RETREAT OPPORTUNITY: Our Place at the Table

September 2, 2014

MansonRetreat_BrochureFrontWhat place do LGBT Catholics possess at the tables of our spiritual communities? How can LGBT people, and their family, friends, and pastoral ministers more fully live out the call to be bread for one another?

These questions will be at the heart of an upcoming New Ways Ministry weekend retreat, entitled “Our Place at the Table.”  The retreat will be held September 19-21, 2014, at the Franciscan Spiritual Center in Aston, Pennsylvania, near the Philadelphia airport.

Jamie Manson will facilitate the weekend as participants explore their own connections to Catholic identity with an eye to the ways in which our sacramental imaginations help us to see God at work in the world, especially in the lives of LGBT people. She will offer several presentations based around Margaret Farley’s book Just Love, interspersed with small group discussions and prayer.

Manson is a nationally renowned speaker, retreat leader, and media commentator on issues related to LGBT Catholics, young adult Catholics, and the future of the church. She studied with Farley at Yale Divinity School, where Manson earned her Master of Divinity. She is an award-winning writer for the National Catholic Reporter, especially for her weekly column “Grace on the Margins,” and has directed faith formation and social justice ministry efforts in New York City parishes.

Jamie Manson

Jamie Manson

Regular readers of Bondings 2.0 will be familiar with Manson’s perspectives, as we often summarize and comment on her columns on this blog.  For all the posts in which her work has been mentioned, click here

New Ways Ministry invites LGBT Catholics, the parents of LGBT children, pastoral ministers, and all who are interested to honor the struggles, affirm the holiness, and explore the church’s unfolding future when it comes to LGBT Catholics.

The cost is $205. For more information or to register, visit the New Ways Ministry website at http://www.newwaysministry.org/retreats.html or call (301) 277-5674 or send an email to info@NewWaysMinistry.org..

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


UPDATE: Firing Lesbians Because of Pregnancies is Still LGBT Discrimination

August 31, 2014

Shaela Evenson

Earlier today, Bondings 2.0 reported on a church worker firing in Michigan about which details were limited. Late yesterday, the fired teacher Barbara Webb clarified that she claims she was fired for becoming pregnant by “nontraditional means” and not her sexual orientation as was initially speculated.

If Webb’s claims are correct, this would be at least the third lesbian educator fired from a Catholic school for becoming pregnant. Neither the high school nor archdiocese have confirmed the reasons for her firing.

In Montana, Shaela Evenson is suing her former employer Butte Central Catholic Schools for breach of contract and discrimination. The former grade school teacher, who is a partnered lesbian woman, was terminated for becoming pregnant outside of marriage. Neither party claims Evenson’s sexual orientation was a reason behind the firing. Yet neither church policies nor state law allowed her committed relationship to be recognized as marriage. The Montana Standard reports:

“As a result of the firing, she has incurred damages including lost wages, benefits and emotional distress. She is asking for back pay, compensatory and punitive damages — and a jury trial.

“Evenson taught sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade literature and physical education at the Catholic school for nine years. She was dismissed Jan. 10 after the Helena Diocese received an anonymous letter about her pregnancy.

“The district has said it fired Evenson for violating the terms of her contract, which required her to practice the tenets of the Catholic faith inside and outside the classroom.”

She has also filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Evenson is represented by lawyer, Brian Butler, who successfully helped Christa Dias, a computer teacher fired from Cincinnati Catholic schools after becoming pregnant outside of marriage through the use of assistive reproductive technologies. Dias won $171,000 in a 2013 lawsuit that found the Archdiocese of Cincinnati had indeed discriminated against her. In that case, Butler argued that so-called morality clauses often added to church workers’ contracts do not waive employment protections guaranteed under federal, state, and local laws.

Though lesbian women are not alone in having children outside of marriage and becoming pregnant through assistive reproductive technologies, LGBT church workers are doubly affected in areas where marriage equality is not yet law — and by the failure of Catholic officials to respond to same-gender relationships in just ways.  How does firing pregnant mothers fit in with the Catholic hierarchy’s pro-life project?

For the good of all, church leaders should reflect this Labor Day on their treatment of LGBT church workers in the context of church teachings on justice, conscience, and human dignity. An honest evaluation would make clear the inconsistencies in their teachings and actions related to church worker justice and LGBT rights.

If church leaders need inspiration, they could always look to Pope Francis’ close ally Cardinal Cláudio Hummes who last week called for a new openness from the church towards same-gender couples.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of ‘Employment Issues,’ click the category to the right. For a full listing of LGBT-related firings, with links for further information, click here. And if you are interested in helping protect LGBT and ally church workers by implementing an inclusive non-discrimination policy at your local parish or Catholic school, more information on how to do this is available by clicking here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Lesbian Teacher’s Firing Yields More Questions than Answers

August 30, 2014

Marian High School, Bloomingfield, MI

Update: In a follow-up statement, Barbara Webb clarified that it was her pregnancy outside marriage and not her sexual orientation that was the cause of her firing. There is still no comment from Marian High School officials.

There are more questions than clear answers in the firing of Barbara Webb, a former chemistry teacher at Marian High School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. In a Facebook post, Webb states the Catholic school fired her for being a gay woman and mlive.com quotes the post for further explanation:

“Kristen and I are expecting our first baby. I’m about 14 weeks. We are very excited and blessed and look forward to all that parenting will be.

“On the flip side of the coin, Marian was unwilling to offer me any type of leave and of course they were not willing to grant me the same right that a half dozen other teachers are enjoying this year while starting their families. In fact, Marian’s options to me, after 9 years of dedication including league winning coaching, 4.0 averages in AP chemistry scores, PD for the school based on my personal best practices, and dozens of students and family testimonials is 1) resign or 2) we will terminate you.”

Webb notes that administrators at the all-girls school offered to continue her health insurance through May if she signed left willingly and remained quiet, but the fired teacher’s response was that “$4k of health insurance wasn’t enough to buy my silence.”

The former teacher, who was also a volleyball coach, linked her firing over maternity leave issues to her identity as a partnered lesbian woman, writing:

“It is part of Marian’s mission to educate women about human diversity and in this have really missed out on a true life opportunity to set an example. Instead they are only perpetuating hate…

“My job can’t be saved but the torment that the poor LGBT students at Marian must be feeling (right let’s be real they exist too) the other LGBT staff (again let’s be real people) and those that are silenced by fear can be helped.”

What remains unclear are the exact reasons for Webb’s firing, as both diocesan and school officials have remained quiet. Ned McGrath, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Detroit,  confirmed only that a teacher from the high school was no longer employed after a “personnel matter” and there would be no further comment. Marian administrators, as well as representatives of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters of Monroe who sponsor the all-girls school, have been silent after repeated requests for comment.

It is certainly a possibility that Barbara Webb was fired for a number of reasons: her sexual orientation, her relationship status, becoming pregnant while not officially married, a combination of these, or something else entirely. The firing of more than a dozen LGBT and ally church workers this year alone adds credibility to Webb’s claims, but until school officials and the IHM sisters are willing to clarify publicly what happened, the public is left to guess. Hopefully, information on just what happened between Barbara Webb and Marian High School will be forthcoming as a matter of truth and justice for all involved.  Since we live in an atmosphere where LGBT people are regularly being fired from Catholic institutions, the church leaders in this case need to be clear what their motivations were.  They owe it to Webb and the public, but they also owe it to themselves, as a matter of integrity, to state their reasons.  Injustice is always perpetuated by silence.

That said, Webb’s closing of the Facebook post (which has been shared more than 650 times) is a message worth repeating:

“Here is what you can do: make one conscience effort to stand up to hatred. Whether it is for LGBT rights or racial, or religious or socioeconomic or women’s or special needs… Make yourself take that leap of faith to do the right thing and I promise you will not regret it, you may even find it catchy…Every act of justice that we can do collectively gets us one step further to a truly recognized human diversity.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholic Pastoral Committee Closes Its Doors, Though Work Continues

August 29, 2014

The Twin Cities’ Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM) has been one of the oldest and most effective regional LGBT ministries in our Church since it first began its work in 1980.  Because this Minnesota group has a long and valued history, it was with more than a little sadness that I learned this week that they were closing up shop.  My sadness was ameliorated somewhat, though, when I learned that the Committee’s work will be continued by two other organizations.

The news was announced on The Wild Reed blog, which is maintained by Michael Bayly, who for many years was the executive coordinator of the group, which offered programs and resources to LGBT Catholics, their families, and pastoral ministers.  Bayly notes that members of CPCSM determined that their work was completed–and that includes a very impressive list of accomplishments which helped transform the Catholic LGBT landscape in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.  Bayly wrote:

“Basically, the board feels that CPCSM . . . has run its course. We’ve accomplished some incredible things in our 33-year history, including groundbreaking LGBT sensitivity training in local parishes in the 1980s; safe staff training in eight of the eleven Catholic high schools in the 1990s; publication of the first (and to date only) safe staff training manual for Catholic high schools in 2007; and the forming of Catholics for Marriage Equality MN initiative in 2010, which played an important role in defeating the anti-marriage equality amendment of 2012,  paving the way formarriage equality in Minnesota in 2013. There’s still work to be done, but we’re confident that both Dignity Twin Cities and the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (which CPCSM helped co-found in 2009) are more than able to carry forward many aspects of CPCSM’s mission and work.”

The CPCSM has had a distinctly Catholic vision of their identity and mission.  On their web page, they state:

“. . . [L]ike many Catholics, we believe the hallmark of our Catholic faith is a trusting openness and loving response to the presence and action of God within all of creation, including the vast and diverse arena of human life and relationships. We see this “trusting openness and loving response” as a profoundly catholic (i.e., universal) endeavor. We work toward recognizing and celebrating a catholicity of life, by which we mean the discovery and celebration of God as creator and lover of all humanity, a God who desires all people to experience both personal and communal flourishing.”

Michael Bayly and David McCaffrey

CPCSM began officially in 1980 by a group of people from Dignity/Twin Cities and pastoral ministers who worked in the local archdiocese.  In another Wild Reed blog post, the early history was remembered:

“[The founders were] David McCaffrey, who at that time was serving as Dignity Twin Cities’ pastoral coordinator (1980-1981); Bill Kummer, Dignity’s pastoral coordinator and outreach director from 1977 to 1980; Father Herb Hayek, OP, a Dignity Twin Cities co-founder ans regular Mass presider; Cindy Scott, then a staff member of the Archdiocesan Urban Affairs Commission and later an editor and writer for various local LGBT and women’s publications; Donna Kurimay, then vice-president of the local chapter of the Association of Pastoral Ministers; and Karen Chicoine, then an administrative assistant in the Archdiocesan Catholic Education Center and a former religious for 15 years.

“It should also be noted that the first stirrings of CPCSM’s outreach and pastoral efforts predate its May 9, 1980 founding by almost two years. In the fall of 1978, in an attempt to help educate ministers working in parishes, Bill Kummer, David McCaffrey, and a number of other members of Dignity Twin Cities began a series of monthly speaker-luncheons. Over the next two years, these meetings were held at various parishes, usually hosted by a local pastor whom Dignity had contacted and who, in turn, invited other priests who were known to be hospitable to LGBT persons and sensitive to their pastoral needs.

“Initially, 20-30 priests attended these monthly events where they would listen to a local professional speak on some aspect of the lives, needs, and gifts of LGBT people. Seated among the priests. Dignity members attempted to make their guests feel welcome as they chatted with them over lunch. More than a few priests remarked that this was the first time they had met psychologically and spiritually healthy gay men and lesbians. Most of their previous encounters had been either in the confessional or in a counseling situation.

“Eventually the speaker-luncheons were expanded to include the non-ordained Catholic pastoral professionals in the archdiocese. “

Archbishop John Roach and Bill Kummer

This same blog post also recounts a productive meeting the leaders had with Archbishop John Roach, who led the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis at the time, and was also president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. (For a series of Wild Reed blog posts exploring the history of CPCSM’s relationship with the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, see the Related articles section at the end of this post.)

Last year, CPCSM conducted a survey at the Twin Cities’ Gay Pride Festival, and one of the top issues people wanted to see the group work on was anti-bullying programs.  While CPCSM had already made great headway in that area by publishing Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students:  A Catholic Schools Perspective, edited by Michael Bayly.  Bayly noted that the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform, which is one of the groups that will continue CPCSM’s work in this area.

One CPCSM achievement that was not mentioned in Bayly’s blog post is the fact that this group represented a model of regional coalition work that can be replicated in other areas of the nation.  It is so important for Catholic parishes and individuals to support one another in LGBT ministry because the work can sometimes seem daunting.   In the New York metropolitan area, a number of gay-friendly Catholic parishes meet regularly to support, encourage, and learn from one another.

While it is sad to see CPCSM close, it is comforting to know that their agenda has been taken up by the broader Catholic Church reform movement in the Twin Cities area.  More importantly, the good work that CPCSM has done over the decades will live on in the many lives and institutions which they have touched and transformed.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles

The Wild Reed:  CPCSM and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis (Part 1)

The Wild Reed:  CPCSM and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis (Part 2)

The Wild Reed:  CPCSM and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis (Part 3)

The Wild Reed:  CPCSM and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis (Part 4)


Coming Out as a Gay Priest: “If not me, who will?”

August 26, 2014

The existence of gay men in the Catholic priesthood is one that is surrounded by so many clouds of mystery.  The reason for the mystery is that so few gay priests publicly acknowledge their sexual orientation.  One priest who has “come out” reflected on the experience, and his insights shed some light on other priests’ reluctance to do so.

Father André Samson

Father André Samson of Ottawa, Canada, went public about his orientation on a popular Canadian talk show last year.  The Ottawa Citizen recently interviewed him about his declaration, and his observations are important and poignant.

Samson sees it as an important responsibility for him to speak out:  “If not me, who will?”

Most importantly, Samson said that the experience of being open has led to a strong sense of affirmation in his life. “It’s good to be me,” he stated.

Such affirmation was not present in his early life, where he said that growing up in a conservative Catholic family kept him from acknowledging his feelings.   Adolescence found him bullied and beaten in school. He turned to the priesthood, he said, as a way to explain why he didn’t marry and to “regain a sense of dignity.”

After being ordained over 30 years ago, he came to realize that he was not the only gay man in the priesthood.  His reflections since coming out explain why many priests are reluctant to be public:

“He added that many priests and bishops continue to hide their sexual orientation because of their dependence and their fear of being rejected by the church, but he wants others to revel in who they really are.

“ ‘I know it’s not healthy to live with that kind of fear,’ said Samson, who has lived a life of service, teaching counselling as a University of Ottawa professor and serving as a chaplain during the Persian Gulf War.

“I would like to see the Catholic church recognize that many of its priests are gay and many of its bishops are gay — and that’s OK,” he added.

Samson is no stranger to truth-telling.  In 2013, he was relieved of duties at a Montreal church, which he believes was because he tried to raise the issue of clergy sex abuse there.

Fear is such a powerful and harmful force in our lives.  So much harm in our Church is caused by fear, particularly fear of authority.  We need to remember that Jesus’ constant message to his disciples was: “Be not afraid.”

There is great reward in facing up to fear, and Samson expressed that powerfully.  Describing what it was like immediately after his television declaration, he said: “I really felt for the first time in my life, I felt free.”

What surprised Samson the most was that he received hundreds of supportive emails and messages.  Not one email came from a fellow priest.  I think that shows how deeply entrenched the fear of homosexuality is in clerical culture.

Catholics, as polls continually show, support LGBT people very strongly.  The people in the pews, I think, are ready for learning that their priests and bishops may be gay.  What lay people respect more than anything from their priests is honesty.

What can you do to let your priests know that you would support them if they “came out” as gay?  How can Catholics support their gay priests?  Leave your ideas in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related posts: 

Author Behind Book on the Life of a Gay Catholic Priest ‘Comes Out’

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Father Gary Meier, In His Own Words

 

 

 

 


Parish Bulletin Tells the Story of a Lesbian Couple’s Commitment

August 25, 2014

Parish bulletins often tell a person a lot about the atmosphere of a Catholic community.  Even in many gay-friendly parishes, pastors and lay leaders are sometimes reluctant to mention, in print, their welcome of LGBT people. A recent example shows how one parish is working at breaking that wall of silence.

St. Francis Xavier Parish, Manhattan, N.Y., has long been known as a welcoming and affirming community.  They have marched in NYC’s Pride Parade many times, and they have two strong spirituality programs in the parish, one for gay men and one for lesbian woman.  LGBT people are integrated intimately in all aspects of parish life.

Earlier this summer, in the June 22nd, 2014 bulletin of St. Francis Xavier parish, a lesbian couple told the story of their relationship over the course of more than four decades.  Entitled “Forty-Four Years of Love and Commitment,” the short piece by Maria Formoso and Joan O’Brien, describes the difficult early years of their closeted relationship:

“We had the lucky fortune to meet in 1968 when we were employed as teachers in a Catholic high school in New York City. We became a couple in 1970 but we never disclosed it to our parents. It was difficult enough for ourselves to accept this relationship since we had been brought up Roman Catholic in Pre-Vatican II. We tried hard to reconcile our faith and our sexuality.

“Other people whom we suspected were gay were secretive and closeted as well, but we were eager to meet folks with whom we could openly share our lives and our values.”

Little by little, they began to reach out to others for support, including other Catholics:

“. . . at Dignity New York, we met Karen Doherty and Christine Nusse, who started the Conference for Catholic Lesbians in 1983. We were astonished and astounded to meet people from all over the United States who were struggling just like us to live their lives as Catholic lesbians.”

After praising a number of Catholic leaders including Sister Jeannine Gramick, Mary Hunt, Sister Theresa Kane, Father John McNeill, Barbara Zanotti, for their assistance in helping them to reconcile their lesbian and Catholic identities, the couple ended their essay with praise for St. Francis Xavier parish:

“Finally, Christmas Eve 1994, we, accompanied by Maria’s brother José, who also was gay, went to the Church of St.
Francis Xavier. Our good friends Anne and Frank Sheridan invited us. We had not attended mass in a number of years because, as lesbians, we did not feel welcome. The church was packed with people, many standing in the back. Sister Honora Nicholson came to our rescue, and we found ourselves seated on the left side of the altar. The service was beautiful. We were home! “

It was so refreshing to read such a positive piece about a lesbian relationship in a parish bulletin.  It’s quite an example of acceptance and affirmation, and also a wonderful way to educate the entire community about the lived reality of lesbian lives.  It’s a perfect way to let the rest of the parish benefit from the spiritual journey of two of their parishioners.

May other parishes do likewise!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Having Their Marriage Doctrine–and Changing It, Too

August 24, 2014

Christine Hernandez

The Catholic hierarchy’s position on marriage is clear to all: one man, one woman, for life. Defending this belief has caused bishops to spend millions of dollars in a decade-long attempt to stop marriage equality’s spread. Public discourse around same-gender couples attaining marriage rights has been framed in near-apocalyptic language by some bishops, and much pastoral harm has been caused as a result.

Yet, a court case in Alabama reveals just what it might take for Catholic officials to “redefine” marriage, as they often claim LGBT advocates are trying to do.

St. Pius X Catholic School in Mobile has had three lawsuits filed against it by parents claiming the school failed to protect their children from severe bullying, one of which comes from the lesbian mother of a child known in court documents as “A.S.” AL.com reports on the strange development:

“In court, lawyers for a Catholic school in Mobile seemed to endorse the view that a lesbian partner is an equal parent to the birth mother…Lawyers for the school sought permission to take sworn testimony from Christine Hernandez, the partner of the student’s mother who has helped raise the child.”

St. Pius X’s lawyers claim Hernandez has represented herself as the parent of A.S. in the past, including in official capacities where parental consent was needed. The child’s mother sought to block Hernandez from being forced to give testimony “on the grounds that state law bans recognition of same-sex marriage,” and Mobile Country Circuit Judge Sarah Stewart agreed saying Hernandez and A.S. are “legal strangers.”

A further twist is that Hernandez is co-counsel, with David Kennedy, in the bullying lawsuits, and she would need to be removed from this case and potentially the two other ones if forced to testify. Hernandez is also involved in an adoption lawsuit which claims the same same-sex marriage ban being used to prevent her from testifying is unconstitutional. The newspaper article explained:

“In an interview, Kennedy said that notwithstanding his view of the law, it remains on the books until a court decides otherwise.

” ‘In Alabama, the law of the land is still that a child can have one mother and one father but certainly not two mothers,’ he said.

“Even without the same-sex marriage issues, Kennedy argued, Hernandez still should not be made to testify. He pointed to legal precedent setting a high hurdle for compelling lawyers to testify as fact witnesses in cases involving their clients.”

Kennedy added that even if the same-sex marriage ban were deemed unconstitutional, Hernandez could not be considered a legal parent in the bullying lawsuit without marriage or adoption paperwork on file.

For her part, Hernandez released a short statement on the issues involved, saying:

” ‘This case is not about me. This case along with the other three that we have filed to date is about the children…The children that cried out for help and were ignored.’ “

Does this mean that the possibility of losing a legal case, and the resulting financial payout, can make Catholic officials change their definition of marriage?  It certainly seems they are willing to so for such circumstances.

This is not the first incident where Catholic leaders have sought to maintain their doctrine, while simultaneously changing it when advantageous for them. In 2013, lawyers for a Colorado hospital claimed fetuses were not, in fact, unborn children and did not possess legal rights.  The hospital was being sued for the deaths of two seven-month old fetuses, and the lawyers for the hospital defended the institution by saying fetuses were not people–a position in direct contradiction with the Catholic hierarchy’s consistent stance against abortion on the grounds that fetuses are indeed unborn children.  Perhaps there are more cases like this, when Catholic doctrines once declared infallible and immutable shift for legal and/or financial reasons?

If Catholic leaders want to claim moral positions in society then, at the very least, they must at least be willing to follow them. It adds insult to injury when bishops who ignored pleas from LGBT people and their families to stop the harm being done by opposing equal rights suddenly change those very beliefs just to win lawsuits. They cannot claim a principled position when it is so readily changed for advantage.

This case in Alabama is a prime example of how flawed and fragmented thinking on LGBT issues is, whether in the court system or in the church’s theology. I hope our bishops will one day welcome each person and every family for who and what they are, as created by God. We ask the simple question: would it not be better for every Catholic before the law and before God to stand on the side of justice and equality for all?

And when that day comes, I hope the church’s leaders’ shift in thinking will come as a result of love, not lawsuits.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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