss what the Pope is saying because of his turn to real life experience fail to appreciate that he is calling people to a more authentic way of knowing and learning. He is challenging them about how they are informed.  And, in fact, herein lies what I believe is how we should understand his unique contribution to the tradition of Catholic Social Teaching. Instead of approaching life from the thirty thousand feet level of ideas, he challenges policy makers and elected officials — indeed all of us —  to experience the life of everyday and real people. His pithy phrase in the Joy of the Gospel says it all: Reality is greater than ideas.  Ideas cannot be disconnected from realities; the two must be in dialogue. He is concerned that leaders and policy makers ‘are stuck in the  realm of pure ideas’ thus disconnected from realities.  Ideas are important as they can classify and define, but realities call us to action.”

Cupich follows Pope Francis by forsaking an episcopal residence and instead lives in a room at the local seminary. From what we know, he appears to have a pastorally-focused ministry which is very different from Cardinal George’s approach which has been more focused on culture wars.

I have one further hope. For decades, Catholics, because of their experiences with reality rather than ideas, have come to know, love, and advocate with LGBT people . Encountering same-gender couples and LGBT youth has been the ‘stuff’ of conversions towards inclusion and equality. Hopefully, soon-to-be Archbishop Cupich will keep up his positive record and further encounter the realities of LGBT people’s lives.  Such an approach would help him, and the bishops at large, overcome harmful policies toward LGBT people.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


How Can the Catholic Community Support LGBT Homeless Youth?

September 19, 2014

YesterdayBondings 2.0 highlighted the religious rejection that too often causes LGBT youth to experience homelessness, and we called on Catholics and other people of faith to participate in GLAAD’s #SpiritDay this October as a sign of love and acceptance for upwards of 400,000 LGBT youth inhabiting American streets.

Today, we take a look at the flip side of the relationship between LGBT youth homelessness and religion, specifically Catholicism.  Examples of Catholics and those rooted in the church’s tradition confronting general homelessness abound, and it is a source of comfort for me that the church has such a fervent commitment to children in poverty. But what about LGBT youth?

Carl Siciliano, once a Benedictine monk and Catholic Worker, left the church over homophobic remarks from New York’s Cardinal John O’Connor. But he did not leave the  practice of the works of mercy for those without homes, as Rolling Stone reports:

“Siciliano was working at a housing program for the homeless in the Nineties when he noticed that his clientele was getting younger and younger. Until then, he says, ‘you almost never saw kids. It was Vietnam vets, alcoholics and deinstitutionalized mentally ill people.’ But not only were more kids showing up, they were also disappearing. ‘Every couple of months one of our kids would get killed…And it would always be a gay kid.’ “

Siciliano founded the Ali Forney Center in response, a shelter in New York City devoted exclusively to LGBT kids and teens without housing. Siciliano has also become an advocate, questioning where the tax dollars are for these youth and what Pope Francis’ impact has been. The Rolling Stone articles highlights the first of these, noting a lack of government funding exacerbated by a further lack of LGBT protections to assist LGBT youth.

Of more than $5 billion in federal funding annually funneled to address homelessness, a very small percentage targets youth. The Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA), a primary source of youth funding around this issue, does not ban LGBT discrimination and it does not look likely that such a clause will be added to a new version of the Act which expired last fall. This situation leaves the US with only 4,000 beds nightly for an estimated 1.7 million homeless youth.

There are further complications when factoring in religious organizations. Because President George W. Bush channelled government funds to faith-based providers, LGBT youth may face further discrimination if they seek services at faith-based care providers who are not inclusive and do not provide for this population’s unique needs. Given the track record of local Catholic Charities affiliates when it comes to non-discrimination laws around adoption and the Hobby Lobby debacle earlier this year, would Catholic groups end social services to homeless youth if they were required to be LGBT inclusive?

There is another angle, touched upon yesterday, when it comes to Catholicism’s response to this epidemic of homeless LGBT youth and that is the pastoral care that also needs to be provided. Siciliano wrote public letter to Pope Francis published in the New York Times this spring and pleaded for the pope to act forcefully against the causes of religious rejection afflicting LGBT youth.

Indeed, though Pope Francis has not directly addressed this issue, I think he points the way forward for American Catholics. The pope’s emphasis on accompanying the poor as a mandate of faith needs no comment, aside from a reminder that he chose to dine with the homeless for his birthday, and the Jesuit church in Rome held a funeral for murdered transgender woman who had been homeless that respected her gender identity. Pope Francis chooses mercy over judgment, over caring for and including those on the margins, rather than rejecting them.

What can you do?

On a personal level, participate in #SpiritDay on October 16th to let LGBT children and teens know there are supportive people of faith in their lives in their communities. New Ways Ministry is joining with other faith-based and LGBT groups to co-sponsor #SpiritDay with GLAAD. We hope you will join us and help us spread the word! For more information, click here.

On a parish level, begin efforts to address these LGBT youth-specific injustices. Whether this means broader education efforts about sexual orientation and gender identity or augmenting existing efforts to confront homelessness by tackling the unique needs of LGBT people experiencing poverty. Do something small to start and build upon it.

On a state and national level, become involved with legislative efforts to meet the specific needs of homeless youth generally, including those needs of LGBT youth.

Homelessness among LGBT youth is not simply a Catholic or faith problem, for there are a myriad of other factors influencing each person’s life. But Catholics have both a mandate from Christ to care for those least among us and a faith responsibility to combat negative religious beliefs that result in rejected youths.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Homeless LGBT Youth Need Your Support This #SpiritDay

September 18, 2014

In a month from now, October 16th, millions of people nationwide will don purple clothing and take to social media in what has become an annual display of love and support for LGBT youth called #SpiritDay. In past years’, Bondings 2.0 has marked this event by highlighting the bullying of LGBT youth and Catholic responses  to this problem.

Today, we highlight the tremendous problem of LGBT youth homelessness, suicide, and related pastoral concerns in the hopes you will add your voice to #SpiritDay on October 16th. Tomorrow, Bondings 2.0 will look at the other side of this problem–how religious social service providers are impacting LGBT youth experiencing homelessness.  #SpiritDay is sponsored by GLAAD, and you can find out how you and your company, school, church, organization can participate by clicking here.

Rolling Stone magazine took up LGBT youth homelessness in their September 11th issue, mixing hard data with anecdotes from four LGBT youth to tell this tragic story. To set the scene, the article cites Center for American Progress numbers that between 320,000 and 400,000 LGBT youth experience homelessness in the United States and this is approximately 40 percent of the homeless youth population overall.

The causes of LGBT youth homelessness are varied. The average coming out age has dropped to 16, when most youth are still dependent on their parents, and more youth may be coming out following legal victories for LGBT equality.

Research also shows that almost 40 percent of LGBT youth experiencing homelessness are on the streets because of family rejection, primarily rooted in religious concerns. The Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State published data showing a distinct correlation between highly religious parents and the rejection of their LGBT children in comparison to those parents considered less religious. Two of the four youth who shared their stories in the Rolling Stone article came from families identifying as Catholic.

Jackie was raised in Idaho amid an upper-middle class family. She succeeded academically and socially, pushed on by traditionally Catholic parents. It took until college for Jackie to realize she was gay, coming out sophomore year over the phone to her mother. The article reports:

“So while Jackie hoped for the best, she knew the call she was making had the potential to not end well. ‘You can’t hate me after I say this,’ she pleaded when, alarmed to be receiving a call in the middle of the night, her mom picked up the phone.

” ‘Oh, my God, you’re pregnant’ was her mom’s first response, before running through a litany of parental fears. ‘Are you in jail? Did you get expelled? Are you in trouble? What happened? What did you do?’ Suddenly her mom’s silence matched Jackie’s own. ‘Oh, my God,’ she murmured in disbelief. ‘Are you gay?’

‘Yeah,’ Jackie forced herself to say.”

Her mother hung up after using a slur against Jackie and questioning what she, as a mother, had done “for God to have given us a [gay] as a child.” Jackie’s parents cut her off financially, kicked her out of their house, and broke contact with their daughter. They mentioned later that Jackie, who experienced homelessness while still pursuing her college education, could get their financial support if she enrolled in “ex-gay therapy.” Of this, Jackie says:

” ‘I wanted to be their kid, but I couldn’t change. Everyone I’d ever known my whole life cut ties with me. But this was who I am.’ “

James was a raised in the Midwest, in a highly religious town where there was a church “on every street corner.” His mother, once Catholic, experimented with evangelically-oriented Christian traditions before returning to her original church. James, who had heard his mother rail against homosexuality, started quietly dating a co-worker. He was forced to come out after his mother found a picture of him with his boyfriend on James’ phone. Upon graduating high school, he was kicked out and, after a month of hitchhiking, ended up in Atlanta at a shelter for LGBT youth, called Lost-n-Found Youth.

One additional note is that LGBT youth who are kicked out experience higher rates of violence, sexual assault, HIV/AIDS, and prostitution than averages for youth experiencing homelessness. These can lead or exacerbate existing substance abuse and mental health issues, and in too many cases lead to suicide.

Jesuit Jason Welle questions the acts of Catholic parents and family members who would reject an LGBT child or sibling, commenting on its inconsistency with teachings of Jesus. He writes at The Jesuit Post:

“And this kind of rejection is shameful and heartbreaking because, really, our faith tradition should teach us that rejecting our children is a rejection of the promises we make in Baptism, namely that when a Catholic parent has their child baptized, the priest or deacon instructs them to teach their child to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor, and then asks pointedly, ‘Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?’

“The thing is, before you bring a child into the world no one asks you if you know what you’re getting into. But when a Catholic parent baptizes that child, they must respond directly to this question first. It leaves me crying out: what part of throwing a gay or lesbian child out of the home shows our love of God and neighbor?”

Beyond the family, there is still the matter of the Catholic community. San Francisco social worker Kelley Cutler wrote a blog post at Patheos with questions for this fall’s Synod of Bishops tackling marriage and family life. Cutler asks the right questions, I think, for the church at large presently faced with all of the above:

“How can the Church follow Christ’s example? What do queer people want and need to feel welcomed and supported in the Church where they may find him? How can the Church support queer people already in the pews, let alone the many on the street? What do they hope for from the Church, and how is the Church failing those hopes, thus contributing to a sense of hopelessness?”

Cutler points out that community and a sense of belonging, as well as spiritual care are essential components in helping marginalized communities — and what the church can offer to LGBT youth. She concludes:

“It takes a genuine connection to make the vulnerable feel truly safe, and truly seen…if we truly want to outreach to queer people, we need to do more, starting with real dialogue. Without being defensive, we need to see queer people through Jesus’ eyes, understand why they feel like outcasts, and then ask what we as a community can do to bring them home.

“If we listen, we will hear that we all share the same desires: for connection; for community; for hope; for love; for a place where we may safely graze.”

Making public your support as a Catholic or person of faith for LGBT youth this #SpiritDay will let them know there is a supportive community out there. New Ways Ministry is joining with other faith-based and LGBT groups to co-sponsor #SpiritDay with GLAAD. We hope you will join us and help us spread the word! For more information, click here.

Tomorrow, Bondings 2.0 will follow-up this post by looking at the impact faith-based social service providers have had in confronting LGBT youth homelessness.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Why Did Catholic Numbers on LGBT Acceptance Dip So Much In Recent Study?

September 16, 2014

On this blog, we are always very excited to report on statistics and surveys which show that Catholic lay people’s support of LGBT people and issues continues to grow. We also like to report on the many ways that Catholic parishes are welcoming and including LGBT people as full members of their communities.  But last week, a Duke University report showed that while in most Christian denominations acceptance of LGBT people is on the rise, the only group which the study said showed a decrease is Catholicism. What gives?

An Associated Press article describes the good news and the bad news in Duke University’s National Congregations Study:

“Overall, the study found acceptance of gay and lesbian members in American congregations increased from 37 percent to 48 percent over the six-year period. Acceptance of gays and lesbians as volunteer leaders increased from 18 percent to 26 percent. . . .

“Perhaps surprisingly, given the support for gays and lesbians among Catholics in general, representatives of the Catholic churches surveyed expressed less acceptance of gay and lesbian members in 2012 than in 2006. Interview subjects were asked specifically whether openly gay or lesbian couples in committed relationships would be permitted to be full-fledged members of the congregation.

“In 2006, 74 percent of those surveyed said yes. That number decreased to 53 percent in 2012. While the decrease is large, the rate of acceptance still remains higher than that for all congregations surveyed, 48 percent.

“Asked whether the same couples would be permitted to hold any volunteer leadership position that was open to other members, 39 percent of Catholic respondents said yes in 2006 but only 26 percent said the same in 2012. That is the same as the number for all congregations surveyed.”

So, while Catholics still are more accepting than all other Christian denominations surveyed, the statistics seem to show that acceptance is dwindling.

Or is it?

The news story provided some interpretations of the data from several Catholic scholars and analysts:

“Thomas Reese, a senior analyst with the National Catholic Reporter, thought it might reflect the fact that younger Catholic clergy tend to be more conservative than their older counterparts. Mary Ellen Konieczny, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame, suggested the change might reflect a growing emphasis by the bishops on issues of homosexuality over that period.

“Both agreed that those attitudes were not indicative of what people sitting in the pews think.

“Konieczny and others said they thought the answers might be significantly different if the same questions were asked today.

“The survey was taken ‘before Francis got into the papacy, and I believe he would have made a difference,’ said William D’Antonio, a senior fellow at Catholic University of America’s Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies. ‘Francis has lowered the focus on sexual matters and increased the concern for the poor and needy.’ “

A Religion News Service story adds another voice which offers similar analysis:

“The Rev. James Martin, editor at large for the Jesuit magazine America, observed, ‘During those years, U.S. bishops were much more vocal against gay marriage. It’s only been in the last year or two — since the election of Pope Francis — that the church has begun opening up on this.’ ”

The Huffington Post’s Antonia Blumeberg offers a comparative analysis for why Catholic numbers are going down while other Christian churches’ numbers are going up:

“While the Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality remains seated in the somewhat vague but hopeful words of Pope Francis, ‘Who am I to judge?’, other church bodies have taken more definitive action to promote LGBT equality. In June the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted in a landmark decision to allow same-sex marriages, following in the footsteps of the U.S. Episcopal Church which made the same decision two years prior.”

In an interview with London’s Daily MailMark Chaves, the author of the study, provided his own interpretation for the decline in Catholic numbers:

“Chaves suggested this may be due in part to fallout from the child sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic church, which some associate with homosexuality.”

But, perhaps the most important reason for the change is in how the data was collected. Ned Flaherty, a writer in Boston, provided the following information:

“The National Congregation Study data were collected 2 to 2.5 years ago, in 50-minute interviews with each congregation’s key clergyperson. Roman Catholic rules, including LGBT acceptance, are set by the Vatican, regardless of local public policy. Therefore, the answers from the Roman Catholic clergy reflected Vatican rules, whereas the answers from other clergy reflected local democratic policy.

“Consequently, the very low acceptance rate for LGBT worshipers reported by Roman Catholic clergy would be very high if reported by Roman Catholic congregants.

“The survey’s apparent discrepancy arises only because the interviewers didn’t adjust the survey to accommodate the uniquely Catholic gap between what clergy dictate vs. what congregants believe. Other faiths don’t have this gap.

So, while the Catholic statistics appear sobering, there does seem to be some explanation for them, and they may not accurately paint the full picture of the Catholic community.  Still, even though the report reflects only Catholic leadership’s views,  that is evidence that there is still work to be done with Catholics, especially their leaders.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Boston’s Cardinal O’Malley: LGBT Church Worker Firings “Need to be Rectified”

September 15, 2014

Cardinal Sean O’Malley seated among other panelists at Crux event. (photo credit: The Boston Globe)

In a one-to-one conversation following a public speaking engagement, Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley said that the firing of church workers because of LGBT issues is a situation that “needs to be rectified,” becoming the first prelate to speak against this trend.

Earlier in the evening, the cardinal publicly spoke positively of the need to include and minister to the LGBT community in light of Pope Francis’ new vision for the church.

O’Malley’s public appearance on Thursday, September 11th, was at a launch event for Crux, the Boston Globe’s new website for “all things Catholic.” The program was held at the Jesuit-run Boston College. O’Malley was part of a panel of experts discussing the papacy of Pope Francis.

At the end of the event, after the crowd had dissipated, I had the opportunity to thank Cardinal O’Malley one-on-one for his compassionate remarks earlier in the evening about the LGBT community.

As we spoke, the cardinal told me that we must first convince people we love them before talking about the Ten Commandments. I pointed out that it has been hard to convince LGBT Catholics and their allies of this love when so many church workers have had LGBT-related employ-ment disputes with Catholic schools and parishes. Responding to my comment, Cardinal O’Malley said this trend was a situation that “needs to be rectified.”

O’Malley also indicated that not all church positions require a Catholic marriage.  Most of the employment disputes involved same-sex couples legally marrying, announcing an intention to marry, or publicly acknowledging a long-term committed relationship.

Earlier, in a period when panelists answered audience questions, Cardinal O’Malley answered a question which I had submitted:

Given Pope Francis’ emphasis on mercy and welcome, can we expect improved pastoral care and inclusion for those who are LGBT, especially when almost 20 US church workers have been fired in 2014 for their sexual orientation, gender, or marital status?

The cardinal’s answer is in full below, and you can also watch it at Crux by clicking here and starting the video at 1:29:00:

“I think the Holy Father’s notion of mercy and inclusion is going to make a big difference in the way that the church responds to and ministers to people of homosexual orientation. The Holy Father is talking about reaching out to the periphery and very often this is a group that is on the periphery. It is not necessarily that the church is going to change doctrine, but, as somebody said, the Holy Father hasn’t changed the lyrics, but he’s changed the melody. I think the context of love and mercy and community is the context in which all of the church’s teachings must be presented, including the more difficult ones. The same could be said about abortion and so many others. It is only when people realize that we love them that they will be open to hear the truth we want to share with them.”

You can read a full account of the event from Michael O’Loughlin of Crux found by clicking here. Other panelists that evening were Hosffman Espino of Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry, John Allen, Jr. of Crux, Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard University, and Robert Christian of Millennial.

Cardinal O’Malley’s inclusive statements are typical of his merciful leadership style in Boston, leadership which led Pope Francis to appoint him to to a unique papal advisory council of eight cardinals, positioning him as the American prelate closest to the pope. O’Malley himself was considered to be a papal candidate before Francis’ election, and one resigned Catholic priest listed Boston’s cardinal as the most gay-friendly of the candidates.

What struck me most last Thursday was the cardinal’s willing admission that terminating church workers due to their sexual orientation or marital status is indeed problematic.  Catholic prelates have, at best, remained silent, and, at worst, supported discriminatory actions, in the more than forty public instances where a church employee left over LGBT issues. Cardinal O’Malley’s statement that these firings “need to be rectified” is an episcopal echo of the tens of thousands of Catholics and people of faith who have long stood by mistreated LGBT and ally church workers. Regular readers of Bondings 2.0 will recognize that even as the resignations and firings increase, so too do the rallies, petitions, and online outreach in solidarity with fired teachers like Barb Webb, Olivia Reichert and Christina Gambaro.

I hope Cardinal O’Malley will use his prominent position to help end situations where LGBT and ally church workers face discrimination and exclusion. It could be a major step in incarnating a church where all are truly welcome. As it is, the cardinal’s kind words and frank admission are a wonderful start — and for them, I am most grateful.

Cardinal O’Malley is the first bishop to acknowledge that these employment actions are a problem.  Let’s hope and pray that he will not be the last.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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