On Spirit Day, Catholics Chart New Course for LGBT Youth

October 17, 2013

SpiritDay13_Graphic_FinalToday is Spirit Day. Millions across the nation will wear purple as a sign of their of their love and support for LGBT youth and for their opposition to bullying. We join GLAAD, the main sponsoring organization, in spreading this message of inclusion and well-being.

LGBT teens and young adults suffer greatly from bullying by peers in person and, increasingly, on the internet. Homo- and trans-phobic harassment against youth leads to vastly higher rates of substance abuse, self-harm, and suicide than the general population.

Rejection from their faith community and religious-based discrimination only compound these problems. For Catholics, Spirit Day is also prime moment for reflection on our Church’s progress and where we are now headed in ministering to younger people with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.

Last October, . Jesuit Fr. James Martin’s piece on Spirit Day was considered a bold statement, when he reminded Catholics of a prevalent negativity around Catholic LGBT issues from some quarters of the church:

“Many gay and lesbian Catholics have told me (in person, in emails, in notes and letters and in Facebook messages) how alienated they have felt from the church lately.  Perhaps as a result of some of the rhetoric that has been used recently, an increasing number of gay and lesbian Catholics, and gay and lesbian youth in particular, feel marginalized from the church in which they were baptized.”

Fear, hurt, and isolation persist for many LGBT Catholics who experienced decades of damaging language and actions.  Pope Francis, though, has prompted a spirit of renewal that blows through our communities which demands that we act against anti-gay discrimination, especially when it targets youth.

One bright initiative is called Anti-Bullying Learning and Teaching Resources (ALTER), sponsored by the Diocese of Wollongong, Australia. Responding to the rapid rise in bullying through cell phones and social media, the diocese’s Catholic Education Office produced a video (which you can view below) and a resource kit for adults in leadership.

Of note is the use of the word “gay” in the video, revealing an openness to the realities of the students it hopes to help. The Office explains:

“Fix You was deliberately designed to include significant contribution from Diocesan primary and secondary students. To maintain the integrity of this concept, when asked to list words commonly used to bully and to hurt, students were adamant the word ‘gay’ be included. In explanation, it was our students’ reality that this word was often used as a weapon and that verbal bullying was an experience known to most students. Consequently, this term has been included in the sequence of words depicting how bullying brands someone and how this can leave lifelong scars.”

The Office provides an improved commentary on homosexuality that focuses on respecting people’s dignity and ending injustice. They recommend that educators use the word “gay” in their classroom discussions.

This Spirit Day, Pope Francis’ handful of olive branches to the LGBT community has changed the tone by his comment “Who am I to judge?“, his America interview, or his handwritten note to gay Catholics in Italy. Leaders in the American hierarchy have been slow to follow his lead, but the Catholic laity  continue to advance into greater inclusion.

As Catholics, we at New Ways Ministry support Spirit Day, compelled by our faith to end bullying and sustain LGBT youth as they come to know themselves, their community, and God.  We’ve changed our profile picture on Facebook to purple in honor of Spirit Day, and we invite you to do the same as a sign of support.  If you use Twitter, consider using #SpiritDay in your tweets about support for LGBT youth today.

Why not share the graphic above with your friends on Facebook? You can copy and paste it from this post or you can find it on the New Ways Ministry Facebook page.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Pope Francis’ Welcome Signals a New Dawn of Hope for LGBT People and Allies

September 19, 2013
Pope Francis

Pope Francis

Pope Francis’ interview in America magazine signals a new dawn of hope and promise for LGBT Catholics and their supporters.  Pope Francis’ words and example have opened up new opportunities for the Catholic Church to welcome and dialogue with LGBT people.  His words will give courage and hope to thousands of pastoral ministers and Catholic faithful who have been doing this work for many decades, but who have often received penalties and discouragements from church leaders who did not share this pope’s broad vision.  His message initiates a new day for a Catholic Church that is welcoming  to all.

In the interview, Francis answers one of the most vexing questions since he was elected to the Catholic church’s highest office:  Has his positive attitude toward LGBT issues and his penchant for not mentioning them controversially been intentional or circumstantial?

In the interview, released today, he has let the world know that his approach has definitely been intentional, signaling a new direction in the way the papacy addresses these topics.

His direct response to that question was answered by him:

“We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.

““The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things. . . . We have to find a new balance; otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”

This answer reflects not only good theology, but it reflects the pastoral wisdom that countless priests, nuns, deacons, and lay people have been practicing for decades in terms of their outreach to LGBT people.  In parishes, college campuses, and faith communities, outreach to LGBT people has always been done in noting the full context of their lives, not just the sexual arena.  Pastoral ministers have realized that focusing on the sexual arena was not only demeaning, but was spiritually deadening to both LGBT people and the entire faith community.

But the pope went further in his interview, too. The pope was asked how the Church can respond pastorally to marginalized groups, including same-sex couples.  What is remarkable about his answer is that it is the first time that a pope has offered direction on pastoral care of LGBT people that did not focus solely on sexual behavior. The pope said:

“We need to proclaim the Gospel on every street corner,” the pope says, “preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing, even with our preaching, every kind of disease and wound. In Buenos Aires I used to receive letters from homosexual persons who are ‘socially wounded’ because they tell me that they feel like the church has always condemned them. But the church does not want to do this. During the return flight from Rio de Janeiro I said that if a homosexual person is of good will and is in search of God, I am no one to judge. By saying this, I said what the catechism says. Religion has the right to express its opinion in the service of the people, but God in creation has set us free: it is not possible to interfere spiritually in the life of a person.

“A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing.”

The pope’s interview, which should be read in its entirety, did not focus on LGBT issues.  Instead it presents a beautiful picture of a humble, pastoral leader who seems willing to learn from all members of the Church.  In a discussion on the nature of the Church, he referred to it in the way that Vatican II did, as not just the hierarchy but the entire people of God:

“The image of the church I like is that of the holy, faithful people of God. This is the definition I often use, and then there is that image from the Second Vatican Council’s ‘Dogmatic Constitution on the Church’ (No. 12). Belonging to a people has a strong theological value. In the history of salvation, God has saved a people. There is no full identity without belonging to a people. No one is saved alone, as an isolated individual, but God attracts us looking at the complex web of relationships that take place in the human community. God enters into this dynamic, this participation in the web of human relationships.

“The people itself constitutes a subject. And the church is the people of God on the journey through history, with joys and sorrows. Thinking with the church, therefore, is my way of being a part of this people. . . . When the dialogue among the people and the bishops and the pope goes down this road and is genuine, then it is assisted by the Holy Spirit. So this thinking with the church does not concern theologians only.”

And he emphasized that the church is big enough to welcome ALL kinds of people.  This is directly opposite from Pope Benedict XVI’s approach when he said that he wanted to purify the church, even if that meant having a much smaller institution.  Pope Francis said:

“This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people. We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity. And the church is Mother; the church is fruitful.”

Millions of Catholics, and many others, are eager to be part of such a church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

New York Times: Pope Bluntly Faults Church’s Focus on Gays and Abortion

New Ways Ministry Says “#FollowFrancis”


Catholics Leave Over LGBT Issues, As Bishops Redouble Anti-Equality Work

July 2, 2013

Archbishop Charles Chaput denies Communion to parish activists

A new poll conducted at a Philadelphia-area parish by Villanova University’s Center for the Study of Church Management reveals that LGBT issues are rising in prominence as a reason Catholics leave the Church. Yet, at the same time, members of the hierarchy double-down on their efforts to oppose equality for sexual minorities.

The survey asked 189 non-practicing and former Catholics about their reasons for leaving, producing instructive results for Catholic bishops and clergy struggling to retain parishioners. Scandals around sexual abuse and mishandling of cases was the primary reason, at about seventeen percent of respondents, but this does not reveal current trends. NewsWorks interviewed the poll’s director, Charles Zech of Villanova University, who said:

” ‘People who are going to leave the church over the scandal and the church’s handling of it have already left. So people leaving the church today are leaving for other reasons…A growing reason we found out was the church’s attitude toward homosexuals and gay marriage. A lot of younger people object to the church’s teaching on that.’ “

Catholic support of LGBT rights, especially for equal marriage, is well-documented, but there is little hard data on what the practical implications of this split between Catholics in the pews and their anti-gay leaders. This study suggests not only are the bishops’ policies against marriage equality and LGBT rights harming the directly affected communities, but have wider implications which undermine parish communities. Most leaving do not quit organized religion, but transfer to Protestant communities.

As this new polling is released, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference is preparing anew to oppose anti-discrimination legislation that would include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. Pennsylvania is the sole northeast state without LGBT protections written into law on such things as employment and housing, and equality advocates are hoping to change this legislation. NewsWorks reports that representatives of the Conference base their objections in a fear that the Catholic Church would be forced to contradict its beliefs in social services, hospitals, and other institutions.

The Villanova parish study, which will not be made public, names both local issues as well as problems with the Vatican and US bishops as reasons for leaving the Catholic church. Polling director Zech believes local changes, like improved liturgies, could stem the losses. Many troubles are occurring in Philadelphia over parish-based issues, like closures and clustering, that even lead to protests at an immigration Mass recently–and saw Archbishop Charles Chaput deny Communion to three people.

Philadelphia Catholic leadership could withdraw their opposition to simple anti-discrimination legislation that protects the rights of LGBT people to their jobs, homes, and public services. Protecting the dignity of every person, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, is well-rooted in the Catholic tradition and it is why so many Catholics support equality. It is time to focus on creating welcoming communities and building up strong parishes, instead of opposing anti-discrimination laws and denying Communion.   The new polling data show that the bishops’ current course on LGBT issues is a losing proposition.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


‘Courageous Conversation’ Effort Seeks Change in Parishes

June 30, 2013

Courageous Conversations imageThe struggle for LGBT legal equality advances in the wake of the Supreme Court’s two decisions this week and yet, for Catholics, creating equality in our Church remains unachieved. Equally Blessed, a coalition that works for equality and justice for LGBT people in church and society, is asking Catholics to engage in ‘Courageous Conversations’ to create such change.

Catholics are routinely identified in polling as supportive of equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people because of a deep commitment to justice. Support comes because of Catholic faith, not in spite of it and the ‘Courageous Conversation’ effort aims at breaking the silence around issues of sexual orientation and gender identity within Catholic communities. To quote Equally Blessed:

“As Catholics, we continue to take an active role in our communities, creating the kind of parishes and schools that we feel nurtured in and called to. This involves cultivating relationships by reaching out to those around us and illustrating why our faith calls us to tell our stories and those of our loved ones.

“Opening up in your community can be intimidating. Catholic institutions are often seen as unwelcoming to people who support the rights and dignity of LGBT people, but we know that many parishes and Catholic schools of all levels are supportive of LGBT Catholics and allies.”

New Ways Ministry strongly urges participation in having a ‘Courageous Conversation’ this week to break the silence. Engage with those in the pews next to you, your pastor, parish leaders and staff, school administrators, land others. If you are unsure where to start, Equally Blessed provides a few tips and a resources page available here. Start with those you already have a relationship with, be honest and personal with them, and above all make a concerted effort to listen.

What might be the outcome of these conversations? Equally Blessed provides a few words about the impact a ‘Courageous Conversation’ can have:

“ ‘Sometimes when we share stories, we do see an “Ah Ha” moment or a change of heart, sometimes it is not a complete turnaround but just a willingness to reconsider because they see the whole person.’ –Rosa

“ ‘[When we began our ministry] two and one half years ago, we could not have held a Pride weekend at St Matthew. But over these 2 1/2 years, we have taken many small steps to get where we are today. Just this past weekend, it was PRIDE weekend at our parish. Rainbow flags welcomed you, an 11′ banner announced the Pride Parade date, we sold Pride T Shirts, and members spoke after Communion asking all St Matthew parishioners to walk with us.’ – Ryan”

You can also become involved on social media by sharing this campaign on Facebook, Twitter (use the hashtag #CourageousConversation), etc. For a graphic and link to Equally Blessed’s resources, visit the New Ways Ministry Facebook page here or the Twitter profile here.

The member organizations of Equally Blessed are Call To ActionDignityUSAFortunate Families, and New Ways Ministry.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


QUOTE TO NOTE: Finding Hope in Overcoming Ugliness

June 16, 2013

computer_key_Quotation_MarksA few weeks ago, Bondings 2.0 reported on Australia’s Bishop Geoffrey Robinson’s call for a new Vatican Council to address the sex abuse crisis and sexuality generally.   Bishop Robinson led the investigation of Australia’s clergy sex abuse crisis, and the experience transformed his views on sex and power in the Catholic church.  Recently, Jamie Manson interviewed Bishop Robinson for The National Catholic Reporter.   At the close of the interview, Manson asked Robinson, “What keeps you hopeful?”  His answer:

‘Cardinal John Henry Newman, before he became a Catholic, wrote to a friend, ‘There is nothing on this earth so ugly as the Catholic Church and nothing so beautiful.’ We’ve all seen the ugliness, and abuse is one of the ugliest chapters of all, but I’ve also seen the beauty, mostly in all of the good people I’ve worked with over the years. I don’t want to just walk away and leave that beauty behind. So I’ll work to overcome the ugliness wherever I can.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Pope Francis Preaches for ‘Open Doors’ to Welcome All

June 3, 2013

Pope Francis

A stark contrast to the actions of  members of the US hierarchy lately, Pope Francis is preaching a gospel of tolerance from the Vatican leaving many commentators and Catholics wondering what implications this will have. Whereas Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York is quite literally closing the cathedral doors to LGBT Catholics and failing their pastoral needs, the pope is demanding that every church’s doors be open wide to anyone who seeks Jesus Christ.

Kevin Clarke at America calls Pope Francis a “human pastoral quote machine” when he reports on the pope’s recent morning Mass homily about welcoming all:

” ‘Today’s mildly rebuked pharisees are the self-appointed pastoral border guards who hold up a hand in consternation instead of offering one in welcome when the less-than-perfect among us seek to gate crash at the house of the lord. ‘There is always a temptation,’ Pope Francis warned, ‘to try and take possession of the Lord.’ The pope spoke of an unofficial ‘8th’ sacrament created by parish gatekeepers to throw up obstacles to those they deem unworthy…

“Pope Francis said, ‘Jesus is indignant when he sees’ such efforts to block people from sacramental life because those who suffer are ‘his faithful people, the people that he loves so much.’ “

Michael Sean Winters of National Catholic Reporter analyzes this homily, and identifies two challenges that Francis lays at the feet of American bishops: what it means to be a pastor and the limits of theology. He quotes the pope as saying:

“‘Jesus is indignant when he sees these things [Catholics being excluded]‘ – said the Pope – because those who suffer are ‘his faithful people, the people that he loves so much’

“‘We think today of Jesus, who always wants us all to be closer to Him, we think of the Holy People of God, a simple people, who want to get closer to Jesus and we think of so many Christians of goodwill who are wrong and that instead of opening a door they close the door of goodwill … So we ask the Lord that all those who come to the Church find the doors open, find the doors open, open to meet this love of Jesus.’

Winters questions prelates like Archbishop Charles Chaput who exclude a child from Catholic elementary school for having lesbian mothers. He notes the false torment of Catholic parishes and dioceses around the recent Boy Scouts of America decision to allow gay youth. Ultimately, he concludes that the pope’s message should change this dynamic by making clergy more about love than rules.

The second challenge from Pope Francis is a critique of intellectualizing faith, as if theology provides every answer and all guidance. Too often the LGBT community is greeted with technical terms and strict categorizations from priests bound by out-dated theology, not pastoral love. Winters writes in summary:

“Papa Francesco is challenging all of us, across the board, to re-think our attitudes and our ideologies, our certainties and our prejudices…It seems like the Holy Father is becoming the world’s parish priest, and I hope the actual parish priests (and their bishops) will follow his example. He is welcoming. He is challenging. He is straight forward. But, most of all, he is loving.”

In loving and inviting all who seek our Catholic community, Pope Francis provides an alternative to the standard policy of exclusion found in too many parishes and dioceses. He claims Jesus is “indignant” when Catholics cannot access the sacramental life of the Church, the opposite of what Detroit Archbishop Vigneron said when he told told Catholics who support marriage equality to stay away from communion. The pope is preaching words of welcome, just as many are asking, “Can LGBT Catholics find a home in the Church?”  This question can be answered positively if bishops around the world are listening to Rome, and on this matter, we must hope they are.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Long Island Catholics Under Scrutiny for LGBT Support

May 15, 2013

Nicholas Coppola & husband, David Crespo, outside their Long Island parish (Credit: Long Island Newsday)

LGBT Catholics on Long Island are making their voices heard after Nicholas Coppola was removed from ministry for marrying his husband, David. These Catholics’ opinions are varied and complex, as reported in Long Island Newsday this week:

“Kathy and her partner, devoted Roman Catholics who are gay, feel welcome in their Suffolk County parish.

“But when the time came to baptize their children, they chose to have a private ceremony rather than stand with straight parents in a group baptism at Sunday Mass.

“Acceptance, they have decided, means keeping a low profile. The couple don’t hide their sexual orientation, but they don’t flaunt it either…

“For gay and lesbian Catholics on Long Island, home of the nation’s fifth-largest diocese, participation in a church…is fraught with complexities. Some, like Kathy, feel a general sense of acceptance, but within unspoken boundaries. Others are so alienated they won’t go inside a Catholic church.”

Involvement by LGBT Catholics is particularly strained on Long Island after the ousting of Nicholas Coppola from several volunteer ministries once he had married his husband. However, in contrast to the hierarchy’s harsh LGBT policies  on Long Island and nationwide, American Catholics support LGBT equality. The Newsday piece continues with comments from several LGBT advocates:

“‘There’s been a great shift in the last couple of decades and particularly in the last two to three years,’ said Jeannine Gramick, a nun with the Sisters of Loretto order, who founded the Maryland-based New Ways Ministry to seek acceptance for gays and lesbians in the church. ‘More and more gay Catholics are beginning to realize that non-gay Catholics in the pew are supportive,’ Gramick said.

“She and other advocates said the church hierarchy is not keeping up. Gay and lesbian Catholics are ‘leaving the church in droves,’ Gramick said. ‘It’s heartbreaking.'”

“Mary Kane, 50, head of the Suffolk chapter of Dignity, a national gay Catholic advocacy group, said it is hit or miss for gays and lesbians seeking a friendly parish on Long Island.

“‘There are very welcoming parishes, and there are some parishes where gay and lesbian couples don’t feel welcome or don’t go back,’ she said.

“Many parishes seem to operate on a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell basis,’ Kane said. ‘A lot of it depends on the priest.'”

Other LGBT Catholics described their experiences of alienation from Long Island parishes, which mirrors  the trend nationwide:

“Jamie Manson, of Long Beach, still feels excluded. She attended Holy Trinity High School in Hicksville — a ‘wonderful experience’ — majored in theology at St. John’s University, and received a master’s degree in Catholic theology and ethics at Yale Divinity School.

“Yet as a lesbian she feels so alienated from the Catholic Church she rarely steps inside one, except for weddings and funerals. ‘It’s so empty having nowhere to go — you feel like you are spiritually homeless,’ said Manson, 36.

“Dennis McCarthy, a longtime lay leader at Our Lady of the Snow parish in Blue Point, said the church has fallen behind the times. Until the church accepts gays and lesbians and adopts ‘a different attitude toward the role of women in the church,’ such as allowing them to be deacons and eventually priests, ‘I think they’re generally going to have a problem going forward,’ he said.

“Gays should hold ministerial positions and be allowed ‘participation in any way’ in parish life, McCarthy said.”

The  trend of firing LGBT educators, or even those assumed to be gay, and removing inclusive efforts at the parish level seems to be increasing, even as leading American bishops, like Cardinal Dolan of New York, claim to work at making Catholic churches more welcoming while closing the doors.

What have your experiences been in Catholic parishes where you live?  Share your thoughts in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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