Catholic Woman’s Loss Transforms into Struggle for Equality

November 3, 2012

Charlene Strong

Charlene Strong, a Catholic in Washington State, lost her spouse to torrential flooding in 2006 – and from this tragedy began her personal struggle to legalize marriage equality.

Strong’s trying experiences surrounding the death of her spouse, Kate Fleming, included hospital administrators who called family hundreds of miles away instead of asking her about Kate’s last wishes and a funeral director who denied Strong a role in planning final arrangements.

Since Fleming’s death, Strong has spoken about her ordeal to over 40 colleges and universities nationwide, most recently at Gonzaga University Law School as reported in The Washington Post:

“‘They were willing to take the word of someone on the phone, 300 miles away,’ Strong said. ‘Who knew her allergies? I did. Who knew what her wishes were? I did’…

“That’s when Strong decided that she would do whatever she could to make sure other same-sex couples would have equal rights in Washington state.”

Strong also assisted a successful 2007 initiative for domestic partnership rights and now works diligently to help pass Referendum 74 on November 6, 2012 so other couples do not face unnecessary obstacles in times of crisis as she and Fleming had to.

Central to her efforts for marriage equality, Strong continues to support the Catholic Church and considers her speech at Gonzaga the response to Spokane Bishop Blase Cupich’s call for an honest conversation on equality. As for her faith personally, as reported in SpokaneFavs, a community-based blog:

“Strong was closeted until she was 33 years old and said she felt more connected to her faith when she was finally honest about her sexuality and who she was. She and Fleming attended a Catholic parish in Seattle together and were welcomed by those in the pews.

‘The church kept me from going crazy after my wife died,’ Strong said. ‘They were there to help bury her with tremendous compassion’…

“The Catholic Church’s call to social justice is why Strong loves her faith.

“’When you leave the church you can’t fix the church,’ she said. ‘You can’t be part of the discussion.’”

Charlene Strong’s witness both to the challenges same-sex couples experience and in her persistence in Catholicism should give pause to all sides of the marriage equality debate.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


At Catholic Colleges’ Commencements: Tutu, Yes; Kennedy, No

April 30, 2012

Commencement speaker controversies at two Catholic campuses on opposite sides of the country have sparked petition drives that have resulted in opposite results.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

On the West Coast, in Spokane, Washington, Jesuit-run Gonzaga University has held firm in hosting South Africa’s Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, as commencement speaker this year.   A petition drive to rescind the invitation, motivated in part because of Tutu’s support for the ordination of gay clergy, collected 700 signatures.  However, another petition drive in support of Tutu collected 11,000 signatures in 48 hours, according to an article in The National Catholic Reporter (NCR).

NCR quotes Gonzaga University President Thayne McCulloh’s statement of support for Tutu:

“We are very much looking forward to having him.I really believe that this is very consistent with what both the church and Jesuits want for its institutions; and of course in any community people will have different points of view around that.”

In an earlier NCR article, McCulloh offered his reasoning for inviting Tutu:

“While we have received messages both positive and negative about our decision to invite Archbishop Tutu, the vast majority of responses indicate that there is great support. People see our invitation as honoring Tutu and the social justice activism of our institution.”

The same article cites a Religion News Service story which notes Spokane Bishop Blaise Cupich’s support of Gonzaga’s decision:

“When Bishop Cupich was asked in person about Gonzaga honoring this commencement speaker who publicly espouses views in fundamental opposition to the teachings of the Catholic Church and most other Christian denominations, he indicated support for Gonzaga’s decision stating Archbishop Tutu is being honored for the work he did to end apartheid in South Africa.”

Victoria Reggie Kennedy

On the East Coast, a 20,000-signature petition failed to convince Worcester, Massachusetts, Bishop Robert McManus to ask Anna Maria College to reconsider its decision to cancel Victoria Reggie Kennedy as commencement speaker.   (You can read an earlier Bondings 2.0 posting about this decision here.)  According to an article in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette,

“The liberal arts school in Paxton [Massachusetts] disinvited Mrs. Kennedy, the widow of the late U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, after the bishop told Anna Maria College President Jack Calareso that he had concerns about her positions on abortion, gay marriage and other social issues.”

Bishop McManus released a statement on the diocese’s website in support of Calareso’s decision:

“While I recognize that there are those who do not agree with Anna Maria’s decision to disinvite Mrs. Kennedy as its commencement speaker, I continue to stand behind the concerns which I shared with Dr. Jack Calareso, the college’s president, last March. As such, I support the public statement of the College’s Board of Trustees that ‘the invitation be withdrawn in the best interest of all parties and most importantly the students which will be graduating.’ ”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 


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