Catholic School Teacher in Italy Loses Job Because of Lesbian Rumors

July 23, 2014

The disturbing trend of firing Catholic school teachers because of LGBT issues has moved overseas, and the reason for firing has become even weaker than usual, compared to the cases here in the United States.

Students at the Institute of the Sacred Heart, Trent, Italy.

In Italy, a state-funded school, L’Istituto Sacro Cuore (The Sacred Heart Institute) in the northern city of Trent, did not renew its contract with a teacher because there were rumors that she was a lesbian, which she refused to either confirm or deny.

PinkNews.com reported that the teacher, who is known only by the pseudonym “Silvia” offered a reaction to the school’s decision:

“ ‘What happened to me is medieval.

“ ‘Maybe I’m a lesbian, maybe I’m not. But asking me about my sexual orientation as a condition for renewing my contract is unacceptable.’

“She also said that Sister Eugenia Libratore, headmistress and Mother Superior, ‘told me she was willing to turn a blind eye if I was willing to “solve the problem.” Homosexuality is a problem?’

” ‘Silvia’ said she had worked at the school for five years and lives with her partner in Trento.”

According to Gazzetta del Sudthe teacher has not provided information if her partner is male or female:

“Silvia told La Repubblica (an Italian newspaper) adding that she is aged between 30 and 40, has been teaching an ‘important and mandatory subject’ at Sacro Cuore for five years, and lives in Trento with someone she loves.”

Gay Star News reported Sister Libratore’s side of the story:

“Eugenia Libratore, the headmistress of Sacro Cuore, reportedly said she decided not to renew the ‘adequate and professional’ teacher’s contract because she ‘has the school’s environment to protect’ and ‘moral ethics’ to preserve. . . .

“Libratore told Corriere (an Italian newspaper) she had heard about the teacher’s sexuality through rumors in the staff room.

” ‘I told her I had heard these rumours and hoped they were false rumors, because I have the school environment to protect,’ she said.

” ‘When choosing teachers for a Catholic school, I also do assessments from the point of view of moral ethics…

” ‘The Catholic school has its own characteristics and set of educational guidelines that must be defended at all costs.’ “

Italy’s Education Minister Stefania Giannini

Because employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation has been illegal in Italy since 2003,  and because the school accepts government funding, Italy’s Education Minister, Stefania Giannini, has become involved in the case, after 20 Italian senators requested intervention.  In La Repubblicathe Minister stated:

“Whenever we are faced with a case related to sexual discrimination, we will act with due severity.”

As regular readers of Bondings 2.0  will recognize, most of the firings that have happened in the United States over the last few years have been due to a gay or lesbian teacher becoming legally married.  Only one action from the list of all reported ones since 2008 was due to perceived sexual orientation, that being Tim Nelson in 2013.

This Italian case highlights an attitude on the part of the school’s headmistress that may be important to understanding what motivates administrator’s to react so harshly in such cases. The Italian administrator said:

“The Catholic school has its own characteristics and set of educational guidelines that must be defended at all costs.”

Granted this rendering comes from a translation, not the original Italian in which it was spoken, but it seems curious that the headmistress sees herself as a “defender” of the faith, which seems to be under siege.  Such a sad attitude, and perhaps it is one which other church leaders share.

LGBT people are not out to destroy Catholicism or religion.  On the contrary, their experience of overcoming hatred, oppression, and fear contains many important elements which bring much life and spirit to faith.

If Church leaders would be able to stop seeing homosexuality as “a problem,” as the headmistress in this story described it, I know that it would be simply a small step for them to start recognizing the spiritual richness that LGBT offer the church community.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article

TheLocal.it: “Lesbian teacher fired ‘to protect Catholic school’”


Spanish Nun: Same-Gender Relationships Are a ‘Sacrament’ of God’s Love

July 21, 2014

Spain’s Sister Teresa Forcades is a well-known activist for women’s rights, political autonomy in her home country and region, and economic justice. She has been labeled “Europe’s Most Radical Nun,” and she challenges the Church as often as she challenges unjust structures in society.

This Benedictine nun is also an advocate for LGBT people, offering the following insights in an interview earlier this year. Sr. Forcades goes beyond allowing for LGBT people to express themselves sexually and have relationships to celebrate them as profound and beautiful signs of God’s love in the world:

Sr. Teresa Forcades

“The religious analysis that understands sex as something that is intended for procreation is a utilitarian view of human love and is contrary to Christian spirituality. To surrender to the mystery of an interpersonal relationship is to surrender to growing towards being an image of God, towards incarnating what God represents on earth. Upon entering, you receive a gift, that this union could engender a child, but that’s perfectly compatible with you being able to be responsible and use contraception when you please…

“So I think that homosexual love is perfectly understandable to the church, because it has what is essential: it’s not having children, but an open intimacy to an interpersonal relationship that includes respect for the integrity of the other. Two people who love one another, desire one another, and respect one another are giving testimony: this is the sacrament, a visible sign — like baptism — that’s saying, ‘This creature is accepted in this community as any other.’ Trinitarian theology says that all sacraments are an embodiment of God’s love. God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are different but they are not complementary. Love is not necessity; it’s not when I need you because I’m missing something. It can’t be utilitarian love.”

A tip of the hat to Michael Bayly who writes on on Catholic LGBT issues at The Wild Reed for drawing attention to Sr. Forcades’ powerful words. She has long been a proponent of LGBT rights, and a recent profile in The Guardian notes of Sr. Teresa:

“Before she took her vows in 1997, Forcades tested the other nuns by giving a talk on a group of gay Catholics who celebrated their sexuality as a gift from God. She was humbled by the nuns’ humane reaction and, so, joined them.”

In March, Sr. Teresa visited Baltimore and lectured on a variety of justice-related issues. She views change in the Catholic Church as many do, a bottom-up effort, saying:

“When I talk about church, we talk about how the Gospel inspired us. There are many kinds of church, and I identify with the people at the bottom, at the base. Many people have a hope that the Catholic church might change because of the pope, but if you look at history, change comes from bottom up, not from top down.”

You can read more about that visit in the National Catholic Reporter or read a profile of Sr. Teresa in The Guardian by clicking here.

From her lips to the bishops’ ears! But, in the meantime, it is those same-gender couples living out this sacrament of God’s love who are not waiting for change in the Church, but creating it from the bottom up. Gratitude that Sr. Teresa is willing to speak that truth to power, as she so often does!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Fired Food Pantry Worker Files Lawsuit, Seeks Healing

July 20, 2014

Colleen Simon at work in the food pantry

Colleen Simon was “shell-shocked” when her Catholic employer fired her for being a married lesbian woman. Now, Simon is firing back in a lawsuit against the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph filed last Thursday.

The lawsuit also includes Bishop Robert Finn, who in 2012 was the first U.S. bishop convicted of a crime relating to clergy sexual abuse of children, and it alleges civil fraud because Catholic administrators told Simon her marital status would not be a problem.

Simon coordinated the St. Francis Xavier Church food pantry in Kansas City, Missouri, before being fired for her marriage to Lutheran pastor Donna Simon. Rachel Zoll of the Associated Press details how the firing came about:

“In each step of the hiring process, she said she told administrators she had married a woman a year earlier in Iowa, where gay marriage is recognized, and diocesan and parish representatives said her marital status would not be a problem…

“When a new priest was assigned to the church, Simon said she told the new pastor she was in a same-sex marriage. Then, the Simons were mentioned in a news article about the redevelopment of their neighborhood, accompanied by a photo of Colleen Simon working at the food pantry.

“Soon after, the priest told Simon he had to fire her over the article. The dismissal letter sent last month from the diocese human resources director said she was fired because of the ‘irreconcilable conflict between the laws, discipline and teaching of the Catholic Church, and your relationship — formalized by an act of marriage in Iowa — to a person of the same sex.’ “

Brian Roewe of the National Catholic Reporter provides further details about what led up to the firing, and notes that the news article was a lengthy magazine piece featuring a dozen people alongside Simon who are involved with community development near the Jesuit-run St. Francis Xavier Parish. Roewe continues:

“Buried in the 79th paragraph, the story mentions Colleen’s and Donna’s marriage; so does a caption for a photo of Colleen Simon in the food pantry.”

Simon recalls that when she told Jesuit Fr. John Vowells about the firing of an LGBT employee from another Jesuit institution, he said “he couldn’t imagine that happening at St. Francis.” The new priest, Jesuit Fr. Rafael Garcia, also informed Simon the marriage was okay and even met her wife. Roewe explains how events turned:

“After the Star story ran, Garcia emailed Simon expressing his displeasure about the revelation of her marriage. According to the lawsuit, Garcia also contacted the reporter of the story to ask what Simon said about her marriage. He asked the reporter if she was Catholic, and when she replied she was not, he ‘stated to her that she didn’t know what she had done,’ the suit said.”

It appears Simon sought reconciliation before filing the lawsuit, but was rebuffed by the diocese. Simon’s lawyer said there had been no contact from Church officials for several weeks. Jack Smith, who is communications director for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, said he had not seen the lawsuit but “as a Church we have the right to live and operate according to our faith and Church teachings.”

Currently, Colleen Simon is searching for work pursuant with her passion for upending social injustices. She has said the firing was a mix-up and would love to return serving the St. Francis Xavier community if it could be sorted out appropriately, saying further:

” ‘We’re talking about not corporate America. We’re talking about the church of Christ. And as long as we have faith and we truly believe, then there’s always hope that broken relationships can be healed…’ “

Bondings 2.0 reported on Simon’s firing in May, which you can read here. At that time, we questioned why Catholic officials continued to fire LGBT employees when the negative impacts on the Church’s charitable efforts and pastoral work were so clear. Simon now joins the ranks of several dozen LGBT musicians, pastoral associates, teachers, and volunteers who have been forced out of their jobs since 2008 (a full listing and accompanying information is available here).

Sadly, the Church is diminished when compassionate workers like Colleen Simon are fired for whom they love, or when justice organizations like the Voz Workers’ Rights Education Project are defunded by the bishops for refusing to agree to anti-LGBT views.

Yet, Colleen Simon also provides a hopeful way forward for church workers and all struggling with unjust Catholic structures: the twin goals of justice and reconciliation. She demands accountability through the lawsuit as a mandate of justice for the wrongs committed against her, but she remains open to healing relationships and reconciling so that the Gospel work to which she feels called may proceed. May we all learn from her example as we build up a Catholic community that is just, forgiving, and inclusive!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Bishops Defund Immigrant Rights Group in Guilt-By-Association Case

July 19, 2014

The Voz Workers’ Rights Education Project in Portland, Oregon advocates for and aids migrant workers. Their Martin Luther King, Jr. Workers Center assists hundreds of Latino men each month. Their wage theft campaign is alive and well in Oregon.

One thing they do not do, however, is advocate for marriage equality. Still, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) will withhold funding to Voz  because it collaborates with a leading Latino rights organization, the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), which does support marriage equality.

Voz has received ten previous grants from CCHD, a project of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, to aid its work connecting immigrants with employment. Voz was seeking a $75,000 grant when officials from the CCHD national office requested the Portland nonprofit cut ties with NCLR, which endorsed marriage equality in 2013. The Oregonian reports on what happened next:

” ‘Our board felt like what they were asking us to do was take a position on marriage equality,’ said Ranfis Villatoro, Voz’s development director. Voz has never taken a public stance on the issue, he said, although it does offer services to gay and lesbian couples. Therefore, the board voted last month to reject the grant.

“The grant would have been a significant chunk of the nonprofit’s $310,000 annual budget.

” ‘By making this decision, we run the risk of decreasing staff size and decreasing hours,’ Villatoro said.”

It appears Voz has not been the only community organization questioned by CCHD for its ties with NCLR. Victor Merced who heads Hacienda, a Portland nonprofit which assists low-income Latino families with housing and receives CCHD grants, told The Oregonian he was questioned about ties to NCLR. He reported that “leaders from the local chapter [of CCHD] seemed embarrassed that they had to ask in the first place” and said a litmus test on LGBT rights would be “ridiculous” to implement.

CCHD director Ralph McCloud told ABC News that Voz “self-disqualified” by refusing to cut ties with NCLR, from which Voz also receives funding. He said that after a 2010 review of CCHD grant recipients, nine grantees were defunded for being in coalitions which were pro-LGBT and/or pro-choice and other grantees stopped seeking CCHD funding. He continued:

“It’s certainly difficult and painful, because Voz has done some tremendous work…But it became obvious that they were assisting in something that was contrary to the teachings of our traditions.”

Now, many social justice organizations are promising to stand with Voz and the workers its serves in filling the massive funding gap through fundraising and a petition to CCHD leadership. You can view statements from a number of labor, LGBT, and faith leaders in a video posted by Voz supporters by clicking here. The petition reads, in part:

“VOZ has told CCHD: ‘We are a worker-led organization that empowers immigrants and day laborers to gain control over their working conditions. At the root of that mission, is the pursuit of justice and equality for all immigrants and day laborers. We have always found that to do this, we need all allies, day laborers, and immigrants to stand together in unity.’

“We know that our faiths, prophets, and scriptures never put conditions on supporting the poor and caring for the most vulnerable. Just look at Jesus, who offered God’s love to the sick, the poor, corrupt tax-collectors — EVERYONE. That’s why VOZ decided to take a stand, believing that there are more people who want unity and who support its principles than those who want to see them violated.

“With the new Pope, a new era of openness and acceptance is appearing that the groups pressuring the Catholic Campaign for Human Development to corrupt its funding strategies are entirely counter to.”

An important point in all of this was made by Marco Mejia of Portland Jobs with Justice during the Voz supporters’ press conference. Mejia, who is Catholic, reminded everyone that the money granted through CCHD is supplied by American Catholics and they intend for that money to organize marginalized communities for justice. He states:

“The Catholic Church, the money that they’re giving away through the CCHD is not their money. It’s the money of the community. This is the money I give every Sunday right? They are using the money of somebody else to decide what they want to do, not what the people want them to do.”

This is not the first time the Campaign for Human Development has defunded effective and impassioned organizations working to defend those in poverty because they were simply associated with other organizations supportive of LGBT rights. (See our previous posts on past examples at the end of this post.) Each time the CCHD punishes these groups for guilt by association, many are affected and most especially those for whom Christ has called us to make a preferential option.

You can lend your support to Voz and the immigrant workers it assists by signing the petition here or making a donation to their crowdfunding effort here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related posts: 

Bondings 2.0:Immigrant Rights’ Groups Cut Budgets Because of Loss of Catholic Funds

Bondings 2.0: “Donors Fill the Gap When Bishops Cut Funds Because of Marriage Equality Support

Bondings 2.0: “On Gay and Lesbian Immigrants, Catholic Bishops Need to Do a Lot Better”

Bondings 2.0:  “Attacks Against Bishops’ Anti-Poverty Efforts Come at the Expense of LGBT Community

Bondings 2.0:  “Catholic Grant Money Returned Because of Warning About LGBT Rights Involvement

Bondings 2.0: “The Laity’s Pocketbook Expresses Solidarity with LGBT and Immigrant Rights

Bondings 2.0: “WithCharityForAll.org”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Mexican Bishop Calls Homophobic People “Sick”

July 17, 2014

Bishop Raul Vera

In an interview with El País newspaper, the outspoken bishop used some of his most powerful arguments yet to show how Catholic leaders need to refine some of their language in regard to LGBT people and marriage equality.  Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

“Q. Not long ago you baptized the daughter of a lesbian couple. What do you think about homosexuality?

“A. That is a topic that we have refused to address. The people who say homosexuals are sick are sick themselves. The Church needs to come to them not with condemnation, but with dialogue. We cannot cancel out a person’s richness just because of his or her sexual preference. That is sick, that is heartless, that is lacking common sense.

“Q. Is it not the same with abortion?

“A. I share the Church’s views on abortion, and see it as murder. The difference lies in how you penalize it. Abortion, just like same-sex marriage, has served us subterfuge to tell ourselves that we in the Church have our morals. It is very easy to go against a woman who has an abortion, it poses no trouble and we have support from the ultraconservative right. When there was a national campaign against abortion here, I organized rosary recitations to reflect on the defense of the lives of migrants, miners and women as well as the unborn. But we are hypocrites. It would seem that the only moral rules deal with condemning same-sex couples and abortions. You do that and you’re the perfect Christian.

The full interview, in English, can be read by clicking here.

This is not the first time that Bishop Vera has made strong statements about homophobic people.  Almost a year ago, he made headlines by calling homophobia “a mental illness in which you see gays as depraved and promiscuous. You have to be sick in the head for that.”

At the time of that earlier statement, I made the following comment on this blog, which I think is appropriate to repeat at this time:

“It is wonderful to know that this bishop is speaking out so strongly for lesbian and gay rights.  One caution:  I don’t think that he was using ‘mental illness’ as a technical or clinical term.  From the manner in which he is speaking on the video, he seems to be using it as a rhetorical flourish, more than a diagnosis.  It is interesting to see him turn the tables on homophobic people:  it is usually they who are calling lesbian and gay people ‘mentally ill.’

“And because lesbian and gay people have so often been so mislabeled with that diagnosis, I think we have to be very careful of labeling their opponents in the same way.  In my experience in working with LGBT issues, homophobia is more often a result of ignorance and misguided piety than by a clinical disturbance.”

While noting that distinction, it’s important to recognize that Bishop Vera operates out of deep courage fpr speaking out for all sorts of marginalized groups.  The El País article referred to him as

“the Mexican bishop who holds the record for death threats. He has survived more than one attempt on his life, and his work in favor of missing persons, immigrants, children and juveniles, indigenous populations, prostitutes and pariahs of all types has earned him the undying hatred of many, including the drug rings.”

In the interview, he explains how his work with exploited indigenous communities in southern Mexico taught him about the importance of courage:

“I learned that you have to risk your life if you want to stand on the side of the poor. I learned that in order to defend human life, you have to put your own life on the line. There is no other way to be a shepherd.”

In The Advocate’s report on this story, they noted:

“In 2011, when John Paul II was pope, the Vatican investigated Vera’s work with a gay group. But much has changed under Pope Francis’s leadership.”

The El País article made note of the change of atmosphere in the Church since that time:

“For a long time, Raúl Vera was the Catholic Church’s black sheep, the old-fashioned left-winger. But that was until the ideological earthquake represented by the new pope, Francis I, gave renewed relevance to his words. Now, other bishops are suddenly turning to Vera for guidance.”

Let’s hope and pray that his guidance sways many more bishops to his line of thinking.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


Croatia Defies Catholic Bishops by Legally Recognizing Same-Gender Couples

July 16, 2014

Pro-equality demonstration in Croatia

Croatian government officials challenged the predominantly Catholic nation’s ban on marriage equality by passing a law recognizing same-gender couples, directly opposing Church leaders who have vigorously opposed any LGBT rights.

Lawmakers approved the Life Partnership Act on Tuesday, the fulfillment of Prime Minister Zoran Milonavic’s promise to rectify problems created by a same-gender marriage ban approved via referendum last December. The new law grants gay couples all the rights of marriage except adoption. Ahram Online reports further:

“Gay rights activists hailed the legislation in the largely conservative EU member state, which is strongly influenced by the powerful Roman Catholic Church.

” ‘Croatia made a historic step forward to stand along progressive countries which have already resolved the issue,’ Iva Tomecic, editor-in-chief of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) news portal CroL, told AFP.

” ‘From now on same-sex couples and families can finally legally regulate their unions… knowing that the country where they live, work and pay taxes is treating them as equal citizens,’ she said.”

Croatian voters amended the constitution last year to limit marriage to one man and one, although many questioned whether that is how people feel given turnout was only 35% and that a high level of anti-European Union sentiments may have contributed.

Moreovoer, the Catholic hierarchy was heavily involved in the campaign behind the anti-marriage equality amendment, advocating for it from the pulpits and organizing more than 750,000 signatures in a nation of just 4.4 million people. Anti-LGBT activists have already expressed their disappointment with the law, but there seems to be little room to challenge it as the Croatian Constitutional Court said last year’s referendum “cannot limit in any way the future development of legislative regulations concerning civil unions between same-sex partners.”

In light of this new law, it seems appropriate to reiterate the questions about pastoral care for LGBT people and the larger Croatian Church posed by Bondings 2.0 last December:

“Having succeeded in banning marriage rights for same-gender couples, it remains unknown how the Catholic hierarchy will now respond to LGBT people in Croatia…

“With nearly 90% of the population being Catholic, how the Church hierarchy responds in these new circumstances will have a tremendous impact. It’s worth asking whether bishops and conservative leaders will seek to heal wounds created by the divisive amendment and pursue pastoral tones. Or will they seek to suppress further rights for LGBT people and families, such as opposing civil union legislation.”

With civil unions approved for same-gender couples and few options to oppose them left, let us hope Croatia’s bishops will end their crusade against LGBT rights once and for all.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Transgender Woman Prepares to Enter Carmelite Convent

July 14, 2014

One of the places where Catholicism and gender are most strongly inscribed together is the area of vowed religious life.  There are communities for only men and other communities for only women.  What if your gender doesn’t fit into this binary?

Tia Michelle Pesando

That question is being answered in London, Ontario, where a transgender woman is preparing to enter a community of Carmelite women.  When Canada’s Tia Michelle Pesando, who is already living as a consecrated virgin, is accepted into the community, it is being said that she will be the world’s first transgender nun.

CTV News reported that Pesando, who is a hermaphrodite* (born with physical characteristics of both male and female) has already begun a process of taking hormones to live as a woman.  But the process of becoming a nun is more a spiritual, than a physical, notion for her.  As CTV News stated:

“Two years ago Pesando heard God calling her and she knew she had to take her transformation farther.

“ ‘I’m very convinced of the reality of God and the importance of such a calling,’ she says.

“When Pesando decided to become a nun, she received her priest’s blessing and is now going through the process to become a Carolinian sister and the first ever Roman Catholic transgender nun.

“ ‘I’m in the training process which is starting this August, so it’s a positive start that I’ve undergone.’ “

While there is always the possibility of hierarchical intervention in the admissions process,  Pesando remains positive:

“ ‘Forgiveness needs to begin somewhere,” she says. “It needs to begin with us, all of us, those in the LGBT community and those of the Christian faith.’

“Pope Francis has made huge strides with the gay community, preaching for greater inclusion and acceptance of homosexuals. This in part has helped to fuel her decision. She says the time is right for a transgender nun.”

Pesando recently published a book, Why God Doesn’t Hate Youin which she develops the theme of God’s unconditional acceptance and love of everyone, regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation.  In a wide-ranging interview with London Community News  where she describes her spiritual development and challenges,  she also explained the need for the book’s message:

“ ‘From a theological perspective, I think I have a solid argument,’ Pesando said. ‘People are leaving the church because they feel the God of love has betrayed them, and betrayal is one of the worst feelings you can imagine. So I am reaching out to people saying this is what the Bible actually says.’

“Her purpose in writing Why God Doesn’t Hate You is to reach out to everyone ‘who feels like they are rejected by God, who feels like they are a second-class citizen in God’s eyes.’ ”

And she notes an interesting detail about the Bible:

“ ‘There is actually nothing in the Bible to condemn the trans community because they were simply not aware of it,’ Pesando said. ‘Just like there is nothing in the Bible that talks about aerospace engineering, both of these things were discovered about 1,500 years after the it was written.’ ”

(EDITOR’S NOTE:  The same is true about constitutional homosexuality.  Biblical authors did not have the awareness that some people are naturally homosexually oriented.  Therefore, in the places where homosexual acts are Biblically condemned, the authors are not condemning what is now known to be a natural, normal way of loving.  More often, they are condemning homosexual rape, pagan rituals, or sexual novelty.)

My only minor gripe with this story is not about Pesando’s eligibility to become a nun, but the claim that some have made that she will be “the world’s first transgender nun.”  I would probably want to modify that to “the world’s first OPENLY transgender nun.”   Though I have no historical evidence, I imagine that over the centuries, other transgender women have joined convents, though probably being secretive about their identities.   We do know that transgender characteristics have often been very accepted in Catholic spirituality and practice (St. Joan of Arc).  And it was always common practice for nuns to take male religious names, and for religious men to often add “Mary” or “Marie” to their religious names.

If you know of other examples of Catholic transgender history or cultural details, please add them in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

*There has been some discussion in the “Comments” section of this blog as to whether “intersex” or “hermaphrodite” is the correct word to use.  There has also been some discussion as to whether Tia Michelle Pesando is actually transgender.  I recognize that language is a sensitive and powerful arena, and I am open to correction.  Upon reflection, I have decided to keep the original terms I used.

To answer the first issue, I have used “hermaphrodite” because that is the term that Tia Michelle Pesando uses to describe herself on her website: http://www.whygoddoesnthateyou.com/.   It is also the term used in the original article upon which this post is based, so I have assumed that it was the term she used while being interviewed.

To answer the second issue,  because Tia Michelle Pesando lived the first thirty years as a man and has now decided to live as a woman, including taking hormones, I think it is accurate to describe the process she went through as “transitioning,” and thus “transgender” seems to be an accurate description.  Again, I assume, based on the fact that news articles about her use the term “transgender” that this is a label of which she approves.

 

 

 

 


New Employment Contract Clauses Raise a Host of Issues

July 13, 2014

Bishop Michael Barber

Oakland, California’s Bishop Michael Barber issued a statement recently to try to clarify the new clauses added to his diocese’s employment contracts which greatly restrict support for LGBT people and issues.  The problem with his explanation, though, is that he seems to be speaking out of both sides of his mouth.

The National Catholic Reporter’s Monica Clark noted the sentences in his statement which I find most confusing:

“Responding to apprehensions about a new so-called ‘morality clause’ in the Oakland, Calif., diocese’s teacher contract, Bishop Michael Barber has said he has ‘no intention of monitoring an individual’s personal life. What one does in one’s private life is between them and God.’ But, he added, ‘what concerns me is if someone does something in their private life that becomes public and then becomes a cause of scandal or detracts from the school’s religious mission.’ “

To me the bishop seems to be saying, “I don’t care if you do something that I consider a sin, but I just don’t want it to be public.”   That does not seem like a very pastoral approach to this question at all.

If we take it one step further, another way of interpreting the bishop’s message is that he has a total disregard for an individual’s conscience.  Perhaps he is saying, “You and God may have worked things out, but that won’t fly with me.”

And though the bishop says he does not want to monitor people’s lives, some teachers are suspicious of that promise.  Clark reported:

“Some teachers felt the addition allows the diocese to intrude into their private lives and creates a climate of fear and distrust. For example, if a teacher attended the same-sex wedding of her lesbian niece and a family photo of the event was posted on Facebook, would she be seen as violating the new terms of the contract?”

Indeed, in a number of the firings which have taken place, it was a revelation on Facebook about a marital relationship or support for marriage equality which initiated the unjust action.

Commentator Jocelyn Sideco, who teaches at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland,  has also noted another passage from the new Oakland contract which makes it seem that, in fact, private lives of teachers will be monitored:

“The new contract language puts an explicitness on who teachers are, both in their personal and professional lives. ‘In both the EMPLOYEE’S personal and professional life, the EMPLOYEE is expected to model and promote behavior in conformity with the teaching of the Roman Catholic faith in matters of faith and morals, and to do nothing that tends to bring discredit to the SCHOOL or to the Diocese of Oakland’ (emphasis in original).”

Another O’Dowd H.S. teacher, Kathleen Purcell, is worried about how strictly enforced the contract will be, under this bishop and future ones. KALW Radio cited her thoughts:

“ ‘The bishop says I’m not gonna fire anybody, and I take him at his word,’ Purcell said. ‘But he’s not going to be Bishop forever, and he might change his mind. I don’t think employees should have to be operating under a contract that purports to take away their civil rights and just go on trust.’

“Purcell was let go after refusing to sign the new contract. She says she was not afraid of being targeteit is a matter of principle: before teaching U.S. history at O’Dowd, Purcell was a civil rights lawyer.

“Purcell says she understands Catholic doctrine but she says ‘being a catholic school is not a license to discriminate.’

“ ‘These are contentious issues in the church, about which faithful Catholics have very different conscientious positions. And what this contract language does is to place employees personal lives in the middle of that fight. And that’s cruel.’ ”

On the bright side, KALW Radio reports that the bishop has entered into dialogue with Catholics about the issue, and there is a possibility of a change of heart:

“The Bishop . . . met with teachers and students at two schools, including O’Dowd, at the end of the school year. Many say they were encouraged by the open dialogue. The Bishop says he is considering removing the controversial language from next years contract. For now though, it remains unchanged.”

Oakland is not the only diocese to institute new contract clauses. (For a complete list of firings and contract clause additions, check out this blog’s “Catholicism, Employment, and LGBT Issues” page.) One of the most public protests of new clauses has been in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati.  Catholic parishioner Judy Hampel penned an op-ed at Cincinnati.com in which she says that it’s now time for Catholic to challenge their leaders on questions of discrimination against LGBT people:

“I’m trying to describe a not-uncommon experience that leaves many Catholics straddling a thorny pew: Should we stay, and hope and wait for a new vision for our faith community, or should we leave in protest before we find ourselves counted among those who would perpetuate such a dark legacy for the sake of tradition? Until recently, many of us never even considered a third possibility: challenging these egregious teachings openly by voicing our concerns. There is a very real danger that, whether we leave or stay, we are perpetuating a dark regime as long as we are silent. . . .

“It’s time to make up for lost time. It’s time for all Catholics and anyone else who will join us to collectively call to task all leaders and followers of any religion, sect or denomination that indulges in discriminatory doctrines and practices. Because, let’s face it, one of the most compelling forces inhibiting universal justice is intolerance toward others, which is often perpetuated by religious archaisms.”

It may very well be that time that Hampel describes.  According to a 2013 U.S. Catholic poll of 743 Catholics,  nearly 70% (or over 500 people) would not sign a loyalty oath if it was required for volunteer ministry in their parish.

With numbers like that, church leaders need to re-think not only the morality, but also the practicality, or instituting new contract clauses.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


A Few Steps Forward, and then Some Back, on Marriage Equality

July 12, 2014

Bishop Marcel Sanchez Sorondo

There’s been good news and bad news recently regarding Catholic leaders’ opinions on legal protections for same-gender couples.  The surprising thing is that the good news comes from the Vatican.

Queering The Church tipped us off to a Buzzfeed article that looks at the progress of Italy’s proposed civil unions bill, long stalemated in part

because of the Vatican’s previous opposition.  That’s right, “previous.”  The Buzzfeed article indicates that change seems to be happening:

“But there are also signs of a thaw within Vatican City. Monsignor Marcel Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academies of Science and Social Science, Vatican offices that engage with research on society, told Buzzfeed in an interview last week at an event inside the Vatican walls in which Italian politicians were participating that the church is solidly against any law that makes ‘complete [equivalence] of the normal [matrimony] and the gay,’ but if legislation clearly distinguishes between them, ‘that is another question, and this is accepted by the church.’ ”

[Editor's note:  Though Buzzfeed  refers to Sorondo as "Monsignor," he is actually an Argentine bishop.  In Argentina, as in many Latin American nations, a bishop is referred to as "Monseñor."]

Terence Weldon, at Queering The Church points out the significance of this monsignor’s statement:

“What makes Monsignor Sorondo’s observation particularly interesting right now, is his position with PASS [the Pontifical Academy of Science and Social Science]. Although Vatican documents pay lip service to the importance of paying due attention to the findings of both social and natural science, in practice, the published guidance on homosexuality and on queer families have largely ignored the scientific evidence, especially on the matter of gay adoption. That could be about to change. In the working document prepared for the bishops’ forthcoming synod on marriage and family, there is an acknowledgement that there is a need for better understanding of the science, and that some questions should be referred to the academy.

” ’117. Many responses and observations call for theological study in dialogue with the human sciences to develop a multi-faceted look at the phenomenon of homosexuality. Others recommend collaborating with specific entities, e.g., the Pontifical Academy of the Social Sciences and the Pontifical Academy for Life…..’ “

In Indiana, however, Catholic bishops issued a strong rebuke to a court decision there which overturned the state’s constitutional ban against same-gender marriage.  WTHR.com reported that the bishops said:

” ‘The Church upholds the dignity of every human person, including persons with same-sex attraction, whom we accept and love as our brothers and sisters. At the same time, the Church upholds the dignity and sanctity of marriage as a natural union established by God between one man and one woman, intended towards the establishment of a family in which children are born, raised, and nurtured.’

“The bishops explain that because God is its author, ‘it is not within the power of any institution, religious or secular to redefine marriage.’ “

Similarly, this week in Colorado, the Catholic bishops there roundly criticized a court decision to overturn the state’s constitutional ban on same-gender marriage.  Their statement, which repeats many of the same arguments of the Indiana bishops, can be read by clicking here.

In nearby, Missouri, Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis also criticized the decision by that city’s mayor to issue marriage licenses to four same-gender couples.  The Riverfront Times carried a column criticizing the archbishop for such a statement, particularly after his recent disappointing testimony on clerical sex abuse where he answered that  he “did not remember” when he learned that pedophilia was a crime.

So, we take a few steps forward, and one step back.  Little by little. That’s how all real and lasting change happens.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

The Elkhart Truth: “Catholic Bishops of Indiana respond to Indiana same-sex marriage ruling”

LGBTQNation.com:  “St. Louis Archdiocese condemns city for issuing same-sex marriage licenses”

 

 


Fired Gay Teacher Files Legal Complaint in a Case Where Ironies Abound

July 11, 2014

The running controversy over LGBT people being fired from jobs in Catholic schools and parishes has mostly quieted down in the last month.  That silence, though, is probably due more to the fact that schools are on break and parishes are in “lite” mode for the summer than because of any moratorium on firings.

Flint Dollar

The topic surfaced again this week with news that one fired teacher is filing an equal opportunity claim against the Catholic school that fired him.

Flint Dollar, who was fired from his job as a music teacher at Mount de Sales Academy, Macon, Georgia, when it was learned that he intended to marry a man.

Dollar has had a difficult time seeking legal recourse in this situation.  This week, his lawyer announced that they found grounds to make a legal case against the school.  National Public Radio reports:

Since neither federal law nor state law in Georgia expressly forbids employers from discriminating against gays, it initially seemed like there was nothing Dollar could do. But Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which turned 50 this week, does prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex. Dollar’s lawyer, Charles Cox, sees an opening there.

“When you fire somebody because they are engaging in a same-sex marriage, I think that pretty clearly fits with gender discrimination,” Cox says. “You’re being fired because you’re not complying with traditional gender stereotypes, and that’s wrong, and we believe it’s unlawful.”

Though this strategy has been tried before in courts and failed, there is hope in this case because of a legal precedent set in April of this year:

“. . . [A] judge in Washington made a ruling in a lawsuit brought by federal employee Peter TerVeer. TerVeer claims his supervisor at the Library of Congress made his work life miserable because TerVeer is gay.

“LGBT rights attorney Greg Nevins, who is helping with TerVeer’s case, explains how TerVeer sued under Title VII:

” ‘His romantic or intimate interest in men is something that the women workers at the office were not penalized for, but he was,’ Nevins says. ‘He made that claim in federal district court, and the court allowed it to proceed, despite a motion to dismiss by the Department of Justice.’ “

“Now the TerVeer case is giving hope to people like Dollar. He’s filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, alleging sex discrimination.”

The Georgia Voice also notes another precedent that Dollar’s lawyer raised:

“Cox also cites Glenn v. Brumby, the Eleventh Circuit court case from 2011 which found that the Georgia General Assembly fired activist Vandy Beth Glenn due to her being transgender, which was a violation of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution that protects against gender discrimination.

“ ‘The same thing applies to same-sex marriage because that’s not conforming to traditional gender stereotypes,’ Cox says.”

The Dollar case has sparked a variety of commentary examining some of the moral questions involved in the action of firing.  Back in June, David Oedel, a law professor, wrote about some of the ironies of the case:

“In its employee handbook and website, the school articulates policies of nondiscrimination as to ‘sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression,’ ‘marital status’ and ‘any other characteristic or status that is protected by federal, state, or local law.’

“Federal law protects the right to travel to other states and avail oneself of the benefits of other states’ laws, so the school apparently accepts Dollar’s right to go to Minnesota, join in a same-sex marriage, and have that marriage honored by federal law. Georgia doesn’t legally have to respect such a marriage, and neither did Mount de Sales — until the school adopted its nondiscrimination policy and made promises to Dollar.

“There’s little ambiguity about Roman Catholic teachings on promise-keeping. The church endorses keeping promises, such as those between church-married partners and, presumably, promises Mount de Sales apparently made to Dollar to hire and retain Dollar despite his sexual orientation, committed relationship and marriage plans.”

The school’s action is surprising to Oedel, given the progressive history of the institution:

“It wouldn’t have been a stretch for Dollar to take the school at its word because the school is known in Macon as a path-breaking institution. Mount de Sales was the first school here publicly to educate those of various faiths, first to integrate and first to embrace such a wide-open nondiscrimination policy. From some national press, though, you’d think the school is a regressive horror-chamber.”

And the contradiction goes even deeper:

“One wonders what St. Francis de Sales, for whom the school is named, would think. Francis famously advocated charity over penance. Where is Christ’s charity in firing Dollar now?”

For comprehensive coverage of all the firings, click on “Employment Issues” in the “Categories” box in the right-hand column of this page.  You can find a complete list of fired employees on this blog’s “Catholicism, Employment, & LGBT Issues” page. 

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
Related articles:

The Telegraph: “Fired Mount de Sales band director files EEOC claim”

The Telegraph: “Bigotry, prejudice and grace”

 

 


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